NEW ORLEANS The Big Easy may not be so easy after all.
The BASS Masters Classic gets underway today in the middle of countless acres of water in the Louisiana Delta.
Considered one of the most fertile fisheries in the country, the Delta is made up of miles of marsh and natural lakes and can be an intimidating place. Finding heavy stringers of largemouth bass in the middle of it is anything but easy.
"It's a very confusing place," said Kevin VanDam, three-time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year.
At the heart of the confusion is the amount of tournament water available to the contenders and the affects nature.
Officially the tournament is taking off from Bayou Sygnette, a catchall point that includes lakes with names such as Salvador, Cataouatche, Des Allemands and Beouf, all within a 45-minute boat ride.
They can fish for miles and miles and miles
But the tournament is not limited to those waters. Within a 2½-hour boat ride is Caernavron, and the Mississippi River. Within another 90-minute ride, there's Bayou Black. And to the south, about 90 minutes is Venice, where the tournament is expected to be won.
"There's a lot of water out there," said Mark Davis, reigning Angler of the Year.
"The best way I can describe it is if you were to take a lake the size we are accustomed to fishing and 10 more lakes like it, spread them over an area where they are 20 to 30 miles apart and connect them with canals, then you might have about the same amount of water," Davis said.
"Then, from a fish standpoint, if you were to take just the fish from one of those lakes, and spread them out all over that area, you would start to get an idea of what it's like."
Davis said most lakes operate under a standard where 90 percent of the fish can be found in 10 percent of the water. For the Classic waters, it's more like 90 percent of the fish in 1 percent of the water.
Mother Nature chimes in
Added to those problems is a Delta that is just getting over the impact of Tropical Storm Allison, which was preceded by a drought and salt intrusion from the Gulf of Mexico. All of it has made getting bit by the available fish a little more difficult than normal.
It doesn't stop there. Looming in the distance and expected to play a part in the outcome of this tournament is another tropical storm forming off the Florida coast.
"There are so many unknowns involved in this tournament, that you really can't make a judgement on how things will go until we get one day into the fishing," said Rick Clunn, a four-time Classic champion, and favorite in this event.
The factors have set up some interesting scenarios. While most Classic champions believe a winner has to have a game plan and stick with it every day, this Classic may be one that is best approached one day at a time.
Time for introspection
"Everyone is asking themselves a dozen questions," said Scott Rook, a two-time qualifier. "You have so many choices and only one of them can be right."
"Do you stay close, and get on the scoreboard to see what kind of pace will be set?" Rook said. "Or do you gamble right off the bat, make a huge run to better water and hope to blow things out? Then if you do that, you wonder will the weather change and make it impossible for me to get back if I catch them?
"The problem is you have to make the right decision everyday, because there's not time to go to Plan B."
A common strategy of some of the anglers is to stay close on day one, catch enough weight to be in contention, then gamble.
"The problem with this Classic is you can't win it in one day, but you can lose it one day," Marty Stone said. "You make one wrong move, your dead in the water."
The 45 anglers take off Thursday at daylight. Expectations are that a 12-pound daily average will win the tournament. That average is much less than the 55-pounds total Davy Hite caught to win the 1999 Classic.
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