NEW ORLEANS Versatility is an admired trait in most cases on the prestigious BASSMASTER Tournament Trail.
Not this week, however. If an angler heading for the BASS Masters Classic on the Louisiana Delta can't fish shallow vegetation in the tepid swamp waters, he might as well stay home.
"Shallow vegetation basically," 1999 Classic champ Davy Hite answered when asked what anglers can expect. "No matter where you go, that's what you'll be fishing.
"Water lilies, hyacinths, hydrilla and rosseau cane around Venice make up a lot of the vegetation, but people will be fishing shallow vegetation of all types because that's what the Delta has got."
Hite should know. In 1999, he set the Classic record for heaviest winning weight (on a five-bass daily limit) with a 55-pound, 10-ounce effort over the three days en route to capturing the $100,000 winner's purse.
What was his secret?
A junebug-colored Gambler Bacon Rind plastic lure with a 3/8-ounce screw in Florida-rig sinker pitched to shoreline vegetation and cover. Using this bait, the Prosperity, S.C., angler weighed three limits 16 pounds, 9 ounces; 19 pounds, 3 ounces; and 19 pounds, 14 ounces.
Denny Brauer, who finished second behind Hite two years ago with 15 bass weighing 45 pounds, 11 ounces, said the Delta will be different than it was only two years ago.
"I'm sure a lot has changed since we were there in 1999," Brauer said. "Obviously, it has had some negative things happen and it has more fishing pressure now. But there are still some good stringers to be caught."
Brauer believes that the influence of the nearby Gulf of Mexico will once again play a key role as it did for him in 1999.
"When the tide was real high, you had to penetrate the vegetation a little deeper because the fish were more buried up," Brauer said. "But when the tide started to go out, they got a little looser to the cover and they also started to stack up on points and areas that brought more current by them. They also got more active."
"A lot of times, that out going tide is the key," the Camdenton, Mo., angler added. "I don't know what the tides are going to be there, but a lot of times it can be the difference in catching 10 fish or not getting a bite at all."
Stories of big Florida-strain largemouths in the Caernarvon area near New Orleans could be another key factor, according to Brauer. And he said not to forget the mouth of the Mississippi River, despite the lengthy boat ride it demands to get there.
"Venice might play a big part this year and it hasn't in any of our other tournaments down there," he said. "It's been long enough since that hurricane that the fish have had time to grow and replenish down there. There could be a winning stringer there for the right person."
Kalamazoo, Mich., angler Kevin VanDam, who finished eighth at the 1999 Classic, agreed with Brauer on the potential importance of the Venice area. VanDam said the area has recovered from Hurricane Georges in 1998.
"It (Georges) really hurt the Venice area," he said. "But that area has come back and the growth rates are so strong there that there are a lot of big fish there."
Regardless of which areas prove to be the best, Hite, who did not qualify for the Classic this year, believes anglers must ignore quantity and strive for quality. As his record catch totals in 1999 attest, it's the right fish, not the most, which pave the way to a Classic win.
"My mission in '99 was to find an area that had quality fish and then to come back and zero in and fine tune where the good fish were," Hite said. "This place is too big to zoom around. You've got to find a place in one of those areas where you can come back and have some confidence and figure out quickly how to fish it."
"That's going to be the number one key is to find an area that has some three to five pound fish," he said.
"That's the whole key to fishing the Louisiana Delta. There are so many fish in so many areas that you've just got to catch some quality fish."
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