NEW ORLEANS At the end of June, the 45 qualifiers for the 2001 BASS Masters Classic knew the meaning of frustration.
After the onslaught of Tropical Storm Allison, the pros vying for the top honor in fishing this week in New Orleans experienced less than ideal bass fishing conditions.
On Tuesday, the field got its first look at the Classic waters on the Louisiana Delta in a month. And, for the most part, the anglers liked what they found.
"It was better today," said Kalamazoo, Mich., pro Kevin VanDam, who is looking for his first title in 11 consecutive Classics.
"The habitat is looking better, you know," he said. "There is better looking grass and there are a few hyacinths here and there. It's definitely better. The water looks better it's dropped a lot. There are going to be some fish caught."
Veteran B.A.S.S. angler David Fritts agrees. The 1993 Classic champ from Lexington, N.C., ended up with only five bites on the day, but was pleased some came in areas where he didn't catch a fish a month ago.
"I think conditions are a lot better," Fritts said. "I still say if you catch 12 pounds a day and have one 15-pound day, you're going to be in the hunt."
Fellow North Carolina angler Marty Stone may be fishing in his first Classic, but he isn't a stranger to the Delta. While the Linden, N.C., pro isn't ready to forecast a rookie victory, Stone does believe that the fish are a bit more cooperative.
"It had changed a good bit," Stone said. "When I was here before I thought it was pretty tough, and it was just as tough if not tougher today. But a couple of areas cleared up a little bit and it's going to allow me to catch a fish or two."
Folks listen up when they hear from nine-time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year Roland Martin. And while the 61-year-old Clewiston, Fla., legend is seeking that elusive first Classic title, Martin likes his chances after Tuesday's practice round.
"The conditions are much better now than three or four weeks ago," Martin said. "I'm getting far more strikes now than I was then."
In fact, Martin is predicting some hefty stringers for the daily Classic weigh-ins: "There's going to be some 15-pound stringers. I just hope I get one of them."
Last man standing
Thirty years ago, 24 fishermen participated in the first BASS Masters Classic on Nevada's Lake Mead. One is still casting for the title.
Martin, celebrating his 23rd Classic appearance, is the only participant in this year's Classic that fished in the Mead event.
"Oh, how times have changed," he said.
"That first Classic we only had 12 boats for practice day because the second boat shipment was late. So, two competitors were paired together for practice," Martin recalls.
"I was paired with Bob Ponds and we caught the fool out of 'em with a spinnerbait. The boats arrived that night and Bob gave that spinnerbait to Bobby Murray and he beat us with it."
Martin's best finish in a Classic is his second place in 1980.
Dave Precht, BASSMASTER Magazine editor:
"After fishing 28 consecutive BASS Master Classics, how do you stay motivated to continue fishing at an elite level?"
Rick Clunn, four-time Classic champion:
"To be honest with you, that's the most difficult thing I face; but this year is easy. The fact that ESPN is involved definitely motivates me. I think this is a great opportunity for professional fishermen to showcase our sport."
Quote of the day
"I figure if everyone ties on a deep running
crankbait, I can give them a run for their money."
1993 Classic champ Fritts, describing his perceived
chances in the shallow, hot-water fishery on the Delta
Following the day of practice on the Delta Tuesday, the pros went
through a practice weigh-in at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. While no fish were weighed in, the boats and tow vehicleslined up as they will on Thursday and Friday for first and second roundweigh-ins at the Morial Convention Center.
Speaking of the media, ESPN2 TV personalities were busily
preparing for this week's live, same-day TV coverage of Classic XXXI. On
Tuesday, host Ron Franklin was seen with co-hosts Tommy Sanders, Fish
Fishburne and Jerry McKinnis as the crew prepares for bass fishing TV
While it's never easy to get a straight answer out of the Classic
pros following their day of practice, it appears that a number of
anglers are planning on making lengthy boat runs on Thursday.
Angler of the Year Mark Davis thinks that's the case.
"More guys are
running this year than have so in the past, what I'm calling running two
hours or more," he said. "In years gone by when we fished here, that's not been
necessary, but I guess a lot of us feel it is this time."
Several anglers spoke of "shaking off" fish during Tuesday's
practice round. The consensus seemed to be that anglers wanted to find
the fish, but not necessarily bring them to the boat and spook the fish
from a good spot.
New Orleans is a culinary delight with plenty of good Bayou
cooking and fresh seafood. Best meal so far at the Classic? The shrimp
platter at the Acme Oyster House in the French Quarter.
Big Easy Weather: Thundershowers plagued the New Orleans area
Tuesday afternoon and evening. More scattered thundershowers are
possible into Thursday with highs in the upper 80s to near 90.
B.A.S.S. contributed to this report.
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