NEW ORLEANS "One thing is for sure, it can't be any worse."
That's how pro bass angler Kevin VanDam described the fishing during a prefishing session last week on the Louisiana Delta near New Orleans, site of next month's BASS Masters Classic XXXI.
Thanks to torrential rains in Louisiana and Texas last month from Tropical Storm Allison, the 45 Classic contenders didn't find the cooperative fish they were looking for during their six days of prefishing last week.
"It was definitely the worst that I've ever had in my career as far as catching fish," said VanDam, the three time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year, who is seeking his first Classic title. "They had 26 inches of rain a couple of weeks ago and I guess the stagnant water in the swamps really messed up the fishing."
"Things looked real good, but the bass were definitely not in a mood to bite or they had been displaced or something. I don't think I was alone; everybody was scratching their heads," said the Kalamazoo, Mich., angler.
Indeed, VanDam wasn't alone.
"It was tough," agreed Todd Faircloth of Jasper, Texas, who is competing in his second consecutive Classic. "I was really surprised. When we fished there in the fall, we caught a lot of fish and they were some pretty good fish. During our practice, it was pretty slow, although I caught 15 or 16 pounds one day. In a month, it could change though. Somebody's always going to catch them."
Mineola, Texas, angler Kelly Jordon also found lockjawed fish as he prepared for his first Classic. Jordon may also have found the reason why: swamp water, which was pushed into the marshes from Allison's heavy runoff in June.
"You would think that would be great because it would cause the salt to be pushed out of there, which it was," said Jordon, who won the Alabama Top 150 event this year on Alabama's Lake Wheeler in his B.A.S.S. rookie year. "But the locals said what you get is a lot of swamp water pushing in there with high acidic levels and bad pH levels."
"It's just bad, nasty water," he said.
Jordon is hopeful that the fishing will get better thanks to a similar phenomenon on his home lake in Northeast Texas.
"At Lake Fork in the fall each year when we have the turnover of water, there's about two weeks where they don't bite and go dormant," he said. "I'm hoping that it's a similar phenomena down in the bayou. I'm hoping that they're just not biting and they've got their heads down in the mud waiting for the water to get better."
Even with last week's inconsistent fishing, Faircloth said he still believes he learned a thing or two.
"I think you always learn something from a prefish event, even if it's just familiarizing yourself with an area that you haven't fished before," he said. "I fished some areas that should have some fish in a couple of weeks with more grass exposed and the water a little bit more clear. If you can catch a couple of fish in those areas and feel confident about the area, you can keep your hopes up for that area."
Faircloth said one lesson learned is just how far to venture from the launch site.
"With it being tough, unless you're on a big bunch of fish, you're not going to have a lot of time to catch those fish with some of the long runs associated with this Classic," he said. "I'm kind of thinking about fishing some areas that are closer because of how tough it is."
With more water in the bayous, the influx of swamp water, less hydrilla in the Mud Lake area, flooded conditions near Venice, and a "floating island" blocking off access at Lake Buff, Jordon admits there are challenges ahead for the 2001 Classic winner. He expects lower weights to rule in 2001 than in 1999 when Davy Hite won with 55 pounds, 10 ounces.
"Somebody will catch some fish, there's no doubt," he said. "But I don't think that anybody will do what Davy Hite did. I think if a guy puts 35 pounds on the board, I'd like his chances. If somebody caught 45 pounds, I'd be amazed and I think they would win the Classic crown."
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