It's a chilly morning here in Orange, Texas, in the low 40s. But expected to get into the low 60s by early afternoon. Here are three fans all bundled up, sitting in a golf cart. Now that's traveling in style!
The first flight takes off in about 15 minutes to officially begin Elite season 2013. More coverage to come through out the day.
My trip to Orange, Texas, and Elite # 1 began today with a 4:20 a.m. alarm. I'm taking an early flight from Birmingham to Houston so I can get to Orange in time for the Marshal briefing.
Today happens to be opening day for Birmingham's new airport terminal. And by the way, it looks great and includes a Jim & Nick's restaurant.
I packed a granola bar and expected to eat that on the plane but had time to eat breakfast at Jim & Nick's instead. Biscuits, sausage gravy, eggs, fruit and coffee while reading Don Barone's latest story.
Man, what an unexpected awesome start to the trip!
The Sabine River Challenge practice period, which began this morning, will be "crucial," Brent Chapman says – perhaps so more than for other Elite Series tournaments.
"The big thing there is deciding where to fish," he says. "If you stay in the Sabine, run to one of the other rivers, or run down into the marsh, there’s so many different options there. And once you go to one, you’re committed."
"The biggest challenge is deciding where to spend your time during the tournament," he says. With the exception of the 2011 New Orleans/Louisiana Delta Bassmaster Classic, he says, "it will be the largest area we ever fished. … A guy can realistically run as far as the day will allow."
"It could be won right there at the Sabine, or it could be won 150 miles away," he says.
Listen to Chapman and Hackney preview the Sabine River Challenge in the "Fantasy Fishing Insider" podcast. Just click the arrow in the embedded podcast player below. Bassmaster.com fantasy fishing columnist Greg Huff hosts.
Not only has B.A.S.S. never held a tournament on the Sabine system previously, few local derbies are held there either. That means pros will enter today's practice period with very little advance knowledge.
“None of us really know what to expect," Chapman says. “You might smoke ‘em in your area and catch as good a bag as you can possibly catch, but there might be another whole area that has a lot bigger and better fish in it. …
"Heck, the locals don’t even know there," Chapman continues. "So you’re just going to have to make your best judgement and make the best of it and hope for the best, really.
When Short pre-fished the Sabine system before the cut-off period, he found plenty of cover and noticed similarities to other river systems on which the Elite Series has competed.
“There’s all kinds of vegetation down there – cattails, tules, there’s even grass, there’s cypress trees," he says. "There’s sure-enough creeks, rivers, huge marsh flats that go for miles and miles and miles.
"For the most part, it’s a delta-type area," Short explains. "Whether it’s the Louisiana Delta, Mississippi Delta, California Delta. A lot of it reminds me of the California Delta, with all the canals and stuff running through there. But it doesn’t seem to have nearly as much rock as the California Delta does."
Although Toledo Bend Reservoir is an impoundment of the Sabine River, Chapman, Hackney and Short agree that the two areas will not fish similarly at all.
"They're totally two different animals," Hackney says – literally. "Totally two different breeds of fish" reside in the two fisheries, he says. "These are marsh bass we'll be fishing for [this week]."
Want some additional roster-pick advice? In the "Fantasy Fishing Insider" podcast embedded below, Huff and fellow pundits Jason Holmer, Rich Lindgren and Jody White handicap the Elite Series field and explain who they putting on their rosters and why.
Huff, Holmer, Lindgren and Whire are among the most active bass-fishing commentators on Twitter: @lazy_ike, @BassUtopia, @HellaBass and @VTBAsser, respectively.
The Elite Series Sabine River Challenge launches Thursday, March 14, at 7 a.m.
"Fantasy Fishing Insider" is also available on iTunes.