NEW ORLEANS — As the 31st BASS Masters Classic heads toward the finish line Saturday, there's a storm brewing … in more ways than one.
Tropical Storm Barry, situated Friday evening some 240 miles southeast of New Orleans, is moving slowly to the northwest and the Big Easy with sustained winds of 40 mph. As a result, an official Tropical Storm Watch has been posted for the southeastern portion of Louisiana, which includes the Classic fishing waters.
Needless to say, all eyes in coastal Louisiana are on Barry.
But they're also on another storm that's building. With only 10 ounces separating tournament leader Kevin VanDam and second-place angler Scott Rook — and that fact that both anglers are fishing in the same region and are being very clandestine about it — Classic XXXI could be heading for a wild finish.
VanDam and Rook are taking the impending tropical weather in stride.
After opening with a third-place start Thursday, VanDam admitted he's already put the weather into his Classic game plan.
"I've been watching that," the Kalamazoo, Mich., angler said. "I've tried to storm-proof my pattern as much as possible, and I think I'm in the best area to be in if we get high winds, high water and stuff like that. I think I'm in the best area to still be able to catch some fish on."
And while New Orleans isn't looking forward to Barry, VanDam isn't too upset about the storm's approach.
"I was pretty glad to see it coming, to be honest with you," said VanDam, who is trying to add his first Classic title to his impressive resume. "I knew that it would eliminate a couple of areas that I eliminated a month ago. There are too many variables that can affect the fish to make it where you can catch them three days in a row. This tournament is going to be won out of Bayou Black or Des Allemands because of that, because of this storm out there."
"It's kind of playing towards what I thought it would," he said. "That doesn't mean that I'm going to be able to catch them, but it's kind of lining out the way that I would like it."
Meanwhile, Rook isn't complaining about Barry's approach either.
"Kevin and I are fishing the same general area and he's complaining about the low water the same way that I was," the Little Rock, Ark., angler said. "If it blows in here and raises the tide up a foot, I don't really see it hurting me."
Neither angler is letting on much about the location he is targeting. But like the man he is pursuing, Rook thinks the storm actually could help his cause.
"If anything, it's going to help because it will move my fish back up," Rook said. "I think they're out there roaming, they're out there in a little bit deeper water. I've flipped up to the edge of that grass and worked three or four foot out there on nothing, basically, and still catch one.
"So the fish are out there. I just think that with the water coming up that they'll move up a little bit better and maybe there will be some better fish."
While VanDam and Rook may be looking forward to a little wind and water, not all of their closest pursuers are happy with the approaching weather.
"I saw a bunch of of those Forrest Gump shrimp boats today," said fifth-place angler Gerald Swindle of Hayden, Ala. "That's the big thing on the Intercoastal Waterway is all of the shrimp boat and barge traffic. I guess they're all trying to get to someplace safe. About an hour with those Forrest Gump shrimp boats (and the wakes they produce), and I've had enough."
As the 2001 BASS Masters Classic concludes Saturday, the safest place in New Orleans might just be the Louisiana Superdome, where the final weigh-in will be staged.