BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — None of the hundreds of casts made by the 50 contenders in the 37th annual Bassmaster Classic on Wednesday counted for anything official. But they were still important because the collective wisdom gained during this lone day of practice provided them with a good idea of what to expect when competition begins on Friday.
And what they found has most of the field predicting great fishing action during the world-championship event Friday through Sunday.
After taking Thursday off for various activities that include Media Day duties, the pros will be launched into the pressure cooker known as the Classic Friday morning with three days to find the 15 largest bass possible in Lay Lake. And after spending eight hours on the 12,000-acre central Alabama lake, they have a better sense of what awaits them in the battle for bass fishing's most prestigious title and a payday of $500,000.
The Classic contenders were encouraged and enthused about a developing warming trend that has increased the lake's water temperature as much as 10 degrees since last week's three-day scouting session. The major increase in temperature is expected to bring more fish shallow and make them more active. The temperature rise could bring largemouth bass into play in the pros' strategies despite the fact that Lay Lake has a large population of spotted bass.
Wednesday's weather was dominated by rain and overcast conditions.
Here's a sampling of what the Classic pros learned and accomplished during Wednesday's practice round:
Boyd Duckett, Demopolis, Ala., Classic rookie and one of the pre-Classic favorites: "The water is warming up nice. I found some 54-, 55-degree water, but there's no fish in it yet. I have to assume that we will see a pretty good migration between now and Friday or during the tournament. So that should make largemouth more of a factor instead of this being more of a spot tournament.
"I got enough flipping bites that I could have caught a limit of largemouth today. I was fully planning to fish for largemouth and now with the water warming up I'm absolutely going to fish for largemouth."
Mike McClelland, Bella Vista, Ark., fishing his fourth Classic: "It was pretty much what I was expecting and hoping. I went a little bit shallower today than where I had been catching them, but I can't say I found anything that really turned me on. I did catch a couple of largemouth a little shallower than I caught them last week.
"There are going to be some fish move shallow this week, but I don't know if it will be much of a factor. I really didn't check my best places. I fished a pattern around the kind of stuff I'd been fishing, but I didn't get any bites."
Aaron Martens, Leeds, Ala., three-time Classic runner-up fishing his eighth Classic: "I eliminated a lot of water today. I was kind of checking stuff that I didn't check last week. I went to a few areas and got bit pretty quick, but I mainly just checked a few areas that I was wondering about.
"It was a productive day. I learned what I'm not going to do in the tournament. I think with the warming water the catch is about to be about 50-50 (largemouth and spots). When the water warms up they both bite better."
Dean Rojas, Lake Havasu, Ariz., fishing his sixth Classic: "I had a fair practice day. I was looking to fish the baits and the areas I had fished in practice to solidify what I am going to do in the tournament. That worked out well and I look forward to the tournament.
"I think it's going to be a combination of both (largemouth and spots). I had both of them bite today so right now I'll take whatever will bite. The fishing will be good. I think everybody should come in with a limit."
Kelly Jordon, Mineola, Texas, fishing his fifth Classic: "It was pretty good. I tried my best pattern from last week and tried to expand it a little bit. I did everything I set out to do.
"They're biting better than they did last week. There's going to be tons of fish caught this week. I think you can probably catch them all over the lake. I'm going to catch both (largemouth and spots). It would be nice to have 12 pounds of spots in the first hour and then go head-hunting for largemouth. I'm definitely going to spend a lot of time after largemouth."
Mike Wurm, Hot Springs, Ark., fishing his fourth Classic: "It went about like I expected. Maybe the fish were a little smaller than I expected — the ones I did catch. However, I got quite a few bites and I feel pretty comfortable I can catch a limit on Friday. I'm just not sure about the size.
"I did not check my three best spots. Today, the goal was to look at a few places that I did not get to look at last week. So I tried a few things in those areas to see what was up and then I found some more fish in another area, which I feel good about."
The casts start counting for real at 7 a.m. Friday when the Classic boats are launched at Lay Lake's Paradise Point Marina. Daily weigh-ins will be at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center Arena.