LAY LAKE, Ala. — Aaron Martens took a moment Sunday morning to do his impression of the copious spectator traffic that has infested this lake during the Bassmaster Classic.
"It's been horrendous out there," Martens said as he readied his rods. "But it's cool. An hour after blastoff, it's like a highway out there. It's like the 405 in Los Angeles, all you hear are boats: bwaaaaaah."
Sunday started as a great day to dodge the boats of fans and recreational anglers that Classic competitors navigate as a matter of course. Up to the stroke of 7 a.m., when the 25 anglers remaining in the Classic took off for their decisive day, the wet, cool morning had been the sort that keeps even dedicated fans snuggled in bed until "Meet the Press."
Rain and thunder greeted anglers waking at 4 a.m. That tapered to rain only, and by the time the anglers arrived at Paradise Point Marina, the guy handing out free ponchos was hawking them just as an extra layer of insulation. With the sunrise, even the slight chill fled.
Still, the early nasty weather seemed to thin the spectator crowd at the launch point and cut down on the boats visible on the water. Russ Lane said he expected to have his precious creek mouths to himself for a while.
"I had a lot (of spectators) my first day, but it hasn't affected my fishing," Lane said. Actually, it may have helped him. He arrived at his first spot to find about 30 boats there, he said, and quickly caught the day's first limit with the locals cheering him on.
"I was catching one about every three or four minutes," he said. "We were having a ball."
That's not the typical angler-spectator relationship. The Classic competitors always say they appreciate the fan support, then console each after poor showings by joking that, at the least, they'll have fewer spectators sitting on their water.
At their press conference after Day 2, Boyd Duckett, Royce Dennington and Timmy Horton shared a laugh when Horton made his Day 3 prediction: "I can't wait to see how many boats are following Kevin VanDam."
"They're all part of the sport," Duckett said before Sunday's take-off. He has had to ask spectators to move along in this tournament, but as a first-time Classic competitor, he doesn't yet know how to direct traffic with the skill of, say, VanDam, who is known to direct his onlookers with blunt efficiency.
Duckett did score a 2003 Southern Open tournament win that required him to chase several boats off a Pickwick Lake gravel point he wanted to fish on the final day. But he admitted that he already gave up one spot in this Classic because boat traffic spoiled it. "You have to see it before it happens," he said.