NEW ORLEANS -- Lake Cataouatche or Venice? Everyone agrees one of those productive fisheries will produce this year's Bassmaster Classic winner. But which one? Aaron Martens, Scott Rook and Kevin VanDam made a strong case for Cataouatche on Day One, hauling in the Classic's three biggest catches.
But the Venice contingent also showed up for Friday's weigh-in, accounting for the remainder of the top 10. Martens topped the field with 20 pounds, 7 ounces, followed closely by Rook with 19-6 and VanDam with 19-3. Even closer than that horse race is the proximity of the trio's boats on Lake Cataouatche, where the three are sharing a small area on the western part of the lake.
"I know there's way more bass in there than we can weigh," VanDam said. "Being around them isn't the issue. They're there. Catching them is the problem. It isn't easy." Brent Chapman had the best weight out of Venice with 18-0 for fourth place. He's followed by Bobby Lane with 16-12. Less than 12 ounces separates sixth place, Federation Nation angler Dale Hightower, and 10th place, former Classic champ and veteran Elite Series pro Paul Elias. "You feel like that if you have a chance to win the tournament, it's down there (Venice)," said Todd Faircloth, who's eighth with 15-2.
Cataouatche was definitely the safe play Friday. Heavy fog delayed the Day One launch by 70 minutes, and the spot that produced the Classic's top three weights is 12 miles from the takeoff at Bayou Segnette State Park. Venice is more like 60 miles, and it's not in a straight line. Whereas the boat run to the Martens-VanDam-Rook spot on Cataouatche is less than 15 minutes, many of the contenders who made the run to Venice were in their boats for as much as two hours before making the first cast.
Most of the top anglers who fished the Venice area said their actual fishing time ranged from 1 ½ to 3 hours. And everyone polled after Friday's weigh-in said they'd do it again Saturday, even if there's another fog delay. "I'd run down there if I could only fish for 45 minutes or an hour," Lane said. "You could win it in that amount of time with the right bites. It'd be nice to say you won the Classic fishing three hours over three days."
The Venice anglers insist it's possible, pointing to the numbers of fish in the area and the potential for quality bites on any cast. They also say the area's a consistent producer. But several anglers described the Cataouatche spot as "special." It's a small transition area on the western side of the lake, where several underwater ditches run perpendicular to a shallow flat. "Aaron (Martens) is a good friend, and he's told me a little bit about that place," said Faircloth, who's fishing at Venice. "It's pretty special. But there's boat pressure there, and they're having to share the water with other people. I think they're on bigger fish, but the opportunity for us (Venice anglers) to duplicate our weights is better down there (at Venice)."
Chapman echoed Faircloth's observation. "I'll be surprised if it holds up over there," Chapman said. "Saturday is going to be different. There's going to be a lot more locals." "Can that (Cataouatche) hold up for three days?" wondered Skeet Reese, who's in ninth place on the strength of a 15-1 limit from the Venice area. "We'll find out. I don't think it can. It's not the kind of place that's conducive to consistently producing like that."
Greg Hackney, the only Louisiana pro in the Classic field, disagreed. He fished in Cataouatche Friday but finished out of contention with less than five pounds. Still, he knows the Louisiana Delta better than most of the field. "They can't catch 'em all in there (Cataouatche)," Hackney said. "There's a lot of fish in there. The fish haven't bit in there all winter, so the locals haven't pressured them." But Hackney agreed that the nod for consistency likely goes to Venice. It better be consistent, because it's a long and risky run. There are hazards such as hurricane debris, shallow water, barely submerged mud flats and much more. Reese sputtered up to a gas pump at Venice on fumes after waiting to refuel just before heading back to Bayou Segnette. "When you get down there, you feel like you've already won," Hightower said. "There's a sigh of relief that you made it."