ANDERSON, S.C. — As two-time Bassmaster Classic champion Kevin VanDam puts it, "The fish are already wet." VanDam, competing in his 18th consecutive Classic, said Thursday's weather is undoubtedly the worst in the 38-year history of the event. But it is more apt to make the fishing better rather than put a damper on opening day.
"Today is going to be game day," said the two-time Classic champion. "We should smash them today."
As proof of that, Bobby Lane had a five-bass limit in his boat in the first 45 minutes Thursday morning.
"Fish bite on days like today," VanDam said. "In low-light conditions bass have an advantage over their prey species. They're going to feed today. Low pressure triggers bass activity."
Although he's fishing in his first Bassmaster Classic, and at age 24 he's the youngest competitor in the 50-angler field, Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C., has the most experience fishing on Lake Hartwell.And he's experienced worse days weather-wise on Lake Hartwell than Thursday.
"I've been here before when it was snowing in December," Ashley said.
What was the temperature that day?
"Eighteen degrees," Ashley said so quickly that it was obvious the day was fresh in his memory, even though it happened when he was 15 years old. "We caught 'em good.
"It's prime today, if a guy gets in the right spot at the right time."
This is only the third Classic held in February. From the first Classic in 1971 until the 36th in 2005, the events were held in the months of July, August, September, October and November. On those November Classic days, the coldest temperatures were in the 30s.
When the schedule switched to February, for the 2006 Classic at Lake Toho in Kissimmee, Fla., and 2007 at Lay Lake in Birmingham, Ala., there were some cool days, especially last year, but nothing like what the anglers faced Thursday at Lake Hartwell.
"This will undoubtedly be the coldest one," said VanDam. "But our clothing is so good these days. I've got my 100-mile-an-hour suit on right now, and I've got all the Under Armour and everything under it.
"The biggest thing out here today is going to be keeping your hands warm. You've got to keep your head in the game, and if you're thinking about your hands, you're not concentrating on fishing. I've got a lot of different glove options to keep my hands warm and keep focused out there today."
Of course, it always helps your concentration when you're catching fish. And by all appearances, that should be the case today.
Temperatures near the freezing mark and steady rain greeted the anglers for their 7:15 a.m. takeoff. The forecast called for a high of 39 degrees today with a 100 percent chance of rain throughout the competition hours.