NEW ORLEANS -- If the Bassmaster Classic was a bake-off, Wednesday wouldn't be the day when you made your cake. You might add the icing, perhaps put the candles on top, but for the most part the hard work would have already been done.
After last week's frigid three-day practice period, multiple anglers proclaimed that today would be critical. Now some of them are backing off that claim.
Of course, the only ones who can truly speak to whether today's final Classic practice day is likely to prove worthwhile are those who've previously claimed the title.
There are six of them in the 50 man field -- Kevin VanDam (with three titles), Skeet Reese, Mike Iaconelli, Mark Davis, Boyd Duckett and Paul Elias. Even among that group, however, there was dissension as to whether the day was useful.
Asked what he learned on the water on Wednesday, Reese tersely responded, "Nothing." Pressed on the matter a bit, he admitted that the day was useful to learn his boat's range, but persisted that he knew his Classic plan before he launched the boat today.
Elias, the oldest angler in this year's championship, said that today's scouting mission "ended up not being that important." He's now committed to making a long run on Friday's first competition day, after spending today's time on the water looking for any excuse not to do so. "I'm scared of the fog," he explained. Duckett, like Elias, is committed to making the long run on Friday.
He too wanted to find something closer but failed. Nevertheless, he said that what he learned today will help him mentally when competition starts. "I had a couple of places to eliminate," he said. "Cataouatche is dead so I was able to eliminate that. I know there are some big fish there so if I didn't fish it I would have been wondering the whole time if I should be fishing there." While today was more about eliminating water for Duckett, at his Classic win on Lay Lake in 2007, the Wednesday practice round proved critical. He'd found a big fish flipping bite before the official practice period, but on Wednesday he found a reliable area to catch spotted bass in the morning.
Without those fish to guarantee him a limit each day, he likely would not have won the title. VanDam, one of the few anglers in this field who did not scout the Delta before it went off limits in December, viewed today's time on the water as important, not so much because the water has warmed up 10 degrees since last week, but rather because "there are so many places you can possibly go" on the expansive Louisiana Delta.
"Today I fished a lot of water I've never fished before," VanDam said. "It wasn't a great day, but I had to find plans C, D, E and F." He still hasn't made up his mind where he'll try to start defending his title when the starter gun goes off on Friday. His head is spinning, he explained, not so much because of the options at his disposal, but rather because of a nasty stomach bug that forced him to lie down in the boat a few times.
"The highlight of my day is that I didn't throw up," he said. The stomach of this year's Classic winner will have to be sound, only then can he decorate the cake with his name, and eat it, too.