PITTSBURGH, Pa. — The practice casts made by the 47 contenders in the 35th annual CITGO Bassmaster Classic did not count on Wednesday. But the exercise did offer anglers an idea of what to expect when competition begins Friday, July 29, on the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers.
Wednesday's eight-hour practice yielded a wide variety of results, anglers reported. Some pros were cautiously optimistic of their success while others did poorly enough to abandon their original game plans conceived during the official five-day practice week nearly a month earlier. For former Classic champ Kevin VanDam, Wednesday's practice was satisfying, but by no means thrilling.
"It was a lot like I remembered a month ago — pretty tough," VanDam said, laughing. "The conditions were different, but the fishing wasn't much different.
VanDam said he scouted new areas as well as waters he previously visited.
"I didn't go to all of my best spots. I was trying to get a feel for what had changed and how the fish might be different," he said. "I went through a couple of areas that I thought would be good and they weren't. And I fished a couple of places where I hadn't caught anything before and had a couple of small bites."
California's Mike Reynolds, competing in his fourth Classic, echoed VanDam's assessment.
"It was tough," he said. "There's a lot of short fish out here and it's hard to find a keeper. It was worse than (the first week of) practice. Obviously, I wasn't trying real hard. I covered a lot of water."
Four-time Classic contender Chris Baumgardner, 44, also struggled on the water.
"It was poor. Not good," the North Carolina pro said. "I had pretty much an area in mind. I didn't hit the key stretch, but I fished the area I was planning on fishing and just didn't go well."
Luke Clausen's practice round was so unproductive that he said the high point of the day was locking through the dams on the Allegheny River without a problem.
"It was pretty rough," the 26-year-old Washington angler said. "I didn't fish anything that I fished in the week of practice we had earlier. But the fishing wasn't as good to me as it was a month ago."
Federation competitor Jeff Hager of North Carolina admitted to one of the few productive practice outings Wednesday, but he refused to get too excited about it.
"I did alright," Hager, 46, said. "I caught a limit of keepers. I mostly fished new water."
About his chances, he said, "It's hard to say. You could have a good day and then you could have a bad day. The weather today was windy and cloudy, but we're probably looking at clear skies Friday and Saturday. The conditions are going to change and the fish might change, too."
Weather conditions in Pittsburgh have changed significantly since last month's practice. During the three days of Classic competition July 29-31, a 20 percent chance of rain is predicted. The high temperature will be 83 degrees and the low will be 61 degrees.
It was widely acknowledged that Kentucky pro Kevin Wirth enjoyed the most productive practice period a month ago. So what kind of success did he experience Wednesday?
"It was alright," the 43-year-old former Kentucky Derby jockey said. "I didn't fish a lot of stuff that I wanted to fish in the tournament. I did a lot of running and a lot of looking at the water.
Anglers fishing the Classic will stay off the water Thursday and attend the Bassmaster Family Fest as well as Media Day, where BASS will announce the results of the Greatest Angler Debate presented John Deere as well as details of the Women's Bassmaster Tour. But Friday morning, the pressure cooker known as the Classic begins. Anglers will launch at 7 a.m. from Point State Park.