NEW ORLEANS — To win a bass tournament — any bass tournament — you have to make good decisions. You have to figure out not just where the bass are, but where they'll be; not just what they are eating, but what they will eat; and not just whether you're "on" fish, but whether you're on the "right" fish.
At the 2011 Bassmaster Classic, Kevin VanDam made all the right decisions and many of them months in advance of the Day One launch. As the tournament dates approached, he was confident that he could figure the bass out and catch them no matter what the conditions, but a "perfect storm" of bass fishing took place that allowed him to set records that it may take decades to break.
Classic qualifiers who visited the Louisiana Delta during the early practice period, a couple of weeks before the event, found cold water. Some reported temperatures as low as 37 degrees. The Venice area, a couple of hours south of New Orleans, looked promising. Lake Cataouatche, much closer to the launch area, didn't look ripe yet. The area would be too cold, too shallow, for these late winter bass.
So, the "smart money" went south and gambled on the long run to Venice. Not KVD. He didn't even bother coming out for the early practice period. Instead, he kept his eye on the weather and realized that things were going to warm up ... fast.
The area in Lake Cataouatche that was too shallow for cold-water bass was going to be just right for bass that were a little further into the prespawn period and, with warming temperatures and a full moon on the first day of competition, those bass would be there once competition started. Not only that, but the warming waters would also bring out the biggest nemesis of the long run — fog.
VanDam believed fog delays would drastically impact the amount of time that anglers making the run to Venice would have to fish. On Saturday, the field lost a couple of hours of fishing time as they waited for safe visibility. The anglers going to Venice did well but had less than an hour to fish.
Ken Sherman is a B.A.S.S. Federation Nation member and is widely recognized as one of the very best anglers on the Delta. He owns Front to Back Boat Service (225-928-9644) in Baton Rouge, La., and worked closely with Classic qualifier Brent Chapman before the tournament.
According to Sherman, the Classic would have been won in Venice — where Chapman fished and went on to finish fifth — but for a couple of factors."If a couple of things had played out a little differently," Sherman says, "Venice would have been the place. Instead, the warming water made Cataouatche better. If it had stayed cold for everyone, Venice would have been the best option by far. "But the warming temperatures picked things up in Cataouatche, and the water actually got colder in Venice in the final rounds, making the fishing there tougher.
South winds pushed cold river water into Venice and made for a really tough bite on Sunday." Sherman describes Cataouatche as a "fish factory." He says the area was an old plantation with lots of old oak trees in the water, the stumps of which are sometimes 6 feet in diameter. The "switch" flipped and turned everything in favor of the anglers fishing Cataouatche on Saturday, according to Sherman. South winds pushed river water into Venice, while water in Cataouatche continued to warm.
The result? Dwindling catches in Venice and record-setting catches in Cataouatche. KVD's plan worked to perfection and earned him a fourth Classic title.
Editor's note: The 2011 Classic was historic. Keep checking Bassmaster.com for more coverage of the record-setting event all week. Watch the 2011 Bassmaster Classic Saturday at 10 a.m. ET on ESPN2. Check out the complete Classic TV schedule.