BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Amid intermittent spitting rain, 50 of the world's best bass anglers splashed their identically rigged Triton bass boats at Paradise Point Marina on Alabama's Lay Lake on Wednesday morning, diving into their dry storage lockers for rain gear and thinking hard about just what had taken place in the six days since they had last been on the Coosa River impoundment's 12,000 acres.
Even more than the six days elapsed was the dramatic 30-degree rise in air temperature, pretty much erasing any cold-weather patterns anglers had deciphered and further muddying any leftover knowledge from the 2002 summertime Classic.
Despite the drizzly conditions, and the drastic changes from practice, there was an obvious air of giddiness among the anglers getting ready to compete Friday.
Local favorite Russ Lane indicated that the warming trend should be a sign that a strong pre-spawn bite is on the way.
"I think it's gonna be a great tournament. The weather change is what we needed for there to be a good movement of pre-spawn fish," said Lane, adding that anglers would need around a 70/30 combination of spotted and largemouth bass to be in the hunt.
Lane, a Lay Lake heavyweight on the local circuit before turning pro, believes that the optimum water temperature should be 54-55 degrees — it was 51.6 on a chase boat's GPS unit at the launch site at 6:35 a.m. — for the anticipated movement to max out.
"We may get that by the end of the tournament. The last day should be the best day," said Lane, who believes an average of 13 pounds a day should make the final round on Sunday.
Mike Iaconelli, whose focus and talents with the spinning rod make him a favorite despite a dreadful 38th place showing in the 2002 Lay Lake Classic, said he also expects a combination of spotted bass and largemouth bass to be the ticket.
"I'm really excited," he said. "This is the kind of tournament I like, where you've gotta do several different things. I'm a junk fisherman and I'm really looking forward to 'junkin around' out there."
Iaconelli, like Lane, sees the stable warming pattern as advancing whatever fish movement that has been taking place since last week's three-day practice period.
"It was anywhere from 44 to 48 degrees for the three days last week we practiced, so it's obviously changed a bunch," Iaconelli said. "Whatever happens today, there'll be more coming in the next few days."
Dean Rojas missed the 2002 Classic but is excited nonetheless and expects similarly stout weights for the top of the leaderboard.
"I'm looking at a slugfest. Everybody's gonna catch 'em and I think it'll take 15- to 18-pounds, maybe 20," said Rojas. "It's my first time on the lake, but that's the kind of tournament I like, where there are no preconceived notions."