NEW ORLEANS -- The locals told tales of 30-pound limits. KVD said he had a 9-pounder in practice. Federation Nation qualifier Sean Alvarez reported losing a near double-digit giant on the first day of competition.
But it wasn't until the final day of the 2011 Bassmaster Classic that the allegations and stories could be turned into historical fact as the big bass that fishermen dream of showed up in numbers.
There was an inkling on Day Two that this would happen when Russ Lane, who'd put up a goose egg on Friday, went from zero to hero when he brought a 7-12 big fish to the scales. That dwarfed the sizeable but more pedestrian big fish on Friday, a 5-9 largemouth that Day One leader Aaron Martens brought to the scales.
Sunday the big girls truly showed up to play. Brandon Palaniuk caught a 7-13 that would have taken big bass honors on either of the first two days, but it wasn't even the second biggest bass. It paled in comparison to the 8-4 that Derek Remitz landed early in the morning and was dwarfed by Boyd Duckett's 8-15. Duckett had another fish in his creel that appeared almost as big. He fished a few hundred yards away from VanDam, Martens, Scott Rook and Remitz, and believes that he might have intercepted the big fish on the way to where the others sat.
"A lot of big ones were caught on the outside edge," he said. "Today was the type of day that they moved." He generated reaction strikes with a green pumpkin chatterbait, then followed up with a Berkley Pit Boss. It was the soft plastic that produced the near 9-pounder.
Remitz caught his big fish on a Lucky Craft RC 1.5 crankbait. At first he thought he'd snagged a wad of grass, but when the "grass" started to move, he uttered a few choice words and got to work. "The fish ate it so good that it had it down in its crushers almost," he said.
But it wasn't just a few stray giants that showed up. Defying conventional wisdom that the Tank Pond area would prove too crowded to sustain three days of quality limits for multiple anglers, weights generally went up in there. Going into Sunday, the biggest limit weighed in was Kevin VanDam's 22-8 on Saturday. On Sunday, VanDam and four others fishing within sight of him topped that mark. Apparently, rumors of the Tank Pond's presumed demise were greatly exaggerated.
The biggest bag of the day, and of the tournament, was caught by Duckett, who by any conceivable measure had a career day. Remitz had 26-5, second-place finisher Aaron Martens had 25-14 and Federation Nation qualifier Palaniuk weighed in 22-15. VanDam's one day weight of 28-0 fell short of Duckett's 28-13, but he'd built up enough of a lead heading into the final day so that his "undersized" sack was still enough to claim the title.
Duckett said that never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined that he'd weigh in 28-13 on the final day of a Bassmaster Classic and not take home his second trophy. VanDam's three-day total of 69-11 was built on the backs of fish that he described as wider than they are long.
Still, he had no doubt of the big fish potential in that small portion of the Tank Pond. "There are more 10-pounders swimming in that bay right now than in any other lake in the country," he said. He offered no concrete proof of that assertion other than a trophy, giving that statement instant credibility.