BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Air temperatures below freezing and a race to the warmer waters of the northern river portion of Lay Lake greeted the 51 competitors for the Bassmaster Classic as they took to the fishery for three days of official practice Feb. 12-14 for the 40th edition of the world's most prestigious fishing event, set for Feb. 19-21.
The field, which includes Pam Martin-Wells, the 2009 Toyota Tundra Women's Bassmaster Tour Angler of the Year and just the second woman in history to compete in the Bassmaster Classic, takes to the water for one more official practice day Wednesday, Feb. 17, before BASS kicks off the three-day competition Friday.
The forecast this week for Lay Lake, a Coosa River impoundment, shows clearing skies and a slight warming trend, but temperatures likely won't be high enough to help a speedy warm-up to the Lay Lake water. Friday to Sunday should see highs in the mid-50s and lows in the 30s to low 40s. Some anglers — in fact half the field or more — are planning a long run north during the Classic to the river, where creeks with current and warmer water will attract bass.
Kevin Short of Mayflower, Ark., an Elite pro fishing in just his second Bassmaster Classic, said the three-day practice period taught him that the slow, methodical approach might be his best bet, and that he's perhaps better off fishing the lower, deeper end of the lake.
"I've purposefully stayed away from the river this time," said Short, who finished 22nd in the 2008 Classic on South Carolina's Lake Hartwell. "I spent time up there in November, December, just looking, fishing a bit. I didn't like what I saw, size-wise. I just knew if you've got 15 to 20 guys up there it was going to get real small, real quick."
Short has fished slow and fast during practice, and has had bites for both. He said the bites are all about the same size, but he's sticking with 12 to 30 feet of water because he believes Lay doesn't hold enough shallow fish to last through the three days of competition.
Short, who tends to excel in tournaments with tough conditions, when anglers have to grind it out, said the water clarity issue is about the same everywhere on Lay.
"The main river is muddy; back up off the main river on bays and creeks, it's less muddy," he said. "Muddy and less muddy are your choices. The only water that I would consider clear was the coldest water I found, and that's not going to work.
"The weather warming up is too little, too late. I know it's a shallow lake, and some places will warm, but it's not enough to pull the fish off the deeper stuff."
Short said he thinks the football jig is going to be king for the Classic, along with finesse worms, and, with the weather warming up, lipless crankbaits in the afternoons. He said he won't be at all surprised to see a few 17- to 18-pound hauls on Day 1, and more 13- to 14-pound bags, "but then it's going to go downhill." He'd rather land the 13- to 14-pound bag on Day 1, he said, putting himself in position to move up on Day 2.
"I really don't want 17 or 18 the first day," he said. "The only day that matters to be in front is the last day, and with the fans we have here, if we get a really nice day Sunday, they will be out in force. And if you're in first, you're going to have a crowd."
The public is invited to attend the Classic in Birmingham and witness the crowning of the 2010 Classic champion, who on Sunday will claim a first-place prize of $500,000 from the total Classic payout of $1.2 million.
Launches are set for 7 a.m. CT Friday-Sunday at Beeswax Creek Park in Columbiana, Ala. Daily weigh-ins will be at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex in downtown Birmingham. Doors open Friday and Saturday at 3 p.m. CT, and at 3:30 p.m CT on Sunday. All events are free and open to the public.
The 2010 Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by Dick's Sporting Goods will be at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex arena. Show hours are set for Noon-8 p.m. CT Friday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. With no admission fee, the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo offers hours of quality family fun. Exhibitors are slated to offer activities such as free games with prizes, autograph sessions with top bass pros, raffles and product giveaways.
ESPN2, ESPN360.com and Bassmaster.com will provide extensive coverage of the three-day competition.
While Bassmaster.com again will carry a wealth of unique video content, the live, daily weigh-ins will be available at ESPN360.com, ESPN's 24/7 broadband sports network, with live coverage from the BJCC available exclusively each day from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. ET.
ESPN2 will pull out all the stops for the 40th Classic, as programming begins Saturday, Feb. 20, with coverage at 10 a.m. ET of Day 1 competition. The focus then turns to Day 2 with same-day, prime-time Saturday coverage at 10 p.m. ET.
On Sunday, Feb. 21, at 6 a.m. ET — shortly after the top 12 competitors launch for the final day of the Classic — fans can tune in to ESPN2 and stay there until 10 a.m. for all the Classic news. Sunday at 10 p.m., a two-hour show will feature the final weigh-in extravaganza and reveal the new Classic champ to the world. ESPN Classic will air five consecutive hours of previous Classics from 5 p.m.-10 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 21.