BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The best anglers in the world were shaking their heads Wednesday over the shortage of bites on ice-cold Lay Lake on the final practice day for the Bassmaster Classic, which begins Friday.
With a $500,000 first-place prize on the line from the $1.2 million Classic purse, the heated competition might be the only thing that will warm the 51 anglers on the Coosa River impoundment during the three-day tournament.
And given the unusually February weather conditions, a tough bite is to be expected, said Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., who'll be fishing his eighth Classic. The water is so unusually cold, he said, the lake's spotted bass aren't biting any better than the largemouth.
"The cold has affected both species," Hackney said. "These are 'hot water' spots — the extreme temperatures have affected the spots as much as the largemouths. I'm sure fish in this lake have never seen water this cold."
He predicted that most anglers will bring in either all spots or all largemouth, and that the Classic can be won with either tactic. But even the winner might not bring in a five-fish limit for all three days, he said.
The 2010 Classic will end Sunday with the crowning of the 40th Classic champion. Lay Lake conditions aren't likely to change much over the weekend. The forecast for sunshine — and sun is sorely needed to heat up the bite — won't help. Subfreezing air temps at night quickly erase any daytime gains, Hackney said.
Despite the light bite, he's loving the way Lay is fishing for him.
"I'm fishing the way I like," said Hackney, an Arkansas native who grew up fishing the Arkansas River. "The water's still really cold, but it's still a great lake and it has quality fish."
Another Classic angler, Pam Martin-Wells of Bainbridge, Ga., said her Wednesday practice session was productive.
"I got some bites," said Martin-Wells, the sole woman in the 51-angler field, and only the second woman to compete in a Bassmaster Classic. "I found cooperative bass in some areas."
With three of her four BASS tournament titles earned on Coosa River impoundments, Martin-Wells has an affinity for the Coosa's spotted bass. Her expertise isn't helping her much, as she said the cold snap changes everything.
Classic rookie Billy McCaghren of Mayflower, Ark., said he garnered four bites in four days, but didn't get a good look at all of them.
"I caught one of the four, and it was an average-size fish," he said.
McCaghren, like Hackney, cut his teeth on the Arkansas River. Like Martin-Wells, McCaghren's river background isn't proving to be of much help on Lay Lake, an impoundment that's more like a river on its upper half.
"I tried it upriver, but it wasn't working for me," McCaghren said. "They're flushing so much water, and it's so cold and so muddy; the current bite wasn't there."
McCaghren, the 2009 Bassmaster Elite Series Rookie of the Year who earned his first Classic berth via the 2009 Bassmaster Elite Series season, was still optimistic.
"I think it's going to get better," he said. "But limits are going to be tough. I think I'll be fishing for three big bites a day."
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 daily at 3 p.m. CT. 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.