BOSSIER CITY, La. — The way Mike Iaconelli figures, anglers choose between two strategies on a day like today, the last day of practice before the Bassmaster Classic.
They can make the rounds to the spots that they discovered in earlier practices, verifying that the fish they found are still hanging around, and perhaps finding secondary spots nearby. Or they can trust that the fish they found will hold during competition, and, in Iaconelli's words "start over."
When he won the Classic in New Orleans four years ago, he took the first tack. Today, circumstances led him to the latter.
"I'm using today as a brand-new day," Iaconelli said on his boat before launch. He's able to take that approach in part because he found what he suspects is "a magic area" during practice Sunday. "Even if we don't get a keeper today, I'm happy," he said.
There's no telling whether Iaconelli's will be the prevailing plan on this final practice day, but it certainly won't be the only one. Fellow Elite Series pros Dave Wolak and Brent Chapman, to name two, intended to "expand" their water, combing areas close to where they already expect to fish.
"I think it's a day to hunt fish regardless," Wolak said, adding that he would target "the areas around the areas."
One pitfall of relying on the practice to locate fish is the fickle weather. The conditions at launch were almost balmy — warm, windy and moist — with a high today forecast to push 80 degrees.
Competition days will be more brutish, with freezing temperatures at launch and highs around 60.
"The weather today is conducive to finding fish," pro Bernie Schultz said. "Whether they hold up is the question."
Chapman echoed that sentiment: "They're going to bite great today. They're going to tease a lot of guys." The Kansas pro sees the final practice as a chance not to eliminate water, but to eliminate baits. He'll throw a variety today, with the expectation of ditching any that fails to attract a fish in such pristine conditions. "If it doesn't work today," Chapman said, "it won't work come tournament day."
As with all things in this sport, there's a difference of opinion even on that point. With the weather switching from chilly to warm to chilly, some anglers doubted that any but the shallowest fish would feel the effects of today's heat.
"Those fish might not even know it's that warm," said Elite Series pro Dustin Wilks, who's fishing his fifth Classic after missing the past four.
That won't be the case, certainly, for the fish in the shallowest waters, which is why pro Brian Snowden said he intended to target ditches and creeks. He said the handful of fish that are moving up toward the banks to spawn would be easiest to find in those areas.
Further, Snowden said, one key to the tournament will be "finding something with a little less pressure than everywhere else." An unobtrusive or hard-to-reach backwater would fit that bill, and it was plain that at least two anglers had exploration in mind, as Steve Kennedy and Rick Clunn both launched in aluminum boats.
Finally, the day will be one for anglers to work on the timing of the lock system that they'll need to navigate if they want to fish in the pools south of Red River South Marina & Resort.
Whether they're queuing for lock access or creeping up some parched creek, anglers will be checking their watches.
"I'm not going to make a science project out of it," Schultz said. "I just want to know where the fish are."
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