A brutal practice

This is the most extreme Classic ever. I know there have been hot ones, and a few held on tough waters, but as far as the cold is concerned this is the worst ever. I've never practiced under conditions like I did on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It was brutal — ugly brutal.

The water was (is) cold and muddy — in the low 40-degree range — and the air was even colder. On top of that, my boat was covered with a couple of inches of slushy snow that I had to keep sweeping off the deck. That's tough on me, and I'm from New Jersey. I can imagine what the warm weather guys were thinking.

It's hard to concentrate under those conditions. Your fingers get numb. It's almost impossible to make notes and match your maps to your electronics, but you have to keep going no matter what. If you let down, even for a minute, you're dead.

The top guys don't quit, ever. That means you can't. If you do, you may as well not even launch your boat. They'll eat your lunch before you even know it's happened.

The Classic itself will really separate the anglers. The guys who can keep their heads down and keep fishing smart under these conditions will do the best. That's where I think experience will make a big difference.

Everyone wants to win. But only so many of the guys know how to do it under these conditions. Bites will be hard to get out there, even if it warms up a little. A lot of the competitors will have trouble with that. As the day wears along it'll be easy to get discouraged, start letting the cold bother you and give up.

That's a big change from what we expected. Most of us thought this would be a prespawn event. Not so. This is true winter bass fishing. That's something a lot of us don't do. (With the Classic being held in February these days, maybe we should start.)

This will be a Classic where a handful of bites a day will put you in the running. Five respectable ones just might bring home the trophy and the check. To get those bites you'll have to change a lot as this event goes along. There's no one thing that'll catch fish all three days.

The competitors who can keep fishing right up to the weigh-in without a bite, and who can change tactics without reservation or hesitation, will ultimately prevail. Those who get discouraged and slow down their efforts, or doggedly stick to the same presentation, will fail. This will go down in history as a mental event.

Is that unfair? I don't think so. This is the Bassmaster Classic. It's what professional fishing is all about — effort, perseverance, concentration and catching them when they don't want to bite. If it was easy, this sport wouldn't be nearly as much fun.

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