GREENVILLE, S.C. — Have you heard it’s cold in Greenville?
It seems it’s the only thing anyone can talk about. And who can blame them? With temperatures dipping into the single digits, everyone’s got something to say. “Who knew the Classic was an ice fishing tournament?” or “Did you guys bring your augers?” or “These guys are going to get frostbite!”
So people are looking at this tournament a couple of ways: The top guys will be ones who are really experienced or successful, particularly on Hartwell, who are able to persevere and draw on past success, or they’ll be guys who live in a frozen tundra and no longer have feeling in their toes and fingers and will do well based on their overall physical numbness.
Paul Mueller gets a lot of attention based the latter. The Connecticut B.A.S.S. Nation angler spends his wintertime ice fishing. You can’t live in Connecticut and be sensitive to low temperatures. You would just have to move.
Troy Diede of the South Dakota B.A.S.S. Nation left even colder temperatures to drive more than 1,000 miles southeast to compete on “balmy” Lake Hartwell.
Even Jeff Lugar of the Virginia B.A.S.S. Nation left temps not much warmer to come South. But the other three B.A.S.S. Nation anglers — from Arizona, Mississippi and Alabama — aren’t often subjected to this type of weather, even when sitting in deer stands.
“As long as I put gloves on, I’ll be fine,” said Steve Lund, the B.A.S.S. Nation qualifier from Arizona.
Lund shrugged off the frigid temperatures and said the bigger challenge for him this week has been recovering from a vacation to Hawaii followed by a 2,000-mile drive due east.
“I had a vacation to Hawaii planned before I qualified for the Classic,” said Lund. “I figured while I was there, I had to go bass fishing, just to say that’s another state I’ve caught a bass in. But I got home and left to come here less than 48 hours later.”
He slept in his truck, drove for three days (which included one 19-hour day of just driving), suffered the time difference from Hawaii to Arizona to South Carolina, and then went straight into practice.
“I rested some on Sunday, doing tackle prep, and I’m all caught up now.”
Now, he just has to catch ’em.
“I found pretty good fish when I came here in December,” said Lund. “My strength is shallow, and I’m afraid I’m going to have to fish outside of my comfort zone. But I got some good ones on the first couple of practice days, and now I just have to go find them again.”
While Lund is lamenting having to fish deep, Coby Carden of the Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation is saying the exact opposite.
“I looked for deeper stuff in December,” said Carden, who’s making his second straight Bassmaster Classic appearance. “I can’t get the deep bite now. I’m still going to try those areas, though, because the herring move around a lot, and if they show up, the bass will be there.”
Regardless of the cold, Carden is ready to get the competition started.
“I’m just looking forward to getting out there, even if it’s 2 degrees.”
Teb Jones of the Mississippi B.A.S.S. Nation says he’s had a good practice, but that cold is punishing.
“I know how to dress for cold weather,” said Jones. “You put on layer after layer. But all day on the water in these temperatures, you put on all the layers you have, and then you add even more.”
And wearing gloves? He’s not a fan.
“I hate fishing in gloves,” said Jones. “The sensitivity is less. You can’t detect those light bites as well.”
And the cold affects so much more than just your hands.
“Equipment just does not function as well,” Jones added. “Your guides freeze, the ice knicks your line, it just cuts down on your overall efficiency.”
But he’s not worried. His pattern is coming together, and his test will be not whether he can find the bass but whether he can make them bite.
“They’re just not as active now as they were in December,” said Jones. “The areas I’ve been in are 43- to 47-degree water temperatures now, and they were 51 to 55 in December.”
The weather and the camaraderie and the competitiveness all reinforce the respect he already had for the Bassmaster Elite Series pros.
“It means a lot that a punch-the-clock guy like me has a chance to compete against the best in the world. It’s really special.
“It’s a great deal that the B.A.S.S. Nation has going that got me here.”
Tune in to Bassmaster.com/Nation to see how the six B.A.S.S. Nation qualifiers perform in the Classic.