The same … only different

It’s finally time to go fishing at the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods, and I’m feeling pretty good about things going into the first day. 

Preparing for the Classic is a lot like preparing for any other tournament, but, of course, it’s also very different. For one thing, the Classic is three-day event instead of four days like a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament.

For another, the Classic is often on a smaller body of water because the field is usually less than half the size of an Elite event. That means you have a better opportunity to check out the entire lake, but it also means the rest of the anglers can do the same.

But the biggest difference between the Classic and any other tournament is that we’re fishing for the world championship, not points to qualify for something else. The Classic isn’t winner-take-all in the sense that only the champion gets paid, but everyone is focused on first prize, the trophy and what it can mean to your career. 

This year’s Classic on Lake Hartwell is shaping up to be very different from when we were here in 2008 and 2015. The water level is different, the water temperature is different, the fish are in a different part of their annual cycle. As a result, it’s probably going to fish and be won very differently than those earlier Classics.

Because the water is warming this week and we’re getting closer to spawning time, you’ll see anglers who are entirely focused on fishing shallow water, anglers who are all-in on deep water and lots of anglers who have both shallow and deep patterns. I’m in that last group.

I have a plan for catching bass as deep as 30 or 32 feet and plans for catching bass in very shallow water. Until the weather and water conditions develop a little more, I have no idea which of my patterns is going to be most effective.

I do believe that the majority of bass weighed in this week will come from shallow water — less than 10 feet — but it might be won much deeper.

Since the Classic has moved to the late winter and early spring, there’s a lot more uncertainty coming out of practice. At other times of the year, you might have a pretty good idea of how you’ll do. You might even think you have a good chance to win. But when the tournament is in a transition period like between winter and pre-spawn, a lot can change, and you won’t know where you stand until things play out.

Yesterday was Media Day and Fan Appreciation Day, and one of the questions I was asked most often was how much weight I thought it would take to win. 

I think it’ll take about 18 pounds per day to win this tournament. That works out to a total of 54 pounds — a little more than it took in 2008 or 2015.

If the Classic is won fishing deep, I think a swimbait will be important. If it’s won shallow, I think it’ll come on a reaction-type bait like a crankbait or spinnerbait. But, of course, those are just my best guesses.

When I walk across the stage later today to weigh in, my goal is to be among the leaders and get in a position to win on Sunday. Winning the Classic is the goal of every angler in the field, but only one of us will be fortunate enough to do it. I hope to have that opportunity again.

Meanwhile, I’m hoping that everyone — competitors and observers — has a safe day on the water.

More tomorrow.