Classic anglers launch in chilling conditions

At 6:30 a.m. Friday, the steaming cups of coffee were tantalizing for their promise of warmth. The Red River Waterway Commission passed out the liquid warmth (free, along with doughnuts). Bassmaster Classic launch spectators gratefully accepted the cups to counter the discomfort of the hair-straightening wind.

After days of unseasonably warm weather, Friday dawned at the Red River South Marina with air temperatures of about 50 degrees. The wind made the air feel colder. The predicted lows of 36 by Friday night weren’t hard to imagine.

Already dressed to handle the weather, Classic competitors were not much bothered by the wind or cold as they staged alongside the marina’s docks for the start of the Classic’s first day. Like most of the qualifiers, Shaw Grigsby was wrapped head to toe and well-versed about the weather conditions.

“When we were practicing on Wednesday, it looked like the long-term forecast was for a cold front with the winds coming around from the north, so I expected this,” he said.

“It will change the bite a little bit — I’m sure they’ll be a little lethargic in the morning, but I think it will get better and better as the day goes on. It should be a good day,” said Grigsby, who landed the first Classic berth awarded to a Bassmaster Elite Series event winner when he triumphed last March on the Harris Chain of Lakes in his native Florida.

The north wind could affect anyone fishing the Red’s southern side, Grigsby noted. Ott DeFoe pointed out that the backwaters are already so muddy, more wind isn’t going to make much difference. He’s more concerned with having to expend precious time and energy in boat positioning.

“Wind makes boat control hard anyplace. On this river, it’s worse, it makes you struggle all day,” he said. “They’re aren’t going to be many places where it’s protected.”

DeFoe, an Elite Series pro from Tennessee who is in his first Classic, estimated that the wind was up to about 15 mph at the protected launch site.

He was looking forward to a decent bite Friday.

“Tomorrow will be a different story,” he said. “The only bite that will happen tomorrow will be late in the day, in my opinion.”

Casey Ashley, Elite Series pro from Donalds, S.C., sees the wind as an “aggravating” factor, but was hoping his pockets are protected enough.

“The wind will muddy the banks, so we will have to adjust accordingly,” he said. “The front is coming. Fish should bite better today.”

Morning launch conditions did not include fog. A fog delay could have pinched plans for locking down into other Red River pools, thus congregating more anglers in Pool 5 where anglers launched.

The 49 anglers were sent off in style. The Barksdale Air Force Base Color Guard of five presented the colors, Senior Airman Megan Lewis performed the national anthem, and a flyover of a massive B-52 from Barksdale awed the crowd of an estimated 1,000 fans. A helicopter circled with Bassmaster TV cameras aboard.

And so it began for the 42nd time in history, the chase for the coveted Bassmaster Classic crown and the $500,000 prize that goes with it.

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