Classic starts Friday with first practice

VENICE, La. — For many fans, the Classic starts February 18, when they will pack the arena to see the Day One weigh-in, but for the 50 qualifiers, the Classic begins tomorrow. Friday is the first of three grueling days of practice, a time when the Classic will likely be won or lost.

At least a dozen anglers were staying out near the Venice Marina, preparing to spend at least one or two days at this end of the marsh, where Mike Iaconelli won the 2003 Classic.

Paul Elias was out working on his electronics, trying to transfer some of the waypoints he marked from the pre-practice period onto his new unit. "The GPS is going to be ridiculously important during this event," Elias said. "If it was to go out on me, I don't know if I could get out of some places.

I've fished here before, so I know my way around a little, but it will take a few times running around before I become familiar with it."

Other anglers, like Tommy Biffle, were just happy to escape the cold weather and snow blanketing most of the country. Back home in Oklahoma, Biffle estimated they received 24 inches of snow combined after two storms blew through, and he just missed the second getting out of town. "I love to play in the snow," Biffle said. Unfortunately, the man from Wagoner was too busy taking care of last-minute business to frolic in the layers of white surrounding his house and thus, couldn't supply with a picture.

In New Orleans, the temperatures have been cooler the last few weeks, but a warming trend should reach town in time for the tournament. The 40-degree temperatures must have felt nice to Ryan Said, whose native town of Wixom, Mich., barely broke the single digits Thursday. Said, winner of the Northern Open points in 2010, was packed down with maps to go along with his GPS.

"I'm going to use my GPS, too, but it's good to see an aerial shot of the water, especially for making that run," he said. The run Said is referring to is the two-hour journey from the Classic launch outside of New Orleans down to Venice. A run made even more time consuming when the risk of running aground is factored in.

Dave Wolak spent time before the off-limits went into effect scouting the area, but he knows that the tidal water can be unpredictable in regards to shifts in sand and mud. An area that was previously safe to run might inexplicably silt in, leaving the unsuspecting angler high and dry. "I can't wait to get stuck in the mud tomorrow," Wolak said. "You just get stuck constantly out here. In a normal creek, you see the outside bend and that is where the deeper water is.

Here, that same area might still be shallow. You never know when, where or why the mud will build up." Another hazard to contend with will be fog. Edwin Evers prepared for this eventuality by installing a radar system on the back of his boat. "If it's foggy, you may leave Bayou Segnette and you could hit fog," Evers said. "Having the radar let's me keep going.

It picks up buoys and other boats — it could be a huge asset" Evers too left a huge cold front back home in Oklahoma, record-setting cold in fact. Evers said the temperature in his hometown of Talala was -17 degrees, and it was even colder in other parts of the state.

New Orleans offers a vast improvement on that and should provide better temperatures than last year's practice period, when the first day brought snow flurries on Alabama's Lay Lake. Just like then, will be out gathering stories and photos from the anglers during the three days of official practice.

Check back regularly for photo galleries and analysis as the real Classic work gets under way and 50 anglers search for the magic spot that will land them a victory lap in a little over a week.

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