Close but no cigar

SHREVEPORT-BOSSIER CITY, La. – For a quintet of competitors, today’s Bassmaster Classic blast-off rapidly devolved into an ooze-off.

Despite pre-tournament scuttlebutt about long runs, carefully planned lock times and the possibility of refueling, Kevin VanDam, Aaron Martens, Davy Hite, Alton Jones and Jeff Kriet barely put their boats up on plane before they were in position to start casting.

That’s a pretty stout group, responsible for six Classic victories, including the last two, along with the last two runner-up finishes.

In many respects, their short jaunts were reminiscent of the 2010 Classic on Alabama’s Lay Lake, when VanDam and Kriet fished almost the entire tournament within a long cast of a lipless crankbait from the launch ramp. Unfortunately for all five of them, the small backwater they crammed into today didn’t seem to be quite as fertile as Beeswax.

This little pocket seemed to have fish coming to it in a hurry, just like Catouatche did in last year’s Classic on the Louisiana Delta.

“I had no intent of fishing in there,” Kriet said. “But I went in there on the last day of practice for the last hour and had 12 or 14 bites. Every stump seemed to have one on it. That made it hard not to start in there.”

Martens also found the mother lode during practice, catching 18 pounds in the small pond in a mere half hour, but he believes that the excessively stained water was his undoing.

“The wind blew it up,” he said. “It’s really dirty in there and it’s colder than it was last week.”

Kriet wasn’t sure that the area would have produced enough to win over the course of three days even if he’d had it to himself, but the presence of the other anglers likely ruled that possibility out entirely. He said he was less than thrilled to see the others there, but also took it as a sign that he’d made a solid decision.

“I can promise you that VanDam wouldn’t have started in there if he didn’t think he had a chance to win it in there,” he said.

VanDam was not surprised that the spot proved so popular. It’s a well-known community hole and with boat No. 1, he decided to take a chance on a likely winner. Hite, on the other hand, was shocked at the crowd he encountered when he eased over first thing in the morning.

“I had no idea there would be all those people there,” he said. “Maybe a boat, but holy cow, not four or five plus two camera boats.”

For Jones, the other four anglers’ Plan A was his Plan B. He encountered a crowd at his first spot consisting of Chris Lane, Marty Robinson and John Crews, but the area simply couldn’t sustain a fourth boat, so he headed back to the spot near the launch and encountered VanDam and crew.

“I left one crowd and went to another crowd,” he said. He may have been late to the party, but he remained after Martens, VanDam and Hite left, which proved to be a wise move. “Once they left I had my limit in 45 minutes and that gave me confidence for tomorrow.”

Hite was the first to leave. He cut his losses quickly and still managed to make a 7:50 a.m. lock time to Pool 4. Kriet stayed the longest, putting down roots and grinding his way to a limit that totaled 10 pounds, 6 ounces. He might’ve had more, but he lost several three-pounders.

Both Kriet and Hite expect that they’ll be back tomorrow, possibly for a brief while or perhaps for several hours if the bite is hot. Hite was boat No. 42 today, which means he’ll be near the front of the pack tomorrow.

“I’ll probably stop there,” he said. “If I get a few bites, I’ll stay. If not, I’ll still have time to make the lock.

I’ll assess it tonight. I would like to make a pass through there but it may come down to a decision to do something else.”

VanDam, on the other hand, has no intentions of going back on Saturday.

“Hopefully I’m going to make a little better choice tomorrow,” the reigning world champion stated. “Somebody may catch a big string out of there, but it won’t be me.”