Damp and Deep

Assuming the weather forecast for next week's Bassmaster Classic on South Carolina's Lake Hartwell holds true, it will reinforce the old adage: If you want it to rain, invite BASS to hold a tournament in your town.

 "There's a very good chance of rain, it looks like, for late Friday and going into Saturday" of the Classic, said Doug Outlaw, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service weather forecast office serving the Greenville, S.C., area.

 It could rain as much as an inch or two. And it will follow a forecasted inch of rain this weekend, and while it won't be enough to offset the area's yearlong drought, any rain is good news in the Southeast.

 Outlaw said the week leading up to the Classic will also be slightly warmer than normal seasonal temperatures. With a front dragging in rain from the west, anglers will practice Wednesday under cloudy skies and with breezes of 10 to 15 mph.

 The chance of rain will increase from about 30 percent Thursday night to 40 percent on Friday. And although models aren't terribly reliable more than a week out, Outlaw did venture to say that "Saturday will be the best chance of rain."

 According to Sam Anthony, a semi-retired longtime guide on Hartwell, the rain won't be enough to affect the bass, which he says are largely suspended more than 30 feet deep and will probably stay deep until about the second week of March.

 While the forecast temperatures include highs near 60 degrees, Anthony said the fish won't move up to spawn until the nights warm, and those are expected to dip into the high 30s.

 "It breaks my heart sometimes, because when that starts, I would love to experience that for six, eight weeks," Anthony said of the spawn. "But generally it can speed up in a hurry, and you don't get but a week of it."

 The pros scouring Lake Hartwell this week have also had trouble finding shallow bass — which usually means the fish are hard to find, period.

 "I think it's more of a winter pattern," defending Classic champion Boyd Duckett said. "I'm on kind of a deep bite. I don't see the weather warming up much before the Classic. There's always a few fish that pull up shallow, but most of the guys targeting the shallow fish are pretty disappointed."

 He said he expected many anglers to follow a strategy similar to what he's planning: Pounding the few shallow fish early in the tournament, then moving into deeper water to chase the submarines lurking out of sight. "It's going to be won in 15 to 25 feet," Duckett said.

 Unless the weather takes a U-turn in the coming days, there simply won't be many fish in transition.

Anthony, for one, expects the winning weight to be somewhere between 45 and 51 pounds, caught mostly on a deep jig or a deep crankbait. He's confident the lake won't heat up enough for anglers to find fish much shallower.

 "The weatherman, I used to cuss him all the time," Anthony said. "But the weatherman's come a long ways."

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