With water temperatures in the high 40s and air temperatures possibly as low as the single digits during this week’s GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro, a misstep that leads to falling out of the boat could be fatal.
So the competitors in the 56-angler field are keeping past experiences squarely in their minds to make sure it just doesn’t happen.
And most of them do have at least one watery experience.
Cliff Crochet of Pierre Part, La., is 31 years old, and he said he’s only fallen out of his boat twice. But one of those incidents was just last year in the Bassmaster Elite Series event on Missouri’s Table Rock Lake.
“I got a crankbait caught up, and I was coasting to the bait trying to get it,” Crochet said. “But I never could get the bait undone. When the boat went past the bait, I walked back toward the console, just got top-heavy and fell out. My marshal had to put my power pole down, and I had to kind of monkey crawl to get back in.”
Crochet said he was “a day or two away” from the kind of cold weather that would have caused him some real issues with hypothermia. He knows he’s squarely in the danger zone this week.
“This is like the kind of dangerous stuff you see on ‘Deadliest Catch’ on TV,” Crochet said. “I’ll fish with my life jacket on. You might still be done if you fall in, but at least they’ll find you easier.
Veteran Arkansas pro and 1995 Classic winner Mark Davis said an incident when he was in his teens made him smarter when it comes to moving safely around his boat.
“I’ve fell out a bunch of times,” Davis said. “The worst time was when I was 18 or 19 years old. My brother and I were fishing yo-yos in early April at night, and it was cold.
“I fell in with all these clothes on, and I couldn’t swim in the boots I was wearing. I realized, even if I could swim, I didn’t know which way to swim because it was pitch-black dark.”
Davis finally managed to grab a piece of standing timber and literally climbed the tree until he could poke his head above water.
He said he’s been a lot more cautious since then, and he’ll be even more cautious than usual during Friday’s opening round of the Classic. He plans to fish in his Mustang life vest all day and take a complete change of clothes with a worst-case scenario in mind.
Virginia angler Jeff Lugar said he’s fallen in twice – once by accident and once on purpose when he dove in to save an expensive rod that fell in the water. Rods will just have to be sacrificed this week.
Brett Preuett, the 2014 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series champion from Monroe, La., labels himself a “clumsy angler” and said he’s probably fallen out of the boat 10 times. But he said he’ll be watching every step this week.
Alabama angler Coby Carden is one of the few anglers in the field who has never fallen out of his boat. But he answered the question “No,” knocking on the table in front of him with a closed fist.
He knows he might be due, but he’s hoping he already has his one mistake for the week behind him.
“I never fish in gloves, so I spent Wednesday trying to get acclimated to that,” Carden said. “The first thing I did was drop a rod in the water, and instinctively I reached in after it all the way up to my elbow. When I brought my arm out, I realized it was the dumbest thing I had ever done because I came really close to falling out.”