Weather talk dominates

SHREVEPORT-BOSSIER CITY, La. — No group, not even farmers, talk about weather more than fishermen, especially when big changes are blowing in the wind. So there was lots of weather chatter among the 49 competitors on the day before the Bassmaster Classic begins.

A southwest wind howling up to 30 miles an hour provided the background noise at media day Thursday, as temperatures rose to 80 degrees. When takeoff begins on the Red River at 7 a.m. Friday, the wind will have shifted to north-northwest and the temperature is predicted to be 46 degrees. Wind speeds of up to 25 miles an hour will make it feel colder.

“The weather (Friday) is going to be the biggest thing in this event,” said Mark Tucker of Kirkwood, Mo., who is fishing in his eighth Classic. “The wind is going to dictate everything.

“This south wind has blown for two days and put muddy water in the places that are usually protected from a north wind. Now you’re not going to be able fish where the water is clear because you’re going to have a 25-mile-an-hour north wind blowing on you.

“That’s a huge factor. In a 25-mile-an-hour wind, this is a hard place to fish because you’re going to be hung up on stumps all the time.”

Muddy water isn’t necessarily a bad thing to a bass fisherman, unless he’s at the Red River, where “muddy” takes on a whole new meaning. When the Red River gets muddy, you can see coon tracks on top of the water. (Not really, but you get the picture.)

“In some fisheries you want muddy water,” Mike Iaconelli said. “Here it’s the kiss of death.”

After heavy rain last weekend, clear water in the Red River was already at a premium. It’s going to become scarcer overnight, should these weather predictions hold. The Weather Channel would easily win the overnight Nielsen ratings in a survey of Classic competitors.

“It’s scary,” Tucker said. “This tournament will be won Friday. I really believe that. A guy is going to catch them Friday, then hang on the next two days.”

Tucker might be right. The three-day Classic typically hasn’t featured many startling come-from-behind stories in its previous 41 years.

“I think you could easily put yourself out of contention Friday,” Iaconelli said. “But I don’t think you can win it Friday.”

Although the water conditions are unlike those found here in 2009, when the river was clear, Iaconelli expects a close competition that will play out like it did then, when he finished second by 11 ounces to Skeet Reese.

“Going into that last day, seven or eight guys had a shot at it,” said Iaconelli, who lives in Pittsgrove, N.J. He won the 2003 Classic held in the Louisiana Delta near New Orleans. “You’re not going to see one guy blow it away this year. I think the angler who wins this will be steady-Eddie the whole way.”

The way to catch bass consistently on the Red River over the next three days will hinge on being able to adapt to the changing weather and where it moves the fish. With these last two days of warm weather, water temperatures have risen to almost 60 degrees, and bass have moved into shallow water in a pre-spawn mode. A cold snap will send them into deeper water, but won’t cause them to move far from the shallows.

“I believe you’re going to see an angler win this week not on one place, but in an area, where he’s able to keep up with them when they move,” Iaconelli said.

Mark Zona, host of “Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show” on Outdoor Channel and the color commentator for Bassmaster Classic television coverage, stated it best: “When bass poke their nose up shallow and Mother Nature tells them it’s time to make love, they just don’t leave the county when the weather changes. They stay real close to the bedroom.”

But they won’t be in the bedroom Friday morning, when it’s predicted to be 46 degrees in the air above them, or Saturday morning, after the temperature drops from 60 degrees Friday afternoon to a predicted 36 degrees early Saturday morning.

The Bassmaster Classic carries a first-place prize of $500,000, so there’s a boatload of attention focused here. And Zona’s prediction for a winning formula sounds exactly like Iaconelli’s.

“I really think the angler who is able to change techniques on the run is going to win this tournament,” Zona said.