As I write this, we’re done with the official Bassmaster Classic practice period, and we’ll have one more day on the water on Wednesday. So far, I’ve been extremely excited by what I’ve learned. From what I’ve seen, this is going to be an absolute slugfest. I’m sure that some of my peers will bad mouth their practice here, but in most cases they won’t be telling the truth.
The Tennessee River is going to fish as well as it will all year. The water is in the high 40s to mid 50s and the prespawn fish are super-healthy and fat. The water color is just about perfect – not too clear and not too dirty, so it’s going to line up perfectly for a variety of power fishing techniques.
I’m so confident of that last statement that I’m pretty sure that I won’t have a single spinning rod in my Bass Cat. I probably catch half of my fish over the course of the season on spinning tackle, so when I tell you that I’m leaving them at home it should mean something.
I had a few quality bites in practice. There are some hefty fish in this system and you'll need to have a few each day if you want to compete. I expect we’ll see multiple bags over 20 pounds on the first day. It might drop off after that, but not by much. Even if it doesn’t take 60 pounds to win, it’ll probably be mid-50s. Limits of 2-pounders will not cut it – they’ll leave you working the Expo on Sunday.
If I end up working the Expo on Sunday, I’ll be extremely disappointed, but I’m not going to let that possibility deter me from taking some risks. I want to win this tournament as much as I’ve wanted anything in my entire life. Last year was my first Classic and to be honest I was just happy to be there. My primary goal was just to fish all three days. I accomplished that by finishing 18th at Hartwell, but this year I’m going to treat it differently. It won’t be about saving face or protecting my image. As long as I take the right chances, I don’t care if I finish in last place. This is a winner-take-all event, and it would be a life-changing moment for me to hoist that trophy, so I’m not going to play it safe.
Whoever does end up winning is truly going to earn the title. Conditions are changing rapidly, every day, even hour-by-hour. I made a slight bait adjustment during practice, and it made all the difference in the world. That’s what it’s going to take this week – you could be in the right areas, but using the wrong lure, or vice versa, and you’ll never know you were on the winning fish. I suspect that the first day of the tournament will be like another practice day for a lot of us as we try to assess what has happened since the last time we saw the river. Then Saturday and Sunday’s weather will more closely resemble what we experienced this past weekend.
I feel really good about this Classic. It remains the sport’s biggest event, and this is a fishery worthy of that title. I get goosebumps every time I drive down the road here. I’m so close, and if it’s meant to be it’ll happen. I’m ready to get on the water and find out.