If you've ever been an athlete and you got serious about competing in an organized sport, you've probably always dreamed about winning the "big one" - a big game or major event that transcends all others. If, for example, you played Pop Warner football and kept playing as you got into middle school and high school, you might have dreamed of winning a state title or going to college and playing for a national championship. Every kid who loves baseball probably thinks of the World Series, just as every young, promising track runner dreams of the Olympics.
The point is, there's a Big One in every sport. And those who seriously work at becoming the best in their sport hope to get to that Big One and win.
Well, our big event is coming up: the Bassmaster Classic. To us in pro fishing, it's the Super Bowl; it's the seventh game of the World Series or the NBA Playoffs. The Classic is this month, February 20-22, on the Red River. The host city is Shreveport, Louisiana. And if you don't think it's big, just watch it. Especially check out the final day's weigh-in, where the crowd will likely by 10,000-plus, and the television coverage is live on ESPN. It's a fan and media circus, and I mean that in a positive way. The whole atmosphere is great for our sport. There's nothing like the Bassmaster Classic.
Just like every other angler in the 51-angler field, I'm developing and refining my game plan, figuring my points and day-to-day strategy. But I won't be giving away any secrets (at least I don't think I will) by listing what I think the winner of this year's Classic is going to have to do to earn the trophy. The champion will have to do the following:
(1) Conquer the mind game.
Every competitive fishing tournament, whether it's a local event on a South Georgia river or an Elite Series event on the choppy open water of Lake Erie, is a mind game. But the Classic takes the head games to a new level. The winner will have to deal with tournament pressure like no other and will have to string together three days of good decisions.
I'll give you an example, an unfortunate one, on what can happen when you don't make solid decisions. Last year at Hartwell Lake, I made a bad decision that cost me on Day 1 of the Classic. Since it's a swing-for-the-fences tournament, you've got to make good decisions all three days, but I knocked myself early. The weather had been super cold, and I had put together a perfect plan for fish in shallow water. It hadn't rained seriously for months. Then right before the tournament, we had two days of hard rain and, as a result, my fish weren't there. And I didn't have enough of a deep-water plan to compete. Bad timing, bad decision.
The same type of thing will happen to a lot of anglers at the Red River. I believe 15 or more competitors will be taken out by the pressure of the Classic and another 15 or so will make some bad decisions or get on patterns that won't win. That will leave about 15 or 20 competitors with a legitimate chance to win.
(2) Fish an "experienced" game.
As nice as it is to pull for new guys to do well, nothing beats experience. If you go back and look at the previous "Super Sixes" on the final day of the Classic, I think you'll find it's almost always something like 5-1, or no less than 4-2, veterans to new guys. It takes quite a bit of experience to do what you've got to do to win the Classic. Last year, Alton Jones, won. He's a good jig fisherman with 18 years experience.
I understand people were surprised in 2007 when I won the Classic my first time competing in it. But it certainly wasn't my first time on that water. I've tournament fished since 1977, and I've had good tournaments on Lay Lake. Experience is good.
(3) Know how to fish a river system.
River systems fish differently, they're unlike a reservoir. There could be a multitude of changes and possibilities on the Red River this year. The field could open up if we get a week of 65 to 70 degrees and the water is normal. There could be Classic record weights if that happens. But if we get the dreaded Red River special - cold, high muddy water - a tremendous group of the field will be shut out because it's hard, hard, hard to catch fish in cold, muddy water.
The basics are: it's the end of February, the pattern is pre-spawn females, and they're going to be in the back - way back. That's where the guessing game starts. Just how far back are they? Are they already in the shallow water? Are they in the spawning pockets? …. One thing we know is that they're not going to be close to the river. It's a flat agricultural area, and they'll be in the backs of the oxbows, those areas that are cut off.
I can't stress enough how small the Red River is going to fish. Ninety percent is useless. The fish will be in 10 percent of the water.
(4) Catch a big fish every day.
I mean something like a seven- or eight-pounder. There are plenty of those in the Red River. But the Red River is weather- dictated, and it's rain, not temperature, that will affect us the most. In the third week of February, sometimes the water gets so high it comes over the dikes. If that happens, 12 pounds a day could win the tournament. But if we get anything close to normal, you're going to have to catch a big fish every day to win. The all-time Classic record, 56-4, could fall. In fact, if we get good weather, no rain or high water, I predict the record will fall.
(5) Carve out the distractions.
You're forced into a different routine, and you can't help but feel disrupted, Everything changes. You don't have your boats and your tackle in front of you, the way you do at most tournaments. You stay in a nicer hotel, away from your truck, boat and tackle. You're shuttled in a group, working on other people's time, not your time. You don't even launch your boat. You just get off the dock and into your boat in the water - and a barrage of boats follow you. It's a media blitz all week. You just have to figure out how to overcome all that that.
Kim Bain faces special challenges...... see page 2