Kelly Bostian: Snow makes for chilly final practice day for Bassmaster Classic
BY KELLY BOSTIAN Outdoors
Thursday, February 21, 2013
2/21/13 at 11:02 AM
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Original Print Headline: Snow makes for chilly final practice day
Wednesday's final practice day for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic dawned with a promise of snow and a chill on the bones.
"Get ready to freeze your butt off because we're going to be running a lot," Park Hill pro Jason Christie said when I told him I'd be joining him on his boat. "At 70 mph, it gets pretty cold."
The "Vegas favorite" and local favorite in the Classic wanted to get in some final look-sees and quick checks here and there on Wednesday. That was his plan anyway; a final sorting of spots that would be considered, kept in mind, or crossed off the list.
Wednesday's official practice prior to the Classic, which is Friday through Sunday, always is a short day on the water for the anglers. When these guys practice for real, they're fishing as the sun rises and still at it when it sets. That's what they did for three days last Friday through Sunday.
The Wednesday before the Classic serves as a sort of dry run day. Volunteers get a look at their positions at the parking lot for directing traffic, the sound system gets a run-through with the national anthem and basic announcements, and the anglers line up their boats and "launch" in order. And a lot of guys like me get a chance to get on a boat with an angler.
But, as on the eight-hour tournament fishing days, Wednesday practice happens only 7 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. if you're in the front of the launch order or until 3:15 p.m. if you're in the back half. It takes about a half-hour to get all 53 boats off and running, thus the staggered return times.
As the anglers lined up in Grove on Wednesday, snow began to fall in Tulsa and the forecast called for "worsening conditions," as tournament director Trip Weldon put it. The decision was made to cut the practice time by an hour. Everyone was to return by 1:45 or 2:15. "We wanted to make sure everyone had plenty of time to get back safely," Weldon said.
"We may have a change of plans here," Christie said. Then he rethought the idea, saying "we'll be all right."
Without giving away too much of what the angler is thinking in terms of tournament strategy, the initial 70 mph streak - which may have been closer to 80 at times - shot us to the upper lake tributary Elk River.
At the end of the day, by the time we turned to hop-scotch our way back to the launch at Wolf Creek Boat Ramp, we were mid-lake, on the opposite side of the lake from the Elk, somewhere below Horse Creek, about 30 miles distant by water.
Each run was relatively short and extremely cold. Christie wore a full Simms rain suit; bibs and jacket, stoking cap and thin Under Armor gloves while he fished. He wore a full face-shield helmet when we motored. I bundled up like I was headed out for a sub-zero duck hunt in my Cabela's Rain Suede, bibs and parka.
When motoring in these situations, the angler has a decided advantage in staying warmer and comfortable. The passenger's cowling is removed for weight and drag to increase speed. And, yes, there was a point when I looked at Christie, motoring wearing his helmet and tucked behind his windshield as I braced against a wind that had me pinned in my chair with death grip on the freezing steel and glass camera body in my hands and thought to myself, "Kelly, you are an idiot."
Ah, but it wasn't all that bad. We were dressed for it. I got to take a little break and have some hot soup that I brought while Christie fished, furiously and nonstop through the collection of snow and warming (up to 37) that thawed what had collected by the time we got back to the dock that afternoon.
Christie actually enjoyed the snow. As snow engulfed Grand Lake around 10:30 a.m. he looked around through the gray-white and pronounced, "I wish this was the first day of the tournament. The fish always bite better when it's like this."
True to his statement he hooked up not long after that. "It might be good in a way," he said. "Someone out there will catch 'em today and come back Friday and they won't be able to find 'em."
Grand Lake has a lot of fish, and the man people talk about as the likely champion still talks as if it's not his tournament to lose but Grand Lake's tournament to offer to a winner.
With snow falling heavily enough to coat the deck of his boat and a Japanese TV crew in a boat nearby, he spoke of how fickle and fertile Grand Lake is.
"You could put a 12-year-old kid on that bank over there and he could pull out 25 pounds; that's a true story," he said with a smile bright as the snow.
The water has some color to it, a condition that has persisted through practice. The extra stain in the water makes it a little tougher to get hook-ups. "It'll be a grind," he said. "You're not going to get on one spot and pull a bunch off of it."
Someone will find them, though, he said. More than one angler has said those very words: "Somebody's going to catch them."
Christie looked at one piece of water where he worked his Smithwick jerkbait on Wednesday and prophesied, speaking in a matter-of-fact tone, "someone's going to throw that Rogue out there and let it sit that extra second and pull up a big, big bass," he said.
He didn't say if he was thinking of himself - or someone else.
Jason Christie shows a bass he pulled from Grand Lake during a cold day of practice Wednesday. KELLY BOSTIAN/Tulsa World
Edwin Evers pulls in a fish during practice day for the Bassmaster Classic on Wednesday on Grand Lake near Grove. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World