Big Easy's Giant Swampland Prepares to Host Fishing's Big Show

NEW ORLEANS, La. - The largest field in the 33-year history of the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer got its first look in a month at the bass fishery scattered throughout the enormous weedy waters of the Louisiana Delta on Wednesday - and most were not overly enthusiastic about what they found.

The three-day world championship event features 61 anglers who survived a rigorous qualifying process through the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail or the BASS Federation circuits. On Friday, the Classic contenders will make long boat runs across the 500-square-mile shallow marshland in search of limits of 15 bass heavy enough to earn the $200,000 top prize and the most important title in competitive fishing.

The Delta was placed off-limits to the fishermen a month ago, following a six-day scouting period. So Wednesday's lone practice day was the anglers' first and only chance to take the fishing pulse of the region before their casts start counting Friday morning.

The consensus among the Classic contenders Wednesday afternoon was that fishing had been difficult and more frustration may lie ahead. Most pros emphasized that an unfavorable tide was the primary culprit - and that situation isn't expected to change significantly during the Friday-through-Sunday competition.

"It was tough today," said Roger Boler of Slidell, La., the local pre-Classic favorite who knows the moods of the Delta more intimately than most of his competitors. "I was down in the Venice area. I didn't go to my best spots, but I went to stuff around it. I kind of eliminated a lot of spots.

"I didn't fish my best spots because I didn't want to hook anything. And the conditions were not right down there, right now, either. (The tide) was ripping through there real hard this morning. Incoming tides are not just good. And the tides are not going to get any better. So I have a decision to make on Friday."

The Venice area seemed to attract the most anglers on Wednesday. But fishing this region - where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico - is a gamble, because it requires a run of more than two hours, each way, which reduces actually fishing time to about three hours.

Alabama pro Tim Horton, the 2000 BASS Angler of the Year, admitted he tested the most productive areas that he had pinpointed a month ago. Those spots produced six to eight strikes, which gives him hope that a decent population of cooperative largemouths lives there.

"With these long runs, you are committed to one area because you don't have time to adjust," said Horton, who also fished the Venice area. "You have to know where you're going from the moment you leave. You can't run areas. You've got to commit to a certain place and stay with it.

"We've got a tough tide; (it's) a high tide, which is going to hurt fishing some. But I still think it's going to take 13 or 14 pounds a day to win."

Four-time Classic qualifier Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., was more blunt when asked about his practice session on Wednesday.

"My practice day stunk," he said. "I went to a lot of areas where I thought the fish would be. The fish weren't there today. I know there are fish around there, but it's just that we're fishing the wrong tide. Maybe some guys have figured out a little something down there today, but I sure didn't.

"I went all the way down to south Venice and covered a lot of water. I fished a lot of good-looking stuff, but I just haven't figured out (how) to catch them when the tide is up. On Friday morning, I'm going to punt and just wing it. This tournament is all or nothing. I've got some water where I could go fish conservatively and catch a small limit without running down there. But that's not what I want to do. I'm probably going back down there, but I could either catch 12 pounds or I could catch zero."

BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass-fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.

Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Chevrolet Trucks, Yamaha Outboards, Mercury Marine, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, Kumho Tires, Progressive Insurance, Abu Garcia, Berkley, Diamond Cut Jeans, MotorGuide Trolling Motors, and BankOne. Associate Sponsors include Bryant Heating and Air Conditioning and G3 Boats.

Local sponsors include the State of Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, and Jefferson Parish.

For more information, contact BASS Communications at (504) 304-2563.