America's Best Pros Hope to Decipher Massive Marshland Fishery
NEW ORLEANS, La. - When the BASS Masters Classic brought the nation's attention to the Louisiana Delta located on the outskirts of New Orleans in 1999, the massive swampland was a dark and mysterious place when it came to its bass fishery. Only the locals knew the kind of quality fishing that lived in these waters.
Davy Hite and the Classic spotlight took care if that, though. The South Carolina pro seined 55 pounds of bass in spite of the harsh summertime conditions, and the Classic opened the fishing world's eyes to the incredibly abundant bass populations spread throughout the miles of marshlands.
No such awakening is in order this summer, as the 31st annual Classic returns to the Big Easy Aug. 2-4. The plentiful largemouths living in the countless canals, sloughs and bays that comprise the Delta region are anything but a secret.
That doesn't mean that they will be any easier to catch in this Classic. Poll the 45 Classic pros who scouted the Delta during the official practice period in late June and you will get a general prediction of considerably tougher fishing this time around.
Much has occurred in this bass habitat since the 1999 Classic. A severe drought lingered nearly two years, drying up large portions of the marsh and allowing saltwater intrusion to creep much farther north than usual. That robbed the oxygen content in many places where the bass had flourished in the past, forcing them to relocate elsewhere. As if that wasn't enough, Mother Nature played havoc with the Delta by stalling Tropical Storm Allison over the area in early June and dropping 26 inches of rainfall.
"The fishing ranged from tough to terrible," said legendary pro Roland Martin, who is making his 28th appearance in the coveted Classic. "There was just too much water and a lot of nasty, dirty water in the Delta when we were there. Right now, the water gauge at New Orleans is at 10 feet, so that means there is a lot more water than they need in the Delta.
"Yet with all that water, saltwater intrusion is still a problem. There are barnacles everywhere. Even up in all that fresh water, there are crabs and redfish all over the place. I checked it out with my salinity meter and found a lot of places that were still all messed up."
Martin is optimistic that the water level will drop considerably and return the Delta back to normal before the Classic kicks off.
I think we're going to have a lot better water quality when we get back there," said Paul Elias, the 1982 Classic winner from Mississippi. "But if another weather front comes through there, it could get worse than it is. we'll just have to wait and see."
"I'd be surprised if the fishing is as good as it was the last time we had a Classic here," California pro Skeet Reese interjected. "It was tough and I hope it stays tough, to be honest with you. I like it when it's challenging.
"It's hard to say what will happen, though, because all of a sudden they could get a whole bunch of fresh water coming in. Maybe there are big groups of fish left around and that fresh water will trigger them to bite. The grass starts growing and all that - and it could be a completely different world when we get back there."
Missouri's Rick Clunn, who is making a record 28th consecutive Classic appearance, confirmed the difficult fishing conditions and believes that the options of where to fish might be limited when the competition begins. He emphasized that a giant floating island (big enough to support fully grown trees) known locally as a "tussock' has completely blocked off the only entrance to Bayou Boeuf where Hite won the Classic in 1999. Boeuf has also been a top producing area during two Top 150 events held in the Delta during the past two falls.
"Right now, it's plugged tighter than a jug," Clunn explained. "If that stays true and you eliminate Bayou Boeuf, which has dominated the last two times we've been here, things will get interesting. I feel like Des Allemands and the rest of that general area is still trying to make a comeback from all of the drought conditions and the saltwater (intrusion) from last year."
Clunn speculated that the winning weights could come to the pros who gamble by making long runs from the Bayou Segnette launch ramp to the Delacroix or Venice areas.
"Now that the drought is over, the fish will be really spread out all over the Delta," advises Sam Swett of Covington, La., a Delta expert and BASSMASTER Tour pro. "The beautiful thing about the Delta is that the tournament can be won in any area. There is still plenty of virgin territory out there waiting to be found."
The 45 Classic contenders will be fishing for a $100,000 top prize and the most important title in the sport.  Winning the Classic is the high-water mark in professional fishing and an accomplishment that has rewarded past winners with as much as $1 million in residual earnings.  The Classic is the championship event of the BASSMASTER Tournament Trail.
By sanctioning over 20,000 tournaments worldwide, B.A.S.S. is the world's largest fishing organization. The BASSMASTER Tournament Trail is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit. It continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism, and sportsmanship after more than three decades.  B.A.S.S. is a wholly owned subsidiary of ESPN.
The BASS Masters Classic is a week-long celebration for those who love the sport of bass fishing. Notable activities during the 2001 Classic Week in New Orleans include the Kids Klassic which takes place on Wednesday, August 1st at Lafreniere Park.  The event is highlighted by a Meet the Pros autograph session from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.  The Kids Klassic takes place from 9 a.m. to noon.
Sponsors of the 2001 BASS Masters Classic include: Chevrolet Trucks, Mercury Marine, Yamaha Outboards, Triton Boats, Skeeter Boats, Lowrance Electronics, Pennzoil Marine, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, Stowaway Batteries, Kumho Tires, Long John Silvers, Gore-Tex Outwear, MotorGuide Trolling Motors, Bass Pro Shops, Armstrong Industrial Hand Tools, GMAC Vehicle & Boat Insurance, B.A.S.S. Platinum First USA Visa Card.
Associate Sponsors include: Bass Cat Boats, G3 Boats
The 2001 BASS Masters Classic is presented locally in conjunction with: State of Louisiana, Jefferson Parish Tourism and Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation.
For more information contact: B.A.S.S. Communications at (334) 272-9530.