Alabamians are known as being some of the most enthusiastic BassFans the pros encounter. And one way the pros measure that enthusiasm also happens to be the only way fans can directly affect the outcome of the Classic: spectator boat traffic. Nowhere are there more Classic spectator boats than in Alabama.
As a result, the more well-known pros have had to practice and set their competition gameplans around this extra "condition." For example, Kevin VanDam -- who could have 50 or more boats following him at any one time -- said that spectator boat traffic "eliminates a lot of patterns" for him. "I know for instance that going to a nice calm bank and throwing a Spit-N-King in the morning won't be an option for me."
Hite: It's All Good
B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year (AOY) Davy Hite also will have a raft of boats clustered around him. The last time he was in Alabama at a Classic was at Lake Logan Martin in 1997 -- which also was the last time he won AOY.
"When I won AOY in '97 and fished Logan Martin, I had 41 boats follow me the first day," he said. This time he expects it to be "that bad or worse." (He noted that he didn't mean "bad" and "worse" in a negative sense. "We all want this sport to grow, so it's just something we'll have to deal with," he said.)
Hite kept the expected boat traffic in mind while he practiced. "It makes you want to try to fish deeper more, but it will affect any way you fish," he said.
"If every time you make a stop you have 40-50 boats settling down in an area, it's tough to fish shallow. I did try to prepare with more deep-water patterns. It's a lot easier to deal with the traffic if you're fishing deep water rather than shorelines. But you have to fish the way you need to fish to win, and hope it works out."
Hite added that he isn't disappointed that so many fans will be nearby. "It's just a deal where last year I was sitting at home wishing that I could at least be in the tournament. So I have to put things in perspective. I'd much rather be there and have the boats follow me around than be sitting in the stands."
Nixon: Fans Can Hurt
Larry Nixon is more pragmatic. "The Classic is the one tournament where the fans can take you out of it in a hurry. They can ruin your whole Classic."
As far as how it affected him in practice, he said: "I practiced to where I wouldn't just be nailed down into one spot or one area or one portion of the lake." In such cases, spectator boat traffic "can be devastating. I needed to find something hidden away from them, or be confident that I can do it with them there."
Nixon said "you can't eliminate shallow water" and noted that "boat traffic can kill a bunch of fish on (deep) structure. If they run over it before you get there in the morning, it can ruin your area. You just have to get comfortable catching fish in different ways."
How You Can Help
Bottom line: spectator boats can take a competitor out of the running, especially on a relatively small body of water like Lay with the biggest Classic field in history. BassFans planning to be a part of the spectator-boat flotilla might want to keep in mind the following:
> Nixon -- "We'd all prefer that the lake was quiet. The catch will be much bigger if there aren't as many boats running around. Also, Lay Lake is narrow so the wake and noise from boat traffic can shut down a big percentage of the areas. If you're going to be out there, try to create the least amount of wake you possibly can. Run the middle of the lake and not down the banks. (If you run near the shore) someone might pull up there 5 minutes after you go through. I recommend that to the contestants too, to give everybody 100 yards whether they're a local or a contender. Just be very respectful of the water and the fish underneath it."
> Hite -- "Put yourself in my position. My philosophy is to treat people like you want to be treated. It's the old Golden Rule. I'm also flattered that people want to be following me around. In my first Classic I watched guys get followed around, and I was just dreaming of the day people would follow me and watch me."
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