Like any fan of professional bass fishing, I anxiously await the Bassmaster Classic each season. That usually puts me on the edge of my seat by Valentine’s Day. However, this year (for the first time in the history of the sport) the Classic will be held in June.
How will that change things, I wonder?
In addition, a large portion of the Classic playing field are relative newcomers to the top level. Is one of the remaining veterans all but guaranteed a victory?
And what about this lake, Ray Roberts? Monster bass are the subjects in springtime photos, but this event will take place during a recognized “off period” for bass fishing, when most anglers taking to the lake are doing so to fill coolers of crappie and “sand bass”.
Do we even know what to expect?
Over the next two weeks, we’ll investigate this mysterious championship. I’ll bring you up to speed on what to expect and who to put your money on. This one, as they say, could get interesting.
First, the lake. Surprisingly, the state of Texas has been host to only two Bassmaster Classics, and never has the event taken place on Ray Roberts. Impounded in the late 1980s, Ray Roberts has been open to the public for 30 years now, but still contains a plethora of cover and fishing options. In fact, navigation can be factor for visiting anglers unaccustomed to moving around in flooded timber.
It’s a bassy place; a look at photos of the lake makes any hardcore angler want to grab a jig rod and head for the ramp. But Ray Roberts isn’t known to be a place with bass hiding behind every bush.
Catch rates are lower than many famous Texas fisheries. However, what the reservoir lacks in numbers, it makes up for in size.
Like many famous Texas lunker factories, Ray Roberts posts a lake record of monstrous proportions – eclipsing 15 pounds. But it’s the number of quality fish that make the lake a destination for bass anglers – 3- to 5-pound fish are very common and serve as a “starting point” for building a tournament stringer. Expect nearly every limit in the Classic to eclipse 15 pounds.
However, don’t be fooled into thinking every angler will surpass that mark. Catching five fish will be no guarantee for many pros. Look for the most successful of the group to weigh 15 fish over the three-day event, but don’t look for all of the anglers to do it.
So what we’re likely to have – as we’ve seen in other Classics held on quality lakes – is an event decided by a few kicker fish.
The pros will be dealing with large bass in an early summer pattern. Normally, this would bring out the best structure fishermen. However, much of the original lake floor of Ray Roberts is somewhat silted, eliminating many of the text-book fishing spots that look pretty on a depth-finder. Left are more subtle areas both with and without heavy cover.
Another wrinkle in the equation may be water level. As of this writing, the lake is a couple feet higher than normal, meaning the possibility of some flooded shoreline cover, though the lake is not known for it, and it contains no docks. Aquatic vegetation seems to be lacking, and has been for some time. There’s been some chatter that the winning Classic angler will find an unknown hotspot by way of hydrilla or milfoil, however, I don’t see many areas going unnoticed by the field given today’s advanced sonar.
What we’re left with may be an event won by unconventional thinking, or unparalleled performance. The winning angler will need to fish cleanly, losing few, if any, sizable bass. And that same angler will need to maximize his fishing time, reducing time wasted idling through a timber maze.
I look for an off-the-wall winning technique in this one. With the last-minute change of dates (many of you will recognize that original plans were for a March Classic), every preconceived plan can be thrown out the window.
This year, we’ll see something tricky take a shot at the title, I think. Perhaps unorthodox finesse, normally forbidden in the heavy cover of Texas. Possibly a swimbait technique perfected for open water. Or a structure-fishing game taken to new levels by advanced forward-facing sonar.
No, don’t look for the trusty Texas rig or speedy squarebill to run away with ’21 Classic. The fishing will be anything but orthodox.
The winner will have to do more than just be better than the rest. This will not be a tournament dominated by a superior player – like VanDam schooling the field with a lipless or Evers with a jig. This one will take a trick.
Next week, I’ll do my best to predict a likely candidate as I head to the scene of the crime.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)