Dean Rojas takes lead at Bassmaster Classic; Greg Hackney in eighth _lowres

B.A.S.S. photo by GARY TRAMONTITA -- Greg Hackney of Gonzales found himself among the top 10 after the first day of the Bassmaster Classic on Friday in Greenville, S.C.

Maybe the living through a life-long dream will hit Ryan Lavigne squarely in the face sometime this week, but, for now, the Gonzales die-hard bass fisherman is concentrating on the task ahead.

This week, Lavigne will be competing against the best of the best — the top bass anglers this country has to offer when 51 of them gather in Houston for the Bassmaster Classic.

This Sunday, Lavigne is on Lake Conroe trying to find a can’t-miss pattern that could lead to fishing immortality. It’s the last of three days of “prefishing” for the Classic — the tournament called “The Super Bowl of Bass Fishing” — a three-day test of will and bass fishing expertise that begins Friday on Conroe.

 

It’s likely nobody better than Lavigne can understand what this east Texas reservoir can mean to a fisherman. Back in November when, competing at a “nonboater” (meaning the first two days he couldn’t fish from his boat, and was at the mercy of a “boater”), Lavigne proved anything can happen as long as you believe it can.

Lavigne not only won that B.A.S.S. Nation championship, he blew it away. He won the Nonboater Division that ended after the first two fishing days, and had a full 6-pound lead over the entire field. The final day, when he was allowed to pilot a boat, Lavigne darn near lapped the field. He finished with a 58-pound, 3-ounce total. His nearest competitor, Darrell Oramica of Fruitland, Idaho, was nearly 17 pounds back at 41-12.

It was Lavigne’s biggest payday, a package of boats, outboards, equipment and prize money estimated in excess of $100,000.

But there was more: It meant Lavigne had earned a Classic berth.

“I was so excited,” Lavigne said Thursday. “Today, I can’t put it into words. There have been days when I wake up so scared about what I’m going to do. I just remember how long a journey it was to get here.”

How long?

Lavigne said he and fellow Classic qualifier Cliff Crochet of Pierre Part made the state team moving to the BASS Nation’s Central qualifier.

“That was big,” said Lavigne, readily admitting that’s when he learned what it would take to move from state to regional to nationals, with the goal of a Classic spot at the end of this line.

“It’s the only thing my family has talked about in the last months,” he said. “It’s a huge highlight for them. It’s very humbling to know I’m going to go do something we all dream about doing … the Classic. … It’s something I’ve known about almost since the first day my dad took me fishing.

“Excited? Yes, very, very, very, very excited.”

Lavigne said his experience on Conroe in November and the few chances he’s had to visit the lake since “has showed me what this lake can be.

“I know it’s going to take a solid, three-day effort to win,” he said. “We don’t know what stage — prespawn, spawn, postspawn — the fish are in, and that’s why we needed the practice days. I haven’t read anything online about the catches (in Conroe’s late-winter tournaments). I’m trying to keep an open mind, but I’m going there knowing what I can do.”

Lavigne said it’s a benefit that Conroe is so close to home, and he said what patterns work in his home waters should work in Conroe, too.

Lavigne also said he’s talked to Crochet about the “Classic” experience. This is Crochet’s fourth. Fellow Gonzales national touring pro Greg Hackney is on the lake, too, for his 14th Classic.

“The first thing I told him was to turn his (cell) phone off, and the second was to slow down and, because the week goes by so fast, to try to soak it all in,” Crochet said. “I know this about Ryan, that if he commits to make another Classic this won’t be his last.”

After Saturday’s second round, the 51-angler field will be trimmed to the top 25. All weigh-ins are scheduled for Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston, where the Classic Outdoors Expo will run the same three days at the George Brown Convention Center.

All weigh-ins will be carried live on the B.A.S.S. website: www.bassmaster.com.