HOUSTON — Two of the three Louisiana natives fishing the Bassmaster Classic on Lake Conroe are still in contention to take home the most prestigious title in fishing after Day 2 of the competition.
It’s going to take a mistake-free final day and some fishing fortune, however, for Pierre Part’s Cliff Crochet or Gonzales’ Ryan Lavigne to pack the prodigious Classic trophy for a trip back home. Both fishermen are more than 12 pounds out of the lead.
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Crochet is in 11th place after catching three bass on Day 2, giving him 30 pounds, 10 ounces. Lavgne is not far behind, in 14th with 29-13.
Greg Hackney, also from Gonzales, will have to wait another year to win the Classic title that has eluded him 14 times. He landed just two fish Saturday to finish in 30th place with a two-day total of seven bass for 18-15.
Only the top 25 after Day 2 qualify to fish the final day. It marked just the second time Hackney failed to make the Classic cut. His best Classic finish was fifth in 2008 at South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell.
Weather conditions couldn’t have been any different between Friday and Saturday. Day 1’s howling winds and massive waves were replaced with a gentle northwest breeze, bluebird skies and slick calm lake conditions throughout Saturday.
Crochet and Lavigne said they thought the weather change would draw the fish into heavy cover good for flipping and pitching, but they were wrong.
“I started off good, got in my stretch and caught a keeper and then a four-pounder,” said Crochet, who added he caught his Day 1 and early Day 2 fish on a black Spro Frog. “I thought I was alright. But I know from experience I have died from that frog, and I felt a little chill from that north wind and I put the frog down. I started flipping, but if you don’t get the bites you can’t put them in the boat.”
California’s Brent Ehrler followed up his 23-3 first day with another impressive 20-1 stringer to take 2-pound lead over Pennsylvania’s Dave Lefebre, who also weighed in more than 20 pounds on the first two days. They are the only two anglers to weigh in 20-plus pounds on both days.
Perennial Classic contenders Edwin Evers and Kevin VanDam, both outside the top 10 after Day 1, moved within 7 pounds of the lead on Day 2.
VanDam weighed in 17-13 on Day 2 giving him 36-3 overall and putting him in 7th. Evers climbed to third place with 39-0. His 20-13 stringer Saturday was the day’s heaviest. Six competitors failed to catch a keeper bass on Day 2.
The weather change benefitted Evers and a handful of others who used the calmer water to sight fish spawning bass along bulkheads and docks. But it also hurt anglers like Crochet, who initially thought calmer weather would help him but realized Saturday afternoon he benefitted from Day 1’s cloud cover.
“I’d hate to teach someone how to fish here,” Crochet said. “But they got big ones in it. I think the pressure, the fishing pressure it gets, the boating pressure it gets — it’s not a big place. It’s just tough fishing.”
Lavigne said he wasn’t sure how much an effect the weather had on the fish, but he found dirtier water on Day 2, possibly from rain that moved through the area Friday night. He had three bass in the live well early, and the Basstrakk Leaderboard, which keeps track of number of fish caught and approximate weights while competitors are on the water, showed him moving into the top 10 several times.
The bite slowed for him in the afternoon, though, and he said it was difficult to get the last two fish he needed to finish a limit.
“The bite for me was funny today,” said Lavigne, who like Crochet picked up a flipping stick in the afternoon. “I just didn’t catch them. I pulled a rabbit out of the hat at the end of the day and caught a few good ones, so I got a pretty good idea of how I’m going to find some tomorrow. Only way I can make a big move is to swing hard. Tomorrow I’m going for just five bites.”
Crochet said he is looking for another tweak to the weather Sunday to help get his fish back on a similar pattern to what he found on the Classic’s first day. The forecast for Sunday is for stiff south winds and overcast conditions.
“I caught them pretty good (Friday) in the clouds, so hopefully that helps,” he said. “I never lost my cool today. Here I am, two five-pounders away from being right in the mix. I don’t feel like I made any decisions out of pressure. I felt good about it and hammered down. To win, it’s out there. That’s a stretch. But the possibility is there.”