After hometown favorite Casey Ashley proved he was the front-runner to take last week’s 45th Bassmaster Classic title on a lake he’d fished most of his life — the Donalds, South Carolina, 31-year-old is only the third angler to win a Classic title on home-state waters — it might be time for the honchos running the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society to take another look at the whens and wheres they stage their biggest annual event.
I didn’t make the trip to Greenville, South Carolina, for the three-day Classic run on Lake Hartwell. It was clear as early as a week before Feb. 20’s first Classic day that trouble was brewing, Mother Nature kind of trouble.
Before you think that dodging bad weather is for wimpy outdoors writers, know the Classic’s first day launch came in 19-degree conditions in Tulsa, Oklahoma, two years ago, and The Advocate was there, snow, sleet, ice and all that came with a February in the Sooner State.
But this time was much different: Depending on which service you believed, the launch temperature for Friday, Feb. 20 in the easternmost reaches of South Carolina was 10-12 degrees.
The big chill began two days before. It was the final practice day on Hartwell for the 56 anglers. Temperatures began dropping before most got off the water, and remained below freezing all the way into Saturday.
B.A.S.S. officials made the decision to delay the first day’s launch, but even though trucks and trailers were backing down an hour after sunrise, some anglers couldn’t get their boats off the trailers because the boats were frozen to the trailer skids.
It got worse.
Consider University of Louisiana-Monroe qualifier Brett Preuett. He, as the B.A.S.S. Collegiate champion, was furnished with a boat. It came without a cover, and the boats were stored in an open-air field.
The ice and snow that swept through Greenville, South Carolina, meant Preuett arrived at his boat that Friday morning with inches of snow and ice covering the bottom of his boat. The pocket in the bow of the boat that cradles the foot control for his trolling motor was caked with ice, rendering his trolling motor inoperable. The afternoon high that first day barely reached into the 30s.
Ashley told reporters later he had trouble getting water into his live wells because ice was blocking the intake tube.
After two of the past three years in conditions more suitable for ice fishing than holding the tournament that become known as the Super Bowl of Bass Fishing, maybe it’s time to consider holding the event at a more suitable dead-of-winter location.
The first 35 Classics were held in late summer or early fall, but was moved to February when ESPN owned B.A.S.S. Maybe it’s time to consider moving the date.