GREENVILLE — Anglers gathering in South Carolina to compete in the Bassmaster Classic are among the people in the South whose lives have been disrupted by the unusual winter weather that has engulfed the region.
Fifty-six of the sport’s top fishermen will square off in the series’ Super Bowl. The start of the three-day tournament has been delayed about 90 minutes, pushing first launch to about 8:30 a.m. Friday when temperatures are forecast to be 17 degrees.
Still, the competitors will cast their lines amid finger-chilling temperatures when they head out on sprawling Lake Hartwell, located along the border of South Carolina and Georgia.
Former Bassmaster Classic champion Mike Iaconelli, of Pittsgrove, New Jersey, believes the weather gives him and has an advantage.
One of the sport’s top-10 all-time leading money winners with more than $2.2 million in his career, Iaconelli says he has long fished in below freezing conditions and believes he’s better equipped than other competitors to handle the icy conditions that are not expected to let up until Sunday.
“I got what I asked for, probably in a more severe way,” Iaconelli said Thursday. “We can’t predict anything, but I would’ve said a couple months ago I want it cold because my strength lies in finesse fishing and deep water tactics.”
Iaconelli and the others won’t need to chop a hole on the frozen lake to compete – but it’s not that far off.
Tournament organizers delayed Friday’s opening round by about 90 minutes, pushing first launch to about 8:30 a.m. when temperatures are forecast to be 17 degrees. The thermometer’s not expected to rise out of the mid 30s when they return to the Green Pond Landing in Anderson. Anglers get a “break” on Saturday with temps in the high 20s at the start and mid 40s at the finish.
“I knew we’d set records, I didn’t know it’d be record lows,” Bassmaster CEO Bruce Akin said.
On Sunday, anglers will enjoy balmy conditions near 60 degrees, although with an 80 percent chance of rain.
Iaconelli said the cold waters generally keep bass in deeper nooks and crannies than in milder conditions. That places a premium on hitting the right spots, most likely at the bottom of deeper, vertical breaks, he said, where two or three big-time prize winners might be hiding.
Casey Ashley of Donalds thinks the weather can be as much of a factor as you make. “Fish bite,” he said.
Moreso than the fish are the fishermen, who’ll face cold wind, spray and water that would make most of us roll over in bed until things warmed up.
Defending Classic champion Randy Howell of Springville, Alabama, thinks it’s most important to keep your fingers warm – he’s got gloves and handwarmers – especially when moving 10 or 15 minutes straight full throttle to search out another bass-rich site. But count on equipment freezing up and costing some competitors the chance at the $300,000 first prize, Iaconelli said.
“Moving from spot to spot is a task,” Ashley said. “It’s not very good to run 70 (mph) in this kind of weather.”
Iaconelli stows a portable heater, a silicone spray to un-freeze rigs or other equipment on board and several hand warmers to stave off the chill. He’s also competed in winter time fishing tournaments in South Jersey to hone his winter-weather skills for the poor conditions anglers typically run into early in the season.
Iaconelli knows that gives him an edge not all other competitors have. “I read the blogs every day. You can almost read through what (competitors) are saying and hear the fear because they just don’t fish in this stuff a lot,” he said.