B y now I’m sure that just about every bass nut in Texas—one million of them—are aware that Bassmaster is bringing what many consider to be pro bass fishing’s premier event—the Bassmaster Classic—to Lake Conroe on March 24 to 26. Good money says it could be one for the books, too.
Lake Conroe is located roughly 50 miles from Houston, Texas’s largest city, which has a population of 2.1 million. Conroe is a dead ringer to kick out some monster sacks, quite possibly heavier weights than any Classic before it. In fact, sources close to the game believe Kevin VanDam’s Classic weight record (69 pounds, 11 ounces) for the five-fish daily limit era will be in serious jeopardy when the BASS guys roll into town in a few weeks.
That’s largely because 52 of the nation’s top bass pros will be soaking their baits in one of the state’s best fisheries for whopper bass during a time period that typically falls on the heart of the spawn on lakes all across the East Texas region. Big bass are drawn to the shallows during the spawn, where they naturally become more vulnerable to being caught than at any other time of the year.
Those factors, combined with the notion that this will be the first Classic held on Texas waters since Hank Parker won it on Lake Texoma in 1979, are sure to generate a ton of excitement in a region where the largemouth bass is king and guys like VanDam, Martens, Clunn, Evers and a host of others have become heroes to many.
The mega-hype could easily translate to record-busting attendance at weigh-ins in Minute Maid Park and the Classic Outdoor Expo at the 300,000-square foot George R. Brown Convention Center, both located amid the concrete jungle that is downtown Houston. It’s anybody’s guess as to how many folks will show up for morning takeoffs at Lakeview Marina, but I’d like to have a stake in a donut stand near the front gate.
The buzz around the Conroe Classic could spell trouble for the tournament field should it lure armies of fishing fans and other spectators onto the water in boats and skiffs of all sizes to witness history in the making.
True, flotilla boats and spectator traffic are something that pro anglers are accustomed to dealing with, particularly during high-profile events such as this one. However, if the Texas weather turns out nice around the fourth weekend of the month, the 47th annual Classic could set a new standard by which on-the-water circuses are judged. That holds especially true if spectator and recreational boat drivers don’t use their heads and mind their manners.
Conroe is huge on recreational boating, yet it spans only 20,000 surface acres. That’s far cry from a sprawling river system like the Red, an immense swamp like the Atchafalaya Basin or a massive reservoir like Toledo Bend or Sam Rayburn, where an angler can disappear and fish off the radar for hours.
Sweet spots divided among the 52 competitors are going to be limited here. Many of them will be shallow, tucked away in the backs of isolated creeks, pockets or cuts, or beneath any number of the ritzy boat docks up and down the lake.
Big spectator traffic could have a tremendous impact on the fishing on small water, especially in a springtime event where a lot of the fish are going to be hugging the banks. If you’re inclined to launch a boat to follow your favorite pro at Conroe, you’d do him a favor to stay on the bank and watch the action unfold on Bassmaster Live. You’ll be able to see and learn a whole lot more.
For those who are determined to get on the water, it is important that you mind your manners out there. The majority of Classic contenders fish for a living, and the stakes will be particularly high. The guy who puts together the most weight over three days goes home with $300,000.
This is Texas, so let’s show the field some Lone Star hospitality. Here are a few things for spectators keep in mind:
• Please, Don’t Fish Their Water: True. Conroe is public water, and there is no law that says you can’t wet a hook. Even so, spectators should show the competitors some courtesy and stay off their fishing spots until the tournament is over. One four-pounder caught by a potlicker could cost a Classic contender dearly.
• Think Ahead: Don’t block ‘em In. A high percentage of the bass will be shallow in March, and a lot of anglers will be looking in creeks, coves and cuts to find them. A guy with a big flotilla on his tail stands to lose valuable fishing time if an army of spectator boats blocks his way from running out of a creek after he goes in. The time loss multiplies if the same thing happens several times over the course of a fishing day. Spectator boats should always keep their distance, kill their outboards, stay off their trolling motors, turn off their electronics and provide the pro a clear path to run whenever he gets ready.
• Dock Traffic: Lakeside homeowners can do the anglers a huge favor by watching from their backyards instead of hosting Classic parties on their boat docks and piers. Lots of fish will be positioned around docks this month, but excessive foot traffic could make them spooky and less willing to bite.
• Wakes Mean Mud: When a boat wake laps the bank, it roils the water and muddies up stretches that otherwise might be calm, clear and ideal for sight fishing. Keep that in mind if you venture onto the water during the Classic. Otherwise, the best policy will be to keep the boat on the trailer so the pros can do their thing uninterrupted. It’s only three days.
Email Matt Williams at [email protected]