Bassmaster Classic 2011: Super Bowl of fishing takes to tricky Louisiana bayou

The Bassmaster Classic 2011 is the most prestigious bass-fishing event in the world, drawing 50 top fishermen to New Orleans in the wake of the BP oil spill. Oil is a nonfactor, organizers say.

Ed Sackett/Orlando Sentinel/File/Newscom
Numerous fans follow Preston Clark around Lake Toho in Kissimmee, Florida, during the second day of the Bassmaster Classic in this 2006 file photo. Bassmaster Classic 2011 is taking place in Louisiana.

Picking the right lure and using the right technique to coax monster bass out of the water won't be enough for this year's Bassmaster Classic 2011, the Super Bowl of angling.

Wedging sleek bass boats around the Louisiana marshlands may present the biggest challenge of this year's tournament, which returns to the New Orleans area for the first time since 2003. Swift tides make the area particularly bass-rich, but treacherous for the 50 fishermen who qualified for the tourney. Organizers didn't see enough evidence of damage from last year's BP oil spill to change venues.

Heavy morning fog already delayed boat launches on Friday, the first of the three-day tournament, which will culminate with a final weigh-in Sunday at the New Orleans Arena. Last week's practice sessions in Bayou Segnette State Park saw boats running aground on hidden shoals, with several fishermen having to call in for rescue.

(ESPN2 is covering the tourney. Live-streaming "BassCam" here.)

While past champs like Kevin VanDam and Skeet Reese will compete, early favorites include Greg Hackney, a Louisiana native who counts the area as part of his home fishing ground.

"There's plenty of fish, but the sheer size of the habitat means if you make a mistake, especially on the first day, you're pretty much done, because you just don't have the time to change," Mr. VanDam told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "You can't win on the first day, but you can definitely lose on the first day, because the distances involved means you're stuck with your choices."

The rules are simple: Fishermen can use only artificial baits, and each angler can weigh in up to five fish each day that have to measure at least 12 inches. Dead fish result in an eight-ounce penalty. The winner is the fisherman who has the biggest total "bag weight" at the end.

The event could inject up to $30 million into the Greater New Orleans economy and could be an important public-relations jolt for a region whose image suffered during last year's oil spill.

"Perception is our biggest challenge, and that's why an event like this is so good. It continues to help us get the word out.... We've worked with EPA, FDA, and NOAA, at the federal level, at the state level," Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Promotion & Marketing Board, told Fox 8 in New Orleans.

The fishing for the 41st annual Bassmaster Classic is likely to be good. The bass in the Mississippi River Delta are just beginning to spawn, and the area is known for the number and size of largemouth bass.

"I think this bunch doesn’t realize how good the fishing is here,” Mr. Hackney told the SunHerald, a Mississippi newspaper. “It’s real good, and it’s going to get better. We’re going to see a 10- or 11-pounder from somebody, maybe one each day."

He continued, “This bunch of guys can catch fish, and the best fishermen in the world are coming to a phenomenal place and they’re coming at the right time of the year. It’s going to be great.”

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