39th Bassmaster?Classic breaks records in fish, attendance and excitement

Gonzales angler Greg Hackney with “Big Bass” on Day 3 of the 39th Bassmaster Classic that weighed 7-1. Hackney, the only angler from Louisiana, finished 20th with 38.6 pounds of fish.

Something was in the air as my Chevy truck was heading west on Hwy 190. As I headed up the bridge in Krotz Springs, the formidable Atchafalaya River boiled below me as it headed south towards Morgan City. In my mind’s eye, I could picture upstream about 350 miles. The Red River that I would be traveling the next morning on the first day of the 2009 Bassmaster Classic.

That sight was only the beginning of really cool experiences in store for me as I spent the next four days in Shreveport/Bossier City. My route took me north on I-49 and crawfish ponds began to dot the landscape for the next hundred miles. Along with the traps, wads of ducks also dotted the ponds feeding heavily as soon the warm temperatures would have them flying north to their nesting grounds.

TV, radio and newspaper personalities spent the afternoon with all 51 contestants gathering all the strategies that they would part with. Kevin Van Dam and Kim Bain-Moore garnered a lot of the spotlight but Greg Hackney was also kept quite busy by the media.

It’s Friday morning and once again something is in the air. Cold. The temperature is 30 degrees and ice covers all the boats that were left uncovered, including the one I’m in. But the cold temperature is not all that’s going on.

As the bus we’re riding in turns off the highway to Red River Marina, there’s a steady stream of people walking along side of us. They are die hard, bass fishing fans like I’ve never seen before. The marina could not have handled the size crowd that was about to assemble so shuttle buses brought the fans from the CenturyTel center to take part in the launching ceremonies. 5:50 in the morning with ice on the ground, man it just don’t get any better than that.

I was fortunate enough to get paired with Randy Howell from Springville, Alabama. His boat was the second to be launched in the parade of boats as fans lined up on both sides of the ramp shouting encouragement to all the anglers and taking pictures. Mike & Mike from ESPN radio were doing a live broadcast from the launch. You could cut the excitement with a knife.

Howell qualified for the 39th Bassmaster Classic through the Elite Series in 8th place in the points. He’s a pretty good river fisherman, so I was looking forward to our time together on the water. He’s called “the fastest man on the water” and he proved it a little later. We flew down the Red River at 78.5 mph and passed lots of the other anglers.

After Ray Scott threw out the ceremonial first cast and we sang the Star Spangled Banner, it was on. Howell fished in pool 5 in a cove with several other anglers including Boyd Duckett, the first day leader; Aaron Martens, Kota Kiryama, Todd Faircloth, Steve Kennedy, and Bernie Shultz. So I not only got to observe Randy fish for $500,000 but all these other anglers as well.

Our day started off pretty slow because of the cold temperatures and Howell rotated through a four pronged attack - a plastic lizard, a suspending Rogue, a Redfin and a spinner bait. He caught fish on all four baits but the Zoom lizard in June bug was the pay off bait. He finished the day with five bass that weighed 16-3.

After two days of intense competition among the 51 anglers the cut was made to the top 25 to fish the last day. After one of the most exciting weigh-ins I’ve ever been a part of and the smoke settled, literally, Skeet Reese came away with the title of Bassmaster Classic Champion and the $500,000 first prize. His three day total was 54-13 edging out second place finisher, Mike Iaconelli who weighed 54-2, only 11 ounces back.

Was this a “Classic” Classic? You bet, but it was also a record breaker in many ways. There was the first female angler to compete, Kim Bain-Moore. The all-time attendance record was set at over 82,000 people in attendance over three days at the 2003 event in New Orleans. In Shreveport/Bossier it was smashed as 137,000 fans jammed each venue.

The launch ceremony averaged over 5,000 fans each day. The outdoor show had over 60,000 in attendance on Saturday alone and people had to listen to the weigh-in from outside the CenturyTel Arena after the fire marshal stopped letting fans in the building.

Did they catch any fish? 10 bags over 20 pounds hit the scales in three days. Each day the big bass was over seven pounds. (Day 1 – Aaron Martens, 7-1; Day 2 – Davy Hite, 7-6 and Day 3 – Greg Hackney, 7-1.) The three-day total weight was 1578-14 surpassing the old Classic record 1510-4 by 68-10 and the average weight per angler (12.45) each day record went down also.

Did Shreveport/Bossier City do it right? There were no doubts left in the minds of the anglers, the fans, the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, ESPN Outdoors or this guy writing this story. The challenge has been issued to New Orleans and south Louisiana for the 2011 Classic. It’ll be here sooner than you think. Remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. So until next time have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God truly bless you.