Posted: Dec 20, 2010 11:03 AM
Updated: Dec 20, 2010 11:26 AM
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - In February, the Bassmasters Classic returns to the delta after a six-year absence. However, one of its stars never really left.
"I get down to Venice at least once a year simply because it is the most amazing fishery anywhere I've ever been," Shaw Grigsby said last week. "I've never been to a place that puts out so many fish and so many good fish. It has whatever you're after. Reds. Specks. Offshore. And the bass-fishing is just going crazy.
"So I knew things wouldn't be much different from our last stop here, even though a lot of people were wondering."
They had good reasons to wonder. The delta has seen hard times since 2003.
There were hurricanes named Katrina, Rita and Gustav. There was the oil mugging by the Deepwater Horizon.
And those were only minor wounds.
The death sentence issued to southeast Louisiana by levees and canal dredging continued unabated. Anglers in the 2011 Classic will be fishing on a delta robbed of another 400 square miles of wetlands since 2003.
But most probably won't notice because, as Grigsby knows from his steady visits, fishing is still great. That's just more evidence for the crime taking place; this delta that is sick and dying because of our abuse and neglect remains one of the most dynamic and productive fisheries in the hemisphere.
Instead, the pros that have been passing through during this official practice time have been facing the same seasonal challenges local anglers face - dramatically changing water conditions because of the frequent passage of cool fronts. Grigsby got a taste of what could be waiting in February when he scouted for almost a week, spending a couple of days each in the Bayou Black area, Venice and around Bayou Segnette, which will be the official launching spot.
"When the water drops out of here, it really goes," he laughed. "I mean, it was like a moonscape in a lot of places.
"So, from that standpoint, fishing was a lot different from when we've been down here in the past, which was always in the summer. I mean, no one knows what conditions will be like in February. We could have freeze, and we could have real low water. Or it could be warm.
And that's what will make things interesting Feb. 18-20. This delta holds enormous amounts of fish over a huge area. However, it can also change more quickly than any other Classic location.
Looking back on 30 years of tournament fishing, Grigsby said the talent of the field just keeps improving. The elites meeting on the delta are full-time pros who know how to use the wealth of online information to educate themselves on their fishing destinations.
But unlike preparing for a reservoir or river, this habitat means they will have to be well-versed in a wide range of dramatically different conditions.
That's why the decision implemented a few years ago allowing anglers to practice on site the weekend before the Classic will be important.
"What we're seeing now may be totally different from what conditions will be like in February," Grigsby said. "So I think those three days - that Friday-Saturday-Sunday - before the Classic will be really critical."
At the moment, the hottest bass-fishing is out of Venice. Katrina's huge storm surge dealt a blow to the bass population on the delta, but that vacuum has been filled with a boom. Grigsby was fishing Venice under ideal conditions - low, clear water - and was impressed with the results.
On the other hand, the low water that gripped the rest of the coastal wetlands made fishing tough in spots that often produce money fish.
Grigsby, however, wasn't concerned about how the delta will perform come February. By the time the Classic arrives, he said the field - especially the newcomers - will come to realize what he's known for years.
"This is the some of the best fishing anywhere," he said.