It's About the Weather!

Classic angler David Walker wrote in the snow on his boat during practice. (Courtesy David Walker)

Bassmaster Classic conditions will be test of mental toughness

"When you hear somebody say, 'This is not about money,' it's about money. And when you hear somebody say, 'This is not about sex,' it's about sex."

– H.L. Mencken

TULSA, Okla. — If you hear someone say, "The 2013 Bassmaster Classic isn't about weather," it's about weather.

"The story has been the weather since they announced the Classic was going to be here," Mike Iaconelli said.

The three-day Grand Lake O' the Cherokees event begins Friday. While the weather isn't as apocalyptic as feared by many, it's challenging, to say the least. When asked if he was concerned about ice on the launch ramp, frozen boat locker lids and frigid hands, Iaconelli replied, "All of the above.”

"I've seen tournaments where the launch was delayed an hour because guys couldn't put their boats in,” he said. "The second day of practice (here), all of my rod lockers were frozen shut, even with having a cover on my boat overnight.

"My trolling motor prop was frozen, and I stuck it in the water to let it thaw because the water temperature was warmer than the air temperature.

"(Rod) guides are going to be frozen, fingers are going to frozen. Yeah, all that stuff. You've definitely got to factor that in with everything else."

The 53 Bassmaster Classic qualifiers were off the water Tuesday for registration and a briefing from B.A.S.S. officials held at the Doubletree Hotel downtown. The forecast for Wednesday's final practice day is brutal– an icy mix of precipitation, high of 40 degress, low of 29.

The tournament forecast? No more precipitation, but the forecasted highs and lows seem to dip every day as the weekend nears. The tournament days’ forecast: Friday, 39 (high) and 20 (low); Saturday, 50 and 32; Sunday, 65 and 37.

In other words, mentally challenging.

"At my first Classic, in Greenville, S.C., it was really cold," said defending Classic champion Chris Lane. "Because it was my first Classic, and it was so cold, I really just wasn't there mentally."

And nothing short of a heat wave is going to change water temperatures in Grand Lake significantly.

"I'm seeing 42 (degrees) mainly, maybe 46 in the afternoon," Lane said.

Added Iaconelli, "I've seen everywhere from low 40s to the mid and upper 40s. I'd say an average for most of the lake now would be 44 to 46 degrees. (Wednesday) it's going to drop again."

Mike McClelland might – key word "might" – have an advantage here this week. He grew up and still lives in northwest Arkansas, about an hour's drive from Grand Lake. He has over 20 years of experience here, including his first-ever B.A.S.S. tournament in 1988.

"But I've never fished this lake before the middle of March," McClelland said. "I had a lot of assumptions before I got over here to practice. It's been a little eye-opening once I did get here."

McClelland's advantage isn't experience on Grand Lake; it's his conditioning to cold weather.

"I grew up trout fishing on the White River," he said. "We used to go when it was zero and stand there in waders. It's a mental toughness you develop. I really think weather conditions are going to play a factor in how some of these guys are going to compete this week."

To understand what McClelland is talking about, you must have been in this situation many times before. Cold weather will test your manhood, or at least your will to keep fishing.

"There are really only a handful of us that have fished on a regular basis in conditions like we're going to face this week," McClelland said. "That's a really big deal.

"A lot of guys are talking about how cold it's going to be, how nasty it's going to be. It's a mindset. It was cold a couple of days during practice, but I never thought about being cold."

Oh, yeah, McClelland has one more advantage in this weather: His long-time sponsor, Falcon Rods, is owned by John Beckwith, who owns a 40- by 80-foot garage/shop on Grand Lake. It's also got an apartment built over it.

That's where McClelland is staying this week. It's got garage doors on each side, so he can pull his bass boat in one side in the evening and out the other the next morning. A boat warmed overnight should prevent frozen rod lockers, trolling motors, etc.

"It's about 35 minutes from the launch," McClelland said. "But it put me where I needed to be for practice."

He didn't care to get more specific than that about the shop's location on Grand Lake.

"A few people might have that luxury, but not many," McClelland said with a smile. "It'll feel better than an hour-and-a-half drive from Tulsa."

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