Paul Elias feels like he’s found the fountain of youth, Teb Jones doesn’t know what to make of all the snow and ice, and Cliff Pace is just glad to be in Greenville, S.C., for the 2015 Bassmaster Classic that opens tomorrow on Lake Hartwell.
That pretty well sums up the feelings of the three-man contingent from Mississippi that will head out in search of a big chunk of the $1.05 million purse over the next three days.
Temperatures are expected to be in single digits in the morning when pro fishermen blast off and head to the far corners of 56,000-acre Lake Hartwell on the Georgia-South Carolina border. Highs are expected only to reach the 20s.
But that hasn’t put a hitch in Elias’s 63-year-old gait.
“It affects everybody; the last three days of practice have been kind of brutal,” the Laurel pro said. “I know for a fact that it will be more of a mental thing than it will be physical, like figuring the fish out.
“We’ve got all the stuff we need, but you’re going to have to prepare yourself for the variables that can bite you.”
Elias is more worried about the bite he’s preparing for to have been affected by the cold — and not in a positive way.
“I’ve got a very limited area I’m fishing, and it might be vulnerable to the cold; I really don’t know,” Elias said.
Pace, from Petal, was the 2013 Bassmaster Classic champion but didn’t get to defend his championship last year on Alabama’s Lake Guntersville after he broke his left leg in two places and tore the ACL in his left knee in a fall from a tree stand while deer-hunting last January.
BASS let him use his champion’s automatic qualifying berth in this year’s Classic instead. Pace said he it took him 10 months to fully recover from the injury.
“It feels good to be here; it was very difficult to miss this last year,” he said. “I’m glad to get the opportunity to come back and fish this week. I feel blessed for that chance.”
Pace doesn’t know how the bitter cold will affect the fishing, but he’s counting on catching bass between 20 and 40 feet deep.
“Nobody knows what the deal is going to end up being,” he said. “I think there are shallow fish that can win it and deep fish that can win it. The guys you’ll have to watch out for are the guys who can get something going first thing in the morning and give themselves some time to expand their areas, move around.”
Hattiesburg’s Jones figures the fish he’s counting on are in deep-enough water that they won’t be affected; he’s just trying to figure out how to counter the cold.
“This is significantly different from what a boy from South Mississippi is used to. We don’t have this white stuff, this snow and ice,” Jones said, referring to the inch of snow and inch of sleet the area around Hartwell received this past Monday evening and Tuesday morning. “The weather for me is a challenge. When your equipment ices up, you’re not as effective.”
But he is sticking with his plan.
“I’m committed to fishing deep,” Jones said. “Deep fish won’t change as much as shallow fish will. I feel like, regardless of the weather conditions, I’ll be able to depend on a deep bite.”
The field of 56 anglers will fish Friday and Saturday, and then only the top 25 in the standings after Saturday will fish in Sunday’s final round of competition.
The total purse is slightly more than $1.5 million, with $300,000 going to the winner.
The Classic visited Lake Hartwell in 2008, with Texas’ Alton Jones winning with a three-day weight of 49 pounds, 7 ounces. Anglers believe that weight won’t be enough this year, despite the weather, because of the improvement in the lake’s population of spotted bass over the past seven years.
Louisiana’s Greg Hackney, the 2014 BASS Angler of the year, believes it will take 17 to 18 pounds a day to win.
“If you catch five bass, they’ll be good, quality fish, and you’ll have a decent weight. I think it will take between 50 and 55 pounds,” he said. “It took 49 last time, but conditions have changed.
“The spotted bass population is so good, the size of the fish is so good, the tournament could be won with only spotted bass, but I don’t think it will (be) because the spots and largemouths are mixed together so much.”