The very first event I covered as an employee of B.A.S.S. was the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk on Lake Hartwell in 2015.
When I showed up for takeoff well before daylight on Day 1, I wondered for a moment why guys who fished for a living were having such a hard time just launching their boats at the ramp. Then Jim Sexton, our vice president of digital communications at B.A.S.S., told me the reason for it: The boats were actually frozen to the trailers.
The forecast said it would be 10 degrees when we arrived at the ramp that morning. They were close; it was 9. The Super Bowl of Professional Bass Fishing had officially turned into the Ice Bowl of Professional Bass Fishing.
I’m sure there are places in the northern reaches of our country where 9 degrees doesn’t raise an eyebrow. But for a guy who grew up in central Alabama — where 40 degrees warmer than that is still considered cold — 9 degrees felt like something out of a video about climbing Mount Everest.
Even some of the anglers were unprepared for the harsh conditions. After struggling for a few minutes during takeoff, they devised a strategy of backing the boats down at high speeds and slamming on the brakes to release the hold of the ice.
Usually, after two or three tries — with the help of the water to melt the ice on their trailers — the boats would shake loose. But occasionally, one boat would be a little less frozen than the others and would come shooting off like a rocket on the first try, slamming into the other boats behind it.
After the chaotic takeoff, the start of the tournament was delayed by more than an hour — and the competitors seemed to get more miffed about that with each passing minute.
Despite the conditions, this was the Classic — and they were still itching to take part in pro fishing’s annual biggest event.
Once we all made it out onto the water, there was one simple rule: any part of you that you didn’t want frozen solid had better be completely covered when you moved. Nine degrees is cold in any scenario, but it was an indescribable kind of cold at 60 mph.
I saw things that day I hadn’t seen before and haven’t seen since.
We came across more than one angler drop shotting while holding the rod with one gloved hand and the other hand buried deep in the pocket of his parka. Virtually every angler we saw would make two or three casts, then dip his rod into the water to keep the ice from building up in his guides.
Some anglers reported abandoning their shallow game plans because the sloughs and shorelines they had hoped to fish were covered with ice.
It was an amazing scene on a lake that is still considered a “Southern fishery.”
What was even more amazing was that the guys caught fish. To them, it was uncomfortable, but all part of the game.
I had believed for years that Bassmaster pros could catch fish anywhere, under any conditions. But I hadn’t totally considered the scope of the word “any.”
That proved it beyond the shadow of a doubt — and I hope Mother Nature never makes them prove it again.