Shreveport and Bossier City, La., hosted the 2012 Annual Bassmaster Classic in grand style this year on the Red River, which separates the two cities. The event took advantage of pontoon boats for purposes other the normal sightseeing or fishing uses, although those reasons were still high on the list by the local residents.
Curious to observe what the final 49 Bassmaster Classic contenders were fishing with and how they were fishing, residents in pontoon boats were able to observe the cream of the crop in a comfortable way as they watched the participants who qualified from all over the world. Of course you could really only do this as long as you had binoculars and your head was on a swivel, as boats sped by at over 65 mph to get to their honey holes. Or if you happened to get to the launch ramp early you could have the best seat in the house as the Classic anglers would pass by.
This year the weather went from cool in the later morning to a very pleasant afternoon, which meant hot coffee and blankets were seen during the send-off. Low to mid-30 temps were common in the mornings, as thousands of on-lookers on land scanned for their favorite tournament angler while they put their boats in the water, or came over to the front-row spectators lucky enough to have their hat or shirt autographed.
Lowrance Electronics had their own pontoon boat with banners displayed on the side, with VIPs inside the boat observing at the entrance of the Red River South Marina in Bossier City as the colorful boats motored past. They checked the tournament boats with
all their large Lowrance GenII HDS10 units lit up displaying the river, current water temperature, speed and depth before the boats headed out to their respective locations. If there should be an inquiry on any of the sonar, fish finding or chartplotter electronics, technicians were on the docks to answer any questions or angler concerns before heading out to fish. Showing the Lowrance `flag' on the pontoon boat was its duty, although it was equipped with various Lowrance recorders, radar, and power pole when the boat needed to stay in one place while in the shallow water.
Mercury Marine, a title sponsor and promoter of the Classic, had the same agenda while its banner flapped on a 22-foot Manitou Encore LE pontoon. It is one of Mercury's top priorities to show its support to the anglers who use its products. Out of the 49 anglers, 28 of them at the Classic tournament used Mercury motors, mostly the 250 ProSX, two-stroke high-performance model. One of Mercury's event personnel, Kevin Brown, specifically requested a pontoon boat for the great banner visibility and for their clients' comfort.
"Interested people can go out and see what is going on since it's a lot easier to see the action on a pontoon boat than in a normal bass boat," said Brown. "And we can accommodate more people to watch this venue at any one time compared to other types of boats. The view is 360 degrees visibility from a higher vantage point."
When the tournament anglers return to the Red River South Marina, another pontoon boat with its BASS Catch and Release banner shows prominently for the fishermen's check-in point. The `toon is manned by a BASS time keeper, making sure the angler in his respective flight is not late; otherwise he will be penalized with ounces taken off his bass catch for the day. The boat also serves as a large livewell for the caught and weighed fish brought in by the anglers, later to be released in an undisclosed location. Five total fish are entered each day, with 2012 winner Chris Lane bringing in a total of 51 pounds, 6 ounces during the three-day tournament.
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This was Shreveport-Bossier City's second Classic, having held its first in 2009 with over 137,000 people attending. It's centrally located and the fishing is challenging. Many anglers went through the lock and dams, cutting their fishing time, while others went into the many backwaters and oxbows. Low waters (the Corps of Engineers lower the water as much as a half a foot a day), along with dropping water temperatures, created uncertainties in the fishermen's strategy as they looked for spawning or pre-spawning bass. Timber stick-ups, Hydrilla, and water lilies were plentiful, and made it sometimes difficult to fish, but gave the fisherman hope in finding that large mouth bass right next to any of hundreds of stumps.
If you come with your own boat and want a place to stay or camp, the Red River South Marina is ideal for you. Managers Bob and Barbara Horton are there to help with any fishing information and gear, along with accommodations that include 35 cabins and 50 RV full hookup sites, as well as boat slips and a marina store. The marina was built with BASS specifications for the 2009 Bassmaster Classic event, and was again home to the 2012 Classic. It's located just south of downtown Bossier City by Port Lake, a closed off old river bed that gives access into the Red River, but is protected from strong winds and active river traffic. Barges and big boats still ply the river through the locks and dams leading up to Shreveport.