BIRMINGHAM, Ala. No one was more thrilled with his performance the first day of the Bassmaster Classic than James Niggemeyer.
Who could blame him? While the rest of the field spent three practice days scouring Lay Lake for hot spots, he was burrowed in blankets in the back of his truck camper, trying to recover from pneumonia.
Yet, on Friday, Niggemeyer caught 13 pounds, 3 ounces and found himself in 10th place going into Saturday's second round.
"It all worked out just fine," said the soft spoken pro, fishing his second Classic. "Once I started catching fish, I started feeling better and the pieces began to fall into place."
That wasn't the case when he woke up ill the first day of practice more than a week ago. He tried fishing, but his condition deteriorated rapidly.
"It was 30 degrees and snowing, I had a sore throat and felt awful," he recalled. "My (body) core temperature was plunging; I was chilled and had no energy. I quit early."
When he woke for practice the next morning, he lacked the strength to pull on his cold weather clothing. He had difficulty breathing and his heart was racing.
"I knew I had to get to a doctor, so I drove into Birmingham to an urgent care clinic," said Niggemeyer. "The doctor ran tests and told me I had mycoplasma pneumonia."
Armed with antibiotics, vitamins and other medications, Niggemeyer chose to forfeit the rest of practice with hopes of getting well enough to fish the first tournament day.
"I wasn't even capable of launching my boat," he offered. "I slept 10 hours a day and consumed a lot of fluids until Wednesday (official Classic practice day). I went out for a little while and got my head back into the game."
The soft spoken Texan says sacrificing practice was a tough decision, but the only smart one. Fortunately, he fished the 2007 Classic on Lay Lake and had enough to fall back on.
"The fact that fishing conditions were so tough actually helped me," he explained. "I could forfeit practice and focus on getting well, knowing the weather would improve and conditions would change. I was able to get healthy and keep a positive attitude."