PELL CITY, Ala. — You might call the Bass Pro Shops Open circuit the mashed potatoes on Stephen Browning’s plate of professional bass fishing. It’s his comfort food when compared to the less palatable grind of the Bassmaster Elite Series.
Browning started his professional B.A.S.S. tournament career at the Open level in 1995. He’s made room for them on his calendar ever since despite the grueling demands of the Elite Series schedule.
Comfort food or not, the Opens are the place where Browning finds his comfort zone. And the statistics show it.
Case in point is the Red River. It’s where Browning competed in his eighth Classic in 2012 and where last month he won Central Open #1. In doing so he earned an automatic berth in the 2014 Classic.
And there’s Logan Martin. It’s where Browning won his first B.A.S.S. event in 1998. It’s also where he currently stands in third place at Southern Open #3.
Could the pattern of winning on familiar ground continue?
“The biggest thing is at the Opens I have a better understanding for what the lakes are capable of producing,” he said. “I know what to expect because the schedule tends to repeat itself at the Opens when compared to the Elites.”
That’s not to say it’s any easier.
“There’s a lot of guys out here for a long period of time,” he said of the Opens. “Guys will spend up to 10 days out here practicing. They catch a lot of fish. We don’t have that benefit in the Elite Series.”
The Elite Series is tough enough but the Opens have their own nuances when it comes to stepping up the game.
“In the Opens you have to really do something different to figure out how to catch fish that have been caught multiple times in a short period,” he continued. “The fish get conditioned to patterns, baits and techniques that get replicated during the time just prior to the tournament.”
Browning claims to have found that “something different” this go around at Logan Martin. Time will tell if it’s the ticket to yet another win on a familiar fishery.
The official practice days are where Browning draws the line of comparison between strategies at the Opens and Elite Series.
“In Elite Series practice very seldom do you hear about guys actually catching fish,” he said. “Instead it’s all about how many bites you had or how many bites you got that are better than other bites or patterns.”
“In the Opens you hear guys in practice say they caught 15 pounds yesterday,” he continued. “I think that goes back to the amount of time they spend on the lake prior to the tournament.”
The comfort zone of the Opens puts Browning in a different mindset that calms his mind.
“I’m just more relaxed and can think more clearer in the Opens,” he said. “That also frees my mind up to watch what other guys are doing. I can find that something different to my pattern by observing everyone else.”
Browning applied that strategy last month on the Red River. While most of the field was flipping he chose to go the opposite direction. That meant fishing aggressively with moving baits. A similar approach is working on Logan Martin. Whatever that something different might be it produced 16 pounds today.
“Here it’s the same thing,” he said of Logan Martin. “These fish have been caught and caught again. I’m going with a reaction lure to spark strikes and today it worked.”
The pressure to qualify for the Classic is off and it still is nine months away. The temptation to back off and coast for the remainder of the season is not Browning’s style.
“I may put more pressure on myself after already having qualified for the Classic,” he said. “I don’t want to be that guy who wins an Open or Elite Series and backs off. I want to be that guy who does well and fishes consistently throughout the year and deserves to go to the Classic.”
Give that man another serving of his mashed potatoes.