SHREVEPORT-BOSSIER CITY, La. — Saturday was a day of firsts for Billy McCaghren Jr. of Mayflower, Ark.: He claimed his first BASS victory and it was his first wire-to-wire win.
"Pretty amazing," McCaghren, a 36-year-old who works in a family-owned welding business, said as he took home the first-place payout of $50,400 for a 54-pound total in the circuit's season opener.
He outdid veteran BASS pro and Red River guide Homer Humphreys Jr. of Minden, La., whose 51-7 earned him second place. Humphreys was runner-up to McCaghren throughout the three-day event.
Jerry Williams of Conway, Ark., toted a 21-13 bag of bass to the scales Saturday, vaulting him from eighth place to finish third with 50-12. In fourth with 48-13 was 19-year-old Kyle Fox of Lakeland, Fla.. Fifth was the 2007 Red River Central Open champion, Danny Smith of Monterey, La., with 45-7.
"I knew I was on potential fish to win if I could have them partly to myself and execute well," McCaghren said. "Every fish I caught came out of Sullivan's Lake on the lower end of Pool 4.
"The key was that I was fishing deeper water than most of the other guys, and getting some late-spawning fish. They spawn exactly the same way on the lake I live on in Arkansas, Lake Conway — on the doughnut ring (roots) of cypress trees."
He said he caught all his fish on a 6-inch junebug-colored Berkley Power Lizard, rigged with a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce Tungsten sinker, making the weight choice according to the prevailing wind. He said he cast the lizard to the tree and let it fall straight down.
"Either they'd take it on the fall or they got it when I bumped the ring," McCaghren said.
He said he's aiming for one of the three entries in the 2009 Bassmaster Classic awarded through the Central Open points race.
"That's what I've come for," he said. Like the Central Open event, the Feb. 20-22 Classic will be on the Red River out of Shreveport-Bossier City, La.
The season-long points race also determines the 10 Central Open pros who will get invitations to join the 2009 Bassmaster Elite Series, a long-term goal for McCaghren.
Humphreys, who won a 2002 Bassmaster Open event on the Red River, said almost all his fish came from a 30-yard stretch in sight of Clark's Red River Marina. He said he watched other pros come and go empty-handed, but he had a technique that produced.
"There was so much pressure there, and everybody was throwing a spinnerbait," Humphreys said, "but they were leaving out a 3-foot stretch from where the bank begins in inches of water, out to 3 feet. I found a way to work that water, got all my fish early and just sat there the rest of the day."
He said he was swimming a BassGitter jig, a black/brown/amber color, and a Chatterbait that helped him get into that shallow strip of water.
"It was a 12-minute run from the launch site," he said. "We (Humphreys and his daily co-angler) caught 90 pounds of fish this week there, on the north side of the marina."
Five Bassmaster Elite Series pros finished in the top 30. Elite rookie Clark Reehm of Russellville, Ark., finished sixth with 45-0. South Dakota's Jami Fralick was 13th; four-time Bassmaster Classic champion Rick Clunn of Ava, Mo., placed 17th; Louisiana's Greg Hackney finished 19th; and Oklahoma's Bradley Hallman was 26th.
In the co-angler division, Heath Willard of Brookhaven, Miss., won the first-place prize of a Skeeter/Yamaha boat rig valued at $32,000 for his 43-pound total.
"I never would have dreamed I'd catch that many fish," Willard said. "I got most of them on a white, Strike King RedEye spinnerbait the first two days, and used a homemade jig the last day. Most were off cypress trees."
Like McCaghren, Willard is a 36-year-old welder. Willard said he has fished BASS Federation Nation events previously but entered the Open, his first, to learn from the pros.
Second in the co-angler division was Paul Cobb of Montgomery, La., with 42-12. Larry Rike of Callisburg, Texas, was third with 33-1.
Bassmaster Open sponsors include Toyota Tundra, Advance Auto Parts, Berkley, Lowrance, Mercury, Purolator, Skeeter, Yamaha, Optima Batteries and Triton Boats
Local sponsors include the Shreveport Regional Sports Authority