Roily, muddy, full of prop-eating backwater stumps and always challenging: That’s what Bassmaster Elite Series pro Stephen Browning loves about the Red River.
“I grew up fishing the lower Arkansas River, which is very similar to the Red. So when the fishing’s tough and half the field is intimidated by the nasty water, I feel like I know how to get in there like a bulldozer and power over anything and get to the bass,” Browning said.
Browning of Hot Springs, Ark., is among the pros on deck at the Red River out of Shreveport, La., for the Thursday-Saturday Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open presented by Allstate.
At stake for the pros is a first prize of more than $46,000 in cash and merchandise, including a fully rigged Nitro Z-9 powered by a Mercury 225 Pro XS. The winner also will qualify for the 2015 Bassmaster Classic provided he or she competes in all three Central Opens of the season.
The event’s co-anglers, who compete against each other from the backs of pros’ boats, are after the winner’s prize of a Triton 17 Pro with a Yamaha F115LA engine, a rig valued at $25,000.
Victor in the 2013 Open on the Red River, Browning has a mental advantage going into this Open. After a few hours of practice on the river Monday morning, he was encouraged that the river conditions were favorably comparable.
“The river reminds me of how it was last year,” he said. “The water might be a little higher, and the vegetation hasn’t grown fully — probably because of the extended winter — but it’s much the same.”
Browning knows his competition will be stiff. More than 180 anglers are registered for the pro division. Besides the many talented Opens regulars and Browning, a dozen other Bassmaster Elite Series pros are in the field.
One is the 2012 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year, Brent Chapman of Lake Quivira, Kan. Like Browning, Chapman owns a Red River title, the 2000 Bassmaster Louisiana Central Invitational.
Another is Mike McClelland of Bella Vista, Ark., fresh off an Elite Series win April 6 at Table Rock Lake in Missouri. He said the last time he competed on the Red was in the 2009 Bassmaster Classic in which he finished fourth — a good reason to feel confident this time around.
“Those are fond memories, although it was a different time of year (February), so I can’t expect we’ll catch the same quality,” he said.
“The river’s a little bit dirtier than I’d hoped it would be,” McClelland added. “I think there will be a lot of stuff that plays here this week.”
He said postspawn patterns will likely be prevalent over the three days of Open competition.
“With the water temperature in the 70s, and the fact that the shad are spawning, I have to believe that the majority of the bass are going to be postspawn,” he said.
Browning also predicted postspawn patterns for the competition.
“I’m pretty confident that the majority of the bass are in a postspawn situation. I know these fish like to spawn in February and March, and there was enough good weather for most of them to have spawned already,” Browning said.
McClelland is eyeballing 11 to 12 pounds a day to get into the Top 12 for Saturday’s final round. Browning also said low teens would be the weight to shoot for each day.
“It’s one of the fisheries where 13 to 15 pounds a day is really good. I like the Red because if you fall a little bit behind, you can catch 17 or 18 pounds to get caught back up. I don’t ever feel like I’m out of it on the Red,” said Browning, who leapt from 12th place to score his Red River win last year.
The Red River water level is high enough to provide good access to the bass in the river’s many backwaters.
“The fish like to be in the river, but they don’t like mud in the river,” Browning said. “That’s why I feel the backwaters are going to be the places to fish. The water’s possibly higher than last year, so I feel we’ll have access to backwaters we didn’t have last year. That can throw a little curve into the game.”
Central Open anglers will take off Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 6:30 a.m. CT from Red River South Marina (200 Red River South Marina Drive, Bossier City, La.). Weigh-ins the first two days will be at the marina beginning at 2:30 p.m. CT. Saturday’s weigh-in of the Top 12 will begin at 3:30 p.m. CT at the Bass Pro Shops location in Bossier City (100 Bass Pro Drive).
The local host of the event is the Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission.
All Bassmaster events are free and open to the public.