Steer clear of bars: That's a tip, courtesy of Red River hot-stick Aaron Johnson, for anglers entered in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open out of Shreveport-Bossier City, La., June 3-5, where pros will compete for a top prize of $45,000.
"There are new sandbars just off the river that people need to be very careful of," said Johnson, an Opens pro who lives in Bossier City. "Some you can see, others are just inches under water and you can't tell they're there. Some backwaters you can no longer get into because of sandbars, the result of high water we had for so long."
Another type of bar to watch out for, said rookie Opens pro Debra Hengst of San Antonio, Texas, is rebar found in some backwater areas, as well as the stumps they're stuck into. (She surmises that trotline fishermen pound the metal stakes into stumps to secure their setups.)
"Rebar and fiberglass don't mix," she pointed out.
The Red River can be relied upon to dish out many unique conditions. A go-to backwater spot, for example, can evaporate overnight as the river level drops. Other game-changing factors can be current-speed fluctuations; an influx or settling of the heavy, red siltation that gives the river its name; or a heavy traffic day if a lot of commercial barges are at work.
Bassmaster anglers have learned to embrace the challenges as they seek the river's big largemouth. The upcoming Open will be the 10th time since 2000 that BASS has brought a pro-level event to the Red. Most recently, BASS was there in 2009 for a Bassmaster Classic that pulled in record-breaking crowds.
For the upcoming Central Open, anglers likely will have their choice of main river or backwater patterns, Johnson said.
"The main river will be a factor because it is stable and is clearing up," he said. "If it were high and muddy, then the main river doesn't really come into play. But because the river has stabilized, the fish are spread out and the boats will be able to spread out too."
As the second of three events of the 2010 season, the June 3-5 Open will be pivotal in the points race. The top two pros in points after the third tournament will earn berths in the 2011 Bassmaster Classic out of another Louisiana city, New Orleans. The top seven will be invited to join the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2011.
Tied at 4th place in the Central Open points standings, Johnson is the highest ranking hometown entry for the June 3-5 tournament. An experienced Opens competitor — he won in 2008 on Kentucky Lake — he is well-known in the local Red River circuits. He's aiming for a Classic berth.
Points leader Craig Schuff, the Texan who won the Central opener on Lake Amistad, is going for Elite qualification as well as a coveted Classic entry. A self-employed insurance agent, he's worked in three scouting trips to the Red.
"I have fished the river a bunch of times, but I'm not that comfortable there," he said.
He said the water has been muddier than he would like. "We caught a bunch of rain in the upper Red last week, so I'm betting it will be higher than it has been. It changes every day," Schuff said.
Hengst is hoping to pull up from 37th in the points standings, although she's justifiably proud to be where she is after the April season opener, her first Opens entry. She is a veteran of the former Bassmaster Women's Tour.
"I'm focused because of where I'm sitting right now in points," she said. "I know the Red will be much different than when I was last there, but I am a river rat. I'd much rather fish a river than a lake or reservoir."
Fans are invited to the daily takeoff at 6 a.m. CT out of Red River South Marina, Highway 71 S., Bossier City.
In a new twist for the Open circuit, Saturday's finale weigh-in will take place at Bass Pro Shops, 100 Bass Pro Drive, Bossier City, La., at 2 p.m. CT. On Thursday and Friday the weigh-ins will be at Red River South Marina beginning at 2 p.m.