After more than a week of early practice in December, three official practice days last week, and a final tune-up on the water Wednesday, you'd think this year's Bassmaster Classic qualifiers would have learned every secret the Red River holds.
The question for the day had been to make one last check on past places, or treat the day as a free practice and look for new stuff. As I learned late Wednesday after spending a day on the Red with Kelly Jordon and then speaking with several other contenders, many admitted actually finding new places to fish or patterns to try.
Jordon spent his morning totally eliminating a remote area up the river north of Shreveport; although it looked good and had produced some good bass earlier, two hours of exploring did not yield enough weight to keep the Texas pro in contention for three days, so he won't head up there again.
After leaving that spot, Jordon and I spent the rest of our day in a well-known backwater he had not fished before and within minutes he'd landed a 3 ½-pounder on one of his favorite lures — a lure he doesn't think many others will be using. Six or seven other nice fish and strikes followed as he negotiated through the shallow, stumpy water — totally changing Jordon's idea of how he might start the Classic on Friday morning.
Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam told me he visited two new places he had not previously fished and was also pleasantly surprised at what he found. VanDam did not visit the Red during December, so Wednesday was only his fourth time on the water in recent years.
Todd Faircloth, a Red River veteran, visited one area he had planned to fish and had five or six nice bites, then went into another area he had not previously fished and had five or six more bites. Todd told me he thought his pattern, and that other many contenders', would be totally weather-related.
The bass, he said, have actually moved shallower since the first day of practice last Friday, and some fish are on beds. Many fish are less than 3 feet deep, and because most of them are still roaming, they would be the first to scatter for deeper water if the temperatures get colder, which they're predicted to do.
When Gary Klein, who's competed in more than two dozen Classics, and I talked last night, Gary told me he spent Wednesday fishing several places he'd seen in December and had had three quick strikes, using the same technique he'd used then. That's significant, because in one of those spots Klein had gotten 27 strikes as fast as he could get a bait into the water. Is this finally going to be his year? A lot of people certainly hope so, because few deserve it more.
Skeet Reese said he'd looked at two new areas but was not impressed at what he found. The California pro, who caught one bass and shook off a couple of more, also admitted to me he had not expected the bass to be this far along in spawning activity and had not practiced for it, so he would be scrambling.
Once again, I think Fred Roumbanis may be one to watch here. He had an excellent three days of practice here last week, and the streak continued yesterday. He's not doing anything the rest of the pros won't learn; he's just figured out the river's secrets a little quicker and better than they have. Lure-wise? Spinnerbaits and various flipping baits will almost certainly dominate, one secret the Red River did give up fairly quickly.