Alabama native Matt Herren is no stranger to river fishing. He is, however, a stranger to the Red River and he insists it fishes unlike any river he has been on before.
Wednesday was the final official practice day for all 51 Classic qualifiers and they each had one last chance to locate fish or check on productive patterns that emerged during the three-day practice period from over the weekend.
Rather than discuss the lures, fish catches and locations from Herren's day, his timeline will focus more on the decision-making process of a Classic contender. Ever wanted to find out methods behind breaking down an enormous stretch of tournament water and turning that into a productive tournament.
Herren will discuss his thought process and practice approach throughout the day as well as share his take on his first trip to bass fishing's biggest stage.
7:43 — Matt Herren sets the boat down at his first spot and almost immediately another competitor's boat passes into view. "We've got company coming, imagine that," he says.
7:44 — Herren makes his first cast of the day. "The thing I want to look at is to see where the fish are now — what mode they are in — and then figure out where they are going to be. They need to give me a sign like, 'Here's your sign.'"
7:50 — "We need Ethel and five of her sisters on tournament day. We don't need any chitlins."
7:53 — "I've been trying to key in on fish that are deeper. A wave seems to have moved up shallow, but I think those are going to shut down when this cold front hits."
7:58 — In response to a question about all the boat traffic on the river this weekend Herren replies, "These spectators ain't gonna bother me. They are gonna be up KVD's butt."
8:00 — Elite Series anglers are famous for sandbagging and trying to fool each other about what is happening on the water. "How do you spell 'sandbagging?' You can't do it if you can't spell it," he says. "I just do what I do and I don't worry about all that showmanship."
8:01 — "If one doesn't show itself soon, we are out of here. I ain't got time to waste. The way I look at is on this final practice day is that I have a checklist of things I want to look at. You have one wave of fish that has pushed up shallow and one wave that hasn't. Right now, everyone is trying to key in on those shallow fish and I'm not. With the cold front, I think I have a better chance targeting this other wave."
8:03 — "My right elbow has been killing me. I've been fighting tennis elbow from just taking too many flips brother. I've wore it out. Fortunately, I can flip and pitch with both hands so when one gets to hurting, I just swap."
8:09 — Herren's GPS is loaded with waypoints that appear to be outside the borders of the Red River. "Dude, you can see where I dropped these waypoints. That has nothing to do with fishing. It has to do with how to get in and out of here."
8:10 — As he runs into an underwater stump and steadies himself Herren says, "A key here will be under-trolling because if you get in a hurry, you can break the shaft on your trolling motor and it could cost you the day."
8:18 — In what would become a common theme for the day, Herren is on another stump, "Come on Skeeter dog, slide off of that."
8:22 — "I'm just looking for five of the right bites."
8:25 — "You hear it all the time and it's true. I just try to take this one tournament at a time, but I take that one step further. Some people plan ahead to figure out when they are leaving for a tournament, where they are staying and who they are traveling with, but I don't even think about that until this event is over."
8:29 — Herren has been around fishing for a long time fishing professionally on other circuits, but this year will be his rookie voyage on the Bassmaster Elite Series. When asked how he got into tournament fishing and how he feels about being picked on BASS Fantasy Fishing teams, Herren replied, "I ain't worth nothing. I'm just a hillbilly who likes to fish. I got smitten with this at a young age and now here I am."
8:35 — For those considering picking Herren on their fantasy team: "I despise fishing in a crowd." Unfortunately for Matt, that is going to be hard to avoid on the Red.
8:38 — "On a normal river, the fish are more bank-oriented. This place has so many offshore ridges and cover, the fish aren't going to always go to the bank. It is a lot like Florida fishing, where you locate a school of fish and then you sit there and try to get them to bite."
8:49 — "With this wind these fish should be feeding, but we did just have a front move through."
8:51 — "With three days of official practice, I haven't gotten to check all of the areas I want to, so today is more about eliminating water rather than checking over areas that I've found from last weekend."
8:53 — Most of Herren's lures were modified to not hook fish, "I don't stick fish in practice. I'll cut it off or roll it over."
9:00 — "I'm just moving through an area. Once I get a bite, I'll pick through the spot because right now, I'm just hunting for a school of fish, not one or two loners."
9:08 — "A lot of people get dejected when they go through an area and don't get bit. I feel like it makes my job easier by eliminating water and it helps me settle down and focus on my primary areas."
9:23 — Matt Herren on eating and drinking during tournaments: "You gotta drink most of the time. I'll do it when I'm idling, but if I'm staying in one area for some time, I'll put a drink out on the front deck."
9:39 — Herren has pulled out of the area and is idling through a maze of stumps. "They don't have topo maps or nothing of these backwater areas. You figure out how to get in, out and around all by trial and error. They oughta put Skull and Crossbones signs up on all those big hazards to light up a path through where all the other boats went down."
9:47 — Herren idles through a small inlet that eventually widens into a 2-3 acre lake. Four other boats are visible in the pond so he opts to not fish there. "Ain't no secrets here," Herren says. "These fish are going to be shellshocked. Let them have it."
10:08 — This year will be the first year the Elite Series switches from non-boaters to observers, something that Herren has not been used to on other tours. "With my style of fishing, not having co-anglers will help a lot. I'm not a guy that wants to keep people off fish or anything, don't get me wrong, but it is so hard to find enough fish to last through a tournament that every fish the guy in the back of the boat would catch is one I couldn't go back and get the next day."
10:37 — The Red River has a wide variety of animals living beneath and around it. A snake slips into the water near where Herren is fishing. "Find a snake, find a bass. They eat the same things, right?"
10:46 — Herren is known for keeping his tackle selection relatively simple. "Bait choice is not an issue. You could catch them on a bubblegum-colored rock if you get around them."
10:56 — Right now, Herren is the 19th most picked angler on the BASS Fantasy Fishing game. He is on 7.1 percent of the fantasy teams out there in his first major event with BASS. "That's kinda funny that people are picking me. Shows how much they know about me. Statistically, you might think that since this tournament is on a river, I'm going to do well and I might, but this river is different from any river I've ever fished, so I'm not really sure how well I'll do."
11:40 — Herren named his top three spring baits as a jig, spinnerbait and crankbait. "Those three baits will cover the necessary variety of depth and cover that you face in the spring as well as handle the prespawn through postspawn movements of the fish."
11:50 — "The Red River on the whole is pretty good. There are a lot of good fish in it. It is all about location here. There are a lot of good looking places, but only some hold fish. If you are in the right spot, you can load the boat."
12:36 — Time is moving along in the afternoon of the practice day and as Herron idles back into an area, he breaks into song. "I feel good," he croons.
12:39 — Herren spots four pelicans swimming along a bank across the river from him. "It's those pelicans, they are eating all the bass."
1:17 — On how he broke through to professional fishing as a living: "I was unfortunate I guess. I was having fun fishing around the house and someone told me I needed to go fish with the big boys. The transition across leagues has been smooth because I've fished against a lot of these guys before and the format is fairly consistent."
2:26 — It has been a pretty slow day for Herren so far with the tough bluebird skies and post-frontal conditions. "I'm not really worried. I came out here to look at water, not to get bites. There are some areas where I know there are fish, but I'm trying to fish around that, so if I come in here during the tournament, I know whether or not it is worth it to try and expand the area I would fish."
3:53 — As Herren idles back in towards the check-in boat, practice has just ended and he puts his day in perspective. "I'm excited — I'm ready to go. We've got some big weather changes that we have to adjust to. Everyone is facing the same challenges and I look forward to it."
After a day off the water tomorrow for Media Day, competition begins with Day One on Friday, February 20. Look for Matt Herren and the 50 other qualifiers to begin their drive to become the next Bassmaster Classic champion.