Learning to love the Sabine



This week we’re fishing the Sabine River for the fourth time in my Bassmaster Elite Series career, and you can expect to hear some grumbling. That’s a constant any place that anglers gather, no matter what the topic may be, but it seems to be especially loud whenever we’re talking about tough fisheries.

By Elite Series standards, the Sabine can indeed be stingy. When Greg Hackney won in 2018, he weighed in 48-05 over four days of fishing. In 2015, it took 50 pounds even. In 2013, the winning weight was 49-06.

There’s very little chance that someone will walk away from this event with a Century Club belt. You can choose to see that as a negative, but it’s one of the primary reasons that I love this sport: Everything is always relative. Drive an hour or so up the road to Sam Rayburn or Toledo Bend and catch a 2- or 3-pounder and you’ll think nothing of it.

At the Sabine, however, that same fish could make a huge impact for your season or even your career. It could be the difference between making the Classic, winning Bassmaster Angler of the Year or even requalifying. That means the excitement over each 2-pounder you catch is elevated. Of course the flip side is true too. It can be absolutely heartbreaking to lose one. To me, that makes for a great tournament. 

My finishes at the Sabine have been anything but consistent. I finished 90th and 101st on our first two visits and seventh last time. I could win this week, or I could finish 100th, depending on how a few chips fall. But after doing this for a living for over a decade, the one thing I know for sure is that the quickest way to a terrible finish is to enter a tournament expecting it to be terrible. If your mindset is “this place sucks,” you’ve already started the process of making it suck.

We all fish under the same conditions, on an even playing field, and the way to excel is to be tougher than everyone else. That may mean fishing a way that you don’t enjoy. For example, I expect certain key areas to be crowded this week, and I hate fishing in crowds. I may have to be willing to look past that distaste if I want to be competitive.

The other fact that makes the Sabine a worthy venue is that it seems like just about everybody within driving distance loves to come here and cheer us on. I’m not sure if Orange, Texas, currently holds the record for the largest crowd, or if it’s Waddington, N.Y., but anytime we draw massive numbers of fans, it gives what we do more of a purpose. In this post-COVID era, after some fan-free weigh-ins, we’ve learned to appreciate them even more.

This will be my 121st B.A.S.S. tournament. I remember them all for various reasons, but some are more memorable than others. One of my fondest recollections is our trip to the Delaware River in 2014. It wasn’t necessarily the safest venue, and it certainly wasn’t the best fishing we’ve experienced. No one is going to mistake that weigh-in for trips to Falcon or Fork. I didn’t even have a great event; I finished 49th, just inside the money line. Nevertheless, the memory of that final weigh-in is indelibly burned into my brain. I was standing on the side of the stage when Michael Iaconelli won. The crowd was chanting his name, and the amphitheater-style stage made it even more scenic. Even though I wasn’t the one hoisting the trophy, it was a special moment for me and for our sport.

I fully expect that fishing this week could be challenging. There are always struggles and inconveniences to be overcome, but in the grand scheme of things those are just minor, passing annoyances.

Someone is going to leave the city of Orange with a big blue trophy and an extra $100,000 in their pocket. Thousands of fans will go home thrilled that they got to see their heroes. Those are all reasons to celebrate, and I hope to dig down deep, perform to the best of my abilities and create another meaningful memory.