Sabine River may prove more challenging than ever

ORANGE, Texas — After his seventh-place finish at Alabama’s Lay Lake two weeks ago, Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year points leader Brandon Cobb remarked that he was looking forward to the next tournament on the Sabine River. 

“I actually love the Sabine,” he said. “It’s one of my favorite places in the entire country where I’ve ever fished a tournament. It’s not good fishing. But in the fall at home, all I do is river fish. I’ve got a 15-foot aluminum boat. I get back as far in the creeks as I can. It’s my favorite thing to do.

“The Sabine is like that in the entire place. The difference in the Sabine is that fish don’t live every place. I love it, but it’s also a scary tournament in that if you pick the wrong area, there’s nothing to catch. Some of the creeks just don’t have a bass in them.”

Now, after three days of practice on the Sabine River this week, Cobb has changed his tune a bit.

“I’m still sticking to that I like fishing here,” said Cobb, on the eve of the four-day Folds of Honor Bassmaster Elite at the Sabine River. “But 100% it sucks compared to the last time I was here.”

Cobb finished 15th with a three-day total of 26 pounds, 12 ounces in early April 2021. Matching that seems like a major challenge after the practice he’s had this week. An incoming tide for most of the next two competition days isn’t helping.

“In any type of tidal fishing, it’s always better at low tide,” said Cobb, who added that he’s catching 20 to 30 bass a day, but few that meet the 12-inch minimum length limit.

In 2021, 50th place after two days was 14-9. In 2018, it was 15-11. Cobb thinks it may take less this year to make the Day 2/Top 50 cut weight and advance to fish Day 3.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if 12 (pounds) makes it, or 11 to 13,” he said. “You catch a lot of fish. It doesn’t seem tough, but you look around four hours later and you don’t have a keeper.”

Jason Christie won the last time the Elite Series came here in 2021. His four-day total was 43-15. Christie opened with 15-1 on Day 1 and added 13-14 on Day 2. He struggled to the finish line, weighing five-bass limits of 6-12 on Day 3 and 8-4 on Day 4.

“I think it will go the same way,” Christie said. “Somebody is going to catch 15, 16, 17 pounds (Thursday) and spend the rest of the week trying to defend it.”

Based on his practice, Christie doesn’t think it will be him.

“If you added up the best five I caught over three days of practice, they would weigh less than 10 pounds,” he said. “This is a challenging place. It’s just tough, tough. This place makes you want to pull your hair out.”

Brandon Palaniuk finished 61st in ’21 and seventh in ’18, pointing to the fact that it’s difficult to be consistent here.

“It’s still a wildcard,” he said. “I think overall fishing is tougher than it ever has been.” And that includes the other two times the Elite Series has been here – in 2015 and 2013. 

“You just can’t go anywhere and catch a keeper,” Palaniuk said. “A 2-pounder has always been gold here, and it really is this week.”

Gerald Swindle finished second with 43-11 when Greg Hackney won with 48-5 in 2018. Another wildcard in this wildcard of a tournament is an angler making the long run along the Intercoastal Waterway to the Houston area, where there has been some success in previous Elite Series tournaments. It’s a gamble that eats up about half your fishing time in the boat run there and back.

“I think it’s going to be a very tight tournament unless somebody blows it away in Houston,” Swindle said. “My mindset is catch five every day, and if you catch a 3- or 4-pounder you’ll move way, way up the standings.

“It’s a challenge, but great competitors are supposed to like tough conditions. I try to remain positive in everything I do. There will be big crowds (at the weigh-ins), and they love us here. They don’t care if we hold up some 12-inch fish on stage.”