I’m going to do my best not to use the “G” word this week.
The one that rhymes with “kind.” Or “hind.” Or “brined.”
As in, it was a “bind” out there today.
No one is going in blind to the fact that the Sabine River is usually a tough place to be consistent, but someone is going to find ‘em. Someone always does. But after five derbies on traditional expansive southern natural lakes and impoundments, now they’re headed to someplace that’s going to ruin a few dreams, or at least derail them temporarily. The fish live there – we’ve seen plenty of evidence of that – but it’s going to take a little something special to eke out the right bites, and flawless execution to make the most of them.
With the season more than halfway done, and some anglers looking forward to the northern swing, look for anglers who can deal with the heat and the pressure, and who know how to return with five in the box. Here are my picks:
BUCKET A: IACONELLI
MY PICK: In a career full of major ups and downs, one of the strangest sideway runs was Mike Iaconelli’s trip up onto the bank on the Sabine in 2013. That killed his chances of doing well that year, but he got better in two subsequent trips and is fishing quite well this year, in hopes of getting back to his first Classic since 2019. Is it really possible that it’ll take him at least 5 years to get back in the field? Clearly it is, but don’t expect it to go longer than that. With a strong history on rivers, and then with the subsequent events in brown fish country, he could easily make a run at the AOY title.
SOLID BACKUP: Tyler Rivet started strong this year, and has fallen off the radar lately, although he’s yet to miss a check and still remains in third in the AOY race. He finished one spot ahead of Ike at the Sabine last year.
BUCKET B: HACKNEY
MY PICK: Greg Hackney has two top fives at the Sabine, including a win, and two middle-of-the-pack finishes. Santee and Lay were tough on him after a strong start, and the hotter and tougher it is the more I like this pick.
SOLID BACKUP: Obviously, a lot of people are choosing past Sabine champ Jason Christie in this bucket, and you can’t be faulted for following suit, but don’t overlook past Open champ and Louisianan Darold Gleason. He was middle of the pack here last year, but he needs to make a home state push to get back to the Classic.
BUCKET C: LOWEN
MY PICK: Whatever happened to Fear the Turtle? Bill Lowen improved his status by winning, but has become less consistent about making Classics in recent years. Some of that comes down to schedule, and he’ll need to feast on stingy backwater largemouths before heading north. He has a top five and lots of experience here, so he’ll have a good starting point.
SOLID BACKUP: Jacob Powroznik has been up and down this year, with a top ten in the Classic and another at Lake Murray. He’s missed a check both times he’s fished the Sabine, so it’s not a slam dunk, but he has lots of river experience, understands current, and how to get shallow fish to bite.
BUCKET D: HERREN
MY PICK: The 2023 season was a disaster for Matt Herren until Lay Lake, but the Sabine should allow him to get even healthier. He’s gotten a check every time he’s been there with B.A.S.S. and while he may have to downsize his jigs a bit, the heat won’t bother him. After three straight Classics, missing this year’s iteration had to burn him, and he needs this one badly to avoid it becoming two in a row.
SOLID BACKUP: Taku Ito, who finished third here last year, is a sentimental favorite, especially because he finds himself in the unexpected position of being 83rd in the AOY race. We expect he’ll rectify that in Smallmouth Disneyland, but some finesse river mud bogging success could jumpstart the process.
BUCKET E: SUMRALL
MY PICK: Look, if you’re in Bucket E at this point in the season, more than a few things have gone wrong, so when in doubt go with local experience. Caleb Sumrall was 7th here last year and there’s no reason he can’t drive that Xpress where few others can go to chase his redemption.
SOLID BACKUP: Ed Loughran is another angler who cut his teeth on shallow rivers – albeit the Potomac and James – and who needs to get things turned around. He’s 92nd in AOY, after finishing 83rd last year, so he’s fighting for his Elite Series life.
Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge
• Joey Cifuents
• Darold Gleason
• Derek Hudnall
• Logan Latuso
• Bill Lowen
• Keith Poche
• Tyler Rivet
• Caleb Sumrall