SHREVEPORT/BOSSIER CITY, La. — Brent Bonadona of Port Allen, La., has been fishing the Red River for over 25 years, but he's never seen it like this.
"I started fishing here when I was 15 years old, and I've never seen so many sand bars and no grass," Bonadona said. "All you can do is chase shad."
Bonadona did that well enough to take the Day 1 lead Thursday in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open with a five-bass limit weighing 11 pounds, 14 ounces.
"I thought it would take a little more than that to have the lead here," he said.
Charlie Hartley of Grove City, Ohio, is second with 11-5, followed by Luke Estel of Murphysboro, Ill., with 11-2 and Todd Murray of Prairieville, La., with 11-0.
The floodwaters that have roared down the Red River twice this year, most recently in August, have presented a brand new playing field for the 179 boats of pro and co-anglers in this tournament.
"It's a lot different," said Stephen Browning of Hot Springs, Ark., who won Bassmaster Opens here in 2013 and 2014. "The floods have really changed the whole ecosystem. This used to be the snake capital of the world. They're gone. The turtles, alligators, crawfish – all the crazy wildlife that you think about when you think about Louisiana – it was right here. Now it's gone.
"But it will come back."
Browning is in 59th place with a limit that weighed 6-13. With a 12-inch minimum length limit, only 51 pros brought five-bass limits to the scales. Three pros had limits weighing only 6-3.
Elite Series angler Cliff Crochet of Pierre Part, La., had the Phoenix Boats big bass on the pro side of 4 pounds. Co-angler Nathaniel "Rudy" Rudisill of Bossier City, La., caught the big bass of the day – a 4-pound, 13-ounce largemouth.
Rudisill's pro partner was Hartley, the former Elite Series angler who qualified for the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic with a Northern Open win on the James River in August.
"It was truly a team effort," Hartley said. "I had the spot and my co-angler had the lure. He changed lures and caught that 4-13 and a 2 ¾-pounder in three casts. Normally I wouldn't switch lures that quick, but I did then."
Earnest Smoak of Keatchie, La., leads the co-angler division with a three-bass limit weighing 9 pounds, 7 ounces. Christopher Thornton of Morgan City, La., is second with 9-0, followed by Rudisill with 8-11.
The top 28 anglers in the pro division are separated by only three pounds. After Friday's weigh-in the field will be cut to the top 12 anglers in each division, so picking up a few clues on Day 1 will be key.
"I think I figured out a few things toward the end of the day that might help me a little bit," Bonadona said. "But they'd moved today from where they were in practice. They might move again (Friday), so I'll just have to make adjustments."
Friday's 7 a.m. takeoff and 3:15 weigh-in will be held at Red River South Marina.