Browning rallies to win Open

Catching last-minute fish has become a habit for Stephen Browning in tournaments lately, and it paid off in a victory on the Red River.

SHREVEPORT-BOSSIER CITY, La. — Catching last-minute fish has become a habit for Stephen Browning in tournaments lately, and it paid off in a victory on the Red River.

The Arkansas pro relied on divine intervention to jump from the 12th spot to first place in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open. Catching a 16-pound, 10-ounce limit on the final day earned Browning a $40,000 Triton/Mercury rig and $7,979 in cash. His victory also secured Browning a berth in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic if he fishes the last two Central Opens.

“The good Lord blessed me to even be standing here today,” said Browning, who finished with 40 pounds, 10 ounces. “Yesterday with about five minutes left I caught about a 5-pounder and only had two fish. I don’t know why but the last two tournaments right at the end of the day when I really needed one sometimes I would just say a prayer and He answered them. He answered them today because I was struggling big time.”

Browning said he had some bites in the morning at his first stop, but he later made a long run. When he went two and a half hours with catching anything, Browning decided to run back to his first spot.

“It was on there,” he said. “We caught them and caught them and caught them and I was kicking myself in the rear end the whole drive over (to the weigh-in).

“The key today was a simple bait change. I should have had 20 pounds yesterday but I lost some big ones. This morning I lost two big ones and I thought something was not right.”

Browning had been using a sexy shad square-bill crankbait but decided to try another brand of the square bill in the same size and color.

“I guess it just had a different wobble to it because they just choked it,” he said.

Retrieving the crankbait at high speed in an erratic fashion, Browning keyed on driftwood laydowns 3 to 5 feet deep close to sandbar drops.

“I crashed it into everything I could possibly crash it into,” he said.

Most of his strikes came after the lure deflected off the wood. Earlier in the week, Browning caught some of his keepers on a Z-Man Chatterbait.

Keying on spawning bass on the main river produced a 14-5 limit for Tennessee pro Wesley Strader, who finished second with 38-12. He caught all of his keepers the first two days on a Texas-rigged Zoom Z-Hog. However, he kept losing several keepers the first two days, so he switched to a 1/2-ounce Pure Poison Jig tipped with a Zoom Speed Craw and was able to hold onto more keepers the final day.

Non-boater Ernie Smoak of Louisiana relied on a tactic he calls the Smoke Dog Drag (slowly dragging a Strike King Rage Craw Craw) to catch limits the first two days. He had to swim the craw today to catch another limit that clinched a victory for him in the non-boater division and earned him a $25,000 Skeeter-Yamaha rig.

Carhartt Big Bass of the Tournament winners were David Sherrer of Louisiana in the pro division with an 8-1 largemouth and Russell Rogers of Arkansas in the non-boater division with a 6-2 largemouth.

Winners of the Luck “E” Strike Heavyweight Bag of the Tournament were Mike Pedroza of Louisiana on the pro side with 17-1 and non-boater Kim Giddens of Alabama with 10-15.