Fantasy Fishing: Flip, frog and fry at Sabine River

The Elites were supposed to visit Orange, Texas, in April, but Mother Nature made that infeasible, so now they’re back as part of a Texas two-step comprised of Lake Travis and the Sabine River. But for the presence of bass, and their existence within the Lone Star State, though, those two waterways couldn’t be more different. The former is a deep, clear body of water loaded with bass, while the latter is shallow river system that has a reputation for being stingy.

When I submitted my first Sabine preview in late March, I chose Todd Faircloth, Mike Iaconelli, Steve Kennedy, Bill Lowen and Keith Combs. Due to intervening events, it’s no longer possible to pick that quintet, nor would I necessarily want to do so. I’m always inclined to at least look at anglers who have a solid track record on a particular body of water, but that may be less influential than usual – not only has the month changed, but so too has the field of play, both by rules-based mandate and by the forces of nature.

Also, for the first time at the Sabine, they’ll be able to weigh in 12-inch fish. They might not make a difference, but they could save someone’s bacon.

While some key areas may be altered or offlimits, that doesn’t mean you throw the entire Sabine playbook out the window. I’m still looking for versatile (aka “junk” fishermen), particularly if they’re river experts. Under the tropical heat, I’ll look for proven flippers and froggers, too, because a couple of 4- or 5-pound bites will go a long way.

Bring water, Gatorade and a towel to wipe off the sweat, even if you’re watching from home.


MY PICK: Jacob Wheeler may be a polarizing pick amongst both his peers and fishing fans, but there’s no question he can catch fish under just about any circumstances put in front of him, from the Great Lakes to a parking lot mud puddle. He’s finished in the money in over three-quarters of his B.A.S.S. entries, and seems to excel when he needs to have 15 or 20 rods on the deck, as exemplified by his “hodge podge” approach to Travis. He’s been on fire since a bomb to start the year at Martin. Indeed the last time he missed the money before that was at Ross Barnett last April, and then only barely. He’s finished in the top 10 in over a quarter of his events, and in the top 20 nearly 50 percent of the time. The biggest question is when will he earn an AOY title or Classic trophy.

ALTERNATE: In this all-Jacob pairing, I’m looking to Mr. Powroznik to show up on Sunday again. Other than in the Classic, he hasn’t done that since 2016, although he’s always nibbling around the edges. His river experience in Virginia should serve him well, even though he struggled here in 2015.


MY PICK: Dean Rojas has gotten progressively worse in each tournament this year, starting off 10th, then going to 15th, then 51st and finally 104th at Travis. While it’s not Arizona home cooking, there are few places better for him to get back on track than at the Sabine, where he’s finished second and 19th. This time of year sets up even better for him than past tournaments, though, and expect him to have Kermit (or a herd/school/posse of Kermits) on deck at all times. He could win without catching a limit each day, thanks to a few oversized bites.

ALTERNATE: Like Wheeler and Iaconelli, Gerald Swindle is fully comfortable with a couple dozen rods underfoot and excels at picking out the right one at the right time. He’s been in the money twice here before.


MY PICK: One of my two holdover picks, Todd Faircloth is about as much of a steel trap lock as you can hope to find on the Sabine. He finished first and ninth in Orange, and while he’s usually thought of as a premier prespawn and offshore angler, he’s also superlative on shallow, weedy waters like the Sabine, the Upper Mississippi and various Florida fisheries. When the frogging and flipping bite is on, he seems to make things happen.

ALTERNATE: Stephen Browning is the undisputed king of mid-south shallow rivers in the Opens. While he won a Top 150 two decades ago, he’s yet to win an Elite. Few people who follow the sport will be surprised when he does.


MY PICK: Bill Lowen has a top 10 on the Sabine and one finish just outside the money cut. He’s always tries to get into places others can’t but with his aluminum boat it should be even easier to find places he’ll have all to himself. After missing the Classic this year for the first time since 2008, and then being middle of the pack in four straight Elites, a river system is the perfect place for him to right his ship

ALTERNATE: If you think that Lowen won’t get it done, go with Ish Monroe, who’s finished fourth and 43rd at the Sabine. His professed dislike of spinning gear shouldn’t harm him here – the upside/downside to picking him is that he’s likely to glue a frog rod into his hand for as long as he lasts.


MY PICK: Along with Lowen and transplanted Indianan Wheeler, Dave Lefebre makes it three Yankees among my picks on this most southerly venue. It might be coincidence, but I also think it might have something to do with fishing tough northern fisheries in their early years. He’s yet to fish a B.A.S.S. event on the Sabine, but he has plenty of experience on rivers in this region like the Red, the Louisiana Delta and the Atchafalaya Basin. If there’s a jig bite in effect he could contend, and it seems highly likely that there will be a solid jig bite somewhere in the system.

ALTERNATE: Alton Jones did quite well in the initial B.A.S.S. event on the Sabine, ending up eighth overall, but he stumbled in 2015. He’s had two terrible finishes among four Elite events this year, but he’s too talented and too experienced to stay down for much longer. Expect him to find a little area he can milk with a Yum Dinger and wait out the tougher big fish.