ORANGE, Texas — Greg Hackney came into this week’s Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Elite at Sabine River presented by Econo Lodge fully expecting the fishing to be tough.
He said he wouldn’t have been surprised if he had caught no more than 5 pounds, 14 ounces of bass during Thursday’s entire opening round.
So when he landed one fish that weighed 5-14 early Thursday morning, he knew he was on to something — and he built a five-bass limit around that fish that weighed 16-3 to give him the Day 1 lead in an event that pays $100,000 to the winner.
“When the fishing’s this tough, catching a fish like that is almost like catching a whole limit on one bite,” said Hackney, a Gonzales, La., angler who has won five events during his career with B.A.S.S. “If you can put four more with it — even four little ones — you’re probably going to be in pretty good shape.”
Despite suffocating heat and water temperatures that pushed into the low 90s in some places, Hackney said the conditions were actually good on the Sabine River during Thursday’s early-morning hours. That’s when he did the bulk of his good work.
But once the tide started out, the fishing got tougher — and anglers started moving around a lot. That, he said, made things much worse.
“I had one place where I was waiting for the water to come back, and I was expecting it to come back real clean,” Hackney said. “Typically, that’s what would happen. But with so many people moving around later in the day, it really muddied the water.
“When it came back, it came back dirty.”
As for the rest of the tournament, Hackney is sticking with his original mindset.
“It could be really good, or it could be really bad,” he said. “I’m prepared for it to be tough.”
Hackney’s 5-14 largemouth put him in the lead for the $1,500 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award, and his 16-3 limit helped him to a sizeable lead of almost 4 pounds over Alabama angler Matt Herren.
Herren brought five bass to the scales that weighed 12-4 — and he agreed that scattered big bites will be the deciding factor in an event that will likely see a lot of smaller bass caught in the 12- to 14-inch range.
“I had a few quality bites in practice, and I got a couple today,” Herren said. “I don’t know if I’ll get them tomorrow. But that’s what you’ll have to have.”
Herren said boat traffic was not a huge problem for him Thursday.
“I had two or three other boats around me, but it’s a big area I’m fishing,” he said. “None of those other (anglers) were doing what I’m doing.”
After a tough practice, California angler Skeet Reese was thrilled with his third-place weight of 12-2 — and he thinks he might have picked up some knowledge that could help him the rest of the way.
“I thought if I had a great day, I might could catch 9 pounds,” he said. “So to catch 12 … I didn’t see that coming.
“I caught my last good fish of the day on a different bait than I had been catching them on, so I may have learned something.”
The tournament continues Friday through Sunday with daily takeoffs at 6:05 a.m. CT from the City of Orange Boat Ramp and weigh-ins back at the ramp each day at 3 p.m. The full field of 108 anglers will compete Friday, but only the Top 50 will advance to Saturday’s semifinal round.
The Orange County River Festival, held in conjunction with the Bassmaster Elite Series Outdoors Expo, features a wide variety of food vendors, free activities and the Kids Catch and Release Fish Tank, will open at 11 a.m. each day with live music beginning Friday and Saturday at 5:30 p.m. Country music star John Michael Montgomery, the Festival’s headlining act, will play at 8 p.m. Saturday.