ORANGE, Texas – The Day 1 leaderboard at the Bass Pro Shops Central Open No. 2 reads like a Texas phone book.
Eight of the top 12 anglers in this tournament on the Sabine River hail from the Lone Star State, and three more Texans are in the Top 20. Heck, even one of the Louisiana residents in the top 20 is from the small town of Vinton which is only a 12-minute drive just across the river back into the Bayou State.
So to say this three-day tournament has a local flair is an understatement. But it may come as a surprise to fishing fans that many of the same anglers leading the tournament are not overly familiar with the Sabine River fishery, despite three of them listing Orange as their current hometown.
It really shouldn’t be a major shocker, however. Consider: It was only four years ago when Orange (and thus the southernmost part of the Sabine) hosted a B.A.S.S. event (that was an Elite Series tournament, which perhaps not coincidentally, was won by Texas native Todd Faircloth). Also, the river and its tributaries have a long history of being a saltwater fishing paradise, and many anglers focus on redfish, speckled trout and the like near the mouth of the river rather than covering the vast array of backwaters and bayous looking for bass.
The chief reason may be that Orange is within a 90-minute drive of two of bass fishing’s most fabled fisheries – Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend reservoirs. Serious bass anglers from across the world visit those areas year round and have done so for decades, so why wouldn’t an angler who lives a short distance away do the same?
What all this likely means is that even though the leaderboard currently is top-heavy with Texans, there’s no guarantee that it will remain that way. As many of the local anglers said, they truly do not have a home-water advantage despite their local address or area code.
“I’ve never fished here before in my life,” said Houston’s Matthew McArdle, who currently sits in sixth place with 11 pounds, 13 ounces weighed on Thursday. “This water is completely new to me.”
Finding bass over the 12-inch limit was not difficult, as 144 of the 185 pros in the Central Open boated limits of five bass. Finding heavy bass was another story entirely, as only 23 anglers in the field had bags that weighed in double digits. A bass must only be 12 inches long to be a keeper in Orange County and four other coastal Texas counties where bass traditionally are skinnier than those caught in lakes.
“I caught one fish over 14 inches in practice and my first fish today was 14 1/2 inches,” McArdle said. “I was ecstatic, and it turned out to be my smallest fish. Things got better for me as the day went on. I think I figured out something with a slack tide bite, so we’ll see what happens. I’m boat 136 (on Friday) so I’ll have an hour and a half extra fishing time (than Thursday). That’ll give me plenty time to do what I’m doing.”
Corey Stanley said he’s lived within 10 miles of Orange for each of his 33 years, but he usually fishes Rayburn and Toledo more than the Sabine. Heavy rains in recent weeks really kept just about everyone off the river because of high and cloudy water.
“I’m fishing muddy water,” said Stanley, who is in 12th place with 11-7. “It’s hard not to right now. But if you can find any kind of moving water, you have a chance…But the cloudy water, I think that makes things tougher on the fisherman than it does the fish. The fish are still there.”
Domonick Poullard lives in Houston, but he originally is from Fenton, La., which is a tiny village northeast of Lake Charles and less than an hour from Orange. He’s fished the Sabine before, but not with frequency.
“It’s still river fishing,” said Poullard, who is in a tie for eighth with 11-10. “I fish the San Jacinto River now that I’m in Houston. Both of them are tidal things. I’m looking for water running out of marshes. It’s all murky, but it’s dropping into canals that are even muddier. Still, I’ll do the same thing tomorrow. It worked pretty well today.”
Carl Svebek III is in seventh place with 11-11. He’s lived in Orange for 18 months, but spent most of his life in the Sam Rayburn area where he was born. He’s fished the farthest reaches of the Sabine before, but because the delta is so vast, he usually just fishes a few minutes from the City of Orange Boat Ramp where Central Open launches and weigh-ins are taking place this week.
“My game plan (Thursday) was completely different than my game plan two weeks ago,” he said. “The river is constantly changing. There’s tide moving in or moving out. There’s fresh water coming in or fresh water rolling out. It’s cloudy, and then it’s not. You have to be prepared for anything.”
Svebek still wasn’t ready for what he accomplished on Thursday – he caught a limit within 15 minutes of takeoff. He’d like to replicate the feat and find enough weight to carry him past the cut and into Saturday’s final day of fishing.
“If you’re on a lake, you can fish it for three or four days and pretty much figure things out,” he said. “This place is so broad and so big, it’s just impossible to know all of it. But you still have to go out and give your all and hope you find the big ones.”
Other top anglers entering Day 2 of the Central Open on the Sabine River include T-Roy Broussard of Port Arthur, Tex., who has the lead with 15-0. Arizona’s Josh Bertrand and Missouri’s Chad Morgenthaler, who both fish the Bassmaster Elite Series, are close behind with 13-5 and 13-0. Trey Smith of Orange is fourth with 12-15 and Drew Sloan of Scurry, Tex. (in the Dallas area) is fifth with 12-0.
Friday’s weigh-in will begin at 3 p.m. local time in the park adjacent to the City of Orange Boat Ramp. The Orange River Festival, with food, drink, games, Carnival midway rides, live music and much more is taking place at the park, as well, on Friday and Saturday.