River rats with Delta success will shine on Sabine

ORANGE, Texas — Although Toledo Bend is an impoundment of the Sabine River, don’t base your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks on history there. Instead, review results of other spring river tournaments.

Toledo Bend is won mostly on deep, offshore ledges. A notable exception is the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open, held here in March 2002 during the prespawn. Patterns that dominated the Elite Series Toledo Bend tournament in June 2012 will not translate to  the Sabine. And that’s according to 2012 Angler of the Year Brent Chapman, who won that tournament.

“It won’t even be in the same ballpark,” Chapman said in an interview for my podcast, Fantasy Fishing Insider. “The Sabine River system is going to be a challenge.”

The Sabine event will most likely be won near shore in 4 feet of water or less, and with a jig, creature bait or shallow crankbait. So load your roster with river rats and other shallow-water specialists.

To determine anglers likely to succeed on the Sabine, I’ll borrow a practice from real estate agents and compile this list of comps — tournaments with comparable factors, including fishery type, water quality, geography and unique challenges:

  • Feb. 18-20, 2011, Bassmaster Classic, Louisiana Delta (New Orleans, La.)
  • Feb. 24-26, 2012, Bassmaster Classic, Red River (Shreveport, La.)
  • March 9-12, 2005, Ouachita River tournament in another pro bass tour (West Monroe, La.)
  • March 1-14, 2010, Elite Series, California Delta (Stockton, Calif.)
  • March 22-25, 2007, Elite Series, California Delta (Stockton, Calif.)
  • March 21-23, 2002, Central Open, Toledo Bend (Many, La.)

Try filling your roster with a combination of the anglers listed below. My picks are italicized.


Bucket A

No-Brainer Pick: Kevin VanDam, 20.8 percent Fantasy Fishing ownership

Value Pick: David Walker, 0.3 percent

Local Pick: Todd Faircloth, 22.8 percent

River Rat Pick: Greg Hackney, 5.3 percent

Counterintuitive Pick: Aaron Martens, 2.5 percent

Wild Card Pick: Keith Combs, 2.5 percent

A Louisiana River Rat at home flipping shallow cover, Hackney has been known to gamble on long runs to find fish he won’t have to share. That could be key. His average finish in comp tournaments is 19th, with a third, 10th, 20th and 22nd.

Faircloth lives close enough to Orange to be considered a “local,” but he does not fish the Sabine system. Still, his chances of knowing a few tidbits more than other pros are better than most.


See picks for Buckets B, C, D and E on the next page.

Bucket B

No Brainer: Dean Rojas,9.3 percent ownership

Value Pick: Greg Vinson, 0.8 percent

Local Pick: Dennis Tietje, 1.3 percent

River Rat Pick: Stephen Browning, 1.2 percent

Counterintuitive Pick: Jeff Kriet, 5.3 percent

Wild Card Pick: Scott Rook, 1.6 percent

Vinson averaged a best-in-bucket 13th place. He showcased his river-fishing prowess finishing runner-up in the Red River Classic.

Browning finished third and sixth in the California Delta which, with its miles of canals, sloughs and dead-end backwaters, looks like what will encounter on the Sabine system.


Bucket C

No Brainer: Ish Monroe, 24.4 percent ownership

Value Pick: John Crews, 7.4 percent

Local Pick: James Niggemeyer, 10.7 percent

River Rat Pick: Bill Lowen, 14 percent

Counterintuitive Pick: Takahiro Omori, 9.1 percent

Wild Card Pick: Derek Remitz, 1.2 percent

Monroe is great when frogs and flipping are in play. And because bonus points are awarded for Big Bass and the heaviest one-day limit, the “Big Bass Specialist” seems a no-brainer.

Crews won a California Delta tournament, flips the same baits Monroe won with on Okeechobee (Missile Baits’ D Bomb, which he designed), and he’s a wizard with a shallow crankbait. His average finish in the comp tournaments is 19th.


Bucket D

No Brainer: Brandon Palaniuk, 60.4 percent ownership

Value Pick: Marty Robinson, 4.7 percent

Local Pick: Clark Reehm, 5.4 percent

River Rat Pick: Cliff Prince, 1.2 percent

Counterintuitive Pick: Kotaro Kiriyama, 0.1 percent

Wild Card Pick: Chris Zaldain, 0.5 percent

With an Elite Series win and a runner-up and fourth-place Classic finishes, Palaniuk is the real deal. Still, he’s in Bucket D for a reason: a ‘hero-or-zero’ pattern of inconsistency. He often follows a great finish with a flop.

Robinson is a gut pick. Ever since his strong showing in last year’s Classic, he seems poised to step up to the next level. His best finish in three of the five comps is 15th (California Delta).


Bucket E

No Brainer Pick: Jason Christie, 49.6 percent ownership

Value Pick: Kurt Dove, 2.2 percent ownership

Local Pick: Not applicable

River Rat Pick: Kevin Hawk, 2.6 percent

Counterintuitive Pick: Hank Cherry, 34.2 percent

Wild Card Pick: Chad Pipkens, 0.7 percent

Christie’s history on rivers includes fifth-, 11th- and 15th-place finishes on the Arkansas, Red and James rivers (on another pro tour). On the other hand, he’s also finished 118th, 125th and 186th on the Potomac (twice) and Detroit rivers.

Hawk’s river bona fides include a 13th-place on the California Delta and two 10ths and a 12th, 19th, 25th and 28th on rivers and deltas (all in mid-level tournament circuits.). But his resume also includes a 70th, 80th, 84th, 111th and 173rd on rivers.

Who are your picks for Fantasy Fishing?

Also By This Author