The Sabine is different this time

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Steve Bowman

ORANGE, Texas — In both the previous two Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments on the Sabine River it took right at 50 pounds to win the four-day events – 50-0 when Chris Lane won in 2015 and 49-6 when Todd Faircloth prevailed in 2013. However, the pros don’t think the winning weight will approach that this year. The Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Elite at the Sabine River presented by Econo Lodge begins Thursday under vastly different conditions than in previous years.

“It might be the lowest weight ever in an Elite Series tournament,” Lane said. “I look for it to be somewhere around 35 pounds, maybe 38. But these guys are the best in the world. They might surprise you at the scales.”

(For the record, the lowest four-day Elite Series tournament winning weight is 43 pounds, 3 ounces, by Kevin Short on the Mississippi River at Fort Madison, Iowa, in 2009.)

This isn’t the typical pre-tournament sand-bagging/poor-mouthing that occurs prior to almost every Elite Series event. There are valid reasons for Lane’s prediction, and his opinion was backed by several other anglers.

First and foremost is the fact that the legal waters from previous years included both Texas and Louisiana. However, this year tournament waters include the Sabine River and its tributaries within the Texas counties of Orange, Jefferson, Chambers, Galveston and Newton. Louisiana waters have been placed off-limits because of that state’s laws granting control of navigable waters to private property owners. A bill to restore access to public waters was defeated in the Louisiana legislature this year, but proponents have vowed to continue pushing for the reform and have asked B.A.S.S. and bass anglers to support the cause.

Secondly, the Elite Series was here in March previously. This tournament was originally scheduled for April 6-9, but heavy flooding in the area forced its postponement to this week.

“I like fishing here,” Lane said. “I don’t like fishing here with 93-degree water temperatures. It’s anywhere from 89 to 93.”

But the biggest factor by far in the Lane’s dire prediction is the fishable waters being essentially cut in half from previous years.

“This place will get you when you’ve got only half the water you’ve usually had,” Lane said. “It’s really congested in a lot of areas.”

Bill Lowen has noticed the same thing in the previous three days of practice, saying, “The problem we’re going to have this week is just being crowded on top of one another. In the past I’ve had areas where I’d never see another boat. This week you’d see 10 boats everywhere you’d go.”

“There’s never been a tournament down here where you could only fish Texas,” said Gerald Swindle. “In looking at the past weights, it’s going to be hard to get an idea of what it’s going to take this week. It could take as little as four pounds a day to get a (Top 50) check, and it might be as high as six pounds a day.”

What won’t change is the enthusiasm of the bass fishing fans in this area. The 2013 tournament set a four-day Elite Series attendance record of 33,650, which was later topped at Waddington, N.Y., that season where 34,100 attended. Orange always draws big daily weigh-in crowds.

“I think the stigma about where we can and cannot fish might take away from how good the people are down here, but I hope not,” Swindle said. “People come to the campground and shake your hand. They love B.A.S.S. They love the Elite Series guys. Even they are frustrated. The Sabine ain’t the best fishery we’ve ever been on, but it’s better than what it’s going to show this week.”

However, you should always keep this in mind: As Chris Lane noted, “These guys are the best in the world. They might surprise you at the scales.”

And no matter what totals hit the scales, there will be a big party centered around bass fishing in Orange, Texas, this week. There always is when the Elite Series comes here.