Sabine River always a crapshoot

ORANGE, Texas – Certain aspects of a Sabine River bass tournament are predictable. The best example of that being the winning weight. In the three recent Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments here, the four-day first-place totals were 48 pounds, 5 ounces in 2018, 50-0 in 2015 and 49-6 in 2013. 

Who will catch those fish, that’s the question? Past experience isn’t a predictor of future results on the Sabine River.

“It’s a crapshoot, for sure, one hundred percent,” said Brandon Palaniuk, who finished 7th here in 2018, but was 101st in 2015 and 90th in 2013. “And it may be more so this time than in the other times. It’s not as easy to get a bite. It’s probably going to fish more crowded than it usually does.”

The four-day tournament – the Dovetail Games Bassmaster Elite at Sabine River sponsored by Bassmaster Fishing 2022, the official video game of B.A.S.S. - begins Thursday with a 6:45 a.m. Central Time take off at the City of Orange Boat Ramp. 

Greg Hackney won wire-to-wire in 2018. He caught what ended up being the second-biggest bag of the tournament on Day 1 – 16 pounds, 3 ounces – and followed with 11-15, 12-14 and 7-5. His winning margin was almost five pounds over second-place Gerald Swindle, who finished with 43-11. Hackney also finished 5th in 2015, but he was 45th in 2013.

In comparison to most of the other Elite Series anglers who’ve been here three times, Swindle is the picture of consistency on the Sabine – 2nd in 2018, 24th in 2015 and 43rd in 2013. However, there’s nothing Swindle can point to as the reason for his solid track record here, and he thinks it’s fishing tougher than ever this year.

“Crapshoot is right,” Swindle said. “You’re not patterning size. You’re just trying to get a bite. This is the smallest fishing tournament in my Bassmaster history. It’s fishing tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny. There’s a whole lot of water here, just not much water with fish in it. I think 11 pounds a day (average) will win this, hands down.”

John Crews has been the most consistent Elite Series angler who has fished all three Sabine River events. Crews was 6th in 2018 and 2015 and 26th in 2013.

“I like tidal fisheries, and I like Texas and Louisiana waters,” Crews said. “I haven’t found anything with the quality of the last three times we’ve been here. But I’ve caught five keepers every day in practice, so I should be able to do that in the tournament.”

The minimum length limit for largemouth bass in the Sabine River is 12 inches. 

“I just don’t think you can get bit in as many places this time,” Crews said. “I think the fish are in an odd post-spawn funk. I didn’t foresee this happening.”

Palaniuk said he’d found two productive places in practice, but they’re over an hour apart. He plans to explore the best one on Day 1 and the other on Day 2. He was hoping for an early takeoff number. That bears watching Thursday. The first guys out may have an advantage. However, Palaniuk is in the third flight, boat number 54 in the 98-boat field.

“Hopefully, nobody else found my 75-yard stretch where I can get bit,” Palaniuk said.

Seth Feider said he’s found only one spot where he can catch a bass. He’s in the first flight, boat No. 2, so he should be able to stake a claim there. However, a waiting game begins upon his arrival.

“Then I have to wait for three hours,” Feider said of this tidal influenced fishery. “They don’t bite until 10:30. I think I’ve got it to myself. I could have a really good tournament if I do.”

So, yeah, it’s a crapshoot.

“I’ve never really considered day drinking until four days of practice on the Sabine River,” Swindle said with a laugh.