A Pro's Approach: James Niggemeyer

Editor's Note: Day 1 of the Central Open on Toledo Bend has been cancelled due to unsafe weather conditions.
 Toledo Bend, site of the first Central Open of 2009, is a massive 181,000-acre impoundment that straddles the Texas-Louisiana state line. Known for its timber, this Sabine River impoundment offers anglers approximately 20,000 acres of permanently submerged timber and another 30,000 acres of wood that's partially submerged.

 "Toledo Bend is a long river impoundment with a lot of backwater areas and wood," says Bassmaster Elite Series pro James Niggemeyer. "The wood forces you to travel in boat lanes and, in some cases, creates a safety hazard. Along with the channels and ditches in the backwaters, it has a tendency to position the bass. It's something that has to be reckoned with.

 "But the thing I've really noticed while practicing for this tournament is the grass. It's growing everywhere. I don't remember it being so thick and green this early in the year. That's making a big difference in how I approach this tournament. It's every bit as important as the wood.

 "To be fair, however, I've only fished the lower half of the reservoir this week — the water below the Pendleton Bridge. It might be different up north, but I doubt it. I'd say it's a factor regardless of where you fish."

 Niggemeyer reports clear water almost everywhere with water levels down about 3 feet and temperatures in the mid-50 degree range as of Tuesday evening.

 "Based on the current weather forecast, the water should slowly warm as the week goes along. That could move the fish from their current habit into much shallower water by the end of the tournament. I'm finding most of my bass in the shallow and mid-depth ranges. They're all at 15 feet or less."

 Given those conditions Niggemeyer believes any number of baits and patterns will catch a limit — crankbaits, jigs, Carolina rigs, soft plastics and jerkbaits will all be productive for some anglers. Nevertheless, he highlights one bait that he believes may turn out to be the first among equals.

 "I think that someone throwing a spinnerbait with his eye on the grass could be very dangerous this week. It's that February-into-March type of fishing here when spinnerbaits are the thing. I don't want to give away any of my secrets, but I will tell you I'll have a Strike King Premier Plus Spinnerbait tied on at all times — and a box full of spares in my boat."

 When it comes to weight, our Texas pro gets a little vague. He points out that this is a Toledo Bend bass tournament, one that could go either way. With that said, however, he theorizes that it'll take around 30 pounds to make the Friday night cut to the top 30, something in the 55-pound range to take home the first place trophy and maybe a double-digit giant to claim big bass honors.

 "I know I'm not being very specific, but weather could play a huge role in this tournament. If the warming trend continues, we could see some awesome weights. But it's early March. It could go the other way, too. A couple of recent 1-day events here saw bags between 25 and 29 pounds. I don't think we'll do that, but you never know. It's possible.

 "The same factors will affect the big bass honors. I'm guessing that unless something weird happens with the weather we'll see a 10-pounder brought to the scales. And there's always the possibility of a real monster."

 He's got a point. On July 3, 2000, Eric Weems landed a lake record 15.32-pound largemouth. Four months prior — early March — she likely weighed a lot more than that.

 As for anglers to watch, Niggemeyer believes this is a wide open event.

 "There are so many Elite guys here it could be called the 'Toledo Bend Elite Series Open.' They all know how to win. And don't forget that we have a ton of top quality locals fishing, too. But if you forced me to pick just one, I'd have to say watch Ben Matsubu. He's tough on Toledo Bend."

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