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Managing the tough ones

Count the number of finesse worms spread among the tournament field, compare that to the number of times the word “tough” has been used to describe the Red River and the soft plastics will probably come up short.

No surprise — and, of course, no jabbing at those lamenting the legitimately challenging scenario this western Louisiana waterway has set for the St. Croix Bassmaster Central Open. Hot weather, low current and a river still recovering from deeply altering floods — yeah, this one’s going to test ‘em.

So, how to manage such an event. Well, there’s no magical formula, but a handful of principles heavy on logic and light on emotion can help guide the course.

Expectations: Prespawn on a spacious southern reservoir fosters an optimistic outlook, as the shallow abundance of aggressive fish makes anglers rightfully giddy with anticipation.

September on the Red River is not that.

Nevertheless, bass still have to eat. They’re simply on a more lethargic schedule and there’s far less consistency or concentration than you’d find when the heaviest fish point their noses toward the maternity ward.

“You have to realize you’re not going to get a lot of bites, so you have to stay focused the entire time, so you don’t miss any opportunities,” said Bassmaster Elite Darold Gleason. “In practice, my goal was to gather as many clues as I could to prepare me for Day 1 and then start the tournament with a super positive attitude and be ready to go.”

Time Management: This, more than any other factor, will make or break anglers. When bites are scarce, the unsettling voices whisper ever louder.

“What about that isolated laydown 10 miles downriver?”

“Is someone on that spot I want to hit midday?”

“Should I go back to where I missed that early bite?”

And the biggie: “Do I have time to lock down and make it back to check-in?”

Time flies swiftly when there’s much work to be done.

Suffice it to say, what was once a clock’s subtle tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock turns into a kettle drum cadence when the hours dwindle faster than the limit builds.

Discipline, mental toughness, belief in the plan — easily said from the armchair quarterback position; but such are the tenets of the sport’s consistent performers.

Flurries happen. Day-changing kickers happen. You can’t predict either, but carefully managing the day tends to puts the angler in better position to capitalize.

Put Pride on the Shelf: Fishing your strength is wise when conditions and seasonality merit. But all indications point to a tournament where the fish are going to tell a lot of people how little they care about personal preferences.

The wise ones, the ones that adapt and overcome, will keep their go-tos handy, but their decks will bear a hodgepodge of options. This is not indecision; rather, it’s the prudent preparation for whatever the day may deliver.

That grass looks right — got something for you.

Sweet laydown? Here you go.

Heard one blow up behind you? Get you some of this.

Junk fishing 101 is the class everyone has to take. Ace it and you’re ready for anything.

Gotta Have a Mark: Expounding on the Expectations note, anglers will need to establish daily objectives and work to stay on track before attempting anything ambitious. For Gleason, limits matter, but that’s not the only metric.

“Some guys are so worried about not having five on Day 1,” Gleason said. “This week, I have a weight in mind; what I need each day just to be competitive. I don’t care if I get it on three fish or five fish.

“That’s how I’m looking at it because bites are so hard to come by. The (dock talk) here is that 10-11 pounds a day will probably win this tournament. So, if I can catch 8-9 pounds on Day 1, I’m in the tournament. I have a chance.”

As Gleason concludes, it’s all about keeping yourself in the game. This event may not yield many eye-popping, double big-bass hold-ups, but you can bet each ounce was hard-earned.

The tough ones test ‘em, but they also reveal that potent combination of skill, patience and persistence that allows you to get the right bait in front of the right fish when it’s ready to eat.