Open: 5 things to watch at Red River

SHREVEPORT, La. — Two distinctly different options will be in play for anglers fishing this week’s St. Croix Bassmaster Central Open at Red River presented by Mossy Oak Fishing. On a southern river system in late summer, that is welcomed news for the 212 boats and their anglers should one option fail to produce. 

Those choices are focusing on the main river and the current breaks favored by largemouth, or fishing the backwater areas that include oxbow lakes and resident fish. Both options will require keeping an open mind, due to the shift in habitat and bass relocated from historical flooding that occurred in the mid-2000s. 

The river seems to be getting back to normal, after a double whammy of flooding in 2015 and an El Niño effect the next year. During that time, the river crested 7 feet above flood stage, the highest level in 70 years. As a result, many of the main river channel sandbars and current breaks favored by largemouth were destroyed, and an entire population of fish were swept downstream and relocated elsewhere. 

Bassmaster Elite Series pro Patrick Walters won the most recent Red River Open in 2018, wisely choosing to remain near the takeoff area in Pool 5, to avoid long runs and lost fishing time navigating locks into Pool 4 or Pool 3. Walters’ three-day weight of 30 pounds, 15 ounces, underscored the tough conditions in the June event. 

All indications point to the same scenario this week, with a slightly heavier winning weight caught by the winner. Here are five things to watch for as the competition begins on Thursday. 

Habitat on the rebound 

As part of the river’s recovery, a surge in hydrilla and hyacinth growth appear to be revitalizing the bass population and its forage food chain. Anglers scouting the backwaters reported notable areas of matted hydrilla and mats of hyacinth, both ideal for topwater frogs and punching with flipping and pitching tactics. As a bonus, the filtration effects of the vegetation mean favorable clearer water uncommon to the otherwise dingy river.  

Stable but no current

The Red River is already a low-flow waterway, and even more so during early fall. Without current, the main river isn’t a player, although the tournament will reveal if a strategy without it will produce. That leaves open the backwaters and oxbows as a viable option. Reports prior to the practice period indicated shad are beginning to move as fall approaches, and with that, active bass. 

Junk fishing

Which option will produce the winning catch could go either way. One thing is for certain. With the fish scattered and challenging to pattern, expect to see junk fishing as the predominant pattern. It will take multiple baits and tactics to be competitive.  

Time management

The tournament is open to fishing in Pools 5, 4 and 3 and all the expansive backwater areas that offer even more fishable water. Subtracting the running time from the additional time to lock through equates to lost fishing time that could be crucial during a week of challenging fishing. There is little room for gambling, given those circumstances. Managing fishing time will be critical. 

All about the weight

At the end of the game, what counts is weight. Average daily weigh-in limits are expected to be in the 8- to 10-pound range. To break that weight will take a 3-pounder (or more) to land in the 12-pound mark that it will take to contend for Championship Saturday. It’s indeed doable, and so is hammering a 15-pound plus limit. Success will all come down to striking the most productive balance between the five above scenarios.