BOSSIER CITY, La. — Everyone knew consistency would be critical during the tough seasonal transition, and Keith Poche embodied that principle as he took over the Day 2 lead of the St. Croix Bassmaster Central Open at Red River presented by Mossy Oak Fishing with a two-day total of 26 pounds, 6 ounces.
Poche caught 13-3 on Day 1 and duplicated that catch perfectly during Friday’s second round to take a 14-ounce lead over Bassmaster Elite Series pro Greg Hackney. Not surprisingly, Poche said his day was a template of the first round.
“The same exact thing that happened yesterday, happened today,” Poche said. “I went back into my spot and it happened pretty fast; I was able to catch a good, solid limit of about 11 to 12 pounds by about 9:30.”
Poche is staying within 10 minutes of takeoff and traversing a small ditch that leads into a hidden pool with about 6 to 7 feet of water. Sparse shoreline vegetation and scattered wood make it the ideal backwater fishery.
“There’s a lot of bait in this area and I’m seeing a lot of fish busting — I think it’s crappie,” Poche said. “There’s a lot of activity; there’s gar, there’s fish popping everywhere.
“I’ve caught fish from 8 inches to 3 pounds in there. I was just lucky to find this hole and I was able to get it going.”
Poche located his backwater gem during pre-practice — initially through drone recon, then a mix of wading and boating. His spot remains connected to the river, but the depth makes it inaccessible to heavier fiberglass boats.
Poche is able to reach this inner sanctum because he runs an 18-foot aluminum boat with a 90-horsepower outboard. He’s able to run into the area, but he has to push pole his way out.
He caught his bass by flipping a 3-inch Berkley Havoc Pit Boss with a 3/8-ounce weight and a 4/0 Berkley Fusion 19 hook. Short pitches to scattered structure delivered his weight.
“The water’s hot, so I feel like that small profile bait is really working,” Poche said. “The water’s off color a little bit; it’s not really muddy, so that green pumpkin color looks really natural.”
Furthering the consistency theme, Poche again got a solid limit by late morning and left his fish. He spent the rest of his day flipping main-river cover. As he did on Day 1, Poche made a late-day upgrade.
“After I came out of my spot, I spent the rest of the day fishing new water,” he said. “I just went fishing and caught my biggest fish. That gave me that extra pound to pound and a quarter upgrade.”
After two days of managing his fish, Poche said he’s looking forward to exploiting the backwater spot.
“I’m trying to preserve my spot, but I had to catch what I could catch to get what I needed (to reach Championship Saturday),” Poche said. “I don’t know what’s in there; I don’t know what would happen if I fished it for eight hours, but we’re going to see tomorrow. Hopefully, it’s going to be enough and we can get it done.
“Today, I lost a couple of good ones, so that gives me confidence that there’s more in there.”
Hailing from Gonzales, La., Hackney is second with 25-8. After placing fifth on Day 1 with 11-14, Hackney added 13-10 — the tournament’s heaviest catch — and secured his final-round berth.
Continuing with the strategy he followed in the first round, Hackney focused on hard cover where current stimulated feeding. Locating attractive areas was fairly straightforward, Hackney said, but timing the current impacts was far less exact.
“It’s hard to time that deal because you just don’t know, it could be boats locking through and (the water influx) creates current,” Hackney said. “There’s no rhyme or reason; I don’t have a timing deal. You just have to fish around and wait for that to happen.”
Hackney said he caught his bass on several strips of bank in a 500-yard area. Flipping and cranking were his top tactics.
David Gaston of Sylacauga, Ala., is in third place with 23-15. Returning to the same shallow backwaters he fished on Day 1, he rotated between a swim jig, flipping and frogging.
“Yesterday, flipping produced bigger bites, but today, the frog produced bigger bites today,” Gaston said. “I think it was just the right time at the right place. There were other guys in that area with me and they didn’t catch them, but I did.”
Gaston focused on lily pads and found the bass preferred a slower frog cadence.
Day 1 leader Todd Risinger of West Monroe, La., is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 5-1.
Michael Scalise of Port Allen, La., won the co-angler division with 12-5. Posting daily weights of 6-11 and 5-10, Scalise edged Day 1 leader Tim Neumann of Humble, Texas, by 6 ounces and collected a top prize of $18,814.
“All I can say is ‘Wow!’” Scalise said. “What an awesome feeling.”
On Day 1, Scalise caught his bass punching shallow vegetation with a NetBait Paca Craw. In the second round, he fared best by flipping a Missile Baits D Bomb.
When his Day 2 pro realized his fish had left, Scalise offered suggestions from his practice scouting. They went to his fish and Scalise employed the extreme hot-weather tactics he knew would deliver.
“I was flipping bushes, but I wasn’t flipping them like normal; I was really getting in the dirt with them,” Scalise said. “A lot of people were fishing the end of the bushes, but I was catching them so shallow their fins should’ve been sticking out of the water.
“I’m from South Louisiana, so I know what the fish do in this heat. A lot of times, the oxygen will get depleted and they’ll go dirt shallow just to get some oxygen.”
Neumann won the $250 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award among co-anglers with a 4-3.
Gaston leads the St. Croix Bassmaster Central Open standings with 393 points. Jimmy Washam of Covington, Tenn., is second with 393, followed by Risinger with 371, Doug Guins of Lake Charles, La., with 366 and Nick LeBrun of Bossier City, La., with 362.
Poche leads the overall St. Croix Bassmaster Opens points standings with 1,170 points.
The remaining Top 10 anglers will take off Saturday at 7 a.m. CT from Red River South Marina. The final weigh-in will be held at the marina at 3 p.m. Event coverage will be available on Bassmaster.com.
The tournament is being hosted by the Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission.