SHREVEPORT, La. — Imagine these conditions for an early fall tournament on a river system. A forecast high of 98 degrees and a negligible wind. Virtually no current in the main river. And an ecosystem still in flux while recovering from historical flooding that relocated bass and habitat.
Those are the tough conditions faced by 212 pros and their co-anglers at the St. Croix Bassmaster Central Open at Red River presented by Mossy Oak Fishing. While they are sweating it out on the river and backwaters, what the rest of us stand to gain is knowledge of how to persevere and find success in those conditions.
How tough is it? Just 11 pounds won a one-day team weekend tournament prior to the Open. The winners were Caleb Sumrall and Logan Latuso, two of the most skilled anglers in this tournament.
Here are initial observations taken from interviews as the anglers registered for the tournament at the conclusion of practice.
Alfred Williams, Jackson, Miss.
Williams is a former Bassmaster Classic contender and full-time B.A.S.S. touring pro whose skills are deeply rooted in fishing river systems and backwaters throughout the lower South.
“Rock jetties, any current breaks out on the river are obvious areas that are getting a lot of pressure,” Williams said. “The backwaters are open, but you need a source of current, like a ditch or channel, to make those work.”
Williams planned to play his strengths and concentrate on vast areas of lily pads nearest deeper water areas. It’s a textbook scenario that could play out, and he’s narrowed his choices down to three areas.
“I will be tickled to get 9 or 10 pounds a day,” he said.
Zell Rowland, Montgomery, Texas
The veteran pro is no stranger to extreme conditions, and he prioritized maintaining mental composure as a key to persevering through the heat and tough. Fishing.
“Bites are few and random and the heat will be a distraction,” Rowland said. “You can easily fish down a 1 mile stretch of river and get one or two bites.”
On the positive side, Rowland said shad are plentiful and active, hopefully also stimulating the bass to feed. On the downside, he wondered if the bass were avoiding lures in favor of the abundance of natural food.
He ran 45 miles north of the takeoff site and encountered clearer water, thinking that setup would hold more bass. He never caught a keeper bass. Instead, he plans to run a pattern under development using flipping and pitching tactics, while dealing with a nuance of river fishing.
“The bass had to relocate from the prime shoreline targets as they dropped the water level,” Rowland said. “It makes it tough to fish visible cover.”
That scenario has the bass suspended slightly away from the steep, shoreline banks with cover conducive to his favored tactic.
“It will be all about adapting to those conditions; maybe figuring out to catch them suspended,” he said.
Brock Mosley, Collinsville, Miss,
The Bassmaster Elite Series pro’s angling strengths are fishing slow-flowing rivers with backwaters in the Mississippi Delta country, and even so, the conditions have challenged Mosley.
Last month, a tropical system dumped torrential rains and raised the river level, with it coming back down in recent weeks. Plus, daytime highs consistently in the 90s have slowed bass activity.
“You can catch numbers; I caught a dozen each day but only a couple were 12-inch keepers,” Mosley said. “On the good side, the vegetation is coming back (from the 2015 flood), and the shad are active.”
Mosley said junk fishing—opening up the tacklebox to all options—will be a wise move.
“Trying to hold on to one pattern, or strategy, in one area, be that the river or backwaters, won’t hold up for three days, so you’ll need to keep an open mind.”
Quentin Cappo, Prairieville, La.
The former Bassmaster Elite Series pro is among a large contingent of highly skilled anglers from south Louisiana who will be favorites to win under the tough conditions.
“The bass fishing is definitely on the rebound, and much better than when we last came here in 2018,” he said. (Winning weight for that Open was 30 pounds.)
Cappo said the bass are concentrated in specific areas, allowing the Louisianians to fish history, or reliable areas that produce during this time of year.
“You can fish history, but the downside is those areas will get a lot of pressure,” Cappo said.
“Since the (2015) flood the bass have had time to adjust to new places, while the others are covered in silt.”
Cappo predicted a cut weight of 10 pounds, as an indication of the tough fishing.
David Cavell, Prairieville, La.
Cavell is another skilled south Louisianian and top B.A.S.S. Nation angler. He said the river and backwaters could be in play, given the right conditions.
“With the river you need wind; it’s no good without it,” he said. “The backwaters are a fallback plan, and they are getting hammered, so that choice will come down to finding something very subtle that is holding fish.”
Cavell said the backwaters hold the biggest bass, which is a key to persevering in this tournament. Most anglers interviewed said most of the field will weigh limits in the 8- to 10-pound range, making a kicker bass break that weight and put the angler in Championship Saturday.