SHREVEPORT, La. — While most of the field fished in about 5 feet of water or less, Todd Risinger of West Monroe, La., went off-script and sacked up a limit of 13 pounds, 9 ounces that leads Day 1 of the St. Croix Bassmaster Central Open at Red River presented by Mossy Oak Fishing.
Rising heads into Day 2 with a 6-ounce lead over Keith Poche of Pike Road, Ala.
Targeting an oxbow lake off the main river, Risinger found depths of 19 feet and banks of hyacinth blown into the bend. After throwing a ChatterBait around stumps produced a few good bites there during practice, Risinger made a gut decision that put him on the leading fish.
“We started this morning doing the same thing I had done in practice, but then I (told my co-angler) ‘We haven’t done this,’” Rising said. “I went over there and did something else and all of a sudden, boom, boom, boom, we went to catching them. We culled three or four times.”
Risinger’s change: Punching a beaver-style bait with a 1-ounce weight. The results were immediate.
“I hadn’t seen a 3-pounder all week and this morning, on my third cast, I caught a 5-1 and two casts later, I caught one about 4,” Risinger said. “It happened really quickly. I had my weight by about 10 o’clock.
“That beaver-style bait’s narrow head and (streamlined profile) is perfect for punching through hyacinth mats. My co-angler was punching with a bait that had more appendages and he was having more trouble getting through because his bait kept hanging on the vegetation.”
Conventional wisdom says flipping/punching heavy cover tends to improve as the sun gets higher and positions fish in the shadows, while the morning hours often find bass roaming the edges and eating reaction baits.
Risinger said his fish’s appearance clued him into their resident lifestyle.
“Those fish were jet black; they stay in there,” Risinger said. “I told my co-angler ‘These fish are here all the time.’ There was no color to them. They were as dark as they can be. I think they live in that stuff, so the sun angles don’t make much difference.”
Bass spending long periods in dimmer habitats typically darken to blend into their surroundings for safety and ambush feeding strategy. Conversely, fish living in open water and/or over lighter bottoms typically take on a lighter greenish tone.
Risinger noticed the bass seemed to be holding higher in the water column, apparently relating to the mats.
“I’d feel them hit it (when the bait broke through the mat) and when you’d pick up, it was heavy,” he said. “My co-angler missed some fish because they’d hit it on the fall and I think they’d chase it down. They were just kind of suspended under there.”
Risinger spent his day in the local waters of Pool 5. He spent some of his practice in Pool 4 but was unimpressed with the potential.
“I wasn’t catching enough fish in Pool 4, so I just wanted to put my head down and fish as hard as I could in this pool,” Risinger said. “I wanted to give myself as much time as possible.”
Poche is in second place with 13-3. Running what is likely the shallowest drafting boat in the field, he took advantage of river topography — specifically, the changes rendered by back-to-back floods in 2015 and 2016.
“The river’s not what it used to be; there’s a lot of silting in and a lot of places you used to be able to better access with a big boat,” Poche said. “Now it’s just little shallow ditches.”
Using his 18-foot Gatortrax aluminum boat with a 90-horsepower outboard, Poche skimmed through one of those little ditches to reach a small backwater pool with comfortable depths, shoreline cover, lots of baitfish and unpressured bass. Pitching a green pumpkin Berkley Pit Boss produced his bites.
“I caught quite a few fish to get what I had,” Poche said. “I actually caught my biggest fish outside of there. It was about 2:15 on the main river.”
Billy Billeaud of Lafayette, La., is in third place with 12-4. Catching all of his fish punching hyacinths, Billeaud said he used a 1 1/4-ounce punch weight but had to vary his baits.
“I used a Strike King Rage Bug and a Zoom Magnum Trick Worm,” he said. “I was running out of Rage Bugs so I said ‘I’ve got to see what else they’ll bite.’ I had a few bites on a trick worm in practice, so I put one on and I immediately caught a 3-pounder.”
Billeaud said he methodically fished a 400-yard area for four hours then went to another area where he caught a keeper and lost a good one. On his way back to check in, he stopped on a patch of main river lily pads and caught his biggest fish — a 3-13.
Risinger is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 5-1.
Tim Neumann of Humble, Texas, leads the co-angler division with 7-12. While his bait selection was fairly conservative, success came through presentation diversity.
“The three fish I had came on three different baits,” Neumann said. “The baits were similar, but a little different presentation.
“It was a consistent day, but the bites were few and far between. It was better earlier; I think the bite died later in the day. It was one bite every 45 minutes; you just had to embrace the grind.”
Gary Mumphrey of Gonzales, La., holds the Phoenix Boats Big Bass lead among co-anglers with a 3-6.
David Gaston of Sylacauga, Ala., leads the Central Opens standings with 389 points. Jimmy Washam of Covington, Tenn., is second with 388, followed by Nick LeBrun of Bossier City, La., with 383, Risinger with 383 and Doug Guins of Lake Charles, La., with 379.
Poche leads the overall Bassmaster Opens points standings with 1,169 points.
Friday’s takeoff is scheduled for 7 a.m. CT from Red River South Marina. The 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.