Red River: Day One strategy

SHREVEPORT-BOSSIER CITY, La. – A half-mile line of trailered boats stretched along the entrance to the Red River South Marina in Bossier City on Thursday morning, with 186 professional anglers ready to compete in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open #1.

Anglers came from all over the country and they came with different ideas on how this tournament will be won. But, without a doubt, each came eager to win the event that promises a $10,000 first prize to the winner, as well as a Triton Boat/Mercury Motor combo.

Temperatures were in the upper 40s at the Day One launch, though they are expected to climb into the mid-60s by the afternoon. There is a slight chance of rain, but the most current forecast calls for a high UV index by Noon, which means bright, clear skies should be a factor in the tournament.

Most pundits, and most of the pros and co-anglers competing, expect the first Central Open to be won in the backwater areas of the Red River. However, a bite that ranges from spawn to postspawn, as well as the fact that some anglers plan to make lengthy runs down the river, put the sampling of expectations all over the board.

By most accounts, jigs and a variety of soft plastics will be the most common baits thrown. And the pros are expecting a bag in the high teens to be the leading weight when the competitors begin weigh-in at 2:30 p.m. CT back at Red River South Marina.

“I think most everybody is going to be fishing shallow and it’s going to be crowded,” said Wesley Strader of Spring City, Tenn. “It’s just going to be a matter of who can figure out the trick to catch one behind everybody. That’s going to be the guy to win it.”

Strader said the pressure may spook fish after Day One, so Thursday’s bite is essential to overall success.

“It’s nerve-wracking fishing in a crowd,” he said. “There should be a few big bags (today,) but after that, it’s going to fall off on Days Two and Three….I think 18 or 19 (pounds) today will lead, but if you catch 12 or 13 pounds a day, you have a legitimate shot at winning it.”

Doug Vahrenberg of Higginsville, Mo., said recent fronts have made his bite a bit more challenging than he’d want, but he sees postspawn conditions beginning to pattern on the Red River and its backwaters. Versatility remains key in his mind.

“I think it’s a shallow (water) deal, but I think you need some deep water close, too,” he said. “They’re kind of transitioning. It’s been on and off kind of tough. But there are some areas out there where I have found some good ones. You just kind of have to live or die by it.”

As for baits?

“Flipping, spinnerbaits, and I’ll use some reaction lures too,” Vahrenberg said. “It ought to be an interesting tournament.”

Cliff Crochet, who lives in south Louisiana and fishes the Red River about a dozen times a year, said he plans on making a long run today. As an Elite Series angler, he says he has a “Deal with the Devil” attitude when fishing in the Opens.

“As the crow flies, it’s not too far (where I’m going today),” he said. “But when you consider the locks, that’s where your time goes. I’m going downriver. You have to deal with the locks, and if you catch a bad break, you’re done. But the thing I enjoy about the Opens is that you’re fishing for the win. It’s totally different than the Elite Series. I have a place close by where I can go catch a limit, but it’s a small limit….So if I finish 10th or 100th, it’s the same deal. I’ll make the run. I’m looking for a win.”

Alabama’s Matt Lee said he’s staying close and hoping for the best. And he thinks today’s weights are going to surprise a lot of people.

“I think it’s going to a high limit,” he said. “You have Elite Series champions…Bassmaster Classic champions. These guys are going to catch them.”

Scott Dean of Terrell, Texas, said he expects most everyone will be able to find decent-sized fish, but expects a lunker or two to be a factor on the first day of the Central Open.

“If you can get that 3-, 4-, 5-pounder,” he said, “that’s going to move you up quite a bit. I think you’ll see a lot of 9-, 10-, 11-pound stringers. That’s why versatility will be important. I’ll be doing all kinds of stuff. But I’m not going far. You can run a long way and try to get away from the people, but then you leave yourself with only two or three hours to fish. Me – I’d like to stay close, and if I make a couple mistakes, I can try to recoup from them.”