Red River, Bossier City, LA
This past weekend was the first stop of the Bassmaster Central Opens, a derby I was looking very much forward to and one I’ll soon not forget.
The site was none other than Louisiana’s historic Red River, where moving around this sprawling and stump filled waterway can prove heartache to any weary angler. Half the battle to locating fish on the Red lies in getting to know your surroundings. It’s nothing to find yourself working your way through stump fields, sand bars, levees and wing dams. All the while trying to avoid random rebar, fence posts, water moccasins and alligators in search of a 100 yard stretch holding bass that are busting at the chance to choke your Biovex Stangun Spinnerbait.
Finding your way around the Red is 75% of the battle. Mother Nature has an excellent way of protecting her trophies.
They grow em GIANT down in the bayou.
When practicing for the Red, the more time you can give yourself, the better off you’ll be. Most of your practice day is spent reversing off sand bars, pushing off stumps and creating routes to and from the main river channel. Running wide open in search of new water is simply not an option and idle speed will be the only thing preventing you from a busted hull and a misplaced lower unit. With this said, I was bayou bound early and planned on a solid week of practice. There’s a lot riding on the first tournament of the series. Sure, there’s the obvious, a win equals big bucks and a invitation to the 2014 Bassmaster Classic. More importantly, the need for points means the difference between an Elite Series birth and another season at the Open level. My main goal was a realistic one for never having been to the Red River or Louisiana for that matter. I needed to cash a check and put myself into position to make a push.
The first day of practice started real well and I was off to a great start. In fact, it was refreshing to be back around some shallow dirty water. Since moving from Minnesota last October, I have been spending almost all my time out targeting suspending bass on the Tennessee River and Ozark Impoundments. Breaking down the Red River was right up my alley and the preferred presentations fit my strengths. The main river had a lot of color and defined it’s name perfectly. With color that dirty and taken into consideration the time of year, I started by targeting the many backwater sloughs that make up pool 5 in search for some clearer water and vegetation.
The first day of practice was the start of a cold front following a 24 hour rain shower that dumped a good inch of water in the Shreveport/Bossier City area. Making some comparisons to Florida fishing, I was instantly attracted to the hyacinth mats on a deeper bank leading into a spawning pocket. The spawn was already well underway with more fish falling into the post spawn phase. Hyacinth mat root systems hold mud and this mud retains heat, perfect for attracting both post and prespawn bass on cold front days with stiff north winds. In fact, I was pulling on fish on my first couple flips. As practice moved forward and the warmer weather took hold, the bass started to roam from the mats and got out on the flats to feed. When this went down, I had no problem catching keepers on a Biovex Stangun Spinnerbait (Black) or a Outkast Swim Jig (Bruiser) by fan casting the high spots on flats and grinding the baits through the many stumps. I was able to find all kinds of water and had my best luck targeting dirty water that’s not too dirty and definitely not to clear, if that makes any sense at all?
Hyacinth mats are notorious living quarters for all animal life and provides clearer water under it’s dense mats.
After fishing clear water and seeing all the abandon beds and fry in the shallows, I knew we were on the tail end of things but knew there was still some love making going on. I left the flats in search for a happy medium between the back sloughs and the main river. I found a few smaller areas that were between two major sloughs but close enough to the main river to be off most anglers radars. I noticed quickly that things were a little further back in the spawning game as these areas still had bass moving up.
I’ll mention now that I was cursed with a bad engine this entire tournament and had to game plan for the worst. This meant pool 4 was not included in my options and instead I focused all my energy on pool 5. My engine’s main computer system was fried and was unfortunately not getting fixed for this event. Having a bad computer meant that there was no telling what issues I was going to encounter. I didn’t get enough time to practice for pool 4 even if I had wanted to as I spent half my practice off the water and at dealerships trying to get fixed. Knowing long rough idles would work against me, I became ever more intrigued by my dirty water spawning area I had located.
Day one of the derby, I ran to my area and quickly got to work throwing an Outkast Swim Jig and flipping a Lake Fork Tackle Craw Tube to shallow cover. I also targeted spawners along a rock levee stretch that dead ended in the back of the pocket. My problem was the dirty water wouldn’t allow me to see the bass I was targeting so I failed to hook up on a good 50% of my bites and I know for fact I messed up on a few of the better females that were in those areas. Since I didn’t have a engine that allowed me to run, I was forced to sit on these fish and grind them out which proved effective and I weighed in a above average limit going 10.3 pounds and put myself in perfect position to make a run on day two.
There are many man made levees throughout the entire Red River system and the key ones hold large schools of bass.
After I weighed in, I was instantly slammed with a serious case of anxiety as I wasn’t able to put my boat on the trailer as my engine was in SAFE mode. As I was stalled out and working on getting to my trailer which now was holding up the entire show, I looked around the slough that harbors Red River South Marina and noticed there really wasn’t many places for these bass to go as there was a good 3/4 mile channel to get back out to the main river. I knew this area had some fish in it and was about to receive a thousand or so more. That night, I figured I would attempt to run to my same area and stay in there all day. As long as my engine could get me there, I’d stay in there until the last hour and then get back and fish for some release fish. This way if I broke down I’d have plenty of time to call Tow BoatUS and get back to weigh and if I made it back to the check-in slough, I could use the trolling motor worst case.
I was in an earlier flight and was able to make it to my primary area with no problems, well except for the fisherman that beat me to the area. This area was a one boat spot and I couldn’t sit and watch the writing on the wall. The day before I did well out of this area but unfortunately I had left a few better bites in there. The bass were spawning in here and though the water was far to dirty to visually sight fish them, I had saved their exact location on my bow mounted Lowrance Gen 2 Touch 12 and new I’d have them dead to rights if I could just get in there and execute. Being that I got beat in there, I decided to hit a similar area on the back side of the levee that I had made a cull or two in the day before. Being that hooking up with these weary bass was such a challenge day one, I went to a three lure rotation and made some necessary changes to better execute. I stayed the course with my Outkast Swim Jig, I was throwing the 1/4 oz. Bruiser color with a black and blue grub trailer. I threw this all week on a G Loomis MBR 844 GLX with a Shimano Chronarch 50E and 15lb. Seaguar Invizx Fluorocarbon. I also kept the same flipping tube which was a Lake Fork Tube Craw (black neon) with a rattle insert. The difference was that I went from a 4/0 Trokar Magworm to a 5/0 Trokar Flippin’ Hook and also switched from fluorocarbon to 60lb. Seaguar Kanzen Braid to help ensure stronger hook sets with no stretch for these finicky bass. I was pitching this setup to spawning rocks, laydowns and stumps with the new G Loomis GLX 855 JWR and a Shimano Core Mg7. Lastly, because of the shad spawn and heavy pressure, I tied on a Biovex Shallow Runner (Ayu) which I replaced it’s smaller hooks for larger size 6 Trokar EWG Treble. I threw this along the levees and whenever I could see bass chasing shad. I used the new G Loomis GLX 847 CBR, which is honestly one of the best cranking rods ever thrown and also went with the Shimano Chronarch 50E, spooled with 10 lb. Seaguar Invizx Fluorocarbon.
A chunk prespawn largemouth that choked a Outkast Tackle Swim Jig.
After making the move to a less pressured area I instantly went to work and was able to round out a small limit in no time at all. I still missed a few but all in all my hook up ratio was far better and that smaller profile Biovex crankbait was key in getting strikes without pulling up the mud bottom like more traditional square bill crankbaits. Despite the early limit, things slowed drastically and the bites were few and far between. My thought was that the day prior I most likely stubbed my toe on the females and ended up weighing more males and overnight some of those females moved on.
I decided to finally leave this area and make the run back. Upon my arrival, I saw that the 1/2 mile stretch of bank had about 15 boats lined up on it all with the same idea. I picked an open 50 yard stretch and claimed it as my own. The bank was lined with a few laydowns and on my first flip to one I managed a small cull. As I continued back and forth along my stretch I couldn’t help but notice the hard mud line that was present due to the rising water and boat traffic. Knowing I needed to make a change and having only about 20 minutes left in my day, I tied on a 3/8 oz. Chatterbait (Black and Blue) and threaded on a Lake Fork Tackle Craw (Black and Blue). I made three casts into a tumbleweed of a laydown and as my bait was coming along side the brush it got heavy. I leaned back and before I knew it a 7 pound largemouth rolled, opened her mouth and threw my bait in a split second! I honestly fell to my knees in disbelief. I’m not going to make excuses, I should have boated that fish. Closing on these opportunities are what separates the men from the boys and in this case, costed me a 12th to 16th place finish and a easy three grand. Instead, I was forced to weigh in my disappointing 5 bass limit weighing 6 pounds 11 ounces and finished 80th out of 186 boats. I know in my heart, that lost 7 pounder paired with the poor execution of the bedders will haunt me further as the year wears on and will most certainly be the difference of qualifying for the Elites and trying my luck again next season. All I can do is take pride in putting myself in position, learning from my mistakes and making sure next time the bites get put in the boat. It’s just that simple.
Bass aren’t the only ones gorging themselves on crawdads in the greater Louisiana area.
Louisiana is a great place and the Red River is one of my new favorite fisheries. It got the best of me this time but next time she’s mine for the taking! Up next, I head south to Alabama for some spotted bass fishing and the last stop of the Bassmaster Southern Opens on Lake Logan Martin before soon starting my track north in preparation for the upcoming Bassmaster Northern Opens. I’ll take any good vibes you want to send my way.
Stay tuned, I also have some very exciting news that I’ll be announcing soon!