Last November, Jamie Horton picked apart a tiny stretch of shallow water near a spillway at the Ouachita River to win the Federation Nation Championship and clinch a berth in the Bassmaster Classic.
What’ll it be Thursday, when the EverStart Series Championship gets under way out of Monroe, La., on the same winding tract of water?
According to Ken Covington, a local angler who’s fished many events on the river, including some Bassmaster Weekend Series tournaments, the popular gathering spot will likely be Bayou D'Arbonne, a maze of backwaters and sloughs not far off the main river. But it’s unlikely that the winner will be able to camp there for the duration.
“A lot of fish can be caught on the main river,” he said. “With this being a 4-day tournament, I’m really not sure if the bayou can hold up for 4 days. I still think it can be won on the main river. If I were fishing it, I’d take my chances on the main river.”
The Top 40 point-earners from each of the five EverStart Series divisions earned invitations to fish the event so the potential exists for a 200-boat field. Last year, 167 fished the championship at Kentucky Lake.
While Covington doesn’t believe crowding will be an issue, he figures half of the boats will wind up fishing the bayou, which features some hard-to-access backwaters. He's predicting 44 to 48 pounds will win the 4-day derby.
“That’s a lot of pressure even though there are a lot of miles of water,” he said. “I’d say 70 percent of the fish are in 20 percent of the water. Those guys are going to just pound it.”
He noted that anglers who were able to access skinny-water backwater areas in small aluminum boats won the last two 2-day events he fished on the river.
“The only problem that could crop up is for those guys going to D’Arbonne and trying to get into a backwater with those big boats,” he said. “The sloughs off of there are hard to access with a 21-foot boat with 250-horse motors. That’s going to play a factor. Whoever can make a backwater area accessible where no one else can might find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
The region is in post-frontal mode right now, which should turn on the spinnerbait bite. Expect flipping and pitching and shallow cranking to be popular programs as well.
“When the waters cools off, there’s a strong, strong spinnerbait bite," he said. "I think the shallow cranks and spinnerbaits are going to be really strong, especially on the main river. The bayou is where a lot of the guys are going to be pitching and flipping.”
Only a handful of anglers from Louisiana qualified and FLW Tour pro Jim Dillard, who hails from Monroe, will be considered one of the early favorites.
“I think local knowledge will help him,” Covington said, “because it gives him the ‘Hey, if they do this, then I can do that,’ advantage or if boat traffic is heavy in certain areas, he can go somewhere he knows he can catch fish.”
In addition to a cash prize and a new boat/motor package, the winner will earn a berth in next year’s Forrest Wood Cup.