When the Bassmaster Classic was held in late summer, it was pretty easy to peg the winning weight. Stable weather, strings of historical data, plus local tournaments immediately prior to the Classic provided a rich pool of data.
What a different era this is. Since 2006, the Classic has been held in late February. Tournament data does exist for the Classic fisheries during that timeframe, but it's decidedly thinner. Plus, February weather changes so much from year to year that BassFans never know what the state of the bite will be, which is often spawn-driven.
And the upcoming Red River Classic complicates guessing even further, since it's a river system that can change virtually overnight due to precipitation cycles.
Help is here, though, and it comes via some local Shreveport-area anglers.
BassFans may remember Clayton Frye as the author of a recent BassFan Opinion column about the Red. Frye, along with several friends, organized and hosted a Red River tournament last weekend they dubbed the "Pre-Classic Showdown."
The way Frye told it, the idea for the event was the result of a simple conversation.
"My partner David Casso and I, along with Dennis Mitchell, who's the owner of Clark's Red River Marina, were sitting around the marina a couple of weeks ago taking guesses on what it would take to win the 2009 Bassmaster Classic here on the Red River," Frye said. "We decided to come up with a local tournament – the last tournament before the Classic. We marketed the event as the Pre-Classic Showdown."
The intent was to attract the best sticks in the area and truly put the fishery to the test, then use that test to judge a winning Classic weight.
"What better way to see what the river could offer than to get the best local hands on it one last time to pull together their knowledge, abilities and competitiveness to give us a final judgment of what it'll take to win?" Frye noted.
The Pre-Classic Showdown was a 1-day event held last Saturday, Jan. 31.
According to Frye, skies were clear, with a 32-degree air temperature and light south winds. Water visibility was 8 to 10 inches on the main-river oxbows, and 10 to 12 inches in non-current-affected areas.
"Water temps climbed during the day from a low of 48 to a high of 53, depending on exposure to direct river current," Frye added. "The high pressure, clear skies and cold water tested this local field to the extreme. That said, the river fished much larger than it has in previous late-winter events with the clearer water conditions.
"The clear, stable water enabled us to fish many areas that'll be unfamiliar to pros who may have competed here in the past with the high waters. Many of the direct river-exposed oxbows produced some great stringers. In fact, 1st and 2nd place were taken in areas exposed to river currents."
The event was won by the team of Chris Wayand and Terry Fielder. Wayand said he fished Pool 5 until after lunch. The two then locked through to Pool 4 for a longshot chance at some big fish they'd found earlier that week. Once there, the team limited and culled three times up to their 19.76-pound winning weight. Their best was a 6.41-pound kicker.
"(Wayand) reported they did all this in less than 90 minutes after locking through," Frye said. "All their fish were caught on a spinnerbait in 4 to 6 feet of water. It can happen so quick on the Red. When fish turn on, you'd better be there."
Frye himself, and teammate Casso, finished 2nd with 15.82. The team caught three fish early on a blade "in community backwater oxbows," but culled two of them later.
"Our bigger fish came off a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver in 6 to 8 feet of water," Frye said. "The fish were suspending in laydowns – about 4 feet down. This area's known for holding 4-pounders by the boatload, but it just doesn't have the big kickers like some of the community backwater areas.
"Sorry, but I won't be able to give this creek channel up, although I can say it's in pool 5, and if conditions stay the way they are, this place could be a Classic winner," Frye added.
BassFans who follow Bassmaster Opens and BFLs will no doubt recognize the 3rd-place team of Marvin Etheridge and Glenn Robertson. The duo stayed in Pool 5, but that was all the location info they'd surrender. They fished a similar style to Frye and Casso – very slow and very meticulous – and weighed 15.62.
And a pig did come in – a 9.81-pounder caught by Brent Stewart, which was his personal best.
Frye said of that big fish: "She was caught in a backwater non-river-exposed Oxbow in 4 feet of water on a small crankbait next to a 10-foot drop. She was the third and final fish of Brent's day. I'm not going to give up Brent's hole, but I can promise you that some Classic competitors will be all over this area. I pulled out my personal best about 30 yards from where Brent caught his fish, and she weighed a healthy 8.11 pounds. I caught her while practicing with my uncle Mike Pedroza for the last Bassmaster Open on the river."
In looking back at the tournament – the weights alongside the difficult high-pressure conditions, and the quality of competitors – Frye offered the following predictions.
Pre-Classic Showdown: Final Top 10 Weights
1. Chris Wayand/Terry Fielder -- 5, 19.76
2. Clayton Frye/David Casso -- 5, 15.82
3. Marvin Etheridge/Glenn Robertson -- 5, 15.62
4. Joe Therrell/Mike Branch -- 5, 15.30
5. Garry Griffin/Brian Cox -- 4, 13.93
6. Ricky Lee/Jeremy Botica -- 5, 13.58
7. Chuck Cole/Todd Fisher -- 5, 13.02
8. Brent Stewart/James Vaughn -- 3, 12.71
9. Jeff Pate/Eddie Shaw -- 4, 10.09
10. Brett Draper/Todd Branton -- 4, 7.43
> The current Classic weight record for the five-fish era is 56-02, caught by Luke Clausen in 2006 at Florida's Lake Toho.
> The Clark's Red River Marina website does a good job of tracking the Red. To visit, click here.
> Fishers of Men has an event scheduled for the Red this Saturday, which should provide additional, reliable weight data.