By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Greg Hackney pulled most of his winning fish at the Sabine River Bassmaster Elite Series from a narrow canal off the main river that was perhaps three-fourths of a mile long. He'd fished it on a previous visit to the venue, but that was at a different time of year and he really didn't expect it to be productive on this occasion.
"I caught a limit there on day 1 in 2015 when they were spawning, but there were several other boats in there and I felt like we caught most of them that day," he said. "I didn't go back.
"I was really surprised they were in there this time. I checked it in practice just thinking I'd keep them honest, but I expected to fish more main river-oriented stuff in the heat of summer."
The canal, located just a short ride from the ramp in Orange, Texas, ended up giving him an average of 12 pounds a day, which is extremely stout for the Sabine. His seventh career tour-level victory and fourth in Elite Series regular-season competition was of the wire-to-wire variety and his 48-05 total bested runner-up Gerald Swindle by more than 4 1/2 pounds.
Here are some of the details.
The tournament was initially slated to take place in early April, but was postponed for 2 months due to flooding. Hackney didn't pre-practice ahead of the original off-limits period, but like many in the field he took advantage of 2 added pre-practice days that immediately followed the derby at Lake Travis.
He'd spent most of his time fishing Louisiana (his state of residence) waters in the two previous Sabine events – he finished 5th in 2015 and 45th in 2013. The Louisiana side was taken out of play for this one, though, because of a state law that gives property owners dominion over navigable waters within their land boundaries.
He had to find some new stuff and he spent most of those 2 days visiting locales that were wholly unfamiliar to him. When he returned for official practice the aforementioned canal showed some nice potential and a few other places on or just off the main Sabine channel showed potential.
"I probably got 40 keeper bites (the minimum length for largemouths was reduced to 12 inches this time as opposed to 14 on past visits) in the one day I spent fishing the Sabine," he said. "My main goal was to try to see where everybody else was going to end up in there because I knew there was nothing that wasn't going to get fished."
On the second day of official practice he began employing moving baits in the canal, and the results were promising.
"You can cover so much water with them and typically in the summertime it's a better bite than you get flipping. When the water gets really hot (water temps were reaching 90-plus degrees), other than places where there's a bunch of mats, I've never caught a lot flipping. Pitching to wood has never been a big deal to me under those conditions."
> Day 1: 5, 16-03
> Day 2: 5, 11-15
> Day 3: 5, 12-14
> Day 4: 5, 7-05
> Total = 20, 48-05
Hackney not only led from start to finish, but the margin was never close. He was up by almost 4 pounds after day 1 and he added about a half-pound to his advantage on day 2. The bulge became 8 1/2 pounds on day 3 and he coasted to the win with what was by far his smallest bag of the event on day 4.
The biggest bass in the canal that Hackney fished were related to underwater cover rather than the visible stuff.
He shared the canal with Bill Lowen and Casey Ashley for the first 3 days and did all he could to keep from fishing in the immediate vicinity of either. His best fish were coming from the center of the channel, which had patches of grass in the 3- to 6-foot depth range and some fallen treetops that extended more than halfway across.
"The back half of it was where most of the grass was," he said. "The front half hardly had any grass – it was mostly wood. I didn't get as many bites out of that end, but I probably ended up weighing as many, including the 5-14 I caught on day 1."
A buzzbait produced nine of his first 10 weigh-in fish (the other was enticed by a crankbait). With higher water levels on the weekend, a frog became his most productive offering.
"The fish came up higher in the water column and got on the matted coontail right on the edge," he said.
Throughout the event, he cranked key pieces of wood that were in the middle of the channel.
His action cooled off considerably on the final day and he had only a couple of small keepers when it was half over, but he said he was never concerned that he'd be unable to fill a limit.
"I was fairly confident that I could catch some flipping and I told myself I'd leave 2 hours in the afternoon to do that if I had to. I'd flipped some on day 2 and you could catch a bass of some size on almost every piece of cover.
"I didn't have to do that, though – I ended up finishing my limit on the frog."
Winning Gear Notes
> Buzzbait gear: 6'10" medium-heavy Quantum Tour KVD rod, Quantum Smoke HD 200 casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 50-pound Gamma Torque braided line, 1/4-ounce Strike King Hack Attack Select buzzbait.
> The Hack Attack Select features no skirt and comes with a toad trailer. "The first day was all about a white toad, but that was the only day," he said. "After that it was black for the rest of the week. On the second day they started boiling on the white toad and they wouldn't get it."
> Frog gear: 7'2" medium-heavy Quantum Tour PT rod, same reel, 65-pound Gamma Torque braid, Strike King KVD Sexy Frog (stump jumper).
> Cranking gear: 7' medium-action Quantum Tour KVD Cranking rod, same reel (6.6:1 ratio), 16-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line, homemade wooden crankbait (black/chartreuse).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "Patience was definitely a virtue. You could go a long time without a bite fishing for those better ones because they were few and far between. I only missed one fish, it was on day 1, and I ended up catching that one the next day, so I fished about as clean as I possibly could."
> Performance edge – "I'd say it was my Atlas jackplate. I had to idle over a lot of logs that were almost on the surface and being able to lift the motor up made things a lot easier – your equipment doesn't get beat up as much you're not boiling mud and trash the whole time. The other thing was my Garmin electronics for knowing where the grass was in the canals. Visible cover was not the deal – it was the stuff on the bottom that you couldn't see (with the naked eye)."
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