By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Finding places on the Sabine River where bass that weigh in excess of 2 pounds have congregated is a difficult task. Finding such locales that other competitors haven't is darn near impossible without making an extremely long run.
The Sabine is a tough venue under any circumstances, and anglers in last week's Bassmaster Elite Series event were further hindered by a boundary change from past visits. Only Texas waters were in play this time due to Louisiana's fisherman-unfriendly access laws regarding navigable waterways on private property, and that limited the action to one side of the river.
Once located, there were lots of ways to catch the better fish and all of the top finishers employed multiple techniques. Patience was a must, though, as the quality bites were sporadic, at best.
Here's a rundown on some of the tactics employed by the four anglers whose weight totals came closest to that of winner Greg Hackney.
2nd: Gerald Swindle
> Day 1: 5, 9-08
> Day2: 5, 7-05
> Day 3: 5, 12-01
> Day4: 5, 14-13
> Total = 20, 43-11
Gerald Swindle pretty much dominated the weekend as the 26-12 he boxed over the final 2 days easily topped the field. He would've had a strong bag on day 1, too, had he not incurred a 2-pound penalty for inadvertently having six fish (one more than the limit) in his livewell at one point during the day.
His final-day haul was almost 4 pounds heavier than any bag brought to the scale by the other 11 survivors of the second cut. In the end, the day-1 sanction didn't cost him as he finished more than 4 1/2 pounds behind Hackney and in front of everybody else.
One of the game's premier junk-fishermen, he caught a lot of his weigh-in fish on a Zoom Trick Worm, utilized as part of either a shaky-head or dropshot setup. He stayed close to the ramp in Orange, Texas, not far from the canal where Hackney fished.
"I spent 98 percent of my time on one 700-yard stretch, running back and forth," he said. "I was out behind everybody a little bit, off the bank in the 4- to 8-foot (depth) range where there was some scattered milfoil and brush and stuff like that. I got it pretty well dialed in on either the high or low tide.
"I knew it was going to be a tough tournament all-around and instead of running here and there to other areas, I stayed in one where I knew fish lived and just fished. Instead of trying to run the tides up and down the river, I stayed put and learned what the fish did on the different tides and spent all 9 hours of the day casting."
The morning of day 4 brought the highest tide of the event and he used a topwater popper to catch two 4-pounders from the outside edge of deep trees and a 3 from a corner of a ditch.
> Shaky-head gear: 6'10" medium-heavy Quantum Vapor rod, Quantum Smoke spinning reel, 10-pound Sunline SX1 braided line (main line), 10-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon (leader), 3/16-ounce VMC Shaky Head jighead, 6" Zoom Trick Worm (redbug or green-pumpkin/blue flake).
> Dropshot gear: Same rod, reel, line and baits, 1/0 VMC straight-shank hook, 3/8-ounce bullet weight on top of swivel.
> Topwater gear: 6'9" medium-heavy Quantum G4 Gerald Swindle Signature Series rod, Quantum Smoke casting reel (6.1:1 ratio), 15-pound Sunline Armilo Nylon monofilament line, Rapala Arashi Cover Pop (bream).
Main factor in his success – "Staying in one area and not running around a bunch was the best decision I made."
Performance edge – "The Spot-Lock (on his Minn Kota trolling motor). When the tide started coming out, I could sit in the center of the canal and repeat the same cast over and over. It would hold me dead in position the whole time."
Keith Poche ran far up the Sabine River on each of the last 3 days.
3rd: Keith Poche
> Day 1: 5, 7-12
> Day 2: 5, 15-10
> Day 3: 5, 9-03
> Day4: 5, 10-07
> Total = 20, 43-00
Keith Poche spent his tournament days far up the Sabine – he figures he was at least halfway between the launch and the Toledo Bend Reservoir dam. He didn't have a lot of company.
"The only people I saw were the ones out on the sandbars getting a tan and drinking beer," he said.
He'd fished Louisiana waters the previous two times the circuit visited the venue. With that option off the table, he was forced to seek out new haunts.
"I'd been to (the ever-popular Taylor's Bay on the Texas side) in the past, but I never felt comfortable there," he said. "I got to looking on Google Earth and upriver looked like it had the stuff I like to fish. Right when I got up there I got to catching them.
"During pre-practice for when the tournament was scheduled before (it was postponed for 2 months due to flooding), they were just stacked. I could pull up at a cut and catch 15 pounds in no time – they were just sitting in those cuts, out of the current."
He didn't make the run on day 1 of competition – he determined that the water level was too low to risk it. When he finally made it up there on day 2 after catching a small limit down below, he boxed one of the biggest stringers of the tournament.
He fished numerous small backwaters that had ditches running into them. He threw a variety of baits, with a wacky-rigged worm and a spinnerbait being the most productive.
> Worm gear: 7'1" medium-heavy iRod Fishing rod, unnamed spinning reel, 10-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, 1/0 dropshot hook, wacky-rigged and nail-weighted unnamed 7" worm (green-pumpkin).
> Spinnerbait gear: 7'3" medium-heavy iRod Fishing rod, unnamed casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 16-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon, unnamed 3/8-ounce spinnerbait (Colorado and willow-leaf blades).
> Other baits he employed included a Luck-E-Strike RC Series 4 crankbait, a chug-style topwater plug and a black and blue plastic craw imitation (flipped).
Main factor in his success – "Making the decision to run up there on the second day. I knew I could catch a limit if I stayed around Orange, but I wasn't 100-percent sure I could catch a good limit. I knew where some good ones were and that gave me the confidence to make that long run."
Performance edge –" I'd say my boat and motor for helping me navigate through all that stuff up there. That Triton handles like a dream – I was able to zig-zag back and forth and get to where I needed to go."
Bradley Roy's finish moved him up to 2nd place in the Angler of the Year race.
4th: Bradley Roy
> Day 1: 5, 10-03
> Day 2: 5, 10-15
> Day 3: 5, 9-11
> Day4: 5, 10-04
> Total = 20, 41-01
Bradley Roy, who's up to 2nd in the Angler of the Year race behind Brent Chapman, fished ponds and canals on the upper stretches of the Neches River. He had five productive locales, a couple of which he shared with two or three other competitors, but he had the others to himself.
"I'd never fished that area before – I found it doing my homework," he said. "I came down for pre-practice (prior to the original cut-off) and got a hint that there were fish in that area and then I came back for 2 days after the Travis tournament and kind of refined it a little bit."
The canals had scattered grass that held better-quality fish. He mainly exploited cypress trees in the ponds.
He was remarkably consistent on such an unpredictable fishery, as there was only a 1 1/4-pound variance in the weight of his four bags.
A Fluke-style soft-plastic bait was his primary offering – he made everything from long casts to short pitches with it, depending on the cover. He also caught some fish on a crankbait.
"The (Fluke-type bait) just seemed to fit the situation," he said. "There were a lot of little baitfish in there and the bass were definitely eating them.
"I threw the crankbait when the tide set up a little better for that – the best was high, but falling out. The fish would pull off the hard line of the trees to the stuff out in front."
> Fluke gear: 7'3" medium-heavy MHX MB873 rod, unnamed casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 15-pound Seaguar InvizX flurocarbon line, unnamed 4/0 hook, 5" Fluke-style bait (white).
> Cranking gear: 7' medium-action MHX CB843 rod, unnamed casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), same line, Bandit Series 100 square-bill (pearl/chartreuse back).
Main factor in his success – "I felt like I managed my fish well in the areas I had."
Performance edge – "Definitely my boat and motor (Triton/Mercury) for getting me there and back."
Jake Whitaker caught most of his best fish on a frog.
5th: Jake Whitaker
> Day 1: 5, 10-02
> Day 2: 5, 8-03
> Day 3: 5, 11-00
> Day4: 5, 11-00
> Total = 20, 40-05
Rookie Jake Whitaker's first visit to the Sabine was a productive trip as he recorded his best finish to date. After starting his career with two lower-pack finishes, he's gotten progressively better over the last three and is now up to 45th on the points list.
Like Roy, he was making a long run up the Neches River. He divvied up his area with quite a few other competitors over the first 2 days, then just three or four on day 3 after the cut to the top 50. With only 12 anglers remaining on Sunday, he had it all to himself.
"I'm a shallow-water guy and it was a place that looked good on the maps and stuff," he said. "It was the first place I started on in practice. I stuck it out and it ended up being even better than I thought it would."
His best spot within the area was a backwater pond that covered only a couple of acres. It was lined with cypress trees and featured a few small cuts. He pulled a 4 3/4-pounder out of one of the cuts on day 3.
Most of his better fish were enticed by a frog and almost all came from 2 feet of water or less. He caught a few on a crankbait and one on a flipping stick.
He handled six to eight keeper fish each day.
"I wasn't catching the numbers that some guys were, but I was getting some better bites."
> "I had a black frog on in practice," he said, "but on the first day of the tournament they were just slapping at it so I switched to white. (On day 4) I had a couple fish puke up small bluegill in my livewell, so I changed to killer gill."
> Cranking gear: 7' medium-action ALX IKOS Series Hustler rod, same reel (6.4:1 ratio), 12-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, 6th Sense Crush 50X (chartreuse/black back).
> He caught his flipping fish on a Strike King Rage Bug (black/blue).
Main factor in his success – "Finding a place where I could get a bigger bite. There were a lot of 7- or 8-pound bags weighed and if you could catch a 3- or 4-pounder you could get to 10 pounds or more and separate yourself. I was able to get a couple of those bites each day on that frog."
Performance edge – "My boat was very important for making that 45-mile run and with those rods I was able to make casts back into the cypress knees and then get the fish out of there."
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