Thursday, August 15, 2013


Gary Mortenson August, 15 2013
SHREVEPORT-BOSSIER CITY, La. – As the top pros in the nation departed Red River South Marina shortly after 7 a.m., they could take solace in the fact that the extreme heat and humidity that dominated practice just days before had finally dissipated. However, with light winds, partly cloudy skies and relatively cooler temps serving as a backdrop for the first day of Forrest Wood Cup action, anglers were all too aware that the weather would be the least of their problems.
For starters, the full field of 46 pros and co-anglers will have to deal head on with the extremely fickle fishing conditions that almost certainly will unfold on the Red River throughout the four-day event. With bites at a premium and bigger bites in the 3 -, 4- and 5-pound range almost literally worth their weight in gold, Cup contenders won't have much room for error if their dream of hoisting the trophy on Sunday is to become a reality.
Day 1 Pre-lauch.
(Photos: FLW) 
"Getting one or two big bites on this river could help you go a very long way," said FLW Tour pro Stetson Blaylock. "There are plenty of fish here, but it's really tough to get those quality bites. It's a little bit of a crap shoot, but if you can get one big bite, it can give you a huge jump in the standings. And if you somehow manage to catch a 5-pounder, you can ride that pretty far."
 As a result, the current conventional wisdom is that an 11-pound average over four days could be enough to grab that elusive 2013 Forrest Wood Cup title.
"I fished a tournament back here in April and I had 39 pounds and came in second. And that's when the fishing was good," said Walmart pro Wesley Strader. "Now we're in the dog days of summer. So if you can somehow get 11 or 12 pounds a day, you've got a really good shot at winning this thing."
Throw in the fact that very little current is flowing on the Red River as of late and that water temperatures are inching up to an incredible 100 degrees – especially in the backwater areas – and you have all of the makings of a very, very difficult tournament. As such, that one big bite just might be the difference between landing a nice check and holding up one of the most prestigious trophies in the sport of professional bass fishing.
"This is the biggest lottery tournament there is," said Castrol pro David Dudley. "And by that I mean that whoever gets that one big bite is going to have a big advantage. You can fish as hard as you can, but there is no guarantee that you're going to get that big bite. But if you do get one, it's huge.
"Don't get me wrong, somebody could come back with a giant bag," Dudley continued. "But the odds are that it won't happen. I really think this tournament is going to be a grind-it-out type of tournament. And I think if you catch 11 pounds a day, you very well could win it all."
While most anglers agree that typical river-fishing arsenals will be deployed – small crankbaits, topwaters, flipping techniques, frogs and perhaps the occasional worm – there is far less consensus on where to attack. With three pools at their disposal – Pool 3, Pool 4 and Pool 5 – anglers are going to have to make the very real choice of where to invest their time. Do they stay closer to the marina and pick apart Pool 5 and maximize their fishing time, or take a gamble and lock through to pools 4 and 3 in search of bigger bites which may or may not materialize?
"For me, Pool 3 is the real sleeper. I know I can catch them there but it's such a long run. And you really have to give up a lot of fishing time just to get there," said Strader. "Just to get to Pool 3 you have to run 55 miles. And that's just to get to the lock. Then you're looking at another 20 miles to get to where the fishing is good. So for me, I think I'm going to fish closer early on and keep Pool 3 in my back pocket in case I make the cut."
Many pros echoed Strader's assessment as far as the risks involved with making a long run with so much at stake. But like most pressure-packed bass fishing tournaments, sometimes gambles do pay off.
"Fishing is a risk whether you're locking through or not," said Dudley. "In a tournament like this, you have to take chances. You can't let stuff like locking through bother you."
Still, locking through with so much at stake is not for the faint of heart.
"I think you're going to have two or three guys that will run all the way to Pool 3, you'll probably see a third of the field in Pool 4 and the rest of the guys in Pool 5," said Blaylock. "I really think the prospect of locking through scares a lot of people."
Once a pool is decided upon, the next question for an angler is whether to attack the main river or head into the backwaters in search of larger quarry. If a competitor decides to head into the backwaters, there are some risks there as well. For starters, navigating those narrow and shallow channels is not easy and if you haven't already thoroughly scoped out the area, there is a very real danger of burning up a lot of time carefully idling in and out of those lower-water areas. And when you get there, there is no guarantee the trip will have been worth the effort.
"I know a lot of guys are going to go into the backwaters but I'm trying to stay out of them," said Strader. "Every time there is a tournament on this river, everyone goes into those oxbows and the fish just really get pressured. So I'm probably going to stay on the main river where the fish are fresher. People talk about the bigger fish being in the backwater areas, but you can still catch some big fish on the main river."
In the end, one thing is clear: The angler who successfully puts all the pieces of the Red River puzzle together will walk away with not only a fat check for $500,000 and one of the most prestigious tournament titles in all of bass fishing, but a place in the history books as well.
"It's just awesome to be able to fish the Cup. That's what we work all year for," said Blaylock. "I've been here three or four times now so I'm not just fishing to cash a check. I want to win."
Strader, not surprisingly, has a similar goal in mind.
"If you're ever going to win a tournament, this is the one to win," he said. "And I want to win."

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