SHREVEPORT, La. – Stephen Browning grew up fishing on the Arkansas River, and he’s hoping his background in river fishing will pay dividends today through Sunday on Louisiana’s Red River.
Browning, a Pine Bluff native who now lives in Hot Springs, will be among the 49 anglers vying for bass fishing’s equivalent of a world championship in the 42nd Bassmaster Classic, which starts today on the Red River out of Shreveport-Bossier City.
“Obviously, I’m a little excited about this venue,” Browning said. “It plays well to my strengths.”
Another homegrown river rat will be competing this weekend: Star City native Greg Hackney, who now lives in Gonzales, La.
The Bassmaster Classic, which has been called “The Super Bowl of Bass Fishing,” will launch at 7 a.m. each competition day. Weigh-ins will start at 4:30 p.m. daily at the CenturyTel Center in Bossier City. First prize is $500,000.
Browning, Hackney and the rest of the field likely will find challenging fishing conditions this weekend. During a three-day practice period held Feb. 17-19, conditions were extremely tough, with few anglers reporting much success. The Red River was true to its name, becoming a red, muddy mess after heavy rainfall prior to the practice period.
Worse yet, water temperatures dropped into the low 50s after hovering near 60 degrees in the days leading up to practice.
“I think that has really shocked the fish back,” Browning said. “They’re not sure what they’re supposed to be doing.”
Largemouth bass begin spawning activities when water temperatures reach 60 degrees, and that usually kicks off a period of activity and good fishing conditions.
Browning and others expressed hopes for a warming trend this week, and Mother Nature cooperated with daytime highs in the 70s and 80s on Wednesday and Thursday. But she threw a curveball at the anglers with a cold front that moved through northwest Louisiana late Thursday and early today. The temperature at today’s launch was predicted to be in the upper 30s or low 40s, with daytime highs expected to be around 65, a nearly 20-degree decline from Thursday’s high temperature.
While muddy and cool water isn’t exactly welcome, Browning said it may help his chances.
“The tougher it is, the better it is for me,” he said. “I’ve fished the Arkansas River under very similar conditions.”
Another factor to consider this week will be fishing around crowds. Because muddy water has infiltrated the usually cleaner backwater areas, many anglers will be fishing in close proximity to other competitors.
“It’s going to be the kind of deal where you’re fishing in a real pretty place that looks like you ought to catch one on every cast,” Browning said. “But it’s a safe bet that you’ll probably be fishing behind somebody.”
During the final practice day on Wednesday, Browning eliminated a handful of spots that he didn’t believe would be productive. He said Wednesday evening that he still hadn’t decided exactly where to start fishing but that he planned to “hunker down” in an area and thoroughly fish it.
“I want to go into an area and sit down on it for a while,” Browning said. “I don’t want to end up in a situation where I get panicky and start running all over the place.”
Live coverage of the Classic can be viewed at www.bassmaster.com, which will feature on-the-water blog updates and streaming video of each day’s weigh-in. The tournament will be broadcast on ESPN2 beginning at 10 a.m. March 3 and ESPN Classic at 4 p.m. March 12.
2012 Bassmaster Classic
• Today through Sunday
• First prize $500,000
• 49 anglers
• Pine Bluff native Stephen Browning and Star City native Greg Hackney will compete
• Live coverage at www.bassmaster.com
• TV coverage March 3-4 and March 10-11 on ESPN2