Small Waters Strategies – break down a big river

Small Waters Strategies – break down a big river

Aug 16, 2013

2013 Forrest Wood Cup 

Pros Weigh in on What’s Ahead at Red River

August 16, 2013 — “The river fishes small”…”learning how to get into and out of small backwater areas”…”Find a hidey hole, away from the crowd”… To hear experienced pros talk about the Red River in Louisiana you might think they were talking about fishing small waters on a home river rather than for half-million dollar first place prize money and standing as the FLW champion. As the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup tournament takes place this week, you might want to compare results with the overviews and predictions of three Texas pros who have plenty of experience fishing and competing on the river. Here’s what Zell Rowland (who is competing in this year’s Cup), Matt Reed and Alton Jones have to say about the river and the “think small to win big” strategies they think an angler will need to adopt to take home the Cup. – Mike Pehanich

By Abe Smith

Top anglers from the FLW tour are vying for the Forrest Wood Cup (August 15-18, 2013) this week on the Red River in Shreveport, Louisiana.

The Red has hosted top events before, including two recent Bassmaster Classics and other major tour events. But taking on the river and a hungry competitive field for a $500,000 winner’s prize and a $50,000 purse to the top co-angler during the doldrums of August finds added challenges.

We asked three top veterans from the Bassmaster Elite series what the Forrest Wood Cup field is likely to face this month.

“Don’t get stuck in a stump field!”

Zell Rowland, Bassmaster Elite Series and competitor in the 2013 Forrest L. Wood Cup

The river

It’s not one of the greatest fisheries, but the fish do live here! It won’t take a lot of weight to win. A 13-1/2-pound average will get you close to winning. You will see several 17- to 19-pound stringers, but it is very hard to duplicate that day in and day out on this river in summertime!

“The week I prefished, probably 20 or 30 guys were trying to get a feel for the river, learning how to get into some of those backwater areas and then get back out so that on tournament day they don’t have to idle four miles in a stump field. I ran 20 miles of river just to know which stretches of river had more stumps and laydowns than others.

If you don’t have rain north of here to get the river to rise before the Cup, we won’t have much current. That could take a pretty good chunk of the river out of play.

“The field can fish three pools. But if you go through the second lock, you only will have three hours to fish. If you make that run, you will have to catch your fish quickly and run back. That’s why I spent six days (pre-fishing) – two in each pool.”

The heat itself will be a factor for fish and the fishermen. Any time you fish a river south of the Mason-Dixon line in August. The heat index was 105 on the river my last time out, and I don’t think I’ve ever drunk that much water in one day in my life!”

The baits

“This will be a tournament that I will fish with two Plano boxes. I won’t have 80 pounds of plastics and 300 crankbaits with me.

“I really believe a frog like the Booyah Pad Crasher and a popping frog will be good in August. Those and a flipping bait like the YUM (F2) Wooly Bug.

“Other soft plastics could play a role are the YUM Lizard and the Mighty Craw.

“But the bait might be a spinnerbait, too. I got a 3-1/2-pounder on one in July, but they bite that spinnerbait better when there’s current flow. Still, you won’t know about the current until the tournament.

“On the main river, a squarebill crankbait will come into play. So will a Carolina rig.

“If we get a lot of rain, current will push fish to the banks. The river can get muddy, too. Chartreuse colors could be key.

“But when I prefished, the water was clear, and I caught them on shad color crankbaits.

The best and worst

“Some of my best days have been in spring as fish move shallow. The river is easy to fish then.

“In summer, I can still catch some in backwater areas, but they are harder to find. It’s not like you catch them on the same stumps they were on in the spring.

“Some of my not so great memories here are of catching them one day and not being able to catch them the next.

“Each time I come here it is like fishing new water. It’s like learning the river all over again!

“In July, I went back to fish some areas I fished in the past, but I couldn’t even get into them because of the sand and muck. Fish won’t stay in those areas anyway. Often the water in those areas is very stagnant.

“Guys will get hung up and stuck. Make sure you don’t get hung up on a stump!

“But fish do live in this river! You just have to figure out how to get them to bite you!”


“The river fishes small…It concentrates the fish…and the fishermen!”

— Matt Reed, Bassmaster Elite Series

On the river

“The river fishes small. A 14-pound sack is a very good stringer in summer. But to do it for multiple days is where you are going to have issues.

“This time of year, August, the main river comes into play. Earlier in the year, it doesn’t. You have current, and the bites can be easier on the rocks in the main river, but you are going to catch your bigger fish in the backwaters.

“Vegetation will play as a huge factor in summer. In some areas the growth has become pretty decent. Backwaters with vegetation can be key because you find better oxygen content and water clarity in those areas.

“The river has a lot of wood cover, but if you can find good hydrilla, that is always best. Milfoil is good, but if you can find the ‘real stuff,” it is usually better. “

Lures & techniques

“They will need mid-depth crankbaits to run on the wing dams or other rock with current on it. If I were fishing there, I would probably be cranking a 4A Bomber crankbaits or something like a Bomber Fat Free Shad DB5. That’s what I’ve done best with on the main river.

“If they find dirty water – though you don’t find it that dirty very often in August, the bass may bite a spinnerbait on the river.

“Also the XCalibur XCS  squarebills on small rocks would also be a good choice. You are not looking for something that runs really deep, but the 4A Bomber and DB5 get a little depth fairly quickly when then come off of rock…And a smaller bait has been key to me over the years.

“In the backwaters you can get ‘em flipping. A three-inch YUM Mighty Bug or a YUM Wooly Bug are the baits I’d pitch. Your smaller plastics always seem to work best here, too.

Shad or little bluegill are the main forage during summer. The fish won’t have much to do with crawfish this time of year.  Chartreuse patterns have always done best for me in summer – blueback chartreuse especially – and fire tiger…something chartreuse.

“And the Foxy Lady is always a good color.”

The best and the worst

My first B.A.S.S. tournament was on the Red River in the late 1990s, and I had a Top 10 finish. At that time of year, it involved cranking the rocks on the river.

“Since then, I’ve had a bunch of good finishes. I’ve also had some days when I’ve died!

One of my biggest disappointments in a B.A.S.S. event was in the heat of the summer – and it is some of the hottest weather you can imagine on the river! I went way up river, thinking my best strategy was to get away from people – and I really thought I was. The area had some current in the back of it, too.  I went through a lock, worked my way carefully through a slough. It really took me a while and finally got there…only to find 15 other boats already in this little area about as wide as three boats.

“We destroyed each other! So where you choose to fish can be extremely important.

The person who commits to fish the backwater areas 100 percent of the time has a better chance because the bites are bigger…and on that main river, you can run out of fish. But the pressure on the river can kill you.

“Like I said, the river fishes small. It concentrates the fish, but it also concentrates the fishermen!”


“Find a ‘Hidey Hole’…Get away from the crowd”

– Alton Jones, Bassmaster Classic champion

Reading the Red

“I’ve fished two Bassmaster Classics on the Red River, but I haven’t fished it at this time of year.

“You find a lot of backwaters, sloughs, oxbows, and standing timber… and some vegetation on the Red. But the main river can also be a really good place to fish as well with fish relating to current along the walls and jetties – the wingdams.

“The backwaters feature laydowns along with some milfoil, duckweed and floating mats. But the vegetation is only in a few key areas. The rest is wood cover.

This tournament could be won in either the backwaters or the main river. The main channel is 20 to 30 feet deep in a lot of places and dredged for barge traffic.  But in the backwater, five to eight feet is as deep as you will find.”

Baits & tactics

“Texas-rigged anything is always good,  anything from a standard ribbontail worm to a YUM Wooly Hawgtail for your creature bait…to a Mighty Craw.

“Any way you look at it, the event is going to be won shallow. It is going to be won in less than five feet of water. You can fish a frog in the floating mats.  It’s also a great place to fish a half-ounce Booyah buzzbait.

“On the main river, it could be a crankbait. I would go with the XCalibur XCS 100 squarebill or perhaps a Bomber 2A.”

Best of times, worst of times

“On this river, finding what I call a ‘Hidey Hole’ is always good. Those can pay off for you. The winner will have to get away from the crowd, away from the main well-known backwaters.

One of my best days ever on the Red was the final day of the 2009 Bassmaster Classic when I brought in a 21-pound stringer. The key that day was a secret backwater area that was hard to find and get into. I had it all to myself!

“I also had one of my worst days ever when I tried to get into a backwater and couldn’t! I got stuck for two hours on a sand bar.

“That’s one of the perils of the Red River. Once you get off the marked channel and you don’t know where you are going, you have to be extremely careful because stumps half the size of your boat are often only inches under the water. You may have to idle for miles to get to your fish.

If the Cup is won in the backwaters a guy will find an area – not a spot but an area —  where he can fish multiple targets within a several hundred acre backwater.

If it is won on the main river, the guy will be making a milk run of wing dams, catching fish related to the current . He might fish a 10-mile stretch of river, just covering water on the wing dams with the right bait at the right depth and knowing exactly how the fish are relating to the current.”



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