Louisiana Sportsman has talked with four anglers to try to learn where and how anglers will fish the Classic to win.
Greg Hackney of Gonzales, tournament bass fisherman and six-time Classic competitor, has qualified before for the Bassmaster Classic and the FLW Championship in the same year — a seldom-seen feat. Louisiana Sportsman told Hackney that many people expect him to run to the Red River's Pool 3 during the Classic because of its distance — about 1-1/2 hours away from the launch site — allowing him to escape spectator and fishing pressure.
"I like Pool 3, and I've fished it frequently in the past," he said. "But I can't afford to lose three or four hours of fishing time running to Pool 3, since February fishing isn't generally very productive. There aren't any more bass in Pool 3 than there are in Pools 4 or 5.
"If everyone chooses to fish Pool 5, there still will be only 51 contestants in the area. That pool can hold twice that many anglers and still give every angler plenty of room to fish.
"Every time I've fished the Red River, Pool 5 has produced four or five of the top-10 finishers and/or the tournament winner. But Pool 5 is close to town, so it will receive a lot of spectator pressure. Contenders will have a lot of fishing pressure whether they fish Pool 4 or 5."
Hackney believes most competitors will fish spinnerbaits and jigs.
"I'll be using the Strike King Red Eye Shad, a lipless crankbait," he said. "Bait choice will depend on weather conditions. If the river's low and clear, a wide variety of lures will catch bass. But if the river rises and is running cold, muddy water, your lure choice will be limited.
"If the river stays clear, really big bags of bass will be brought to the weigh-in. Even if the river rises, Pools 4 and 5 will fish big because although the river's small, the backwater homes tons of cover and bass."
Weather conditions really don't bother Hackney.
"Really cold weather is the only thing that will prevent big bags of bass from being weighed-in at the Classic," he said. "These southern bass like the water temperature to stay in the high 40s or above. If the temperature drops to the low 40s or below, the fishing will be tough, and anglers may only be fishing for three bites a day.
"If the Red River has a week of 80-degree weather during the Classic, you can catch all the bass you want on a buzz bait. So, temperature will play a bigger role than the river's height in how many bass are caught at the 2009 Classic."
Hackney names his perfect Red River Classic as having 70- to 80-degree weather with plenty of rain to cut-down on the spectator pressure.
"I do love the spectators, but they can muddy up water where you're fishing and/or run over cover and spook bass away," he said. "The Classic contestant who doesn't have any spectator pressure will have a definite advantage."
Hackney explained that the contestant who locates a productive area, stays there and catches a number of bass without spectator pressure spooking the fish away definitely will have an advantage at the Classic.
"Personally, I was pulling earlier for Homer Humphreys of Minden to get a Classic berth," Hackney said. "If he'd qualified for the Classic, he would have been the favorite with most of the spectators following him. I'm honored that people have picked me to win the Classic, because I've never won one. But I prefer spectators to watch the Classic on TV rather than be out there on the river with me to watch me win it."
David Breedlove of Bossier City regularly fishes the Red River, and rides his bicycle to the boat ramp 4 miles from his home.
"I believe the Classic will be won in one of the prespawn staging areas — probably in Pool 4," Breedlove says. "However, Pool 5 has produced some good bass in the last few years. But when BASS declared Cooley's, a heavily-wooded section that always has been a productive place to catch spawning fish, off-limits, that really reduced Pool 5's chances of producing a winner.
"Most local fishermen are betting the Classic will be won by anglers fishing in heavy cover, because that's the most-obvious pattern. However, I think the Classic will be won fishing offshore structure away from the cover.
"If you look at the lake and all its backwater, you have to assume that a contestant who pitches jigs, flips creature baits and pounds the cover with spinnerbaits will win. But I believe that the winner ... will teach us a different place to fish and a different way to catch bass this month on the Red River."
Breedlove figures that for a location to produce a Classic bag of bass each day, the winner has to locate a really sharp drop-off.
"These pros can read the bottom of a lake with a depth finder like most of us read the Sunday newspaper," he said. "They'll see things on that bottom that the locals never even have looked for previously.
"Though some really heavy bags of bass will be brought in on the first day of the Classic from Pool 5, I think the tournament will be won in Pool 4 by a fisherman who can identify a pattern that will hold up and provide good limits of bass — 16 to 18 pounds — every day of the tournament. Several 8- to 8 1/2-pound bass were caught in Pool 4 last year, and I caught a bass that weighed 7 pounds there."
Breedlove also believes that a multitude of baits will be responsible for the win.
"The Classic won't be won on one lure," he said. "The winner will have to give the bass something different to look at and keep them biting each day of the Classic if he fishes only one or two key structure spots.
"The Classic may be won flipping to underwater structure that concentrates the bass, but that structure must have some type of cover on it to provide an ambush point for the bass."
Breedlove names a jig, a lipless crankbait and a crankbait as the three lures with the best chances of winning the Classic.
"Also, there's an opportunity to win the Classic in Pool 3," he said. "If fishing pressure gets to Greg Hackney, he can run at least 70 minutes one way to fishable water in Pool 3. But to run to Pool 3, you have to know bass there can be caught quickly."
Jeff Holder from Bossier City, a tournament angler fishing the BFL Circuit and local tournament trails, lives just five minutes from the Red River, and fishes it often.
"I think the 2009 Classic will be won on Pool 5, since it has more water and fish, but it may be won in Pool 4," he said. "I don't believe anyone going to Pool 3 will have enough time to catch enough fish to win."
Holder also mentioned the problem of spectator pressure. Some of the more well-known anglers may have 20 to 25 spectators watching them.
"If we get high, muddy water on the Red River, the spectator pressure may not be as big a factor as if the water's low and clear," he said. "The river will fish small if we get that high, muddy water. Since the bass will move toward the clearer, cleaner water, many competitors will have to fish those same clear-water areas."
Holder thinks about half of the competitors will fish Pool 4, half will stay on Pool 5 and some fliers will test Pool 3.
"I believe that one of those fliers may be Greg Hackney," Holder said. "He fished a tournament here last April, made that long run to Pool 3 and nearly won the tournament. However, when Greg arrived at the spot he wanted to fish on that last day, a local angler was fishing it.
"Also, the far north end of Pool 5 has a productive lake that you can only fish during high water. So that lake also may be a factor. Also, spectators can't run their big engines from one contestant to another, because these guys will probably be fishing in the backwaters. You'll probably have to idle through some stump fields or risk damaging your lower unit."
Holder knows the importance of having fishing time if you want to win the 2009 Classic, and that's why he considers Pool 5 the most productive.
"Those fishing Pool 4 will lose two hours of fishing time going through the lock, and those fishing Pool 3 will lose four hours," Holder said. "The two best bites on Pool 5 will be the flipping bite and the spinnerbait bite, with the bigger bass in 3- to 7-foot-deep water. I also think these bass will be holding on bushy stumps, laydowns and any stump on top of an underwater ridge.
"In high water, I'll flip the White House area with a creature-type plastic bait. If Pool 5 has low water, I'll probably fish around the Clarks region with the same bait. In high or low water, I'll flip or fish a spinnerbait in the Knee Knock section with its large population of big bass."
Holder also selected the lower part of Pool 4 in the Jungle area for productive flipping and pitching.
Clark Reehm of Russellville, Ark., a BASS tournament pro, fishes the BASS Elite Series and the BASS Central Opens. Although Reehm attended Louisiana Tech, he didn't actually start fishing the river until 5 or 6 years ago. Reehm finished eighth in the 2008 Bassmaster Classic, but didn't qualify for the 2009 Classic.
"The 2009 Bassmaster Classic tournament will be won within 3 miles of the boat ramp at Clarks, which is on Pool 5 down by the lock," Reehm predicted, "because that's where anglers will find productive backwater fishing. Cooley's, a historical February producer of large bags of big bass, and Stephens Lake on Pool 4 both have been placed off-limits for the tournament because they're private areas.
"The tournament may be won in the lower end of Pool 4 around Sullivan and the Jungle. The contestant who fishes in the backwaters of Pools 4 or 5, with their heavy cover and standing timber, may win the Classic. Identifying the ditches and the ridges that go through cover will be the key to finding the type of cover that will hold the most bass.
"Some of the biggest drop-offs will be about 8 feet, but the bass will be concentrated on the smaller drop-offs, ridges 3 or 4 feet off the bottom on flats or ditches that drop-off 2 or 3 feet."
Reehm believes that the 2009 Classic will be a power-bait tournament, and almost every angler will be fishing spinnerbaits and jigs.
"Most anglers will depend on their spinnerbaits to locate and catch the most bass and work through the really tough cover of the Red River," he said. "Square-billed and lipless crankbaits and creature baits like Brush Hogs and plastic crawfish also will be productive."
Reehm pointed out that many Classic winners have won by using different looking and acting baits than the bass usually see in that time and place.
"Although the Red River is known as a spinnerbait and flipping-type of river, I won't be surprised if crankbait fishermen trigger strikes and catch a lot of bass bouncing those crankbaits off the cover," he said.
And Reehm expects the BASS river rats, fishermen who consistently perform well in river tournaments, to do well.