"I try to tell them that this river system changes every year," McVey sighed. "It's just one of those things that happens when you've got all this current flow. Sandbars are constantly shifting, deep water is constantly filling in with sediment and shallow water constantly gets scoured out. I try to tell them that this river is crazy."
And no time since the completion of the lock-and-dam system has the Red River undergone more changes than since the spring of 2009. Except for July, when the river came down and cleared up a little, the water was at flood stage from just after the Bassmaster Classic last February right on through the end of the year.
McVey called 2009 a washout, and he admits his boat spent more time under its shed than it did on the water. So far this year, though, he says the bite has been on, but it's been different.
Not so much different in that you can't catch them the old ways on spinnerbaits and Texas-rigged creature baits, but different in that there are some new techniques that are becoming more and more productive due to the changes in the contours.
"I've been out graphing a lot of the same areas I typically fish," McVey said, "and I've found that a lot has changed because of last year's high water. It may not have changed but a foot or two in some areas, but in others it's changed as much as 8 or 9 feet."
And McVey says he isn't talking about little areas either. Some of the new sandbars that have cropped up between the rocks and backwaters are as large as 100 yards long and 50 yards wide. He also knows of a spot that was 12 feet deep last year that is now 2 feet deep.
"Most of the changes have taken place behind the cuts in the rocks," McVey said. "And you've also got spots like the area just north of Clark's that we used to catch a lot of fish out of the grass there during the summer. Now there's practically no water in there — not enough to fish anyway. It's less than a foot deep now."
Some other spots that have changed dramatically are the north and south passes going into the old Clark's Marina, the cut heading into Bulldozer Point and the run up the inside of the rocks heading to Caspiana or the Bobo Hole.
"There have been some boat accidents on that sandbar going into Caspiana and the Bobo Hole," McVey said. "About 200 yards heading north along those rocks is a massive sandbar all the way across the lane. Now, you've got to shut down and idle through the timber to get around it."
Things aren't quite as bad in Pool 4 as they are in Pool 5, according to McVey. Sullivan's, Little Sullivan's and the Jungle all seem to be fine. However, the water going into the Corps ramp in Red Oak Lake has silted in a little bit, although McVey says there is enough water to get in and out the normal way if you idle.
Another change that seems to be increasing with time is the loss of timber in the backwaters. There are still tons of stumps right at the water, but a lot of the timber has died off, and the logs have either gone to the bottom or floated downriver.
"Basically what is happening is that these new sandbars and open water is leading to more and more anglers throwing what would be considered open-water techniques rather than just throwing heavy timber stuff," McVey said. "Your spinnerbaits and Brush Hogs or Beavers still dominate, but now there's places where you can do just as well on Carolina rigs and swim baits."
Take one of the new sandbars for example. When you've got structure that is 2 feet deep on top but drops off either gradually or drastically into 10 feet you've got something there that will attract and hold bass.
Then consider that grass will eventually grow on many of these new sandbars, and you can see that the ways you've fished the Red River in the past could all be changing beginning with this summer.
Starting with the new sandbars right behind the cuts in the rocks, McVey says they are instantly going to attract shad that move back and forth through the cuts. Therefore, you can bet there will also be some bass on these bars this year, too.
"I would work the top of the bars first thing in the morning with a buzz bait as long as there is no grass," McVey said. "If there is grass, I would hit them with a floating frog like the Tru-Tungsten Mad Maxx or a buzz bait-style frog like a Horny Toad or Ribbit."
After fancasting on top of a bar, McVey would then back off to the edge and throw a Carolina rig on the drop, and he would try different angles and presentations until he decided if the fish wanted it pulled straight down the drop or parallel to the drop.
"And I would mop up on the bars by throwing a 200 Series Bandit crankbait along the sandbar drop-off," McVey added. "If the bass are feeding on shad, which they should be on the bars, I'll throw the Tennessee or Louisiana shad colors. But if it's muddy, I'll stick with chartreuse with a blue back."
But it is his next technique that really turns McVey's crank. Some people have started throwing swim baits on the Red River, McVey among them, but he doesn't believe their fullest potential has been realized yet.
McVey has played with them a little bit by twitching them through the rock cuts, and he's caught fish doing that. However, with all the new sandbars created by last year's flood conditions, he can't wait to try them out this year around the edges of the ones that have formed behind the rocks and along the inside edges of the rock revetments.
"I've found two ways of fishing swim baits on the Red River," McVey said. "During the early morning, I like to take the weight out of a Tru Tungsten Tru-Life swim bait and work it with a stop-and-go retrieve about 6 inches under the surface. I work it the same way I would a Zara Spook on top so that it kind of darts back and forth.
"If the fish aren't up high in the water, I'll put the weights back in to get it to sink slowly down about 6 to 8 feet. Then I'll start twitching it just like I do when I'm trying to keep it high in the water."
McVey's twitching retrieve shouldn't be confused with the typical swim-bait retrieves that anglers see bass pros using out in California. They typically reel them straight back with a constant retrieve like you would a spinnerbait.
"That might work here, and I'm sure somebody's already catching them like that," McVey said, "but the twitching retrieve has worked best for me. I'll experiment with pulling them straight back around some of these new sandbars this summer."
The last change that McVey sees happening this year is in grass growth patterns. He definitely didn't guarantee it, but McVey believes Pool 4 will offer much better grass fishing this summer than Pool 5.
"I've been down there a lot so far this year," McVey said, "and by the beginning of May, there was already a lot of grass coming up. There wasn't a lot of hydrilla, but there were some good patches of milfoil and pepper grass coming up in the most popular oxbow lakes down there."
Within the grass itself, McVey says anglers make a mistake when they only fish it first thing in the morning. More and more, bass are relating to the grass all day long rather than just early in the morning and late in the evening.
He cautioned that the bite may shut down for half an hour or so, which would cause many anglers to pull up and leave, but just because they shut down doesn't mean they've completely left the grass.
River systems are dynamic environments because things are constantly changing. Current flow is a powerful force of nature, especially during periods of high water when the flow is the greatest. It can scrub old land. It can slice new channels. It can set down new land.
No wonder there aren't any topographical maps for the Red River. What good would one do you anyway since the contours would be different every year?
Change is the only thing that stays the same in river systems, and if you want to catch bass like you did last year, you'd better learn how to be just as dynamic as the water you fish and change up your tactics to meet current conditions.
Contact Russ McVey at 318-464-2277.