Browning wins Central Open event on Red River to earn 2014 Bassmaster Classic berth

Sibley’s Mike Pedroza finishes fifth in Bassmaster event.

Arkansas’ Stephen Browning jumped from 12th to first during the Bassmaster Central Open stop on the Red River this weekend, claiming the top prize and — even more importantly — a berth in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic. Browning’s final-day weight of 16 pounds, 10 ounces pushed his three-day total 40-10, earning him a $40,000 Triton bass boat with a Mercury outboard and $7,979 in cash.

“The good Lord blessed me to even be standing here today,” Browning said. “Yesterday, with about five minutes left, I caught about a 5-pounder and only had two fish. I don’t know why, but during the last two tournaments, right at the end of the day when I really needed one, sometimes I would just say a prayer, and He answered them. He answered them today because I was struggling big time.”

Browning said he had some bites in the morning at his first stop, but he later made a long run. When he went two and a half hours without catching anything, Browning decided to run back to his first spot.

“It was on there,” he said. “We caught them and caught them and caught them, and I was kicking myself in the rear end the whole drive over [to the weigh-in].”

“The key today was a simple bait change. I should have had 20 pounds yesterday, but I lost some big ones. This morning, I lost two big ones, and I thought something was not right,” said Browning, who had been using a sexy shad square bill crankbait but decided to try another brand of the square bill in the same size and color. “I guess it just had a different wobble to it because they just choked it.”

Retrieving the crankbait at high speed in an erratic fashion, Browning keyed on driftwood laydowns 3- to 5-feet-deep close to sandbar drops. “I crashed it into everything I could possibly crash it into,” he said.

Most of his strikes came after the lure deflected off the wood. Earlier in the week, Browning caught some of his keepers on a Z-Man Chatterbait.

Keying on spawning bass on the main river produced 14-5 for Tennessee pro Wesley Strader, who finished second with 38-12. He caught all of his keepers the first two days on a Texas rigged Zoom Z-Hog. Because he kept losing several keepers the first two days, he switched to a 1/2-ounce Pure Poison Jig tipped with a Zoom Speed Craw and was able to hold onto more keepers the final day.

Ernie Smoak of Louisiana, who competed in the tournament as a co-angler, relied on a tactic he calls the Smoke Dog Drag (slowly dragging a Strike King Rage Tail Craw) to catch limits the first two days. He had to swim the craw today to catch another limit that clinched a victory for him in the non-boater division and earned him a $25,000 Skeeter/Yamaha rig.

The Carhartt Big Bass winners of the tournament were David Sherrer of Louisiana in the pro division with an 8-1 largemouth, and Russell Rogers of Arkansas in the co-angler division with a 6-2 largemouth.

Winners of the Luck-E-Strike Heavyweight Bag of the tournament were Mike Pedroza of Sibley on the pro side with 17-1 and nonboater Kim Giddens of Alabama with 10-15.

The Livingston Lures award of $250 for the Day 2 leader went to Mike Pedroza of Louisiana for being in first place on Friday. The co-angler leading on Day 2, Smoak, receives $250 in Livingston Lures’ product.