Fishing world eyes Bassmaster Elite Series on Toledo Bend _lowres

Photo provided by JAMES HALL/ Bass Anglers Sportsman Society Gonzales angler Greg Hackney shows off two of the bass he took in the Bassmaster Elite Series held on the St. John’s River in Florida earlier this year. Hackney missed qualifying for the 2014 Bassmaster Classic, thereby breaking a string of 10 straight Classic appearances. He has come back strong this year and is in sixth place in the 2014 Elite Series’ Angler of the Year standings heading into this weekend’s Elite tournament on Toledo Bend. which runs through Sunday out Cypress Bend Resort.

For the second straight week, the eyes of the bass fishing world are focused on Louisiana, and Greg Hackney, Cliff Crochet and Dennis Tietje know they’ll have lots of eyes on them.

The three Louisiana anglers on the Bassmaster Elite Series, the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society’s top echelon eight-tournament national circuit, began Thursday on Toledo Bend with the intended purpose to stay through Friday and Saturday cut-downs to Sunday’s final 12 showdown. All weigh-ins are set for the Cypress Bend Resort with daily live weigh-ins on B.A.S.S. website: www.bassmaster.com.

Last week, Arkansas angler Stephen Browning outdueled Gonzales’ Gerald Spohrer to earn a spot in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic by winning the three-day BASS Central Division tournament in the Shreveport area.

This weekend, the 108-angler Elite Series field will fish through Friday to determine the top 50 spots for Saturday’s action before the field is trimmed to the top 12.

Hackney, of Gonzales, is coming off his most disappointing Elite Series year in 2013, when he fell short of earning what would have been his 12th consecutive berth in the prestigious Bassmaster Classic.

It’s apparent he’s started this year to right his ship: Hackney is sixth in the Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year standings after three events. His 246 points is just two behind fifth-place Todd Faircloth, and trails AOY leader and former Classic champ Mark Davis by 49 points, but is only 14 points out of second place. Points are earned in order of finish in each tournament. The winner earns 100 points.

For Crochet, of Pierre Part and Louisiana’s lone qualifier for February’s Classic in Birmingham, Ala., the push for a shot at a third Classic spot must begin this week. He started out on Toledo Bend in 59th place in the AOY standings. If all goes to form, it takes a top-35 finish in the AOY to make the Classic field from the Elite Series.

Tietje, of Roanoke, is in a deeper hole in the 91st spot.

All three south Louisiana anglers face an even steeper climb on The Bend: Rarely do home-state anglers win tournaments held in their home states. Proof comes the 40 some-odd Classics when only two anglers, Boyd Duckett and the 2014 Classic winner Randy Howell, won on waters in their home state of Alabama.

On Toledo

Bassmaster Magazine listed its Top 100 bass-fishing spots in the country last week, and Toledo Bend took the No. 15 spot. When full, the reservoir stretching some 60 miles along the Louisiana-Texas border, is 185,000 surface acres of water. The drought that ended in late 2012 has given The Bend new life.

There’s every chance Toledo Bend could produce the Elite Series’ top total weight this year after it’s taken 26-plus pounds on a five-bass daily limit to win tourneys this spring.

Elite Series pro Brandon Card showed off an 8-pound largemouth he caught then released on a practice day earlier this week, and several pros, via Twitter and blogs, have mentioned catching bass weighing more than five pounds.

Living the Dream guide J.T. Thompson said some bass have spawned and are holding in grass that grew when the lake level was down during the drought. That grass, now in 2-4 feet water after the lake returned to near normal levels, is a staging area for bass that have not spawned, but will move into clear-water shallows with the approach of the May 15 full moon.

Early reports from the lake are that pros are using jerkbaits, swimbaits, shallow-running crankbaits and topwaters like Zara Spooks to target heavy largemouths.

Other top 100s

Louisiana has two other fisheries included in Bassmaster’s Top 100 bass spots.

Coming in at No. 25 was the Red River, up from 79th place last year. The ranking covered the 125 miles from Shreveport to Alexandria with the comment: “A shallow-water fisherman’s dream: a million stumps and as many largemouth.”

The vast area the magazine calls the “Mississippi River Delta” was No. 74, down from No. 59 last year. The comment: “If you can find the right water, largemouth here are fat and plentiful. In the meantime, catch redfish until your arms are sore.”

Other nearby waters ranked were Ross Barnett near Jackson, Miss, at No. 97, and, at No. 26, Lake Sam Rayburn in Texas.

Bassmaster’s No. 1 spot was Sturgeon Bay, Wis., off Lake Michigan.

Short’s tough deal

Elite pro Kevin Short and his wife, Kerry, were at Toledo Bend when a tornado demolished his home in Mayflower, Ark. B.A.S.S. writer Don Barone reported Short’s 80-year-old father, who lives two houses away from Short’s home, escaped with minor injuries but that Short’s across-the-street neighbor was among the 16 fatalities reported after tornadoes swept through Arkansas, Oklahoma and Iowa on Sunday.

Another Elite pro and Manflower resident, Billy McGaghren, reported his family survived the tornado, and his home had minor damage.