Last year’s devastating Hurricane Harvey, which ravaged Houston and the rest of southeast Texas, may have had one positive effect: It seems to have helped fishing in the Sabine River system.
The 2018 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Elite at Sabine River presented by Econo Lodge was originally slated to occur April 6-9, but because tournament waters were placed under flood advisories at that time, the tournament was postponed until June 7-10.
Traditionally, the Sabine River has been a very challenging body of water where every bite is critical to making a Top 50 paycheck. But according to Todd Driscoll, district fisheries biologist with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, the Sabine River is healthier than it has ever been.
“Hurricane Harvey may have actually helped improve the fishery overall,” he said. “Storm surges that typically result in tidal and saltwater inflow, which kills many freshwater fish and vegetation, didn’t impact the Sabine since Harvey’s primary landfall was farther south. Instead the river received a dose of freshwater runoff from the heavy rain that occurred after the hurricane moved inland.”
The tournament also is likely to produce record crowds. Bassmaster fans’ loyalty has been a hot topic as of late. The 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods at Lake Hartwell, March 16-18, crushed previous attendance records by attracting more than 143,300 bass fishing fanatics from across the nation.
Likewise, Orange, Texas, and the Sabine River are home to the second most attended regular season Bassmaster Elite Series event in history, drawing more than 33,650 fans. The current record was set in 2013 at Waddington, N.Y., on the St. Lawrence River, with 34,100 in attendance.
There’s a good chance the top-attendance record will return to Orange after the final fish hits the scales on June 10, Championship Sunday.
The trends indicate the growing interest occurring around the sport of professional bass fishing. Thanks to the combination of a competitive event carrying a $100,000 top payout and Texas’ strong fan base for fishing, this event will certainly be exciting.
The world’s best bass fishermen have converged on the Sabine River twice prior: 2013 and 2015. This year things are quite different following Hurricane Harvey and a new rule that restricts fishable waters.
Tournament waters include the Sabine River and its tributaries within the Texas counties of Orange, Jefferson, Chambers, Galveston and Newton, where the minimum length for bass is 12 inches. Louisiana waters have been placed off-limits because of that state’s laws granting control of navigable waters to private property owners. A bill to restore access to public waters was defeated in the Louisiana Legislature this year, but proponents have vowed to continue pushing for the reform and have asked B.A.S.S. and bass anglers to support the cause.
Anglers should have plenty of fish to catch on the Texas waters, Driscoll believes.
“Based on our sampling data, I expect daily weights to go up compared to 2013 and 2015,” he continued. “The system is in the best shape we’ve ever experienced, and I expect the pros to demonstrate that over a four-day tournament.”
He also said that the fishery is known for kicking out substantial numbers of small fish, but it’s also very capable of producing five-bass limits of 3- and 4-pounders.
A large kicker bass is also a possibility.
“Just a couple of months ago, a local tournament weighed a 9-plus-pound largemouth. That’s a giant for this place. But to me, that indicates the river and all its connecting waters are in great shape. I think the anglers in competition and the fans in attendance will be pleasantly surprised,” Driscoll said.
Daily takeoffs will occur at 6:05 a.m. CT at the City of Orange Boat Ramp, and weigh-ins will begin at the same location at 3 p.m.