BASS MAKES LONG-AWAITED RETURN TO LOUISIANA FISHERY

Atchafalaya Basin Will Host CITGO Central Open

MORGAN CITY, La. – An intriguing tournament awaits BASS anglers when the CITGO Bassmaster Central Open presented by Busch Beer comes to Morgan City, La. and the mysterious Atchafayala Basin Oct. 21-23.

These waters will undoubtedly be unfamiliar — and therefore extra challenging — for the 175-man field. This is the first BASS event on this giant swamp since a BASS Champions Tournament in 1978 that was won by Larry Nixon.

Add to that the sheer and confusing size of the tournament waters and you begin to fathom the test facing the Central anglers.

Located in the heart of crawfish country, the Atchafayala Basin has been called the nation's largest cypress garden. Its 625,000 acres begin just west of Mellville, La., and extend about 150 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, it has an average width of 12 miles and spreads out to 18 miles at its widest point.

The Army Corp of Engineers created the basin to help control flooding, as well as the diversion reservoir for an estimated one-third of the flow of the Mississippi River. It was already the drainage area for parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. Collectively, this vast perplexity of cypress stands, swamps, sloughs, bayous, lakes, marshes and pipeline canals form an immense and diverse home for a mind-boggling number of fish, tremendous birdlife and an endless array of other creatures. There is more prime bass habitat than a fisherman could probe in several lifetimes.

“I've always considered the basin to have some of the best fishing anywhere,” said David Iverson an Atchafayala guide and local tournament angler. “I think the reason it hasn't gotten the reputation that Toledo Bend and some others has is because of the lack of big fish it produces. In all my years, I've only caught two 7-pound bass out of the Atchafayala Basin and I only know of a few that have been in the 8-pound bracket.

“People tend to rate how good a fishery is by what size fish it puts out. The basin puts out good numbers of 3- and 4-pound fish and a fair number of 5s. People think that if a lake doesn't put out a lot of 7- to 10-pound bass, it's not a top-notch fishery. But there are an awful lot of fish that come out of the basin — real good fish that you can really enjoy.”

The Central Open anglers can expect to enjoy plenty of action.

“I just came back from down there,” said Louisiana pro Homer Humphreys, who has fished the basin for years (and occasionally guides there). “The fishing is good. We’re catching a lot of fish — a lot of 12- and 13-inch fish. I think we’re going to have a fantastic tournament

“It’s going to be a fun tournament. It really is.”

Humphreys emphasizes that navigating the watery maze will be difficult for the competitors. Despite his knowledge of the fishery, he will be running two GPS units to ensure a timely return each day.

“It’s going to be a challenge for most of the fishermen,” he said. “A lot of them are going to stay real close. But people like Gary Klein and myself will probably make a big run to get away from everybody.

“It’s easy to get lost. But there is some great fishing close. The shallow oil fields are going to be good. The lake stuff should be good.”

Although it is an intimidating, sprawling body of shallow water at first glance, the Atchafayala actually fishes as a series of cozy individual bayous, lakes, flooded oil fields and navigational canals.

Although the fishery has a 14-inch minimum length limit, Humphreys expects fast-moving baits to produce plenty of keeper-sized bass.

“There’s going to be a lot of spinnerbait fish caught,” he noted. “They’re going to catch fish on whatever they want to throw. A 1/4-ounce Rat-L-Trap is going come into play. I caught a lot on Rat-L-Traps down there. I wasn’t satisfied with the quality, but I could catch a limit on it or a spinnerbait.

“I’m going to catch them on spinnerbait, buzzbait and flipping. Probably more flipping jigs and tubes than anything. There are loads of hydrilla down there and little clumps of grass. Find the right mix of hydrilla and clumps of grass and you can really catch them.”

Humphreys predicts that the winning weight will be 37 to 39 pounds for the three-day event.

In addition to the race for the $50,000 top prize, in this, the final of three Central Opens, the anglers in the boater division will be jockeying to qualify for the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer in Pittsburgh. At the end of this tournament, the top 20 pros will advance to the CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship presented by Busch Beer, which will send its top five finishers to the 2005 Classic.

Daily weigh-ins will begin at 3 p.m. and the launch will be at 7 a.m. at the Belle River Boat Launch. Both are free to the public.

BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer, which includes the all-new Bassmaster Elite 50 series, is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.

Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Northern Open include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Toyota, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.

Local Sponsors include Cajun Coast Visitors & Convention Bureau.

For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.