This week’s Bassmaster Elite at Sabine River is the fourth stop in B.A.S.S.’s top circuit, and it’s the Elites' fourth visit to the bass-crazed town of Orange in the southeastern corner of the Texas.
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The Sabine, which for miles shares a border with Louisiana, flows through pine forests then bayou before emptying into Sabine Lake, which connects to the Gulf of Mexico. The river is affected by tides that rise and fall about 2 feet in areas.
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Fishing is expected to be better than previous years at the Sabine, where it took only a little more than 12 pounds a day to win. Big fish are put at even more of a premium there, where a 5- to 6-pounder can equal another angler’s entire bag. All bass must measure at least 12 inches.
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It’s one of the more worrisome events for the Elites, where hitting a number of areas in a day is difficult. One wrong turn down a dead-end canal where fish are not biting that day can lead to a disastrous tournament finish. Anglers go into the event thinking their prospects range from first to last.
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Even though the Elites had an extra fourth day to practice, the Sabine tournament boundaries are monstrous, which makes breaking down the fishery formidable. Anglers can fish as far north as the Toledo Bend dam or as far southwest as Galveston County south of Houston, which requires a run through the intracoastal waterway and across Galveston Bay.
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The Sabine offers river fishing in sandbars, bends and shallow woods, and there are swampy areas, cypress stands and flat, grass-filled marsh. Each offers target-rich environments.
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The City of Orange Boat Ramp at 408 Pier Road is tournament central, with takeoffs there all four days at 6:45 a.m. CT. Weigh-ins will be held on park grounds at 3 p.m. All B.A.S.S. venues are free of charge.
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The Expo opens there at noon on Saturday and Sunday, and it runs in conjunction with the Orange County River Festival.
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The festival, featuring food, activities and live music, has helped the Sabine tournaments hold three of the top eight attendance records in Elite history.
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In the most recent Sabine Elite in 2018, Greg Hackney recorded a wire-to-wire victory after the tournament was rescheduled to June because of high water.
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Hackney threw a buzzbait, a frog and jig in amassing 48 pounds, 5 ounces over four days. He said Texas-rigged plastics should be fruitful this time around and other baits in play will be squarebills, frogs, spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and swimbaits.
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Hackney, who lives less than three hours from the fishery, said the Sabine is loaded with bass but not that many big ones. He said he expects the fish will be spawning, postspawn or guarding fry and not moving too much. A competitive weight will again be in the low teens while 10 pounds a day might advance an angler to Championship Sunday.
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While few and far between, big fish can be had on the Sabine. Before the last Elite, Justin Royal of Bridge City caught this 9.73 kicker from the Sabine in a tournament winner stringer of 18.26.
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The Elites will be greeted with a consistent weather pattern, with highs climbing into the 80s each day and rain forecast for Saturday. Hackney said tides won’t come into play much, but south winds could cloud waters. “If the water stays up, that’s not so good, because it could be muddy,” he said. “The water tends to clear up when it falls. The whole deal there is water clarity — that will spread people out.”
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The Elites are coming off a late March tournament on Pickwick Lake won by shallow water expert Bill Lowen, who broke through for his first title in 159 B.A.S.S. events. There have been three first-time Elite winners this season after six in 2020.
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Patrick Walters, who had a historic win in 2020 on Lake Fork, finished 12th at Pickwick Lake to take over the lead in the Angler of the Year standings. Walters has 264 points through three events. Seth Feider is 18 behind with 246, Brandon Palaniuk is third at 245 and Hackney fourth with 242. Bryan New, who won the season opener at the St. Johns, regained the Rookie of the Year lead with 239 points.
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Bassmaster LIVE coverage of the event begins on Bassmaster.com each day at 8 a.m. ET, with FOX Sports 1 broadcasting the morning sessions on Saturday and Sunday from 8-11 a.m. ET. On the line will be $100,000 to win as well as points in pursuit of the AOY title plus qualification to the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic, recently announced to be returning to South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell.