The Love-Hate Relationship of the Red River

In the tournament bass fishing world, there are certain bodies of water that anglers both hate and love. It’s kind of like the Dallas Cowboys, you either love them or hate them, and there’s not much in between. The mighty Red River falls into the hate category for a lot of anglers, but from my perspective, I love it!

Here’s why… if there’s one thing the Red River does for a bass tournament, it levels the playing field. It’s truly a body of water that can really frustrate anglers due to its unpredictability. Bass on the Red is like a magic act, they can literally disappear. The fish you find today cannot be counted on for tomorrow since the bait fish have a tendency to move. When the bait fish relocate, the bass go with them. Another issue with the river is its reputation for burning anglers who try to go back to the same fish two days in a row. Professional angler, Chris Lane, proved this theory to be correct when he was asked what pattern he used to win the 42nd Annual Bassmaster Classic on the Red River in 2012. Chris said the key to his victory was to not fish the same areas two days in a row. He discovered this during his practice time preparing for this event.

When anglers are asked the best way to catch bass on the Red, they’ll make reference to what bass fishermen call “junk fishing.” This means that anglers will use a plethora of baits from spinnerbaits, crankbaits, and topwater to soft plastics all in one day just to fill their limit for weigh-in. This is what makes the Red such a unique body of water and tends to level the playing field for all anglers.

So why do so many tournament anglers hate the mighty Red River? For starters, it has been known to be very hard on a boat. Too many lower units on outboard engines have been destroyed due to guys running in areas they should have been idling through. Rock jetties and sand bars, which at times can hide just under the water’s surface can create a navigation nightmare. The river is a constant changing entity as the water can fluctuate several feet depending on the time of year. This will create and rearrange sandbars all up and down the river system. But the number one problem is when boaters cut corners too close to the ends of rock jetties. It’s just like any other body of water that you’re not familiar with… if you’re not sure what lies beneath the surface….idle! So many anglers have boat damage because they don’t take the time to learn where you can and cannot run. The golden rule for boaters coming to the Red River…stay between the buoys on the main river and when entering the backwater cuts off the main river, idle through the first time so you can see how deep or shallow the cut really is.

With back-to-back historic floods in 2015 & 2016, the Red River underwent complete flushing of its ecosystem. This flood devastated the river and destroyed all vegetation that bass need to thrive. Before the floods, it was common to see five fish limits tipping the scales in the 16-to-20-pound range. But since the flood, the weights have really dropped off with anglers weighing anywhere from 10 to 13 pounds as evident with the recent B.A.S.S. Central Open event. The recovery has taken longer than anyone expected, but it appears better days are ahead as bass habitat is returning to the backwater areas that held so many bass.

As of October 1, 2021, thanks to the Red River Waterway Commission, the river is on the rebound as they have implemented a $100,000 bass restocking program for all pools 1 – 5. Pools one and two get 10%, pool 3 gets 20%, pool 4 gets 25% and pool 5 gets 35%. Each pool delivery will consist of 20% F1 hybrids and 80% pure Florida bass. That’s 72,000 pure Florida’s and 18,000 F1 hybrid largemouth bass being stocked all up and down the Red River.

Over the years, Red River has been very good to me with a few wins, a couple of runner-ups and Top 10 finishes. For me, it really is like the Dallas Cowboys….I love the river! Every angler has what they call their “home water,” and for me, it’s the Red River! I hope you’ve enjoyed this angler’s perspective on the love-hate relationship that anglers have for this awesome body of water. Understand this, fishing the Red or any river system is a different animal and requires a different approach than fishing a lake. But the best advice for anyone fishing the Red River, keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to try different baits. Till next time, good luck, good fishing, and don’t forget to wear your sunscreen!

Steve Graf
Hook’N Up & Track’N Down Show &
Tackle Talk Live