There’s more than the simple home vs. away formula when it comes to predicting this week’s B.A.S.S. Central Open at Barnett Reservoir near Jackson.
But that is a good place to start.
Locals like Shannon Denson of Brandon and Webb Collums of Jackson are certainly considered favorites when the event starts Thursday out of Madison Landing in Ridgeland.
“Shannon is going to be tough to beat because when it comes to fall fishing on Barnett and knowing the main lake, he’s the man,” said B.A.S.S. Elite Series pro Pete Ponds of Madison. “I think a lot of the visiting fishermen are going to be lured to the upper river area, and that’s going to leave a lot of water for Shannon to fish.”
For the same reason, Denson likes Collums.
“Webb is pretty good when it comes to fishing the main lake,” Denson said. “He’s going to be tough. He’s always tough, but on the main lake he has to be considered one to beat.”
Of course, a lot of people are looking at Ponds as a favorite. This is, after all, his home water, too.
Or is it?
“You’d think that, since this is the lake that I grew up fishing, learned to fish on and spent so much of my life on,” Ponds said. “But to be honest, it’s not really the case. Until the last month, when I started prefishing for this tournament, I haven’t spent much time on Barnett.
“Once I started fishing the Elites, and I have from the first day, I spend so much time of the road fishing away from home that I just don’t get on The Rez that much. I still love it, and I still have a lot of my old hot spots, but is that an advantage?”
That is the question that a lot of people are asking. Of the 20 Mississippians entered, 12 are from the metro Jackson area and fish the lake at least semi-regularly.
Historically, being a Barnett regular has never led to a major tour victory on the 33,000-acre lowland reservoir.
“Everybody thinks local knowledge is important, but at the professional level and the skills modern bass fishermen have, it really isn’t,” Ponds said. “I think what happens more often than not is that local fishermen rely too much on historical information — like ‘man I used to catch them there in those stumps’ or ‘I wear them out on frogs in the pads in the mouth to No. 7 in October’ — instead of using analytical information.
“We get these pros who come in with fresh minds who go to work analyzing the fishery based on maps, current conditions and other things and figure out where the bass are and what they are doing. The key is putting those two things, historical and analytical, together. If one of us can do that, then we have a really good chance.”
Ponds came close in the 1996 B.A.S.S. Invitational, when he led the three-day event early but finished third when Scott McClelland found a great spinnerbait bite in shallow stumps on the main lake and surged out of nowhere to win.
Ponds’ dad, Bob Ponds, also made some runs at victories in B.A.S.S.’s early years, recording a second in the 1972 Rebel Invitational, a third in the 1970 Rebel Invitational and a fourth in the 1971 All-American.
Florida’s Roland Martin, who won the 1971 and 1973 events on Barnett, will return to try to repeat his successes. Peter Daniels of Shreveport, who won the last B.A.S.S. event on Barnett in 1998, will return.
Another consideration is which pattern will produce best, the main lake’s many ledges and contours, where bass hold to deep structure, or the upper river’s vegetation-rich fishing. And if both are on, then a guy like Laurel’s Paul Elias, another Elite Series pro and one of the successful veteran B.A.S.S. pros still on tour, would garner consideration.
Elias is famous for being able to find deep-water fish and then making them bite, but early in his career he specialized in river fishing. His 1982 Bassmaster Classic win was on the Alabama River.
“If the main lake bite is on, then the guys who specialize in deep cranking and Carolina-rigging on the deep stuff, guys like Shannon and Webb and Paul, are going to be good,” Ponds said. “But, if the weather won’t allow that or if the shad have left all those deep areas, then the advantage will shift over to the pads and mats.
“You could easily see a winner come from throwing a frog in the pads or some guy punching thick mats of floating vegetation with big jigs. Then you have to look at the field and think who’s coming who specializes in that. I think that’s when the home-field advantage goes away. It’s just a matter then of who finds the best area.”
Daniels would have to be considered a threat to repeat his victory, if the grass pattern is the key. In ’98, he brought the punching style of fishing matted grass to Barnett and showed it would work. In extremely tough fishing conditions he produced a winning weight by targeting big fish, knowing punching would not produce a lot of bass.
“I was in Pelahatchie Bay and I was looking for the thickest stuff I could find, and then punching through it with my rod tip and dropping a jig through it,” he said at the time. “I knew I was never going to get a limit but I thought I could still win with quality over quantity.”
Which is exactly what he did. Daniels did not get a limit any of the three days, but still produced 25 pounds, 11 ounces for an easy win.
And speaking of winning weights, when Ponds was asked what he thought he would need to catch to get the victory, he thought it would be quite higher than the number Daniels posted.
“Oh, yeah, we’re going to be catching The Rez at its peak time for quantity and at a good time for quality,” he said. “My guess, 15 pounds a day is a good average. You produce that and you can win.”
Victory is important, since a Bassmaster Classic berth is on the line for the winner, provided he fished all three Central Opens.