A 53-degree change in less than 18 hours with sleet, ice and snow to boot had a lot of fishermen on Barnett Reservoir wondering just how it would affect next week’s B.A.S.S. Central Open tournament.

“The tournament will still be won shallow, no doubt about it, just like any other event we have in late winter or early spring,” said local pro Shannon Denson, who is among many reservoir regulars who will be competing for the $48,000 top prize and a coveted berth in the 2016 Bassmaster Classic. “A drastic temperature change like that could slow the bite, but it won’t really relocate the fish that have already moved up staging for the spawn.

“But, it won’t change where the fish are, not by much more than a few yards or feet. They may move back to a ditch but they are still going to be back in the shallows. The pad stems and other vegetation will be key.”

Dudley Salers, a dominant Barnett bass angler for over three decades, has always done well in late winter events, fishing for a few big bites hoping for quality bites. His secret...

“Always fish shallow water, but have deep water immediately adjacent,” said Salers, who is not entered. “My best spots, and I have several of them, are along old sloughs in the backwaters where I have found logs and other similar cover right on the drop, or logs that run from the bank down into a drop. That’s ideal in the winter when drastic changes can happen.

“That’s because bass want to have the security of deep water in case they need it, but they also want to be where they can make a quick run up to feed or be shallow too in prespawn. The shortest distance they have to travel to go from 1 or 2 feet down to 6 or 8 feet, like more vertical than horizontal, the better. If they can do it on one piece of wood, that’s perfect.”

Many of the Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and even Minnesota boats seen around the lake the past week for practice have seen some very inclimate weather. It went from 83 Wednesday afternoon to 30 degrees overnight into Thursday.

It shouldn’t be so tough next weekend, according to the long-range forecast from weather.com that shows a steady warming through to the three tournament days, Thursday through Saturday. While a lot of fishermen look at the high temperatures, FLW bass pro Pete Ponds of Madison looks at the overnight lows.

After a forecast low of 35 on Saturday (March 7), the lows are not supposed to be below 45 through the tournament days. As a matter of fact, the lows are expected to be between 52 and 55 all three nights before morning competition on the 33,000-acre lake, and reaching into the mid to upper 60s with rain each day. 

“The key is that overnight temperature,” Ponds said. “When it stays that warm, the water doesn’t lose a lot of the radiant warmth it built up the day before and allows a lake to warm even higher the next day. And, if we get that kind of warm run during pre-spawn, the fish will be shallow.”

So shallow in some areas that it’s a pretty good bet that the winning fisherman will have used a push pole.

Biologists who monitor bass fishing on the 50-year-old lake say March is the month that tournaments report the highest winning weights of the year.

“We see a lot of 20-pound bags for a five-fish one-day event, and some are over 25,” said Ryan Jones, the regional biologist for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “Barnett is not a trophy lake, but it has quality fish. We see a lot of 7- and 8-pound lunkers in March.”

Ponds said 20- and 25-pound stringers are possible, but it is highly improbable that any one fisherman would be able to maintain that kind of average for three days. He predicts a 15-pound three-day average would suffice.

“I think 45 pounds would win,” he said.

The high threats of heavy rain predicted for Thursday and Friday could impact fishing, if it means high winds as well.

“A strong wind out of a steady direction could really make this lake fish small, very small,” Denson said.

“We’ve all got rain suits, so no biggie, but the wind is a different matter,” Ponds said. “There’s a lot of local tournaments every week on Barnett and then there’s over 200 boats expected this week just from B.A.S.S. and more coming to practice for the B.F.L. event the next weekend, so it could really get crowded.” 

B.A.S.S. announced its official starting and weighing times on Friday. The Thursday and Friday weigh-ins will be held at 3 p.m. at the Madison Landing Parking Area on the lower northwest side of the lake. Saturday’s weigh-in for the top 12 who make the cut will begin at 4 p.m. and be held at the Bass Pro Shop in Pearl.

Blast-off from Main Harbor will begin at 7 a.m. daily.