Expectations for a local winner always run high at Barnett Reservoir, but it never works out in national tour events. Not once has a Mississippian won a major event on the 33,000-acre lake.
Will it change this year?
“It’s really tough,” said Pete Ponds, the B.A.S.S. Elite Series angler who is a second-generation pro in a family that has tried hard but failed to win on Barnett. Ponds will try again this year.
“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 (information) — together. If one of us can do that, then we have a really good chance.”
Ponds came close to converting in 1996, when he led that event early but lost on the last day when Mike McClelland finally got the break in the weather he needed to fish a stump flat on the main lake.
Ponds wound up third in that event.
His dad, Bob Ponds (who fished the early years of B.A.S.S.), made a run at three of the first events on Barnett, recording a second-place finish in the 1972 Rebel Invitational, a third in the 1970 Rebel Invitational and a fourth in the 1971 All-American.
While the official field has not been announced for the 2013 event, several local pros did fish in the season’s first Central Open at the Red River in Shreveport. Fishermen have to enter or at least pay the entry fee to all three Central Opens to be eligible to convert a victory into an automatic Bassmaster Classic berth.
Among them are Ponds and Shannon Denson, the two locals given the best chance at victory.
Ponds has a B.A.S.S. — the 2004 Southern Open at Alabama’s Lake Eufaula — win to his credit, and has been a member of the Elite Series since its inception. Denson is well known on the lake.
Living less than a mile from its banks, Denson has been dominant on the local tournament scene at Barnett for the last decade, especially in summer and fall events when the focus usually shifts to the open water of the main lake.
And as soon as the 2013 Central Open was set on Barnett, he went to work.
“I’ve done considerable habitat improvement,” Denson said, referring to placing brush piles in the lake. “I’ve done that for years, but I’ve added more and I will just have to find the hot ones in whatever conditions prevail that week.
“If I am able to win or do well, I will have earned it.”
Ponds said there is one other aspect locals have to overcome.
“Pressure: There’s a lot of pressure knowing its your home waters, and you are fishing in front of a lot of your friends and peers who expect you to do well,” he said. “That can be a distraction.”