Browning wins Bassmaster Central Open at Ross Barnett
Published By OutdoorsFIRST Media Published March 5, 2018
A never-give-up attitude paid off with the win for Stephen Browning at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open on Ross Barnett Reservoir.
"On most days I only had one fish in the livewell by noon," said Browning of Hot Springs, Ark. "Every day I caught my fifth bass about 10 minutes before having to leave.
"It was very tempting to give up about midway through the day, but that also was the turning point in my mind to stay focused, bear down and grind it out," he said.
The longtime Bassmaster Elite Series pro also staged a come-from-behind win after rising from fifth place on Saturday. His score after three days of fishing was 15 bass weighing 44 pounds.
Browning stole the lead from Japanese angler Ken Iyobe, who finished second with 42-13. Brad Whatley of Bivins, Texas, took third place with 41-10. Blake Betz of Baton Rouge, La., earned fourth with 40-9. Finishing fifth with 40-7 was Luke Palmer of Coalgate, Okla.
Browning's hot spot was a dense growth of eelgrass on a large spawning flat, he said.
"The key was marking those very thick spots of grass on my GPS and then grinding it out until the fish moved in," he explained. "It was the largest spawning flat on the lake, so I needed the recall of the GPS to keep me on the spots."
Browning's intent to target prespawn fish was a good idea. The biological clocks of those bass were ticking, and a move into shallow water to spawn came next. Spawning bass tend to weigh heaver, making his decision even better.
"Prespawn fish also tend to be eager to bite, more aggressive," he continued. "They are more committed to moving shallow, and rarely do they completely shut down when bad weather comes through an area."
Browning used a 3/8-ounce Z Man ChatterBait Jack Hammer, with 4-inch Z Man DieZel MinnowZ trailer. He chose black/blue for the morning bite and switched to white during the afternoon.
The lures used by Iyobe were key with keeping him in contention to win. He started the tournament using a 1/2-ounce homemade jig to coax slow biters. When the fish turned on, he switched to crankbaits of his own design marketed by Shimano Japan. The Bantam Macbeth diver and Shimano Bantam Rattlin Sur-Vibe lipless crankbait were the choices.
Iyobe flipped the jig to isolated shoreline cover, while a fast retrieve with the diving crankbait worked for prespawn fish moving into shallow water. The vibrating action of the lipless crankbait produced strikes at mid-depth ranges. He rotated through four areas using the same lures.
"On Thursday the bite slowed and the fish stayed close to the brushpiles on the shoreline," he said. "The crankbaits worked best on riprap warmed by the sunshine."
Browning's winnings included cash and a Triton Tr19 with Mercury Outboard and factory accessories worth nearly $50,000. He also advances to the 2018 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens Championship, Oct. 18-20, at a location yet to be announced.
Co-angler Justin Leet won the co-angler division with a total weight of 26-11. The Memphis, Tenn., angler did so in his first Bassmaster Open. Prior experience on the lake influenced his decision to use a bladed jig. Coincidentally, that lure was popular among the top pro anglers.
"I knew coming into the tournament that lure would give me the best shot, especially after learning the grass was already coming up," he said.
On Thursday he fished with Browning, putting the eventual co-angler champion on track with the reassurance his lure choice was ideal. Leet won a Nitro Z18 with Mercury Outboard and factory accessories.
Quentin Cappo of Prairieville, La., earned the Phoenix Boats Big Bass Award of $750 in the pro division by catching a largemouth weighing 8-6 on Friday. That same day Ronald Robbs of Ironton, Mo., caught a largemouth weighing 7-1 to win the Phoenix Boats Big Bass Award worth $250 in the co-angler division.
Cappo also earned the Power-Pole Captain's Cash Award of $500 on the pro side for being the highest-placing angler who is registered and eligible and uses a client-approved product on his boat.
The next Central Open is April 19-21 at Muskogee, Okla., on the Arkansas River. The 2018 Opens season features four events apiece in the Central and Eastern divisions.
The eight winners from each tournament will compete in the championship. Joining them will be the Top 10 anglers in the point standings from each division. The 28 anglers will vie for berths in the 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series and GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods.