The timing of the March 12-14 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open presented by Allstate bodes well for the anglers competing in the event. The venue, Mississippi’s 33,000-acre Ross Barnett Reservoir, should be more obliging than in the previous four Bassmaster tournaments held here.
When Bobby Murray won the Bassmaster Classic at Ross Barnett in late October of 1978, his three-day total was 37 pounds, 9 ounces. Bassmaster Elite Series pro Mike McClelland won a Mississippi Invitational in December 1996 with a scant 22-4.
In mid-February of 1998, Peter Daniels won a chilly Central Invitational here with 25-11. With a weight of 41 pounds, 15 ounces, Elite Series pro Randall Tharp fared better when he hoisted the Central Open trophy at Ross Barnett in October 2013.
Barring catastrophic weather, Bassmaster’s next visit to Ross Barnett could be the charmer.
The bass here typically spawn in late March, which means prespawn bass should be moving shallow and eager to bite this time around. Tournament data compiled by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks support this contention.
Ryan Jones, Mississippi’s central region fisheries biologist, points out that March and April generally produce heavier one-day tournament limits at Ross Barnett.
“March and April numbers are always better,” Jones said. “Winning bags are usually heavier than 20 pounds, and they can be more than 25 pounds.”
Although Ross Barnett is not regarded as a trophy bass fishery, it does grow some heavyweights. This is due, in part, to the Florida strain largemouth that have been stocked here. They cross with the lake’s Northern strain largemouth and produce chubby offspring that Jones calls “intergrades.”
“Almost all water bodies statewide have intergrades,” Jones added.
Despite the improved odds for bigger bass, former Elite Series pro Pete Ponds of Madison, Miss., believes that a total weight of 45 pounds could be enough to nab the top spot. Ponds grew up fishing Ross Barnett, and he will be competing in the upcoming Central Open.
Although limits that weigh more than 20 pounds are likely, Ponds doesn’t expect any given angler to duplicate this feat. If the weather cooperates, meaning no heavy rain or severe cold fronts, Ponds expects a tight tournament where every ounce is critical.
Ross Barnett’s shallow bass habitat restricts the lures and tactics that will be effective during the tournament. The lake averages only 10 feet deep and has dingy water — two factors that urge bass to stay shallow.
“You can catch them in 2 1/2 feet of water, even in the wintertime,” Ponds said.
American lotus is a prominent bass cover at Ross Barnett. It takes root in shallow, muddy bottoms and forms a large pad on the surface. Because the pads die off over the winter, there will be mainly pad stems left during the Central Open.
The pad flats may not look inviting now, but the bass will still move into them. Productive lures here should be spinnerbaits, jigs, chattering jigs, swimming jigs and soft plastic baits such as stickworms and soft jerkbaits.
American lotus is prominent in Pelahatchie Bay down near the dam, Jones pointed out. This vegetation also can be found in the backwaters above the State 43 bridge. The northeastern side of the main lake is another place that has American lotus flats.
Other shallow bass targets include riprap, roadbeds, boat docks, stumps and wood cover along the banks in creeks and oxbows. Jigs, spinnerbaits, shallow cranks and chattering jigs should draw strikes in these places, along with Senko and fluke-style baits.
Then again, Jones believes the bigger bass will be caught from creek channel ledges on the main lake during the Ross Barnett Open. Topography maps reveal a maze of creek channels and submerged oxbows here, and an abundance of ledges in the 9- to 16-foot depth range.
The weather may determine where the winning bass come from. Cold conditions could give an edge to those that concentrate on ledges. A warming trend could make for a skinny-water shootout.
The tournament will launch each day at 7 a.m. CT at Madison Landing. Weigh-ins will be held at 3 p.m. CT at Madison Landing the first two days, with the final weigh-in on Day 3 held at the Bass Pro Shops in Pearl, Miss., at 4 p.m.