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J.R. Roberts tourney set to cast off

The 28th annual J.R. Roberts Memorial Team Bass Challenge will cast off next weekend, beginning Feb. 1, in Tensas Parish.

This long-time event was created a few months after my dad, the late J.R. Roberts, died suddenly without a prior illness on Dec. 1, 1986. My longtime friends Ted Hinson and Jim Hargon established the event in February of 1987. They directed it a few years, and the tournament eventually ended up in my hands.

Each year, I think is the last year for the tournament, but then my fishing friends start calling, and I go for another year. The memorial is the largest turnout with the highest payout bass tournament in the area.

I never know how many people will show up until the day of. You can register Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. at Eddie’s Marine and Tackle in Vidalia. I can email or fax the entry forms. You can pay with a $10 late fee the morning of at the state park ramp.The early fee is $120 per boat. That includes the big bass division fee as well.

That is the same fee we started out with in 1987. Based on 100 boats entered, the team that wins will take home $4,000, while second place nets $2,000 and third place draws $1,000. I will pay down to 10 places if we meet the base of 100 entries. The big bass division pays three places. The single largest bass of the day will net the winner $1,000, with second place paying $500 and third place $300. The payout is adjusted up or down according to the number of entries.

This is a non-profit event. Last year, it took a five-bass tournament limit 18 pounds to win what I think was $3,500, and 18 pounds to take second place. The cutoff on cash places was around 13 pounds. This year, we could see a low winning weight, and it might take a heavy limit.

The guys and ladies that fish this one are among the best bass tournament anglers around. Years ago, when our bass population was much better than it is now, it took five at 27 pounds to win, and 19 pounds to catch the final cash place of 10th. Those were some heavy weights. In 2013, we had 70-something teams, and I weighed in a total of more than 575 pounds of bass alive and released all the fish alive.

All of the events we host are mandatory catch, weigh and release. I schedule this one during the colder months because it is a lot less stressful on the fish. It is not the many bass tournaments that have decreased our bass population. It is more about lack of fish management, and we cannot blame the LDWF. Their budget has been cut so deeply they do not have the funds to manage and stock the lakes in this area.

Getting back to Lake Bruin and what to expect as far as patterns go, there will be several ways to get the winning limit. The surface water temperature dropped like a rock about a month ago when that first polar vortex passed trough our area. polar vortex is a “new-to-me” term that I still call a severe cold front. I can look back at tournament records from 25 to 35 years ago.

The last time we had water temperatures in the upper 30s and mid 40s was approximately 30 years ago. When this polar vortex faded out a bit, the water slowly warmed up to about 50 degrees by mid-afternoon on some lakes. While it is still possible to catch fish from water that cold, anything above 54 degrees is easier. Once the lakes drop below that, you better slow down your lure presentation and put the fast-moving lures away.

Our lake water temperatures climbed to 50 degrees last week, then this cold front with a bit of snow passed and hammered the temperatures back down to the low 40s, if not upper 30s. The bass are practically lethargic in water that cold. To catch those bass, I have to fish bottom lures in deep water vertical or as close to vertical as I can. By using a vertical presentation, you can keep the lure in the strike zone of the fish much longer.

The longer you keep a lure in the fish’s face, the better chance you have of triggering a strike from non-active fish. A single cast and presentation can take as long as five minutes or so. If I am in an area that I know houses fish, I sometimes leave the lure on the bottom longer than that.

Good luck to all next weekend!