Ahead to the Red

One of cinema's most storied fistfights saw legendary actors John Wayne and Montgomery Clift duke it out in the 1948 Western "Red River."

Fast-forward 60-plus years and there are more legends sure to be trading blows when the 2009 Bassmaster Classic will be held Feb. 20-22 on the Red River in northern Louisiana. Just replace rugged Hollywood icons with the 51 anglers set to compete in world's most hallowed bass fishing tournament.

The 39th Classic here will star such anglers as Rick Clunn, who will be fishing in his 32nd Classic, four of which he has won.

Other grizzled veterans, such as Shaw Grigsby, Gary Klein, Alton Jones, Davy Hite and Peter Thilveros, will be gunning for the Classic trophy and a $500,000 bounty.

Then there will be upstarts playing the Clift role — fishers such as Kim Bain-Moore and Greg Pugh of Alabama, and Michael Burns of Texas.

Whoever emerges with the victory, whether crafty veteran or surging rookie, will automatically place him- or, for the first time, herself in the pantheon of fishing greatness. If a Classic win didn't do that for an angler, why bother to hold the Classic?

The Red River is known as a productive if fickle fishery. And the weather, always unpredictable in Louisiana, will have its say. The average high temperature near Shreveport in late February hovers in the mid-60s with the low falling into the lower 40s. But record temperatures in the area (once measured as low as the teens this time of year and as high as the upper 80s) could play a factor if a front moves across the plains of Oklahoma and Texas before squatting on north Louisiana.

Extreme temperatures aren't expected at this year's Classic. If the weather holds, the tournament can go in any number of ways.

While the 51 Classic competitors are thinking of ways to get the biggest fish to bite, here are a few tidbits of Red River-related history readers can chew on.

• Shreveport and Bossier City, the sister cities that are hosting the Classic, trace their history to the early 1800s. Shreveport was founded in 1836 by the Shreve Town Company, which was a corporation established to develop a town at the juncture of the Red River and the Texas Trail, an overland route into the Republic of Texas and Mexico. Bossier City, a relative late bloomer, was founded in 1884 and incorporated in 1907.

• The Red River was cleared by Capt. Henry Miller Shreve, who loaned his name to Shreveport. Now the third-largest city in Louisiana, the town's original site consisted of 64 blocks divided by eight streets running west from the river and south from Cross Bayou, a tributary of the Red.

• The Red River has two branches. The river runs in the Texas panhandle and flows east to form the border between the Lone Star State and Oklahoma, and for a short distance between Texas and Arkansas. In southwest Arkansas, the river turns south and travels through Louisiana before emptying into the Atchafalaya and Mississippi rivers.

• Much of the Red was not navigable during the early 19th century. Fallen trees formed what was referred to as "The Great Raft," a natural logjam more than 160 miles long. Shreve and the Army Corps of Engineers cleared the river for marine traffic.

• The Red River takes its name from the red clay that forms its watershed.

• The total length of the river is 1,360 miles.

• John Wayne was already one of Hollywood's top actors when "Red River" was filmed. However the Western was Clift's first foray into film. The movie's release was delayed, however, and he was first seen on screen in 1948's "The Search."

• "Red River" and its crossing scenes were actually filmed in Arizona. Five dams were created for the filming, according to www.imdb.com

• The "Red River Shootout" is the friendly (or not so friendly) term used to describe the annual college football matchup between the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma. Since the game's inception in 1900, Texas leads the series 58-40-5.