Prior to this tournament I hadn’t spent a whole lot of time on Toledo Bend, and given the time of year I expected the dominant pattern to involve a post-spawn structure bite and crankbaits or jerkbaits. Fortunately, I got on something altogether different within the first hour of practice that carried me the entire week, all the way to my best tour-level finish so far.
The water was unusually high and when I launched the boat I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was lots of visible grass everywhere. There was “hay” style grass with 6 to 8 feet of water in front of it and milfoil with at least 5 feet of water in front of it. I was in heaven, because I knew that’s where I wanted to focus, much as I would in Florida. In fact, I never had to pull my cranking rods out.
The first morning of practice we had a big thunderstorm roll through that forced me off the water for a while, but before it did that I had 45 minutes of the best fishing I’ve ever experienced. I caught one fish on a frog that was over 11 pounds, maybe pushing 12, and caught eight more solid keepers on a ¾ ounce Lunker Lure jig. In that short time, I knew what I was going to do during the tournament. I spent the rest of Monday and all of Tuesday trying to expand upon it. The particular area is known to have a population of big fish, and on a big lake like Toledo Bend with lots of standing timber it can be hard to get around, so I didn’t want to spread myself too thin by checking other areas. Making it even better, there was a wide range of water clarities in my area, so I knew that I could adjust with the conditions.
I was glad that I maximized my time those first two days because Wednesday was pretty much a washout due to heavy winds.
On the first morning of the tournament I started off sight fishing and throwing a Senko and I had a limit pretty quickly, which gave me the luxury to continue to learn the area as I went on. At about 10:30 I hit one good stretch where I culled three times – with a 7 pounder, a 4 pounder and a 3 ½ — all in the course of about 10 minutes. From 11:30 to 2 I continued to cull with my jig and eventually got up to 18-15, which had me in 19th place. There was about a two to three hour period each day when they bit particularly well. I’m still not sure if it was because of a waning shad spawn or some other condition, but I knew that I needed to be in my best spots when that time rolled around.
I also knew that I needed to spend as much of Day Two with a jig in my hand as possible because that’s the lure that was producing the better fish. It was critical to be on my best stretches at the best times. Shortly after takeoff I had three or four fish in the box, once again sight fishing and throwing the Senko, but at 11 o’clock I had another awesome 10 minute flurry and landed an 8, a 5 and a 4 to cull three times. After that I never laid the jig down and continued to catch them, all the way until I had 24-13 in the box, enough to move up 16 places to 3rd.
Unfortunately, after making the 50 cut we had to deal with weekend boat traffic and there were a lot of local tournaments on the lake on Saturday. There’s nothing you can do about that. I knew that I was fishing differently than most of them, but all of that pressure repositions the fish and makes it tough to get into a rhythm. I stuck with the jig all day, but I only had about half as many bites as the previous day, and I never got a big bite. My limit weighed 11-12 and I fell seven spots, but still managed to make the final day cut in 10th.
With nothing to lose and everything to gain on Sunday, I committed to the jig all day. At about 11am that seemed like a bad decision because I only had one fish in the livewell. At that point I returned to my primary area and about noon I started catching fish again. It wasn’t fast and furious, but it was one here and one there and they were the right size, cookie-cutter footballs. In just a few hours, I went from potential disappointment all the way up to 21-14, the best bag of the day, while many other great fishermen faltered. At weigh-in I spent a lot of time on the hot seat and survived scares from Jared Lintner and Randall Tharp, but the one bullet I couldn’t dodge was eventual winner Jacob Powroznik. He beat me by 2 pounds, but I wouldn’t do anything differently. I did everything I could do, fished a really clean tournament, and I’m proud of my effort.
As often seems to be the case, the key bait was a black and blue ¾ ounce Lunker Lure jig paired with a Zoom Big Salty Chunk trailer. I fished it on two different reels – a Lew’s Super Duty and a Shimano Core – both spooled with 55 lb. Toray braid. The one change to my presentation is that I flipped it on a 7’11” Denali Jadewood extra-heavy flipping stick, which I’m sure enabled me to land fish that might’ve gotten away previously. I watched video of my performance after the tournament was over and saw that the rod’s unique action enabled me to get a hook into bass even when I was out of position to make the hook set. I’m excited about that – it’s going to mean more fish in the livewell just about every time out.
The other piece of equipment that made a huge difference was my 112 pound thrust Minn Kota trolling motor. I never stopped moving the whole tournament and I never had to worry that the grass would be too thick or that I’d run out of power.
After a short break, next up is Dardanelle, another shallow grass fishery. That suits me just fine – where’s there’s grass, there’s bass. We’re at the halfway point of what so far has been a fantastic season. I’m in 5th place in the AOY race but it’s too early to count my blessings. There’s a lot of fishing left to go, including some fisheries I’ve never seen, but I’m in a good frame of mind and ready to keep on casting.