BROOKELAND, Tx. – After a long offseason, the Bass Pro Tour is back. The 2021 Bass Pro Tour season gets underway Sunday, March 21 with the Toro Stage One Presented by Power-Pole from Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Jasper, Texas. It’ll be the first time the Bass Pro Tour has made a stop at the famed Texas lake, but it’s far from the first time for most of the field.
Sam Rayburn is known for its impressive largemouth size and population. By all indications, we’re in for an entertaining week in southeast Texas.
Sam Rayburn has produced massive fish year after year, even with multiple tournaments and hundreds of boats fishing there every weekend of the year. That’s why when someone like Pro Circut angler Dicky Newberry — a man who’s won seven Phoenix Bass Fishing League events on Sam Rayburn — says the lake is “as good as it’s ever been,” you tend to take his word for it.
“The lake is in the best shape it’s ever been in, and that’s saying something,” Newberry confirmed. “I’ve fished Sam Rayburn for more than 30 years and I’ve never seen it this good. That record cold we saw last month threw things off course for a few days, but now it’s back to normal.”
Even with all the pressure and attention the reservoir receives all year long, it’s still able to produce massive fish in large quantities. Newberry says that last weekend, there were stringers of 35, 28, 27 and 25 pounds caught on the same day in the same area of the lake.
Newberry expects there to be about three or four communal areas that a majority of the anglers gravitate to, because they’re so well-known, and they’re all filled with shallow grass.
“The majority of the fish are going to be caught in the scattered grass in about 3 or 4 feet of water,” Newberry predicted. “Those fish will be trying to bed and won’t be looking to chase anything. That’s why Senkos, vibrating jigs, swimbaits and other slow-moving baits are going to work well. These guys are going to crush them. If I were them, I’d be so excited I couldn’t see straight.”
While Newberry believes the fishing on Sam Rayburn is as good as it’s ever been, the science tends to agree with him. Steve Bardin, a Texas Fisheries Biologist, says that Newberry isn’t exaggerating when he brags about the staggering numbers that Rayburn produces.
“Rayburn has been stocked since the mid-1990s with Florida-strain largemouth, and it really shows,” Bardin explained. “The fish are better genetically than ever before because those Florida-strain largemouth are now the main species of largemouth bass in the lake. The hydrilla is very healthy and the cold snap killed off some invasive grass species. All of that together, and you have a very healthy reservoir.”
In January during a Toyota Series event on Sam Rayburn, Derek Mundy caught a 39-pound, 7-ounce bag on Day 2, the second-biggest bag in Toyota Series history. In that bag, Mundy had an eye-popping 13-10 largemouth and another bass that was pushing the double-digit mark as well. That just goes to show what a healthy Sam Rayburn is capable of producing. Bardin says to expect more of the same, or even better numbers for Stage One.
“The cold snap in February shocked the shad, and that really spurred the largemouth into feeding more,” Bardin said. “Because of that, we’re seeing these fish enter their prespawn and spawning time frames heavier than they’ve been in a long time.”
If an angler “pulls a Mundy” and catches a bass over 13 pounds, that fish will be the latest Sam Rayburn entry in the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s (TWPD) Toyota ShareLunker program. Since TPWD starting charting fish from Sam Rayburn, there have been 76 bass donated to the ShareLunker program weighing from 8 pounds to more than 13, including four in 2021 and 15 in 2020. Bardin expects impressive numbers for the anglers on the Bass Pro Tour once again.
“I expect 25 to 30 fish to be weighed in at over 7 pounds,” Bardin predicted. “The biggest females are going to spawn first, and they’re moving to shallow water right now. They’re hitting it at the right time if they want to catch some big fish.”
MLF Bass Pro Tour angler and Texas native, Jeff Sprague, grabbed a top-10 finish on Sam Rayburn during that Toyota Series event in January. He caught a five-fish limit each of his three days of competition and left with a check for $7,300. Sprague is a veteran of Sam Rayburn, and loved what he saw leading up to Stage One.
“Rayburn is such a big fishery and it fishes in so many different ways,” Sprague said. “Offshore, shallow, any direction you choose, there’s going to be fish. It doesn’t really matter how you fish, you can get bit. That’s why I think we’ll see a lot of guys playing into their strengths at Stage One.”
Sprague will hone his plan during practice the next couple of days. His first order of business is to check out some of the grassy areas that he found during the Toyota Series.
“Rayburn is known for its grass and there’s no shortage of it,” Sprague said. “There’s hay grass, hydrilla, coontails, lily pads and more. There’s also some hyacinth to flip in some areas. Still, however you want to catch them, you can do it. So I’m going to be looking for whatever is going to get me bit.”
Sprague believes that he and his fellow competitors are about to set some MLF records on Sam Rayburn when Sunday rolls around.
“This tournament might be the most number of largemouth bass we as a tour have ever caught in one single event,” Sprague predicted. “Even with a 2-pound minimum for a scoreable bass, we’re going to see tons of fish weighed in from the 2-pound to 8-pound range. It’s going to be non-stop action from lines in to lines out.”