Fantasy Fishing Insider: Everything you need to know for Stage One at Toledo Bend - Major League Fishing
Fantasy Fishing Insider: Everything you need to know for Stage One at Toledo Bend
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Fantasy Fishing Insider: Everything you need to know for Stage One at Toledo Bend

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January 26, 2024 • Mitchell Forde • Fantasy Fishing

We made it.

Tuesday’s launch of B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One Presented by Power-Pole on Toledo Bend will mark the official start of the top-level bass fishing tournament season for 2024. And not only is the Bass Pro Tour back for another year, so is Phoenix Boats Fantasy Fishing

In case you’re new to Fantasy Fishing or forgot during the past five months, here’s a refresher: Players form 10-angler rosters prior to each BPT event by picking five anglers from Group A and five from Group B. The weight those anglers catch during the tournament will be added to your team’s total weight. Players can also play the Mercury Predictor Game, with the chance to win prizes for answering six questions correctly. 

Whether you’re a Fantasy Fishing first-timer or a seasoned veteran, filling out your first roster of the year is always tricky. And with 13 new faces joining the Bass Pro Tour field and Stage One taking them to a fishery that hasn’t hosted a major-tour-level event since 2017, this one feels especially wide open. 

That’s where your Insider comes in. Here’s a complete breakdown of the fishery and the field to provide Fantasy Fishing participants everything they need to know before locking in their lineups. 

What to expect from Toledo Bend

Cody Pitt caught a 13-6 monster from Toledo Bend last February. Could we see another giant caught when the Bass Pro Tour visits the fishery?

Toledo Bend has a prestigious tournament tradition, but it’s been a while since the lake has been showcased on this stage — particularly at this time of year. The Sabine River impoundment last hosted a top-level, national trail when the Bassmaster Elite Series visited in 2017. The last time such an event occurred before April 1 was 2003.

By all accounts, though, the fishing has been excellent lately on the Louisiana/Texas border reservoir, as evidenced by Cody Pitt’s five-bass limit that weighed 39-15 in a Phoenix Bass Fishing League event last February. Bass Pro Tour rookie Justin Cooper, who lives next to the lake in Zwolle, Louisiana, expects to see some lunkers landed during Stage One, with plenty of numbers to boot. 

“I think the guys that go and chase 2-pounders are still going to find some quality fish mixed in,” Cooper said. “It’s Toledo Bend. There’s a lot of 3- and 4-pounders swimming around in that lake. So I think the guy that wins it is somebody that gets on that 2 ½- to 3 ½-pound average and occasionally mixes in a 5- to 7-pounder. I mean, we could potentially see multiple 10-pounders caught just because of the time of year, prespawn, they’re the heaviest they’re going to be right now, full of eggs, and just how healthy Toledo is becoming.” 

While chasing suspended fish using forward-facing sonar will surely be a player, it won’t be the only way to attack Toledo Bend. Cooper said there’s plenty of healthy vegetation in the lake for anglers to dissect with vibrating jigs and lipless crankbaits. There should also be an offshore brushpile and shell bed bite like the one Pitt capitalized on. 

The X-factor will be the weather. It doesn’t look like anglers will have to endure frigid temperatures, but wind could be an issue. If it blows hard out of the north or south, it would make navigation difficult and hinder those looking to fish offshore on the main lake. On the other hand, heavy rains have hit the area lately, which could have impacted the water clarity. If the creeks are too muddy, Cooper thinks it would hurt the grass bite. It might not be a bad idea to check the forecast before committing to a fantasy strategy.

Three local locks

Todd Faircloth will bring local knowledge and a track record of success to Toledo Bend. Photo by Phoenix Moore.

No one should be more familiar with the fishery than Cooper, who calls Toledo Bend his home lake. He last competed there in 2020 when he took fifth in a Toyota Series event. 

Other anglers who live within a couple hours of the lake include Nick LeBrun and Todd Faircloth. Both also have strong track records on the fishery. LeBrun has racked up seven Top 10s in nine MLF events on Toledo Bend, including a win in a 2016 BFL. Faircloth has logged a pair of Top-10 finishes in Elite Series competition on the lake. 

Other likely favorites

Dean Rojas has notched a pair of wins on Toledo Bend during his decorated career. Photo by Phoenix Moore.

No matter the venue, there are a few names who always deserve consideration for your roster: Jacob Wheeler, Ott DeFoe, Dustin Connell, Alton Jones Jr., Michael Neal. DeFoe has been particularly strong in Texas tournaments, with his past three wins coming in the Lone Star state. Jones should be riding high after a blistering 2023 season that saw him win General Tire Heavy Hitters, place second in REDCREST and fourth in the Angler of the Year standings. Connell and Neal both excel at using forward-facing sonar and should benefit from a return to the every-fish-counts format. Wheeler’s résumé, which includes six BPT wins, 27 Championship Round appearances and two AOY titles, speaks for itself. By the way, he finished 10th in the 2017 Elite Series event on Toledo Bend, his last visit to the fishery. 

A handful of other anglers also figure to be popular picks thanks to their track records on Toledo Bend. Dean Rojas has won a pair of Bassmaster events on the fishery, one in 2011 and the other in 2001. He also finished sixth in a 2014 Elite Series stop. Casey Ashley has logged three Top 10s in his past four Toledo Bend tournaments. Andy Montgomery also has a trio of Elite Series Top 10s on his Toledo Bend résumé, including sixth-place and eighth-place finishes in his last two events there. Chris Lane finished second to Kevin VanDam in the 2016 Elite Series event and fourth in 2011. 

Dark horses

Don’t sleep on Stephen Browning or Takahiro Omori at Stage One on Toledo Bend. Photo by Phoenix Moore.

Looking for a way to separate yourself from the rest of the pack? Consider adding these anglers to your fantasy lineup. They likely won’t be rostered as frequently as the names listed above, but each has either a track record of success on Toledo Bend or should be able to fish to his strengths. 

Group A: 

Stephen Browning — Browning had an uncharacteristic 2023 season, finishing 58th in the points and failing to qualify for REDCREST for the first time. Look for him to be motivated to bounce back and Toledo Bend to provide a good playing field for him to do so. It’s no secret that Browning is at his best when he can lock a ChatterBait in his hand, which he should be able to do around Toledo Bend’s submerged grass, assuming the water clarity holds up. 

Drew Gill — Forward-facing sonar is sure to be a player, and there might not be anyone better with the technology than Gill. While this will be the biggest stage on which the 21-year-old has ever competed, he showed last year that he’s not afraid of the spotlight, notching three Top 10s in Invitationals events plus a third-place finish at the Toyota Series Championship. 

Group B: 

John Murray — Murray has yet to make his first appearance in a Bass Pro Tour Championship Round, but he should be confident about returning to Toledo Bend. The last time he competed on the fishery, in the 2017 Elite Series event, he won with 77-10 across four days. He also won a Bassmaster Open there in 2003.

Takahiro Omori — Omori should have some good memories on Toledo Bend as well, although it’s been a while. He finished among the top six in three straight events on the fishery from 2001-03 but has failed to crack the top 20 in six visits since. More than anything, this is a gut-feel pick. Omori’s American residence is about three hours away from the lake, and he’s long been one of the best power anglers in the game.