The general consensus before the first Toyota Series Southwestern Division stop on Toledo Bend was that local knowledge could go a long way being the Sabine River impoundment was a little fickle. That was spot on. Aside from winner Cody Huff, the rest of the top 10 was an all-star cast of locals.
Click here to read about how Huff sacked up 61 pounds, 11 ounces to grab his first FLW win.
2. Curtis rallies on final day
Banking his 24th FLW top 10 of his career, former FLW Tour pro David Curtis improved his weights each day of the event and thanks to his 22-pound limit on the final day he climbed from ninth to second.
Hailing from Trinity, Texas it’s no surprise that Curtis has a pile of experience on east Texas fisheries, including Toledo Bend. That’s why his game plan was to fish how you should this time of the year.
“The majority of my fish came on a Carolina rig with a lizard,” Curtis says. “That’s just typical east Texas this time of year.
“I really had about a 100-yard stretch in a drain that I was working. There were some key stretches along that 100-yard stretch and I just rotated through them. Most of my fish were in 6 to 12 foot. It’s boringly simple.”
“In all honesty, with the water level low and the time of year I thought I would find a lot more deep fish,” he says. “The takeaway for me was that there were a lot of fish caught suspended and I wasn’t prepared for that. I did have one spot I made some key culls on day two from that was deep and without those I wouldn’t have made the top 10. Otherwise, the majority of my fish were shallower.”
3. Boyt did his homework
Fishing in his first FLW tournament from the front of the boat, local Matt Boyt wanted to make a good impression. So, he put in close to two weeks of practice to locate schools of offshore bass that have been notoriously mobile on Toledo Bend as of late.
Knowing the bass on Toledo have been in transition, Boyt felt he had roughly seven spots he could get bites from when the tournament started, but only managed to get three of those schools to fire. Still, he sacked 20-13 on day one to sit in second and things were looking good. On day two it slowed down some and if it wasn’t for drifting out a little deeper he would have never located the main school of fish that carried him to the final round.
“It’s been a good week, I had a good time,” Boyt says of his first top 10. “From day one being a cranking day and catching over 20 pounds I never would have thought I’d be throwing a spinning reel on day three.
“By 10 o’clock on day two I didn’t have a keeper and after being in second on day one I can say I was a little spun out. I knew there were fish in the area, but they were gone. I just lucked out and drifted over them – I didn’t graph them, I drifted over them. I went back to that school today and stayed on them to catch 16-13 on a drop-shot.”
The two key baits for Boyt were a 6th Sense Cloud 9 C25 (shad colors) early in the event, but a drop-shot with a Roboworm Straight Tail Worm (morning dawn hologram) would come in clutch over the final days.
Boyt’s main area was a deep ridge that tops out at 20 feet with 30 feet of water around it above the bridge. While he normally prefers to fish the lower end of the lake, the upper end seemed to be a little more consistent, so that’s where he put his time in.
“I like the south end if it’s right, but I checked it two different days and didn’t see anything to get me excited. I caught several big fish practicing up the lake so I went with my gut and it worked out.”
4. Johnston stays shallow
Stephen Johnston has no shortage of experience on Toledo Bend, whether it’s from fishing tournaments or guiding, so it’s also no surprise seeing him bank yet another top 10 in the Toyota Series.
After leading with a day-one bag of 23-8 that included a 10-7 kicker, Johnston stuck to his shallow program but just never came across those big bites on days two and three.
“I fished from Cypress Bend Park and south,” Johnston says. “All I was doing was fishing ditches at the mouths of spawning pockets where the fish are trying to go.”
A Carolina rig with a ½-ounce weight and a Strike King Game Hawg (Bama bug) was the only thing Johnston needed to catch his fish and while he had no issues getting bites, getting fish to actually eat the bait was the bigger issue.
“On the final day with the high pressure they just wouldn’t eat,” he says. “They’d bite it and drop it and you’d move it a little and they’d bite it and drop it. It was almost like they were sitting there on beds, but they’re not. They’re just sitting there cold.”
5. Cooper makes offshore milk run
Justin Cooper started the tournament off strong with 18-10 on day one and 17-10 on day two. On the final day he caught fish, but couldn’t find those 3- to 5-pound class fish he did on the first two days. Still, catching 49-3 against this field to come in fifth is quite the feat.
“A top 10 was the goal and to finish in fifth is a blessing,” Cooper says.
As a full-time guide, Cooper spends plenty of time on the lake and he banked on a rotation of close to 10 offshore spots to get the job done.
“I was fishing a lot of ledges and points in 20 to 24 feet,” he explains. “On those ledges there’d be hard spots the fish were sitting on.
“The first two days I had pretty much the same rotation just because I knew from day one when the fish would be on those spots at certain times and I wanted to hit those spots at the same times on day two. [Saturday] it just didn’t happen. I actually checked almost everything three times and it just never evolved for me. The sun and no wind pushed the bait out to the main river channel and I think the fish went with them.”
To catch his offshore fish, Cooper used a variety of baits, but a V&M Pork Shad 2.0 (Gleason’s candy) on a Carolina rig and an underspin paired with a V&M Wild Shad, which has yet to hit the market, were the main players.
6. Lewis slings a spoon
Much like Huff did, Texas pro Chris Lewis put a spoon in his hand and never looked back en route to the second top 10 of his career.
“All my fish were in 30 to 35 foot and were pretty lethargic all day until some bait would come through,” he says. “It seemed like the spots were chasing more of the bait and when the spots would come in it’d get the largemouth up off the bottom and they’d go to schooling. You just had to get that spoon down to them quick.”
Lewis camped out in one general area mid-lake all day and stuck on his trolling motor to locate bait and ultimately bass.
“It was pretty simple, you just had to stick with it. The first day I culled everything at 2 o’clock. The second day I didn’t get bit ‘till late and I needed my 4 o’clock check in that day. On the final day I caught them at 10 and again later in the day, so you just never knew.”
7. Gleason stays hot close to home
Fishing in his rookie season on the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit, Darold Gleason was focused on making a good impression at the season opener on Sam Rayburn. After a top 10 finish there, he kept it rolling on his home lake.
“In the early morning I had a spot I was starting on and it was a drain leading to a spawning area in about 18 foot and that’s where I caught the great big one on day one,” Gleason says of the 8-pounder he caught on his second cast of the tournament. “I thought that was going to be a special spot, but they just left.
“After that I was fishing more wintering fish, but mine were close to the bottom in 25 to 30 feet. I was still doing the drain deal, but deep, deep drains. If spawning is A, I was starting on B, and my wintering stuff was C. I just didn’t have enough schools located and everyday I had to find new schools.”
Fishing a variety of spots throughout the week, Gleason relied on a V&M Straight Shooter worm on a drop-shot, a V&M Pork Shad 2.0 on a Carolina rig and a ¾-ounce V&M The Flatline Football Jig (blue shadow) with green pumpkin Wild Thang Craw trailer to add some hardware to his collection.
“I love getting to fish the style I got to fish the last two weeks. I love to go deep and get to look at my Lowrance electronics. It’s just where I’m most comfortable at. If anybody would have told me I’d get to fish the final day two events in a row to start the year, I’d take that in a heartbeat and I would have taken a whole lot less. So, I’m really thankful.”
8. Gulett drags a football jig
Living on Toledo Bend, Benjamin Gulett has no shortage of time spent on the water. He took a week off work to prepare for this event, and it was worth it.
“The fish are doing something different right now and they’re moving around daily,” he says. “If you can’t relocate them, you’ll miss them, but if they are there you’ll catch them.
“I fished above the bridge, the mid-lake region. I was fishing mostly deep ridges with a lot of timber on them in 18 to 25 foot.”
9. Pitt drags a rig for another top 10
Cody Pitt is no stranger to solid finishes on Toledo Bend and while he had higher hopes, catching 41-4 on the week still led to a solid payday.
Not being able to take off work prevented Pitt from getting more practice in, but he found enough offshore to intrigue him. While he ran and checked water throughout the event, it was one main area that led to the bulk of his catch.
“I was fishing a hard spot with stumps on it up the lake at the mouth of a pocket,” Pitt says. “It was just prespawners that were moving in. The first day there were 2 ½-pounders on it and then some bigger ones moved in on day two. [Saturday] they were there this morning and I caught three, but they weren’t the size I was hoping for, so I left. When I came back in the afternoon they were gone.
“But that one hard spot was pretty much the meat and potatoes. That’s where all my fish came from.”
A Carolina rig and a 4-inch V&M Swamp Hog helped entice the staging prespawners to bite.
10. Marks lives off a crankbait
There may not have been a better cranker in the field than Texas pro Phil Marks, so it’s no shock that he cranked for his 14th top 10 with FLW.
“My main spot was a ditch off of a channel swing where a school of big ones would move in and out,” Marks says. “When I’d fire them up on the 6XD I’d catch them like three casts in a row and then they’d shut down and I’d wait a while and go back and fire them up again and that’s how I was catching my big ones.”
A pair of Strike King 6XDs (powder blue back chartreuse and Delta red) did the damage for Marks.
Marks’ main area near the Texas Flats is where he’d work around with the trolling motor while letting the juice rest between flurries. He’d catch some 2-pounders just fishing around, but it was when he’d get back on that channel swing is when it’d get interesting. On the final day it just never fired for him.
Marks has spent tons of time fishing in east Texas and though the lake didn’t show its full potential, he wasn’t totally shocked by how things played out.
“You know, in general Toledo is fishing pretty tough for this time of the year. We had great weather, in terms of people being able to run wherever they want and being able to fish offshore. But this big old lake, she’s moody. I’ve seen her get moody and not be good for a month and then be lights out. I’m sure that’ll be the case now.”