Back in action on Sam Rayburn for the Southwestern Division opener - Major League Fishing

Back in action on Sam Rayburn for the Southwestern Division opener

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The Toyota Series pros and Strike King co-anglers took off into patchy fog this morning. Photo by Rob Matsuura.
February 21, 2024 • Jody White • Toyota Series

BROOKELAND, Texas – Hot off a banger Tackle Warehouse Invitationals event, the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats takes its turn at Sam Rayburn for the Southwestern Division opener. While the lake is well known by the whole field, there’s a mixed bag of takes on the table for this week’s event. In theory, it should come at an excellent time, but rising water and more mud than usual in the system have folks a little stymied.

This event is presented by FX Custom Rods and hosted by the Jasper-Lake Sam Rayburn Area Chamber of Commerce.

Drew Gill took top honors a little more than a week ago in the Invitationals event. Photo by Rob Matsuura.

In the shadow of the Invitationals

The first Invitationals event of the year was an all-around great time. Drew Gill won LiveScoping shallow with nearly 70 pounds, and Jake Lawrence nearly beat him LiveScoping deep. In third, Marshall Hughes busted 38-7 on Day 2, and the rest of the Top 10 caught them cranking, ‘Scoping and fishing grass. Though various forward-facing sonar techniques were super important in the event, there was still a good amount of variety.

Since the event, things have changed a little, or a lot, depending on who you talk to.

“It’s the most ridiculous thing ever, that they got three days of calm and clouds and nice weather,” said Todd Castledine, a five-time Southwestern Division Angler of the Year. “They had perfect conditions to catch them – it was really easy. I was out there Tuesday – I had a 9, an 8 and a 6, goofing around. If you look a the last day, when we had that front, it was during the front they bit, and the day before was phenomenal.”

Now, with more muddy water in the lake, Castledine doesn’t think Big Sam is set to shine.

“I think it has gotten 10 times worse,” he said. “I’ve had more phone calls for this tournament than I ever had before. Guys fishing it, saying ‘Hey man, I don’t mean to call you, but is it hard?’ The Invitational was good, but all the places where those guys caught ‘em, it’s all turned to like 6-inches of visibility. I know where Cal Lane was fishing, they were there. Now, it’s all mud there.”

Muddying the picture

Rayburn is not known for being a dirty water lake – even in 2019, when Terry Bolton won with the water literally in the trees, the clarity was quite good in most places. In late Janaury, Texas got swamped with rain, and that has seemingly really dirtied Rayburn up. Now, there’s enough mud that locals like Hughes and Castledine are pretty flummoxed.

Of course, Castledine has a theory.

“This is a phenomenon,” he said. “Every other lake around here came up instantly. Normally, it’s a flood control lake, they just let it come up. So, they pulled on it the whole time, until Dam B started flooding. So, the lake never came up until right before the Brandon Belt, and it had rained all the week before.

“That mud traveled like four or five miles overnight; once it hit Jackson Hill and Deerstand, it moved from the mouth almost to the bridge in a day. A lot of times when the lake comes up, the lake gets clearer, because they don’t pull on it. The north end will get muddy, but everything below the bridge will just gradually do its thing. Now, it’s down there, and it’s going to be a problem, and now the wind is pushing it around”

It’s got Castledine a little bothered.

“I don’t know what to go do up there in the mud,” he said. “There’s places on this lake, you put the trolling motor down, and it just looks like trash. And I know guys that have tried to fish it, and they don’t get bit. Or they put their trolling motor down, catch a 3- or 4-pounder and then don’t catch anything for three hours. “

Marshall Hughes is a favorite again this week. Photo by Rob Matsuura.

What else is happening?

Still, while the water is higher and muddier than it should be, that doesn’t mean there won’t be fish caught. It just means that we’re going to find out what is best as the event goes on – this time there’s no sure thing after practice.

“I don’t think it’s going to be much different, to be honest,” said Hughes. “We had that cold front come in, and the fish that were up on the bank, I think it pushed them off, from what I’ve seen. I think it’s gotten worse up shallow. Somebody will catch them in the grass, but I’m not. I ain’t figured it out. I have a couple little stretches where I’ve caught a couple, but I ain’t bankin’ on ‘em.”

Now, with the water up about 6 feet since late January, there are flippable bushes in the water and the best Rat-L-Trap grass is actually “too deep.” So, the shallow bite has the potential to be mighty interesting, but Hughes saw only potential in practice, nothing to actually bank on.

“You can see ‘em swimming around,” he said. “I saw one on a bed, but the rest of them were just cruising. I went up there today, kicked the trolling motor on high, and started seeing them, but they were all dinks. I’m still going to fish shallow and deep, like I did last time. They’re wanting to go up there, but I don’t think they’re quite there yet.”

According to Hughes, the Top 10 could be a really mixed bag.

“There’s more local guys in this one, so I imagine that maybe half of them will be mixing it up, offshore and on the bank,” said Hughes. “Then, maybe three will be up shallow, and the rest will be all offshore.”

Marshall Hughes blasted 38-7 on Day 2 of the Invitationals — could we see the like again? Photo by Rob Matsuura.

What does it take?

Even with all the various conditional factors in play, the potential is still high this week. The water is in the 50s, the weather should be warm, and spring is on the way in Texas. One additional curveball could be a forecast that looks pretty blustery, but Hughes actually welcomes a little wind.

“Out of the southwest, that’s not a bad wind, that’s actually a doable wind on Rayburn,” he said. “I don’t mind a little wind. I was actually hoping the wind would blow in the Invitationals, so the guys catching them would get thrown off a little.”

As for weights, being consistent is likely to be a real challenge on Rayburn, like it always is.

“It’s February, and you can catch big ones,” said Castledine. “If you get on the right spot, you can catch 25 or 30. But, you’re probably only going to be able to do it one day. But, I have not caught a 3 ½- to 7-pounder in three days. I’ve caught 2-pounders, every once in a while a 3-pounder, and then two big ones. I can tell you what happens when you don’t catch that big one.”