Expectations all over the place as Southwestern Division anglers take on Toledo Bend - Major League Fishing

Expectations all over the place as Southwestern Division anglers take on Toledo Bend

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Anglers aren't ruling anything out as the Toyota Series Southwestern Division launches on Toledo Bend. Photo by Jody White.
March 26, 2024 • Mitchell Forde • Toyota Series

MANY, La. — Toledo Bend returned to the national spotlight earlier this year when it hosted Stage One of the 2024 Bass Pro Tour season. That event saw big bass hit the scales in big numbers, with one technique dominating — that being using forward-facing sonar to find schools of fish and a jighead minnow to catch them. 

When 113 pros and Strike King co-anglers competing in the second event for the Southwestern Division of the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats take on the Louisiana-Texas border impoundment Tuesday through Thursday, they’ll likely be greeted by a very different fishery. 

Contradictory conditions — a full moon seemingly pulling fish shallow to spawn but a persistent cold front and low lake level hurting the bank bite — have local anglers split on how they think the derby will go down. As a result, we could see a wide range of techniques and areas in play. 

“I know we’ve had some tournaments over here, like you had the BPT, everyone was pretty much doing the same thing,” Todd Castledine said. “That is going to be the farthest from what goes on down here.” 

Reynolds bullish on offshore bite 

At least on paper, a March full moon should pull a sizable portion of Toledo Bend’s bass population shallow to spawn. While plenty of anglers will likely beat the banks, Florien, Louisiana, native Tater Reynolds won’t be among them. 

Reynolds has dominated local tournaments in recent years, including winning a pair of Phoenix Bass Fishing League events on Toledo Bend. He’s done so largely by fishing offshore with forward-facing sonar. He plans to employ the same approach this week, targeting bass that have already spawned. 

“I did go this morning to check some areas and didn’t cast on all of them, but I found a new area that’s got some big ones on it,” Reynolds said Sunday. “I made two casts, had one about 8 (pounds) come off at the side of the boat, caught one about 7 and left. It should be fun if everything lines up.” 

While the recent cool weather has frustrated some anglers, Reynolds has welcomed it. 

“That’s only going to help the offshore bite,” he said. “Them fish that are kind of hanging up there in that mid-range stuff or shallow, that’s going to push them off, push them to speed up that process of them heading out deeper.” 

Reynolds noted that multiple distinct offshore approaches could be in play. Some anglers may target bass relating to schools of shad, while others mine submerged vegetation or cover like hard spots, stumps and brushpiles. 

Between the recent cold snap, falling lake level and the fact that he thinks “60 to 70 percent” of Toledo Bend’s bass have already spawned, Reynolds doesn’t believe bedding fish will be able to sustain a high finish across the three-day event, although a few anglers could catch their limits offshore and then head shallow to look for a big one. 

“I think people that’s going to be sight fishing are more or less going to be trying to catch their kicker that way,” Reynolds said. “I really don’t think you can catch five fish off a bed to amount to any weight — especially not enough to last three days.” 

Castledine expecting a grinder 

Castledine’s practice took an exciting turn Sunday afternoon when he boated one of the lunker bass Toledo Bend is known for. The fish tipped the scales at more than 10 pounds, so Castledine took it to a local tackle shop to have it weighed on a certified scale and tagged, taking advantage of the Toledo Bend Lake Association’s program that provides free replica mounts for double-digit bass caught on the reservoir. 

And yet, despite adding another double-digit to the collection of Southeast Texas lunkers he’s caught through the years, Castledine isn’t exactly feeling optimistic entering the event. 

“I caught a 10 last year the day before a tournament,” he said. “I caught a 12.60 a couple years ago before a tournament, like the day or two before. It doesn’t even faze me one way or the other.” 

Castledine disagreed with Reynolds’ assessment that most of Toledo Bend’s bass have finished spawning. He thinks many should be on beds now, but the cold, cloudy conditions have them in limbo — not quite willing to commit to spawning, but also not actively feeding. 

“It’s always tough when they move on beds and then cold happens, and it just keeps them off,” he said. “Those fish are the hardest fish to catch. I think the majority of the fish in the lake were doing that, and then all of a sudden, it moves them off, and they really don’t leave, but it doesn’t get good. 

Castledine said the bout of cold weather has dropped water temperatures about 10 degrees in the past week — something the five-time Angler of the Year winner in the Southwestern Division has never seen before at this time of year. While the sun is expected to shine for much of the tournament, with overnight lows dipping into the low- to mid-40s, he doesn’t expect the bite to get much better. 

“I could be wrong — LiveScope is a whole different ordeal,” he said. “It seems like every couple months we learn something new, so maybe that plays a really big role in it. But I think most are going to struggle unless something really, drastically changes, but I don’t see something really, drastically changing.” 

Castledine thinks a slower bite will cause the field to spread out across the massive, 185,000-acre reservoir, with many anglers taking a junk-fishing approach.  

“Beforehand, you were going to have a lot of sight fishing,” Castledine said. “That might play for a fish or two, but I don’t think you can bet on it, by any means. … I just think guys are going to catch them doing a lot of different things. Normally, what you would see is like three or four patterns dominate. I think people are just going to do whatever they can to start catching fish and just do that pattern. So, I think it’s going to be all over the place.” 

Colby Miller has been one of the hottest anglers in the country this year.

Miller foresees mixed bag 

The 2024 season is off to a dream start for Colby Miller, with the highlight being a runaway victory at the Southwestern Division opener on Sam Rayburn last month. Given that Miller lives less than two hours from Toledo Bend, there’s no reason to expect his hot streak to end now. 

Miller said his recent run of success, which also includes a BFL win on Lake of the Pines and a fourth-place finish at West Point during Stop 2 of the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals, has him confident even though Sunday marked his first day on Toledo Bend in more than three weeks. 

“I just keep telling myself, I’m going to find ‘em,” he said, “even though I only have two days (of practice).” 

Miller thinks the shallow, spawning bite will be a major player, especially early in the tournament. He believes Monday’s full moon will prompt plenty of fish to spawn despite the chilly conditions. 

“As far as weather goes, I don’t think it’s going to affect it that much, just because there’s a full moon, and 98 percent of the time, when there’s a full moon, they’re going to do their deal,” he said. 

That said, Miller doesn’t believe fishing in and around beds will necessarily be the way to win. He thinks the grass bite could be a major player, with anglers fishing bladed jigs and wacky worms over submerged vegetation or dragging Carolina rigs across holes in the grass.  

The only problem with that program could be pressure, as the best grass is concentrated in a few creeks on the lower end of the lake. He noted that an angler who has a school of offshore fish to himself could win. 

“There’s probably somebody that will luck up and find a group of prespawners offshore and could dominate, or even somebody find some postspawn (fish) offshore and do really well,” Miller said. “I think guys in the mid-depth range will do well. Some of the deeper grass, say 10- to 14-foot grass, I think that has potential. And then obviously there will probably be guys bed fishing. So, I think it’s anybody’s ballgame.” 

What’s it going to take? 

There’s a reason local expectations are all over the map for this one: Recent results on Toledo Bend have been, too.  

The past few weeks have seen winning weights fluctuate wildly. On March 9, Reynolds won his most recent BFL trophy with 20 pounds, 3 ounces. The only angler to top 20 pounds on the day, Reynolds called it “the worst day I’ve had in a long time here on Toledo.” 

In the weeks since, weights have looked more typical, with one recent team tournament seeing multiple 30-pound bags hit the scales. However, when nearly 300 boats took the water Saturday for the Dylan Kyle Poche Memorial tournament, only three topped 20 pounds, with 21.98 representing the winning weight. Given that disparity, anglers will likely have to wait until weigh-in on Day 1 to know if they actually had a good day.  

Reynolds believes it will take at least 80 pounds across three days to win, possibly closer to 90 — and he likes his chances of getting there. 

“I feel I have a very, very high percentage to win this one,” he said. “My target weight is going to be in the neighborhood of 80 to 90 pounds for three days.”  

Castledine is more pessimistic, predicting 21 pounds a day would put an angler in contention and might be enough to win. Miller settled in the middle, guessing the champion will finish in the 75- to 80-pound range. 

However, both anglers noted that, given the number of big bass swimming in Toledo Bend (Castledine’s 10-pounder is one of at least three double-digit fish caught by competitors in recent days), an angler could sack up a heavy bag and either make up ground or pull away from the rest of the field in a hurry. 

“I can put it to you this way: I think there was like three 34s the other day, and I’ve never seen 21 pounds this time of the year win,” Castledine said. “So that is a giant difference, and it’s going to be somewhere in the middle. I think it’s going to be way closer to 21 pounds and way further from the 30-something.  

“This place has got 10-pounders, though. I caught one today. So that can change some things.”