BROOKELAND, Texas – The Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats Southwestern Division event on Sam Rayburn was only two days, but there was plenty of action packed into them. With some really top-end bags and a few different ways to catch fish in play, the event was a good one. Day 2 was particularly electric, as winner Dakota Ebare cracked over 32 pounds, Wyatt Frankens popped 28 pounds to finish second, third-place angler Tater Reynolds caught 26, and Marshall Hughes caught 25-15 to move from 74th to fifth.
Here’s how the pros caught ‘em on Sam Rayburn in January.
1. Fishing offshore for prespawn and winter fish, Ebare relied on a handful of standard baits: a Strike King 6XD, an umbrella rig with 1/4-ounce heads and Strike King Rage Swimmers, a Strike King Elite 300 jerkbait and a football jig. The crankbait and umbrella rig were his most productive baits, and he lost big ones on both baits on Day 1 as well.
2. Hammering a big bag and taking an early lead on Day 2, Tackle Warehouse Invitationals rookie Frankens’ timing wasn’t quite right. Fishing offshore staging areas, Frankens caught fish on a Carolina rig, but relied on a 6th Sense Crush 300DD and a 6th Sense Divine Shakey Worm in cosmic black on a shaky head for his biggest fish. For the crankbait, he used a 7-foot, 6-inch, 6th Sense Movement rod, and he used a 7-foot, 4-inch, 6th Sense Sensory Series stick for his shaky head.
Frankens caught two quality fish off an offshore spot on Day 1, but milked it for all it was worth on Day 2.
“They’re not extremely deep, I’m kind of sneaking up on them, mainly watching 360, trying not to scare them,” he said. “I just thought, ‘If these things would fire, and not scatter, if I could get five, they’d be 25 to 30 pounds.’”
On Day 1, he caught fish quickly and then moved into the area to poke around with forward-facing sonar. He decided that on Day 2, he’d try to wait them out and let the fish regroup on the juice.
“Sure enough, it worked,” he said. “I caught that first one, I actually lost the second one I hooked, and I fired back in and caught the next one that bit. Then I just sat back, Spot-Locked and waited, and sure enough, about eight or 10 moved in, in half an hour and I caught another.”
After that, the school never truly re-grouped, so he put down the crankbait and turned to the shaky head, which produced his two biggest from the now-scattered school.
Of course, Frankens had a shot to be the story of the tournament, but Ebare got in the way.
“I was completely heartbroken at the time when Dakota weighed in,” Frankens said. “It would have meant the world to win. That said, I knew I was never safe. I knew Dakota had a big bag, and he needed 31 pounds to beat me, and that’s extremely doable from a guy like that. And, to be honest with you, I think Dakota is one of the best in the world right now. When you’ve got a guy like that on the water, you’re not safe. It was heartbreaking at the time, with all my sponsors there, and family, and how much it would have meant to them. But, second place still paid $17,000, and, if anyone knows that feeling, it’s him.”
3. With six Top-10 finishes in Texas on his record since January 2022, Reynolds has been simply on fire. Last week, he relied on a Garmin LiveScope and a couple of alternatives to the ever-popular umbrella rig.
“I was just scoping around grass, targeting grass edges in 10 to 14 feet,” Reynolds said. “I threw the umbrella rig on Day 1, I looked at a few big fish, anywhere from 4- to 6-pounders, and they’d turn and look at it and run away from it. Then I leaned on the jerkbait and little swimbait pretty hard later in the day, had I picked it up earlier I could have had a similar sack the first day.”
On the second day, his small swimbait and jerkbait combo resulted in 26 pounds, which shot him up to third place. For his jerkbait, Reynolds went with a 6th Sense Provoke 106DD throw on a 6th Sense Team 6 rod in the 6-foot, 9-inch model. His swimbait of choice was a 2.7-inch 6th Sense Divine Swimbait in the live minnow color, which he paired with a 5/16-ounce prototype power/finesse head from 6th Sense.
4. After Day 1, betting men liked Jason Bonds for the win, as the Texan has a sterling record on Rayburn and is no stranger to 30-pound bags. Unfortunately, Bonds didn’t quite put it all together, catching just two giants for 13-15 on Day 2.
On the first day, using a lipless bait and a Megabass Magdraft in the grass and a SPRO Outsider DD 80, Bonds put together a solid limit deep and shallow. He said he fished everything on G. Loomis rods and Shimano reels. On Day 2, he caught a big one early and a big one late off his best spot. Between, he scrambled shallow and deep, revisited the juice and did everything else he could think of.
“I left a spot strictly for this thing that I thought I could catch 30-plus on,” said Bonds of his Day 2 struggle. “I could see ‘em, I don’t LiveScope, but I have it and I could see them up off the bottom. And, I don’t have an Alabama rig in the boat.
“I ended up catching one big one, it was the only bite I had there in the morning. I got to looking for them on the LiveScope, and I’d see them swimming around,” Bonds said. “I was like ‘I ain’t got nothing that can catch those fish.’ I didn’t have a jerkbait that would go that deep, and every time I would get something down to them they would just stop. They would never follow it down or up or anything. It aggravated me.”
5. Weighing a huge bag on Day 2, Marshall Hughes did most of his work with a Bill Lewis Scope Stik around brush piles.
“Day 1 was one of those days where it seems like nothing can go right,” Hughes said. “I just couldn’t get them to eat. They were down there, and I couldn’t make ‘em eat, and I lost a couple fish. I even went up shallow and beat the grass and lost fish up there.”
The next day, things changed when Hughes dropped his trolling motor on his first brush pile of the day.
“Day 2, I went out, and the first fish of the morning was that big one,” he said. “I caught that one, and another one, and another one. I had two more bites off that school and missed both bites, and it scattered them out, and after that, they were done.”
For his jerkbait, he used a Pride rod, a 7.1:1 gear ratio Shimano Bantam and a 14-pound-test fluorocarbon.
6. River Lee dedicated his tournament to fishing hard targets like brush piles and chasing bait-related bass with Garmin LiveScope. His weapons of choice were a Megabass Vision 110 and a 6th Sense Umbrella Rig with 1/2-ounce heads and 3-inch 6th Sense Whale Swimbaits.
7. Tyler Stewart fished simply and did all of his damage on just two baits. Hitting hard spots out deep with a 3/4-ounce Talon Custom Lures Football Jig trailed with Strike King Rage Craw was the first half of his program, and the second half was chasing suspended fish with an umbrella rig.
8. Finishing eighth, Cole Moore caught all of his weigh fish on an umbrella rig, targeting the middle of drains with bait in 12 to 13 feet of water. His setup of choice was a Shane’s Baits The 5th Element with 1/4-ounce V&M Locked Down Swimbait Heads, 3.3-inch Keitech Swing Impact FAT swimbaits around the outside and a 3.8-inch Impact FAT or 3.75-inch Strike King Rage Swimmer in the middle. Notably, Moore threw his umbrella rig on 50-pound PowerPro braid.
9. After leading on Day 1, Harold Moore could only muster four keepers on Day 2, with three of them coming minutes before weigh-in. He did most of his damage on a Carolina rig with a 1-ounce weight, a 42-inch leader and a 6th Sense Hogwalla in green pumpkin. A 6th Sense Crush 300DD was also key, and a 6th Sense Divine Jigging Spoon in 4K shad accounted for his final three keepers.
10. Wrapping up the Top 10, Garrett Hilton did most of his damage off the bank with an umbrella rig and Carolina rig. On the C-rig, he dragged a V&M Pork Shad 2.0. For his umbrella rig, which he used for his big fish on Day 1, Hilton went with a YUM YUMbrella Flash Mob Jr. with 1/4-ounce heads and 3.8-inch 6th Sense Divine Swimbaits.