How do you catch the biggest bag after multiple days of pounding wind and waves and excessive fishing pressure? That’s the question the pros had to answer during the Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. Southwestern Division event on Lake Texoma.
After gale-force winds canceled the first two days of the event – a first in Toyota Series history – the field took off for a one-day, winner-take-all shootout only to find a 340-plus boat high school tournament was also underway.
To say it made for tough fishing is an understatement, with the winner, Rick Harris, needing every second (catching his winning kicker on his last cast) to secure the victory. Meanwhile, the pros behind him each tried to find areas or patterns to themselves to find success.
Any time a tournament is held on Lake Texoma, Jeff Reynolds is one of the people to beat. He proved his prowess once again this week, notching his fifth Top 10 on his home waters in MLF competition.
Then again, had it not been for the two canceled days – decisions he fully supported – he feels he truly could’ve won.
“Being a local, I wanted three days of fishing,” the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit pro said. “I definitely felt that was my best chance to win. In a one-day slugfest, especially this time of year, anybody can pull up on the right spot or find a group of them on beds and catch a big sack.”
With so much history, most of his practice was spent not fishing areas he felt were best, especially the best spawning areas because he knew they’d be covered up in boats. Instead, he focused mid-lake where the water was a bit dirtier. Ultimately, that was what helped, as he feels he was able to use his Amphibia sunglasses to see fish on beds in the dirtier water that most were missing.
“If you had been in where I was, you’d realize how important those sunglasses were,” Reynolds said. “I didn’t see anyone else catch a fish off a bed in my area. I don’t think they could see them.”
When he did see one, he’d coax it to bite with either a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver (Okeechobee craw) or Strike King Rage Bug (white). And because the fish weren’t as pressured, it also helped him when he messed up.
“I lost a 4-pounder three times,” Reynolds said. “I broke it off twice and lost it a third time. I finally caught it the fourth time because I don’t think anyone else had messed with her.”
While four of his five fish came sight-fishing, his fifth and biggest came late in the day when he cast a Zoom Magnum Trick Worm on ½-ounce Secret Lures Ledge Shaker into a brush pile and pulled out a 5-pounder.
“A big key for me was being patient,” Reynolds said. “I lost one more that would’ve helped, but it is what it is. It was a good tournament.”
After his practice, Evan Barnes was more than excited.
The winner of last year’s Toyota Series event on Texoma, Barnes had checked all the same spots he won from last year to find the fish were right back there again. Ironically, after two days of heavy winds, the lack of wind to start the morning come Saturday actually hurt his main area.
Knowing of another stretch he’d caught them on last year, he pulled in and quickly caught 3- and 4-pounders on his favorite Megabass Magdraft Swimbait.
“When you catch a 3 and a 4 early, and it only took 16 pounds a day last year to win, I’m thinking I have another shot to win,” Barnes said. “So, I caught a couple little ones and had four for a while. Then I remembered last year I had a spot where a giant, 6-pound smallmouth blew my swimbait plum out of the water. So, I went there, lined up on it and caught a 3.5 pounder. So that was awesome.”
A big key for Barnes, he says, was not just looking for big boulders he felt the fish, especially the smallmouth, were spawning on but finding the spot on the spot.
“The smallmouth were spawning on those big boulders,” the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit pro said. “I could catch multiple fish off one little spot. I was around lots of people all day, but knowing the spot-on-the-spot-type deals, I was able to catch fish on places most would skip.”
“It was real simple. I was sight-fishing,” Todd Castledine said.
There’s no one who should be shocked by this statement from Castledine. He’s one of the best at catching fish off beds. And it’s not just his ability to read fish, but also finding them in sneaky places most won’t look.
After fooling around fishing for smallmouth to start with nothing to show for it, Castledine got his day going with one of those “sneaky” bedding fish right near takeoff that even other pros in the event were shocked was there when he said it.
“Because it was on nothing,” he said.
From there, he just started running to every tucked away, sneaky spot he could find, figuring those were the only bedding fish that wouldn’t be found and caught.
“I knew of one sneaky one behind a rock that some high school kids said they couldn’t get to bite,” Castledine said. “So, I caught that one. Then another sneaky one on the backside of some boat docks. And my last one was one I think someone stuck and had lost her. I worked on her for a long time for my fifth one. I caught them all on a Strike King Rage Bug, and that was basically my day.”
At 90,000 acres, Texoma is one of the largest reservoirs in the country. But, Jake Goodrum only needed 50 yards of it.
In practice, Goodrum found a tiny stretch of bank in Alberta Creek that he said had a 25-pound bag of bedding fish sitting on it. Unfortunately, the front that blew through Thursday and Friday backed a lot of his fish off by the time Saturday arrived.
Figuring they wouldn’t go far, he took a two-pronged approach. Basically, going back and forth along the stretch, he’d cast around a Norman Deep Little N (firetiger) and then pitch a Zoom Finesse Worm on a shaky head or mojo rig to any stumps and rocks he could see.
To say it was effective is an understatement, as he figures he caught nearly 25 fish throughout the day.
“I spent 8 hours in that 50-yard stretch, and I had a shot to win it there,” Goodrum said. “There was a giant on a bed, but she just wasn’t really ready. Still, I just have to thank God for nudging me to stay there as long as I did.”
Sight-fishing can break your heart at times because you can actually see the fish you want to catch, yet it doesn’t always mean you will. Unfortunately, Kyle Hall had that happen to him on two giants that cost him the win.
Like many, the former Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Rookie of the Year was all-in on bedding fishing, even after he pulled into his first spot to find nine of the 10 fish he’d marked had already been plucked. He managed to salvage a 4-pounder and get another surprise 4-pounder from that area, but finding more was frustrating. He had a 6-pounder on a bed that would flee every time he pitched in on her, and he eventually gave up on sight-fishing for a bit.
Early in the afternoon, though, he went to a little creek where he’d caught one in practice, and a twist of fate turned around his day.
“I went through and didn’t get a bite,” Hall said. “As soon as I went to turn around, my trolling motor almost hit a 3-pounder. The wind was blowing straight into the creek and it was hard to see the fish. Well, I caught her on a Strike King Rage Bug, turned around to go back into the creek, and there were 3-pounders everywhere.”
That gave him the confidence to keep looking for bedding fish, and late in the afternoon he found the one he needed – an 8-pounder.
“I kept fishing for this male that was 3 pounds and would get me over 18 pounds,” Hall said. “But I kept seeing what I thought was a carp. I’d flip at it, and it would haul ass away only to come back. Well, the fifth time I flipped at it, it went nose down to try to eat it. Unfortunately, I stuck her twice but she came off both times.”
Honestly, Kris Wilson has no idea what was so special about the pocket … other than it had fish in it.
“I went to pockets right next to it that looked the same, but there was nothing in them,” Wilson said of his mid-lake cove. “I just found the right pocket.”
Wilson’s game plan was to start in the pocket to do some bed-fishing, and sure enough, he was able to catch four on a 6th Sense Hogwalla. Unfortunately, the rest of his bedding fish were all plucked by other anglers who’d gotten there before him.
He was able to secure one more solid fish in the pocket just fishing, but that was all there was for him, as he never upgraded again after his early morning flurry.
When all else fails, slow down. That’s what Bret Stafford did this week.
“My practice was real tough, but I kind of figured out you had to get real shallow and slow down,” Stafford said. “You really had to slow down and barely move it. They’d pick it up and drop it, pick it up and drop it. They didn’t want to eat.”
Staying close to takeoff, Stafford targeted tiny pockets with inches of water up shallow, but with deep water nearby.
“You couldn’t be in one of those silted-in pockets,” Stafford said. “You had to have depth or a little drain in it.”
Once in an area, he just crept along dragging a ¼-ounce Texas rig with a Strike King Game Hawg as slowly as possible. Stafford admits it wasn’t the most fun way to fish, but he got 15 bites (which was more than he got during practice) and was able to cull three times, including with one 5-pounder.
Was Jason Bonds strictly sight-fishing? No. But he also wasn’t not fishing for bedding fish even when he couldn’t see them.
“I caught three I wasn’t looking at today,” Bonds said. “I caught two 2-pounders and then a 4.5-pounder all in the same pocket, and I never saw any of them.”
However, after “dabbing around” up shallow with a Strike King Finesse Worm on a shaky head, the call to go look at some fish finally became too great for him to resist.
“At around 11 a.m. I said, ‘that’s it. I’m bailing to go look at them,’” Bonds said. “I immediately went to a 4-pounder I knew was one of the easiest fish to see, and there’s a guy there who tells me nobody has been able to catch that fish and that I couldn’t catch it. I thought, ‘oh, I’ll catch that fish,’ and 45 minutes later I did.”
He eventually filled his limit with a 3-pounder that fell to a Strike King Rage Bug, but after that there wasn’t much more to his day aside from a couple lost fish he wasn’t sure would help.
In a one-day event, you can afford to go big or go home. Tommy Martin sure did.
“I knew I needed 15 pounds or better,” Martin said. “So I went to Alberta Creek, where I got my biggest bites in practice and didn’t throw anything other than a prototype 8-inch lizard T-Roy Broussard makes with special scent. I Texas-rigged it with an 1/8-ounce sinker, which made me fish it really, really slow.”
Targeting the sides of points in 4 to 8 feet water in the backs of creeks, Martin said he felt he was catching solely prespawn fish moving up to spawn. And his game plan was working perfectly all morning … until the wind got up around 11 a.m.
“I didn’t have another bite after that,” Martin said.