March 20, 2014 by David A. Brown
MANY, La. - Toledo Bend enjoys a well-deserved reputation for quality and quantity in its bass populations, but this Bayou State powerhouse greets Rayovac FLW Series Texas Division anglers with a funky mood that'll likely deliver a polarizing blend of joy and heartbreak.
March is spawning season on Toledo Bend, but it's also the period of late-season cold fronts - lingering chill from winter's departure. These fronts can shut down the bedding process in a hurry and that's what happened when a cool spell arrived shortly before the tournament. Declining temperatures, wind days and muddy water from recent rains pushed a lot of fish off their beds and stalled new arrivals.
Lunar influence further complicates this week's tournament. Bass tend to "pull up" (move to the beds) on new and full moon phases. Sunday's bright moon means this weekend sees a quarter-moon phase - not necessarily dooming, but certainly not the strongest spawning motivation.
Strike King pro Phil Marks offered this analysis: "I think it's going to be tough. It seems like the deeper prespawn bite has soured, the shallow bite is not particularly good for size of fish and it's hard to find bedding fish.
"Being on the backside of a full moon and having (several fronts) in the last five days has chilled the water a little bit so it's going to be challenging."
The good news is that this week will see warmer, stable conditions and that may stimulate more shoreward movement. Anglers will have to decide whether to look for bed fish or target prespawn staging areas and pick off those preparing to pull up. Marks said he's most likely to focus on the latter option with Alabama rigs, lipless crankbaits and Carolina rigs.
Texas pro Rich Dalbey has a similar outlook for this Sabine River reservoir, but he's planning to make a go at the shallow zone. He knows, however, that this will require some serious looking.
"You can go through three or four pockets and not see any fish and then go through one and you'll see quite a few," Dalbey said. "You've got to put that trolling motor down and stay after it. I have a few (prespawn) areas where I can get bit on a Carolina rig, but for the most part, I think bed fishing is going to be the thing and you're just going to have to cover water."
Dalbey will fish a green pumpkin lizard for bed fishing and on his Carolina rig. For the latter, he uses a ¾-ounce weight, which makes a big disturbance and allows him to maintain bottom contact.
Chevy pro Larry Nixon said he caught fish up to 10 pounds in practice, but they were few and far between. Nixon's known for avoiding the sight-fishing deal, so he'll focus on prespawn patterns and take advantage of any bed fish he happens to spot incidentally.
"The lake is fishing differently than I've ever seen Toledo Bend fish; the bass are in small little areas back in pockets and (many competitors) know where they are," Nixon said. "I've spent a lot of time out where fish used to be and the grass situation out there isn't quite right, so there are no outer fish. You have to get in tight and that's no fun.
"I'm afraid it's going to boil down to a sight-fishing tournament and that rules me out. If I see a good one, I'll stop and catch him, but I'm not going to go looking for them. I'm going to fish staging areas because there are still a lot of fish that have not come in (to spawn). Hopefully, I can stay just outside of everybody else and catch enough fish get me by."
Nixon's bait lineup will include big spinnerbaits, Carolina-rigged lizards, Senkos and Flukes.
Texas pro Cody Byrd is a little more amenable to sight-fishing, but he's also planning to leverage prespawn staging today.
"I found some decent (bed) fish in practice, but I don't think it'll be enough to last for three days," Bird said. "I think the Alabama rig will be the way to go. Every time I'd pick it up I'd catch a big'n on it. Sight fishing is like a magnet that draws you to the bank, but I think you need to be staying out there with an Alabama rig in your hand.
"I'm going to start on some 4- and 5-pounders that I found because I got an (early boat number) and I'm going to try to catch what I can sight fishing. Then, if we can get any wind at all, I'll pick up that Alabama rig and go."
For that prespawn scenario, Bird said he'll use a YUM Flash Mob fitted with Kicker Fish Tail Slapper swimbaits in silver shiner. He said he expects to catch fish in 8-14 feet. The challenge, he said, is locating areas with the grass that attracts prespawners, but no stumps to snag multi-arm rigs.
Note: Anglers are limited to rigs with a maximum of 3 hooked baits, so Bird rigs the top two arms with hookless heads and keeps the hooked baits on the lower three, where fish typically bite.
Anglers will take off from Cypress Bend Park located at 3462 Cypress Bend Drive in Many, La., at 7 a.m. each day. Weigh-in will be held at the takeoff location on Thursday and Friday beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday's final weigh-in will be held at Walmart located at 24448 Highway 171 in Many, La., beginning at 4 p.m. Takeoffs and weigh-ins are free and open to the public.
Pros will fish for a top award of $40,000 plus a Ranger Z518C with a 200-horsepower Evinrude or Mercury outboard if Ranger Cup guidelines are met. Co-anglers will cast for a top award consisting of a Ranger Z117 with 90-horsepower Evinrude or Mercury outboard and $5,000 if Ranger Cup guidelines are met.
The Rayovac FLW Series consists of five divisions - Central, Northern, Southeast, Texas and Western. Each division consists of three tournaments and competitors will be vying for valuable points in each division that could earn them the opportunity to fish in the Rayovac FLW Series Championship. The 2014 Rayovac FLW Series Championship is being held Oct. 30-Nov. 1 on Wheeler Lake in Rogersville, Ala.
The Rayovac FLW Series tournament on Toledo Bend is being hosted by the Sabine-Parish Tourist Commission & Sabine River Authority.
Sunrise: 7:18 a.m.
Temperature at takeoff: 45 degrees
Expected high temperature: 71 degrees
Water temperature: 56-62 degrees
Wind: E 5 mph
Day's outlook: Sunny