March 22, 2014 by David A. Brown
MANY, La. - It's cliched, but true: you can't win a tournament on the first day, but you can certainly lose it. Well, Russell Cecil is happy that he came out on the right side of that premise and found himself victorious at the Rayovac FLW Series Texas Division tournament on Toledo Bend.
"On the first day, I was so close to spinning out," the Willis, Texas pro recalls. "At noon, I had no fish and I decided I had to run somewhere, do something and change everything up. I ran to a place I'd fished and practice and caught two little ones - like 15-inchers - and saw a 7-pounder on a bed with a buck (male bass) with her. I caught the buck and she pulled right up there and I caught that 7-pounder.
"With 5 minutes to go, I pulled into a pocket I was saving. I had one hot fish in there; I caught it and got to the weigh-ins with 16 pounds, 13 ounces. And I almost had nothing the first day."
Day two was the meat wagon, as Cecil sacked up a whopping 29-2 - the tournament's heaviest catch. This raised him from 13th place to first and positioned him to overcome the final-round's unforeseen limitations.
"Every big fish I came across I caught," Cecil said. "I had a 6 1/2-pounder, a 7 1/2-, a 9 1/2-. It was just one of those days. I was incredibly blessed yesterday. I couldn't do anything wrong.
Weather complicated matters on day three, as a dense fog covered the lake and forced FLW officials to postpone the final takeoff by 4 1/2 hours. In an effort to allow anglers as much fishing time as possible, the day was extended by two hours. Nevertheless, that critical morning bite was gone and anglers found themselves scrambling to rework their game plans.
Again, Cecil found himself in a nearly heart-breaking situation. With Todd Castledine sitting less than two pounds off the lead, Cecil's decided to secure an early limit and then go hunting "game-changers" - big kicker fish that could push him over the finish line with a comfortable margin.
As it turned out, Cecil caught a limit fairly easily, but never found his big-fish opportunity. Ultimately, he'd catch 15-10 on day three to end with a tournament total of 61-9 and a 7-ounce margin of victory over second-place Clark Reehm.
"I'm about as excited as I've ever been about winning one of these because I sure didn't think I pulled it off today," he said.
Fishing the mid-lake area, Cecil caught all of his bass by sight fishing. His primary bait was a Big Bite Warmouth in the bluegill color. This soft plastic bait resembles the small perch that harass bedding bass by attempting to eat the eggs.
"I also mixed it up some," he said. "I was trying to trick them, sneak up on them, and do the best I could to catch them."
Reehm rises to second
After holding at third for two days, Texas pro Clark Reehm, caught the heaviest sack of day three - 21-0 - and gained a notch to finish second with 61-2. For him, committing to a sight-fishing program and exercising a high level of patience and persistence was intrinsic to his success.
"When you're bed fishing, it comes down to decisions," he said. "I had three different fish that I married today. I was in one pocket almost the entire time."
Here, Reehm engaged in an often-frustrating chess match with big, cagey females and the smaller males intent on impressing the gals with their nest-guarding skills. The challenge was to get the heavyweight females sufficiently irritated so they'd bite the bait before the scrappy little males.
Reehm recounted multiple instances of the males getting to the bait first, but he got enough of the right ones when it counted. Of course, he must have lamented the clock running on a big one that might have changed the event's outcome.
"With about 10 minutes left, I got one of those big females to bite and she ripped my bait off," Reehm said. "I decided to rig up again and the whole time, I'm having my co-angler tell me the time - how much longer do I have?
"I pitched my bait back in there and my line takes off to the side - it was one of those stinking males again. The whole time, that female's nosing down (on the bait) and I'm counting the minutes down and finally I said `We have to go.' I got back to the check-in at 4:59. Again, it comes down to decisions and I was around the right fish."
For baits, Reehm said: "I ran the gamut with sight-fishing tools. My boat looks like a porcupine when I'm fishing because I have rods sticking everywhere. But when I'm bed-fishing, I have two primary deals: I have a big baits as an aggravator because I'm trying to get those fish fired up. A lot of times that bait won't even have a hook because I don't want to hook the fish. There's too much plastic there and the bait balls up on your hook.
"Then, I have two baits that are my closers. One is a Kicker Fish Baits High Tail Hole Shot, which has air chambers in the tail so the bait stands up in the fish's face. The other is a (discontinued) Gene Larew floating craw worm. It's really soft, so when I get that bite, the hook is going to penetrate that bait quickly. For those fish that are just nipping at the bait, I can jam on it."
Castledine goes to third
Day-one leader, Todd Castledine struggled through a frustrating final round, but strong efforts the first two days - 24-4 and 19-14 - enabled him to salvage a third-place finish with 58-0.
"This might have been my worst final day ever," Castledine said. "I think if it could go wrong, it happened to me. I don't think I've ever broken off braid, but I did it three times today. I broke a rod, bent three hooks - I did everything."
An accomplished sight-fisherman, Castledine went looking for fish to look at again today. On days one and two, he had to scrap what he had found in practice because the fish weren't cooperating. He ended up fishing entirely new areas to find his fish.
"I messed up today and went back to those same areas, trying to make it happen again and I should have gone somewhere else," Castledine said.
All week, Castledine caught his fish on Kicker Fish Kicker Craws. He alternated between a watermelon red flake and a bubble gum color.
Upshaw moves up to fourth
Oklahoma pro Andrew Upshaw sacked up the second largest limit of day three (behind Reehm) and that 20-pound, 3-ounce effort enabled him to climb one more notch to finish fourth with 57-13.
Upshaw spent most of his tournament bed fishing with Gene Larew plastics, but at the end of day two, a wakebait produced a 7-pounder that very likely made his tournament. The rest of the time, he matched wits with bass paired up for the spawn.
"I caught all the male bass on a white Gene Larew Salt Craw," he said. "It seemed like the male bass were a lot more aggressive and they liked the white color. I caught the big females on a Gene Larew Biffle Bug in the Bama Bug color."
Wagner winds up fifth
Plagued by mechanical issues, which cut into his fishing time the first two days, Houston pro Ronnie Wagner ended up in fifth place with 55-8.
Wagner spent a little bit of his time throwing an Alabama rig, but most of his fish came off the beds. His top baits were a Kicker Fish Kicker Craw, a Big Bite tube and a Big Bite Warmouth. Wagner said that lighter colored baits were key.
"When you're bed fishing, you want to be able to identify your bait in the bed," he said. "To be able to work the beds properly, you have to be able to see that bait."
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro leaders at the Rayovac FLW Series Toledo Bend event:
6th: Nick Lebrun, of Tyler, Texas, 52-13
7th: Troy Broussard, of Beaumont, Texas, 51-14
8th: Lendell Martin Jr., of Nacogdoches, Texas, 51-4
9th: Jim Tutt, of Longview, Texas, 49-5
10th: Ricky Guy, of Humble, Texas, 42-1