March 27, 2014 by Curtis Niedermier
LUFKIN, Texas - It's more of the same for the pros on the Walmart FLW Tour - more of the same challenging weather conditions, that is. In the wake of the Lake Hartwell stop of the Walmart FLW Tour, where pros dealt with rain, temperatures in the 30s and high winds, the forecast at the Sam Rayburn FLW Tour event presented by Chevy is for afternoon rains, thunderstorms and high winds for the first two days. Talk about a tough break. Depending which pro you ask, Rayburn's bass are either on the cusp of the spawn or right in the thick of it. Sunshine and calm winds would have made this a slugfest, with sight-fishing a prominent factor. However, the lingering effects of winter 2013-2014 have the water temperature running a few degrees behind normal. And Thursday morning at the Cassels-Boykin County Park takeoff site broke with gusty winds expected to blow 10 to 20 mph and fast-moving clouds rolling through on the leading edge of a front that should soak the Lufkin and Nacogdoches area by midday. Translation: Sight-fishing is tough to impossible in some areas. "Like everywhere else, this area has been really cold this season," said Kellogg's Rice Krispies pro Jim Tutt, a local favorite at Rayburn. "And it's windy, so the lake has been really dirty. There's usually 2 feet of visibility, but visibility is negligible right now. There's no doubt fish will be caught on beds, but with these conditions, good ones are going to be hard to see." Tutt's take on catching quality keepers was echoed by a half-dozen other pros this morning, yet most agree that just getting bit and catching small keepers won't be a difficult challenge. Bites were easy to come by in practice. It should still take at least 20 pounds per day to stay in the hunt, but the rest of the field could be jockeying for checks by a few ounces here or there. "I wouldn't be surprised if there are 176 limits caught today," Tutt said. Some pros will likely scour spawning flats with slow-sinking soft plastics, hoping to drop a cast around a big female bass on a bed. That technique has worked in the past in major multi-day tournaments held on Rayburn in early spring. Other pros, such as David Dudley of the Castrol team and Fred Roumbanis, believe the wind and overcast conditions favor a reaction bite, at least in the morning. "I've read what everyone is predicting, but I think the weights are going to be higher," Dudley said. "This wind is going to have them nibbling." "With the water being unstable, the fish are shifting every hour," Roumbanis added. "The key for me is not wasting too much time trying to get fish to bite in one area. The guy who can make adjustments from shallow to deep is going to dominate, unless someone finds a deep school that's not as affected by the weather." The deep pattern is a wild card this week. If someone has found them offshore, that pro isn't talking to the media about it yet. And unless the school is in a creek or protected area, boat control will be extremely difficult in today's chop. A final factor that could influence the outcome at Rayburn is the likelihood of heavy boat traffic in the areas that historically hold the lake's biggest fish. Rayburn has been an "area lake" in the past, rather than a "pattern lake," meaning what works for big fish in the best spots doesn't necessarily produce the same results across the lake. As a result, pros might camp in one section of the reservoir for several hours, adjusting until they can dial in the bite. Some of those big-fish areas are well-known community holes; others are known only by the locals. Adding to the crowd is a lack of hydrilla this season, resulting from winter weather that Tutt says has included a few air-temperature dips down into the teens. What's left of the green stuff makes for productive fishing water, but there isn't much of it. If that sounds like a lot of factors to consider this week, it is. To win this one on Rayburn, a pro needs a rock-solid strategy that accounts for rough boat rides, transitioning fish and a post-front, clear-sky warm-up that's expected to arrive by Saturday. Of course, it's possible to have a strong finish with simple, old-fashioned shallow tactics. This is Texas, after all, where the big ones swim, and where a couple big bites could be worth thousands of dollars when the scale settles. Thursday's conditions Sunrise: 7:15 a.m. Temperature at takeoff: 60 degrees Expected high temperature: low 70s Water temperature: 60 degrees Wind: south at 10 to 20 mph Today's outlook: windy all day, with a 60 percent chance of rain developing midday and the possibility of thunderstorms Extended forecast: rain and wind Friday; sunny, calm and warm Saturday and Sunday Moon phase: new moon on March 28 Competition format In FLW Tour competition, pros and co-anglers are randomly paired each day, with pros supplying the boat, controlling boat movement and competing against other pros. Co-anglers fish from the back deck against other co-anglers. The full field competes in the two-day opening round. After day two the field is pared to the top 20 pros and co-anglers. The co-angler competition concludes at Saturday's weigh-in, and the top-10 pros continue competition Sunday, with the winner determined by the heaviest accumulated weight from all four days. For more coverage For those who can't catch the weigh-in action in person, FLWOutdoors.com offers FLW Live, an online application that brings fans real-time weigh-in results, streaming video and audio. In addition to FLW Live, FLWOutdoors.com offers real-time updates from the water. Simply click on the tournament ID within the "On the Water" banner at the top of the FLW or Walmart FLW Tour home pages. Walmart FLW Tour event information Takeoff Location: Cassels-Boykin County Park, FM Road 3123 (off State Hwy 147), Zavalla, Texas Time: 7 a.m. Thursday-Saturday; 7:30 a.m. Sunday Weigh-in Days 1 and 2 location: Cassels-Boykin County Park, FM Road 3123 (off State Hwy 147), Zavalla, Texas Days 3 and 4 location: Lufkin Walmart, 2500 Daniel McCall Drive, Lufkin, Texas Time: 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday FLW Expo Date: Saturday, March 29 and Sunday, March 30 Location: Lufkin Walmart, 2500 Daniel McCall Drive, Lufkin, Texas Time: noon-4 p.m. Admission: FREE Free Concert: See Michael Ray perform live Sunday, March 30 at 3 p.m. Activities: Fans are welcome to join FLW for the FLW Expo at the Lufkin Walmart. Come meet Walmart FLW Tour pros, who'll be on hand signing autographs. Families can enjoy interactive games, receive free samples, drive a Ranger Boat simulator and have a chance to win a $250 Walmart gift card.