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A thick fog hung over Choke Canyon as anglers paused for the national anthem at the start of day one.

CALLIHAM, Texas - Late January, full moon, southern Texas - that should be the recipe for an all-out spawning stick-fest, but Mother Nature said, "Not so fast," to the field of EverStart Series anglers competing in the year's first Texas Division event on Choke Canyon Lake.

Subtly symbolic of the seasonal setback was a dense fog that delayed the day-one launch from 7:30 to 9 a.m. In the big picture, anglers won't find the sight-fishing game they'd normaly expect during this lunar period - thanks to recent and forthcoming weather events.

Texas pro Stephen Johnston explains: "A big cold front came through last week and it hadn't rained for a couple of months but it rained for three days straight and dropped the water temperature into the low 50's. We've had sun the last two days (before the tournament) and that has brought the water temperature up to 56-57. The fish are trying to move back shallow but they're so cold, they just won't bite.

"If the front hadn't come in last week we'd definitely have fish on the beds. There are some fishJeremy Wiggins discusses lake conditions with his co-angler partner David Underwood. shallow, but there are a lot of fish from eight to 15 feet waiting to come."

Jeremy Wiggins, a pro from Pleasanton, Texas, agrees. "They were already staging three weeks ago. I was catching at least an 8-pounder every trip. Two weeks ago, I had an 11, an 8 and five 5-pounders in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, we got that front. Fifty-five and below - these fish don't like that."

An impoundment of the Frio River, Choke Canyon is a grassy lake populated with Florida strain largemouths - the prima donnas of freshwater. In short, these fish flake out if someone sneezes on their lake, so the new cold front barreling into the area later today will rock their world and make things tough for the anglers seeking them.

Wiggins will spend his time flipping jigs and punching plastics in the deep grass. He stressed the need to capitalize on opportunities. "With the cold front coming through and shutting the fish down, you're going to have to make every bite count."

Flipping a jig into the deeper grass that skirts the Choke Canyon shores will be Jeremy WigginsCody Malone, of Morgan, Texas, knows the week's conditions will make for a grind on Choke Canyon, so he'll keep it simple. Absent from his day one deck was the normal assortment of baits he'd carry into most tournaments. Instead, he has three chatterbaits rigged with Yamamoto Swimming Senkos and he's going to mow the grass `til it's time to go.

"I'm actually just throw one - that black and blue - and I have two back-ups in case the water clarity if different," he said. "The chatterbait has been the deal for me - you just have to fish it slowly. The whole lake is (mostly) the same, so you can't get too involved in finding certain grass points or the right (density). You just have to fish what's here."

Patience, Malone said, will be essential to success in the tough conditions facing the tournament field. To keep himself on the right pace, he rigged one of his chatterbaits on a 5.3:1 cranking reel.

"If it's slow and I'm not catching any, most fishermen have the tendency to speed up and start fishing too fast and they miss a fish," Malone said. "That's not going to be my case. I'm prepared for it. I'm definitely amped up, but it's not going to hurt me. I'm ready to for a tough bite. I'm ready to have fiveRanger pro Cody Malone will put his faith in PowerPoles and chatterbaits today. opportunities to catch fish and if I can capitalize on all five, I'll have a sack."

Choke Canyon guide Charles Whited understands the lake as well as anyone, so he knows that most of the fishermen will be plowing through the grass. He also knows that this is not the only game in town, so his boat will spend most of the tournament over deep water. He'll fish Texas-rigged plastics in green pumpkin, watermelon red and redbug to mimic the crawfish scampering around offshore rocks.

"There are some fish up shallow and (many of the competitors) will be splitting up that water," Whited said. "I'm going all out and trying to do it deep. I think there are still a lot of fish staging out deep. It's more of a slow drag. The ones I'm fishing aren't really aggressive so I'm having to fish really slowly to just keep it in front of them."

He'll also use a new Power Tackle bait called a Lateral Perch. A soft plastic perch body with a weighted head and a hook/hook guard protruding from its side, the bait works well for probing the hard stuff and picking out the larger fish, Whited said. The key, however, is the right structure.

With many prespawn bass staging in the shoreline grass, the chatterbait is likely to be one of the top producers."The (offshore) fish are staging on the rock piles," he said. "There's a lot of brush mixed in with rock. I'm also fishing a lot of old bridges that have rock and brush around them. The brush piles that are off the rocks a bit are best because not everybody finds them."

With far less recreational use than say Lake Fork or Sam Rayburn, Choke Canyon's bass see fewer boats and baits. The upside is that the fish are not as educated, but they're also unaccustomed to lots of company. With a fog delay cutting out precious morning time, and an approaching front threatening to further stir the pot, Whited said those who strike first should fare well.

"The fishing is brutally tough right now," Whited said. "This front is shutting them down, but it's also the fishing pressure. These fish aren't used to being pounded every day.
The guys who can get on their holes quickly and get their limits before the weather starts turning (bad) - that's going to be crucial in this first day."

Although he expects the lake to fish small, Malone said he's looking for a 30-pound bag to lead day one,Local pro Charles Whited will foregoe the shallow bite in favor of isolated pods of big fish out deep. He with several high-20's comprising the top-10.

Logistics

Anglers will take off from Choke Canyon State Park in Calliham, Texas, at 7:30 each morning. Weigh-ins will also be held at the park beginning at 3 p.m. daily. Takeoffs and weigh-ins are free and open to the public.

Pros will fish for a top award of $35,000 plus a 198VX Ranger boat with 200-horsepower outboard if Ranger Cup guidelines are met. Co-anglers will cast for a top award consisting of a Ranger 177TR with 90-horsepower outboard and $5,000 if Ranger Cup guidelines are met.

The EverStart Series consists of five divisions - Central, Northern, Southeast, Texas and Western. Each division consists of four tournaments and competitors will be vying for valuable points in each division that could earn them the Angler of the Year title along with $5,000 for the pro and $2,000 for the co-angler. The top 40 pros and co-anglers from each respective division will qualify for the EverStart Series Championship that will be held on Kentucky Lake in Buchanan, Tenn., Oct. 27-30.

The EverStart Series tournament on Choke Canyon is being hosted by the Three Rivers Texas Chamber of Commerce.

Thursday's conditions:

Sunrise: 6:09 a.m.
Temperature at takeoff: 59 degrees
Expected high temperature: 62 degrees
Water temperature: 56-57 degrees
Wind: N 15-20 mph
Humidity: 65 percent
Day's outlook: Partly cloudy and windy

Tags: david-a-brown  morning-story  2011-01-20-choke-canyon 

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