UPCOMING EVENT: Costa FLW Series - 2019 - Lake Mead

FISHING LEAGUE WORLDWIDE

The Grass is Game at Rayburn

Nick Butler

If we’re going with cliches, this week’s Costa FLW Series Southwestern Division opener presented by YETI at Sam Rayburn Reservoir will define the phrase “grass equals bass.” Not that this angling axiom isn’t always applicable in some form, but the lake’s current status brings the aquatic vegetation to center stage.

With the lake’s namesake dam impounding the Angelina River (northwest arm) and Attoyac Bayou (northeast arm) for approximately 114,500 surface acres, Sam Rayburn currently stands about 1 1/2 feet below full pool of 164.40.

That’s a dramatic change from last year’s event (also in late February) in which high water flooded hackberry and willow trees and scattered buck brush. However, Texas pro Stephen Johnston, who guides at Rayburn and who topped the Southwestern Division AOY standings in 2007 and 2013, says a welcome change in lake habitat should offset any diminished shoreline cover.

“We have a lot of new hydrilla growing all over the lake that we haven’t had in several years with all the high water,” he says. “The water was 11 feet high at one time, and it just totally choked off all the hydrilla.

“During August and September, we started seeing a few stalks growing, and now the grass is so thick in some of the pockets that you can’t even throw a lipless crankbait. It’s really good right now, and that grass is keeping the water clear.”

Complementing the mostly submerged hydrilla, Rayburn sprouts patches of golden brown “hay grass,” which offers additional shallow cover.

 

Stephen Johnston winds one into the net

Lining up nicely

Heavy rain and wind are forecast for the first part of tournament week, but the scene should clear well before day one. And, as Johnston notes, all that new grass will filter the inflow and minimize the muddiness.

Water temperatures are running between 57 and 60 degrees throughout the lake, while warming days (into the low 80s) and, more importantly, moderate nights in the mid-50s to lower 60s should have the fish looking to get shallow to spawn.

Johnston says early February’s full moon coincided with a strong wave of spawning activity, but the maternity ward remains open for business. Lakes of Rayburn’s vastness see multiple spawning rounds, so this east Texas gem still has plenty of sight-fishing opportunity on tap.

“This is going to be a prespawn and spawn event,” Johnston says. “I’m not a sight-fishing guy, but I saw several beds last week while I was up looking around.”

 

A two-pronged approach

Seasonal options should indulge a variety of techniques, but consistent performance will most likely require a one-two punch. Johnston believes that many anglers will target prespawn fish, but upgrade their catches with one or two kickers caught off beds.

Notably, Rayburn’s low water could offer another benefit: widening the playing field. It sounds counterintuitive, but Johnston offers insightful perspective.

“Right now, just about the entire lake could be productive,” Johnston says. “The grass is all the way on both arms of the lake, so that will really spread out the field. Also, we always say the north end warms up faster, but with the warm weather, the whole lake is approximately the same temperature end-to-end.”

 

Productive areas often found anglers fishing in close proximity.

How they’ll catch them

While a lot of the cover anglers pitched and flipped in last year’s event will stand too shallow – or out of the water – to fish, Johnston says there’s still enough to keep flipping in the game plan. His advice: Make sure you can get bit around hydrilla, hay grass and the bushes.

The usual seasonal bait selection should play this week, and that means a mix of reaction baits, jigs and Texas-rigged soft plastics. For those moving baits, a big, flashy spinnerbait fits the bill, especially if days turn windy.

Elsewhere, alternating between a square-bill crankbait and a lipless crankbait (preferably, in the Rayburn red color) will appeal to those prespawners.

“A few people have reported catching fish on topwater baits, but I think that was mostly over the top of spawners,” Johnston adds.

 

John Moon leads the co-angler side after day one and caught a Texas special along the way.

Expectations

With a healthy population of stocked Florida-strain largemouth bass, Rayburn usually kicks out some strong numbers, especially in early spring. The two T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League Cowboy Division events held on Rayburn so far this year took 28-10 and 26-11 to win.

Johnston says he’s looking for similar fireworks this week.

“I think you’ll need to put together two good, solid limits of fish,” he says. “I think it will help that we’ll be spread out and not all piled into one spot. I think 18 to 20 pounds the first two days will get you into the top 10. And the way everything’s lining up, you may need 60 or more to win.”

Tournament details

Location: Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Brookeland, Texas

Date: Feb. 23-25, 2017

Host: Jasper-Lake Sam Rayburn Area Chamber of Commerce and Jasper County Development District

Presenting sponsor: YETI

Format: Costa FLW Series tournaments are three-day events. The entire field of pros and co-anglers fishes on days one and two. The top 10 pros and top 10 co-anglers based on cumulative weight after two days make the cut to fish on day three. The winner in each category is the angler with the heaviest three-day cumulative weight.

Takeoff: 7 a.m. CT at Umphrey Family Pavilion, 5438 RR 255, Brookeland, TX

Weigh-in: 3 p.m. CT at Umphrey Family Pavilion

Tags: flw-series  sam-rayburn  david-a-brown  pre-tournament  2017-02-23-sam-rayburn-reservoir 

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