UPCOMING EVENT: T-H Marine BFL - 2019 - Lake Okeechobee


High Water will Factor at Rayburn

Typical winter fishing on Sam Rayburn would call for a lot of lipless crankbaits, Carolina rigs and a focus on offshore structure and submerged grass. However, for the FLW Tour opener January 10-13 a lot of that may be out the window – or at least a lot different than many of the Rayburn sticks in the field are used to. Sam Rayburn has risen steadily since December 10th, and as of January 3, the lake is at 171.43 feet, which is 7 feet over full pool of 164.4 feet.

Though Texas as a whole had just an above average amount of rainfall from January-November of 2018, Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas had its second-wettest year on record through December 28th. In 2018, Dallas-Fort Worth received a whopping 55.97 inches of rain. In Angelina County, December produced 11.16 inches of precipitation, and the first few days of January have added another 1.9 inches of rain.


Getting a boat in

Clint Wade of Huntsville, Texas, owns and operates Outlaw Outdoors, a company that puts on tournaments at Sam Rayburn, and believes the water is going to continue to rise.

“Rayburn was designed for flood control, not recreational use,” says Wade. “The problem is that we’ve had area-wide heavy rain over the last 30 or 45 days, so downstream of Rayburn is completely saturated. So, Rayburn can’t release any water now, so if I had to guess it’s going to keep rising over the next four to five days.”

That rising water will undoubtedly change the fishing, but it hopefully will spare the Public Boat Ramp operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers at the Umphrey Family Pavilion, which is where takeoff for the Tour event will take place. As of January 3, Wade says that just eight of the 22 major boat ramps on Rayburn are usable – luckily, the Public Boat Ramp is one of the open ones.

“In June of 2015 the lake reached 173.9, and Public was never closed that year,” says Wade. “So, based on that, it could go higher, and the good news is there’s no significant amount of rain in the next few days. With that said, there’s still plenty of high water upstream, and generally speaking it takes a week to 10 days for Rayburn to level out after a big rain.”

If the forecast holds and the hunches of locals like Wade and FLW Tour pro Clark Reehm hold out, the tournament should be able to go on as planned. Albeit under much different conditions than many anticipated.

“It’s pretty interesting, it’s all we can talk about down here,” says Wade. “The highest it’s ever been recorded is 175.1, and that was in March of 1992. I was a junior in high school in ‘92, and I can remember vividly my dad and I catching fish around picnic tables in Mill Creek Park.”


Fishing and navigation

Though the actual water level is the concerning factor from a logistics standpoint, most pros are going to be more interested in what the water looks like and where the bass are. Luckily, the condition of the lake is pretty decent. With water temperatures throughout the lake reported to be in the mid-50s, there’s no big chance of frigid water. Additionally, most of the lake still has decent clarity.

“In my opinion two thirds of the lake is dirtier than I’ve ever seen it in my life, but it’s not muddy and unfishable,” says Wade. “The top, north third of the lake is blown out, it’s a muddy, nasty mess. The mid-lake is stained, but it’s fishable by all means. The south end is starting to clear up, it never really got too, too bad.”

The high water will likely spread bass out in the additional cover, but Wade thinks it could bring some other interesting patterns into play.

“The general word on Rayburn is when the water gets up like this you fish sweetgum trees and cypress trees,” says Wade. “Those are the go-to techniques. When it gets this high, the regular buck brush and thick bank cover that we’re used to fishing now serves as a barrier to getting behind it."

Wade says that the buck brush and willow bushes normally in a few feet of water is now fairly deep and hard to fish. In some places, it blocks access to the more open areas behind it.

“The positive side of all this is that there should be an awesome inside grass line that guys will be able to capitalize on,” says Wade. “Usually that inside grass line is in 2-4 feet of water, and now it’s in 6-10 feet. It’s going to definitely be a player in this tournament.”

The high water will make navigation different than usual. Because Rayburn has a lot of standing timber and stumps in it, it’s hard to navigate with water at a normal pool. With the water up so high, quite a bit of that timber will be safely submerged. 

“It will make it a lot easier to navigate,” says Wade. “I still wouldn’t run the major forests unless you know where you’re going, but with this water level it’s going to be pretty forgiving if you accidentally make a mistake.”

However, there is now the added hazard of floating timber. High water in 2015 and 2016 killed a lot of pine trees around the lake, and many of those trees have since toppled over. This high water has floated some of them up and into the lake.

“There’s definitely floaters out there, and a lot of trash and small limbs and bushes,” says Wade. “There’s a lot of stuff to see in the water, and there’s a 95 percent chance that if you see something sticking up it’s a little thing, but it might be the root system of a 45-foot log. I wouldn’t say it’s unsafe, but I run in the dark all the time, and I would never run in the dark on this lake right now.”

High, dirty water may not be the best recipe for success in January, but Rayburn is one of the best lakes in the country. A grassy offshore battle was expected, but the conditions might dictate a very different tournament, one that could have flippers like Bradley Hallman and Brandon McMillan licking their chops, while Rat-L-Trap stalwarts like Dicky Newberry and Chris McCall worry about history going out the window.

Tags: sam-rayburn  -water-level  -flw-tour  jody-white  pre-tournament  2019-01-10-sam-rayburn-reservoir 


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