The notion of “managing fish” only works when you’re confident you’ll get another shot at the juice; but for B.J. Carothers and Thomas Wells, Jr., a full-throttle Day 1 effort was the key to amassing a total weight of 38.36 pounds and winning the 2019 Texas Team Trail Championship, presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, at Lake Belton.
At the first-round’s conclusion, Carothers and Wells’ 23.36 pounds led the field by 7.47 pounds. A day later, they would add 15 pounds and cross the finish line with a 4.75-pound winning margin. As Carothers explained, a later Day 2 boat number allowed competitors to reach the prime area first and left them with no other option than to run and gun. More on that in a moment.
The winners started Day 1 committed to a mid-lake spot they had found while pre-fishing. Carothers described it as a channel bend in a main river ledge. With their boat sitting in 22-24 feet, they cast into about 4 feet and pulled their baits toward the edge.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was dropping Belton’s previously high water level — about 6 above normal pool of 594 the Monday of tournament week — and Wells said that current stimulated a major feeding scenario. Their catch included a 5.73-pounder and their smallest was 3 1/2.
“I’ve never found a school like that on Belton,” Wells said of the aggregation he estimated at 200 fish. “They were drawing the lake down and that flushed bait over that ledge and those fish were just nosed up there.”
Noting the importance of starting as boat Number 11, Carothers adds: “If we were the only boat there, we were originally going to catch 15-18 pounds and just let them rest until Day 2. But if other boats showed up, we would catch catch a bunch of good ones.
“That’s what we did. We stayed there until 11:30, we caught as much as we could and then we wrapped up early because we didn’t want to take any chances coming back.”
Carothers said he and his partner started their day with Texas-rigged 4-inch Zoom Lizards and 1/2-ounce Strike King Hack Attack spinnerbaits with homemade chartreuse and white willow-leaf blades. Determining that they need larger soft plastic presentations, the anglers upsized to 8-inch lizards (watermelon with chartreuse tails) rigged o 5/0 hooks with 1/4-ounce weights.
“About 9:40, we switched to bigger lizards and the little fish stopped messing with us,” Carothers said. “We didn’t have to move the lizards much. There was some brush on that ledge and we would let our baits settle there and the fish would come grab it.”
On Day 2, Carothers and Wells couldn’t access their sweet spot, so they spent their time running deep brush from one end of the lake to the other. Carothers said they hit about 30 different spots, but one particular site transformed a dreadfully slow morning and got them back in the game.
“Belton’s not that big of a lake and with 120 teams on there for four days (tournament and practice) we knew the fish were pressured, so went deep to try and find less pressured fish,” Carothers said. “We hit one spot at 9:30 and I caught one over 4 pounds and as soon as we got it in the livewell, Thomas caught a 6-pounder. So we put 10 pounds in the boat in two casts within 5 minutes.
“That was a relief because we knew it was going to put us close. We knew we just had to get three more keepers. We had eight bites all day and got all but one of them in the boat.”
Recalling a much more productive opening performance, Wells said: “I think it was very important to establish a big lead on Day 1. The potential was there to catch a 25 pound bag, but we never got another 5-pound bite. There were a lot of great fishermen who could back up their day one weights, as (second-place) Charles Whited Trey Groce did. Consistency is great, but on Belton, it’s very hard to do.”
Attributing their success to local knowledge — 50 years of combined Belton experience — and a never-give-up attitude, Carothers also thanked Texas Boat World for the consistent service and considerations that keep his team on the water. He and Wells both lauded their Power Tackle PG104 Series and Powerpoint Series rods for allowing them to move big fish in deep water, along with Gamma Edge fluorocarbon for the abrasion resistance that gave them the confidence fish around Belton’s rampant zebra mussels.
“When we catch a fish, we retie and if we fish for 5 minutes dragging with a Texas rig, we’ll pull off a foot of line and retie,” Carothers said of his team’s ultra-cautious habits. “I think a lot of guys don’t do that and that’s why they break off. Those Zebra mussels are like pocket knives.”
Carothers and Wells, who also topped the Bass Champs tournament on Belton in March, earned a $54,595 prize package that included a 20TRX Triton with a 225 Mercury engine and $1,365 in Angler Advantage cash.
Wells “It hasn’t really sunk in yet, but it feels great,” said Wells. “I’ve gotten a lot of calls and texts. I feel fortunate to win.”
Belton Lake veterans Trey Groce and Charles Whited found 8-10 areas of offshore brush during practice, but even though they gave these spots several hours to produce on both days, shifting to Plan B became necessary. Doing so enabled them to weigh limits of 15.89 pounds on Day 1 and 17.72 on Day 2 for a tournament total of 33.61.
“On day one, we tried fishing the brush until about 11, but we only got a small limit,” Groce said. “After that, we split up the rest of the day between three marinas with depths of 20-40 feet.”
Fishing docks and corners with a mix of flutter spoons, jigs and crankbaits produced each day’s best fish. Groce said they kept watch for shad clusters and bream beds. They found their most consistent action when high sun positioned the fish under the docks.
“The key was making very precise casts, and getting the baits into places other people weren’t getting them,” Groce said.
For their efforts, Groce and Whited won a 20TRX Triton with a 200 Mercury, plus $1,001 in Anglers Advantage cash for a total prize of $42,995.00
Adrian Barnes and Daniel Barnes took third place with a two-day total of 30.42. The anglers placed eighth on Day 1 with a limit that weighed 14.07 pounds and included a 5.23-pound bass. On Day 2, they added a limit of 16.35, which included a 6.76-pounder.
The Barnes duo earned $2,650 that included $910 in Anglers Advantage cash.
Cannon-Siegeler fourth, Batson-Fleming fifth
Matt Cannon and Jared Siegeler weighed five bass worth 27.80 pounds, taking fourth place and earning $2,479. Behind them was Lee Batson and John Fleming with 27.65 pounds. For fifth place, they earned $1,598.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 teams at the 2017 Texas Team Trail event on Toledo Bend:
6. Chris Sabina – Bob Sabina — 26.69
7. Bryan Cotter – Bill Guzman — 25.81
8. Clayton Boulware – Albert Collins — 25.66
9. Kenneth Cummins – Tim Dixon — 24.90
10. Mark Boyett – Lester Springer — 24.67
Reynolds-Bruce Win TOY
Jeff Reynolds and Randall Bruce amassed 1,036 points to Claim the Lucas Oil Team of the Year title. Reynolds and Bruce fished the mid-lake area with poppers and Carolina rigs with Zoom Baby Brush Hogs.
“The key our season was making the right decisions at the right time,” Reynolds said. “We worked hard and had fun.”
Finishing in 26th place in the Championship, Reynolds and Bruce edged out Adrian Barnes and Daniel Barnes (third place). Reynolds also won the TOY title in 2017 while partnered with Johnny Thompson.