By David A. Brown
Spring 2019 has been something of a shaken soda can for Sam Rayburn and anglers may find more of the same, or an explosion of opportunity when the 2019 Texas Team Trail, presented by Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops brings a double-header to this East Texas powerhouse on May 10-11.
The originally scheduled season-opener on Rayburn was postponed from Feb. 2 when the lake reached near record levels — more than 10 feet above normal pool of 164.40 feet. With the high water closing most of Rayburn’s boat launches and presenting significant navigational hazards, TXTT management decided to move the tournament to the same weekend as the May 11 event.
This allowed the trail to deliver two distinct Rayburn tournaments during the regular season. Each event will be conducted as separate events, each with its own entries, weigh-ins and prize purses.
Currently, this Angelina River impoundment stands about a foot above normal pool, but even though the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has managed to bring the lake level down, the impacts of excessive high water linger. Local pro Jason Bonds said he’s finding no more than two feet of main lake visibility — a direct result of the draining process.
“Right now, the water clarity is not typical of Rayburn in May; it’s really dingy,” Bonds said. “The lake got up really high and when (the Corps) started drawing it down, that pulled all the backwaters into the lake. At one point, they were pulling it down a foot to a foot and a half a week and that’s made it really stained.”
In addition to the turbidity, Bonds points to another impact from high water: “Even though the lake shot up, there was still a lot of hydrilla out to 15 feet and it was still alive and green and doing well. But it started dying and letting go when they started pulling down the lake.
“You can still find some hydrilla in some areas but for the most part, it’s been pulled up. There’s still some coontail and other vegetation, but the bushes are still flooded and that’s really good for he perch spawn, the bass spawn and anything that needs cover to reach a decent size. That will have a good long-term impact on Rayburn because everything will clear up; it’s just going to take a little time.”
Recent tournament results plus personal recon has told Bonds that he and his fellow anglers will have their work cut out for them. This lake lacks not for stellar potential, but it’s sporting a bad attitude at the present time.
“In my opinion, Rayburn has not been fishing that well,” Bonds said. “You can go out there and have 150-fish days. That’s no problem, but getting the weight seems to be the biggest problem. Rayburn is full of 5- to 8-pounders and a lot of 9- and 10-pounders, but finding those big fish right now is really hard.
“Most of the fish are sitting on spots; it’s not a pattern. In those schools, you may find 100 or more fish; it’s unbelievable. But they’re probably last year’s bass; about 2 pounds and most of them are postspawn.”
In the big picture, it’s likely that the event will find fish in all three stages of the spawn. That might seem a bit late for the frontside, but Bonds said the year’s water fluctuations have fiddled with the fish’s schedules, possibly to the point of significant delays.
“I think there will be a lot of spawning going on through May — maybe even the first of June,” Bonds said. “When the time and water temperature got right for the fish to spawn, the water was really high in the bushes and it was really good conditions, but that’s also when they went to pulling a foot to a foot and a half of water a week, so the bass couldn’t get up there and spawn because the water was getting pulled off of them as fast as they would get up there.
“I think a lot of them went out and they’re waiting until the lake stabilizes. It may be the end of May, or it may be June or July, but when conditions stabilize, it will be crazy good on Rayburn.”
As far as viable tactics, Bonds said Rayburn’s current clarity level will impede sight fishing. In all likelihood, a few will be caught on beds, but this probably will not be the winning pattern. Bonds expects some prespawn opportunities, but the postspawn focus will likely produce best.
“I think that 8-10 feet of water is where most of it will take place,” he said. “If you can find some grass, that will be good, but most of it will be on main lake points, especially when they’re pulling water.
“I don’t think wood will be a factor; not that you can’t go flipping and do okay. If this was a 2-day event, flipping would be a decent way to go, but this is two separate events.”
Bonds said the frog bite has been virtually nonexistent and he’s been looking for it extensively. He believes that targeting main lake points and secondary points with Carolina-rigged lizards or creature baits, Texas-rigged worms and shallow-running crankbaits will produce most of the big bags.
“I don’t think guys will be running patterns, I think a team’s weight will all come off of one spot,” he said. “They may catch them in 10-15 minutes and that’s it. I don’t think it will be a pattern deal where you run around all day and build up your sack; I think it will come fairly quickly and it will be off of one spot.”
Bonds said he’s looking for about 28 pounds to win each tournament, but the weights will likely start sliding off pretty quickly after that. No doubt, Rayburn’s kind of a feast-or-famine deal right now, but there’s no denying the potential for fireworks.
We all know what lives there.