By David A. Brown
Brookeland, Texas (Feb. 24, 2020) — Stats lovers know that drama dwells in the details; often in the slimmest of margins. Well, for Danny Isles and Brian Shook, an astounding 5-bass limit of 49.31 pounds not only won the Texas Team Trail presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, at Lake Sam Rayburn, it outpaced their nearest competitors by nearly 18 1/2 pounds.
Notably, that winning margin was more than the 12th-place team’s total weight.
So, what does it take to sack up five bass weighing just south of 50 pounds? Weather, Iles said — cold weather. Initially, the Lufkin, Texas angler admits, he and his partner were unsure of what the day would bring.
“Honestly, the cold front we had the middle of the week is the only reason we caught those fish,” Iles said. “It seems like they had really moved up shallow pretty good, but we had a pretty severe cold front that knocked the water temperatures down and pushed the fish out of the little pockets that they had been in.
“Last weekend we fished offshore in practice and didn’t catch anything but three or four little ones. We talked about it earlier this week and thought ‘It’s been colder, maybe the fish will back up a little bit.’ When we left (at take off), we said ‘It’s 50/50 whether we’re even going to catch one or not.”
Heading up the lake to the 147 Bridge area, Iles and Shook started on a deep drop-off. With their boat sitting in 28 feet of water, they cast shallow and retrieved their crankbaits out to the 25 foot drop-offs where a mix of brush and old timber provided attractive staging areas.
“At our first place, we caught an 11.47-pounder and a 10-pounder and we said ‘Well, we’re not going shallow now,’” Iles chuckled. “We were only going to fish shallow if we got in trouble. We like to fish offshore if we can, but we were going to give the shallow fish a try. We had a bunch of shallow stuff tied on and we were going to go up shallow if (the deep spots) didn’t work out.”
As Isles points out, their day was heavy on quality, but light on quantity. The winners got only six keeper bites on three spots of similar makeup. After finding only those two giants on their first spot, they found a 7-pounder on their second and then added one around 9 and limit-making 12 on their final spot.
The winning anglers had their weight by 10:15 and, while looking at five giant heads in the live well certainly gave them supreme confidence, that feeling took a while to cement. As Iles recalls, thoughts of past events prevented them from prematurely celebrating.
“We caught the first two and we were kind of freaking out because we had fished another tournament a couple weeks ago and we only had two keepers at 2 o’clock,” he said. “We finally scrounged up three 2-pounders to go with the two big ones. This week, we caught those two and we were like ‘We gotta find a way to catch three more.’
“We were really kinda nervous, but the next place we went, we caught another big one and we were like ‘Okay, we have three that weigh around 26-27 pounds. If we catch two more 2-pounders, we may win this thing.’ We were already thinking about what we had to do later in the day to catch a couple of 2-pounders, but then on the next offshore place, we caught two more bin’s and we knew we had enough weight to win it.”
Iles said that gearing up with the right tackle was essential for he and Shook’s success. They changed their bait’s stock hooks to 2X strong Owner round bend trebles and fished them on 7-11 Power Tackle cranking rods with 16-pound fluorocarbon. With the day yielding few opportunities, they couldn’t afford to squander any.
“The most fortunate part of our day was not only getting the bites, but getting them in the boat,” Iles said. “We hooked five (big ones) and we got all five in the boat.”
For their efforts Iles and Shook earned a fully rigged Ranger Z19 with a 225 Mercury. In addition, they claimed $3,030 of Anglers Advantage cash and $1,535 Big Bass award. Their total payday was $52,560.
Outdoor Specialties Marine will also be paying this team an additional $2,000 for purchasing their boat at their dealership.
A subtle feature produced big results for Casey Burleigh and Josh Rodgers, who placed second with 30.82 pounds. Running up north to an area outside Stanley Creek, they targeted a flatter drain with a small depression dropping from 14 feet to 16. The spot lacked hard cover, but abundant bait gave staging prespawners abundant feeding opportunities.
“When we found this spot in practice around 11 a.m. on Friday, we caught a 3-pounder and a 4-pounder on back-to-back casts and we decided to leave,” Burleigh said. “We decided to start on that spot, because on Rayburn, if it’s going to happen, typically, it happens in the first two hours.”
Oddly, their key spot offered no warm welcome, so Burleigh and Rodgers left and fished a grassy area. With no love there either, they returned to their drain and this time, the fish were ready to go.
“It was 11 o’clock, the same time we caught them on Friday and it was lights-out,” Burleigh said. “We were throwing a 6th Sense C-20 Cloud 9 crankbait and the key was we weren’t burning it. You had to keep it really slow and the big girls were just chomping it.”
Burleigh said a hour-long flurry yielded about 29 pounds. After that, they ran to a spot they’d fished before, made a key cull with a 6 1/2-pounder — also on the crankbait — and started the long run back around 2:30.
Burleigh said their day included a moment of tremendous opportunity and heartbreaking loss. He had just caught a 5-pounder when his partner’s second following cast tempted a pair of 8-pounders that literally came to the boat hooked on the same crankbait.
“I got them both in the net, but with 16 pounds in there, but when I went to lift them, my net broke and one of them got away. The one we put in the livewell weighed 8 pounds and the one we lost was every bit as big.
“We were worried that we had lost the tournament when we lost that fish, but we got beat by (over) 18 pounds. That eased the pain a little bit at the end of the day.”
For second place, Burleigh and Rodgers earned $10,147, which included $2,222 in Anglers Advantage cash and a $250 Ranger Boats bonus.
After practice showed them that staying shallow was unlikely to prove consistent, Brannon Mire and Ben Matsubu made a game-day decision to back way off and target the ones that were coming. Doing so yielded a limit of 25.84 that earned third place.
“We prefished shallow early and we just figured that was a crap shoot,” Mire said. “With high skies and bluebird days (post-frontal conditions), if you catch 17 pounds up there, you’d be luck and that’s not enough to win it on Rayburn. So we went back into 12-18 feet and all we caught was dinks.”
Uncomfortable with what practice revealed, the anglers took drastic measures, which ended up delivering a solid day. As Mire recounts, Matsubu made the crucial call shorty before take-off.
“We got up tournament morning and I said ‘Ben, where are we going today?’ And he said ‘Dude, we’re going deep,’” Mire said. “We went out to a spot in 12-18 feet and caught a dink and he said ‘We need to back up.’
“We actually put our boat in 50 feet of water and were throwing up to 32. There was a big rock point on the south end of the lake and within 15 minutes, he caught a 10.36-pounder. We could see (on our electronics) there was bait their, big fish swimming. He said ‘Dude, everything is lining up perfectly.’”
And line up, it did. Mire and Matsubu caught all of their fish on 5/8-ounce peanut butter and jelly color Talon football jigs with Yamamoto Hula Grub and Big Bite Baits Cane Thumper trailers in tilapia colors
For third place, Mire and Matsubu earned $6,625, which included $2,020 in Anglers Advantage cash.
Wade-Spriggs fourth, Moore-Davis fifth
Clint Wade and Stacy Spriggs weighed five bass worth 24.82 pounds, taking fourth place and earning $4,787. Behind them was Alan Moore and Robert Davis with 24.10 pounds. For fifth place, they earned $3,817.50.
The 10th place team of Rusty & Chris Harvey claimed the $500 Garmin Tournament Reward for being the highest placing Garmin user at the Sam Rayburn event.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 teams at the 2020 Texas Team Trail event on Sam Rayburn:
6th: Michael Lafleur and John Fraizer — 22.48
7th: Clint West and Nathan Prine — 21.66
8th: Mick Raydon and Doug Wroten — 20.75
9th: Jeffrey Grubbs Sr. and Jeffrey Grubbs Jr. — 19.61
10th: Rusty Harvey and Chris Harvey — 19.54