By David A. Brown

Kyle Rowe Ted Pate went into the Texas Team Trail Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Championship counting on leveraging those big Florida-strain largemouth bass to their advantage. It all worked out in the end — to the tune of a 2-day total of 50.98 pounds — but their victory hinged on making a key adjustment.

For clarity, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has stocked this Frio River impoundment with the “Floridas” since 1981. Generations have adapted to their Lone Star surroundings, but the fish retain two of their most characteristic traits — great size potential and a clear disdain for weather changes, like the minor cold front that arrived the day before the event.

“It doesn’t matter where you go in South Texas — Amistad, Falcon, Choke — those Florida strain bass do not like cold fronts,” Rowe said. “It may only change the temperature (a few degrees), but it will affect them.”

Such was the case for the winning team. After dialing in a morning topwater bite in the mid-lake region, Rowe and Pate started Day 1 pursuing this pattern.

“We had an early (take-off number) so there was one particular spot where I thought we’d catch our limit and probably have our limit on a topwater,” Rowe said. “It took me a while to even get the first bite — a 4-pounder. We could tell it was off, so we immediately switched plans.”

Transitioning to a grass flipping pattern saved their day, as the team sent Texas-rigged Zoom Brush Hogs into the mats and filled their limit for a 19.95 that put them in thirteenth place. Not a bad start, but Rowe admits that confidence in their area nearly bit them in the backside.

“We decided not to pull our fish out and weigh them (on the water); we were just estimating,” Rowe said. “We both thought we had 21-23 pounds. We were on fish good enough, we didn’t even go to the best spot until 11 o’clock and we filled out limit really fast.

“I told my partner ‘We don’t need to stay here. We have the projected daily weight and we’ll be in the top-10. That’s all I care about; as long as we were in the top-10, most of these teams weren’t going to catch them two days in a row and we are.’”

Returning to the weigh-ins thinking their bag held more than it did, Rowe and Pate were disappointed to find they’d overestimated their day. Making matters worse, Danny Iles and Brian Shook were leading with 27.57. Realizing they had throttled back too early in the game, reality made for disheartening mental shift.

“We went back to the room and I was just sick,” Rowe recalled. “I told Ted ‘We messed up. We have no chance to win now because I know (Iles and Shook) are good enough to catch ‘em again another day.’

“I said ‘We’re going to catch a big sack, but we’re really fishing for second.’ The next day, we went back in there and things worked out; we were lucky.”

Returning to their grass beds, Rowe and Pate correctly assessed the passing front’s impact and made what was likely the most important decision of their event. Leaving the grass edges that produced their first day’s bag, they reached far into the mats where those ultra-sensitive Florida bass had fled and sacked up a whopping 31.03 pounds on a mix of Spro Bronzeye Frog and Texas-rigged Brush Hogs with 1-ounce weights.

“Day 2, Ted throws a frog across the mat and catches one of our biggest fish,” Rowe said of their quick start. “I net that fish and barely get back to the bow and he throws out there and catches another one that looks like a clone.

“That’s a good feeling when you start off catching two 6-pounders. That’s when you know you’re going to catch them.”

Edging the Day-1 leaders by 7 ounces, Rowe and Pate won a Ranger Z519 with a 225 Mercury. Their total winnings of $54,068 included $1,024 in Angler Advantage cash. Rowe said he and his partner realize full well the magnitude of pulling out a victory against the talented field of TXTT competitors.

“Being seven pounds behind as good of fishermen as (Iles and Shook) are, we were very fortunate,” Rowe said. “Every one of these teams that fish this are capable of winning at anytime. It just comes down to who makes the best decisions.”

Iles-Shook Second

After starting the year with a dominant win on Lake Sam Rayburn, Isles and Shook topped the Day-1 with 27.57-pound limit, anchored by a 6.11. Adding 23.34 on Day 2, they finished second with 50.91 and locked up Team of the Year honors.

“Leading Team of the Year, we put in a lot of practice time and made multiple trips to fish the entire lake,” Iles said. “We had certain stretches identified, so we spent half of each day up in the river and half down by the dam.

“We stuck to the edges of the grass. Some areas were in 14-16 feet; other place were 7-9.”

Iles and Shook caught their fish on Texas-rigged curl tail worms and and speed worms. They also used a rotation of 1/2- to 3/4-ounce casting jigs, swim jigs and football jigs; all with Strike King Rage Craw trailers. For reaction bites, they also mixed in 3/8- and 1/2-ounce bladed jigs with shad style trailers.

“The weather allowed us to catch those better-than-average fish,” Iles said. “On Friday, that front brought wind and cloudy skies. During practice, we fished (in similar conditions), so we knew how they would react.”

Iles credits his team’s intense practice regimen for not only a strong Championship performance, but also for their Team of the Year title. They had made a decision to ramp up their effort this year, but that season-opening win stoked their fire.

“We put a little more effort into this year than years past,” Iles said. “That first tournament on Rayburn fell into our wheelhouse. That got us a good lead and we worked extra hard to maintain it. It worked out about as good as we could have scripted it.”

For second place, Iles and Shook earned a Nitro Z519 with a 225 Mercury. Their total prize package of $54,004 included $960 of of Anglers Advantage cash. For their Team of the Year achievement, Iles and Shook received commemorative rings and free entries into 2021 TXTT events.

Dunn-Shaw third

On Day 1, Adam Dunn and Shelby Shaw caught a limit of 20.17 and tied Dave Redington and Chad Mcclendon for 11th. The final round saw them add a limit of 26.52 — anchored by a 9.63 that took Big Bass honors for the event — and gain eight spots to finish third with 46.69.

“Shelby caught that (9.63) in the first 15 mins of Day 2,” Dunn reported. “That’s definitely how you want to get your day started.”

Rotating through four main spots — all grass-related — Dunn and Shaw caught their Day-1 fish by punching hydrilla/milfoil mats with a Zoom Z Craw and a Berkley Havoc Pit Boss, both rigged with a 6th Sense punch skirt and a 1- to 1 1/4-ounce weight, depending on grass density. They also caught one along the grass edge on a 1/4-ounce underspin with a swimbait.

On Day 2, Dunn and Shaw caught all of their keepers on moving baits. They did most of their work by ripping a 3/4-ounce Chatterbait with a Yamamoto Zako trailer through the grass and complemented that presentation by burning a 6th Sense Speed Wake along grass edges.

For third place, Dunn and Shaw earned $3,158, which included $768 of Anglers Advantage cash, a $500 Garmin bonus and a $250 Mercury bonus. They also won $410 for the Big Bass award.

Bonds-Nitschke fourth, Mansfield-Weston fifth

Jason Bonds and James Nitschke weighed five bass worth 44.91 pounds, taking fourth place and earning $1,774. Behind them was Grover Mansfield and Cort Weston with 41.99 pounds. For fifth place, they earned $1,505.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 teams at the 2017 Texas Team Trail event on Toledo Bend:

6th: Terry Stevens and Jason Harper, 41.96

7th: Michael Ligon and Bud Pruitt, 41.89

8th: Stephen Johnston and Dan Wilson, 40.57

9th: Bob Vote and Andy Vote, 37.34

10th: B.J. Carothers and Thomas Wells, 36.57