NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. (January 10, 2020) – Weather and water levels could play dominant roles in shaping the 2020 Texas Team Trail presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. The season begins and ends on Lake Sam Rayburn, the East Texas powerhouse that saw near record floods force a rescheduling of the 2019 season opener from February to May. As long as the area avoids another soaked spring, competitors will get to sample two distinctly different Rayburn seasons, along with three more stellar Texas fisheries.
Let’s take a look at how the 2020 schedule lays out.
LAKE SAM RAYBURN
February 22, 2020
Size: 114,500-acre Angelina River impoundment
Features: Grass, shallow wood, bridges, offshore structure
Max Depth: 80 feet
Lake Record Bass: 16.80 (1997)
What’ll Play: The year’s second month can be a fickle one and Jason Bonds says weather patterns will determine not only how anglers dress on tournament morning, but how and where they’ll look to engage those Rayburn big heads. The later February date definitely moves us away from winter’s harshest conditions, but exactly when the seasonal transitions occur defies prediction — a point that will most certainly make this first event one of the most challenging.
“I’ve seen a lot of prespawn fish in February and I’ve caught them on beds then; but I’ve seen water in the low 50’s that time of year where you have a little bit of prespawn and you still have the deep water stuff where they’re not even thinking about prespawn,” Bonds said. “I think you’ll see a lot of big bags that time of year and you might be able to catch them from 3 feet to 30 feet.”
One detriment Rayburn anglers will face is the lack of grass — a casualty of the 2019 flood blocking sunlight and withering vast acreage of hydrilla and other bass-friendly vegetation. Bonds said he’s seeing some new growth, but whether it will become a significant factor remains to be seen. That being said, Rayburn’s abundance of habitat features will provide anglers multiple options across a large playing field.
“February is about the only time of year that you can win a tournament from one end of the lake to the other,” Bonds said.
Likely Baits: Assuming mostly prespawn activity, look for Carolina-rigged lizards and worms to get a lot of face time, along with the perennial Rayburn favorite — a lipless crankbait (probably, a red one). Anglers targeting offshore fish holding to their winter spots may also find the C-rig useful, but deep cranking and dragging jigs and Texas-rigged worms around brush piles and other offshore structure will be the main deal.
March 21, 2020
Size: 185,000 acre Sabine River impoundment
Features: Brush piles, creek channels, standing timber, stumps, points, docks.
Max Depth: 110
Lake Record Bass: 15.32 (2000)
What’ll Play: The big lake straddling the Texas/Louisiana border has lost most of its grass due to herbicide treatments and water fluctuations; but Toledo Bend still holds giants and year after year TXTT anglers have proven their prowess at producing big results in any scenario. As Todd Castledine says, the tournament’s place in the schedule will prove beneficial, as it coincides with the highest level of access to the lake’s best.
“This is about as good of a time as we could ever have it, because the lake is (experiencing difficult times),” Castledine said. “It’ll be prespawn, spawn and maybe a little postspawn. Toledo Bend will look the best it will look the entire year during the time we’re there, because (nearly) every fish in that lake will be catchable.”
Absent is the grass that once played a dominant role in Toledo Bend story lines, Castledine said he expects stumps and channel bends to be the most commonly sought structure for staging prespawners. For bedding fish, most of the major creek arms will be worth exploration.
Worth noting, Castledine said the drawdown required for repairs to the Toledo Bend Dam’s spillway has allowed a hodgepodge of random bank vegetation to take root. If returning water levels flood that shallow greenery, this could become a player for spawning fish.
Likely Baits: Castledine said that even without the usual grass beds, he’ll keep a Strike King Redeye Shad handy, as lipless baits are always a good bet for spring fishing. He’s also looking for Carolina rigs, jigs and soft stick baits to play steady roles. If a wave of fish moves up to the beds, your usual mix of Texas-rigged creature baits, lizards and worms will make ‘em mad enough to bite.
Del Rio, Texas
April 18, 2020
Size: 64,900-acre Rio Grande River Impoundment
Features: Canyons, bluffs, rocky points and ledges, wood
Max Depth: 217
Lake Record Bass: 15.68 (2005)
What’ll Play: Russell Cecil, whose Lake Conroe home waters lie close to the same latitude as Amistad, said he’s expecting a mixed bag of spring opportunity. Mid-April is still early enough to find prespawners, but there will almost certainly be a good number of postspawn fish, as well. In between, this event will see plenty of anglers pursuing the Amistad bed fish that often set up shop in deep, clear areas.
“Sight fishing typically does not play heavily there because you can’t have much wind for those deep fish,” Cecil said. “Almost every time I’ve been to Amistad, the wind’s been blowing. There are no big trees or anything out there; it’s that brush country and it almost always has some wind. If you’re trying to look for fish in 10-20 feet of water, you can’t have a ripple on the water.”
Noting Amistad’s reputation as a dependable structure lake, Cecil said anglers can almost always expect fish on ledges. In this scenario, locating a big school of hungry postspawers could be a slam dunk. Elsewhere, depending on the condition of the lake’s hydrilla and pepper grass, the vegetation could also factor into the tournament’s unfolding.
“The other thing about that lake is that if they get a bunch of rain somewhere in that Rio Grande Valley and it pours into Amistad, you could have flooded bushes — and I’ve seen flooded bushes be really good,” Cecil said. “I’ve seen that lake come up 20 feet and I’ve seen it when it was 45 feet low. It’s a typical Southeast Texas fishery — you never know what you’re going to get from a water standpoint.”
Likely Baits: Cecil offers this rundown of productive Amistad offerings: “Jerkbaits and swimbaits always play there because of the clear water. If it’s a ledge fishing deal, a deep diving crankbait early in the morning and then a football jig tends to work well. Soft plastics like Senkos will produce bites in the vegetation.”
May 9, 2020
Size: 27,264-acre Lake Fork Creek impoundment
Max Depth: 70 feet
Lake Record Bass: 18.18 (1992)
What’ll Play: Everyone knows Fork has biggins, but local guide Eric Wright says the Lake’s 16- to 24-inch slot will require a well-conceived game plan. Regulations allow one “over” (bigger than 24) per angler, so a team fortunate enough to find a big over-slot fish could be sitting pretty come weigh-in time. Of course, targeting big fish can be time consuming, so teams will have to balance the pursuit of limits with the chance to surge ahead in overall weight.
Timing is ideal, Wright said, because the seasonal overlap affords multiple fishing styles. Postspawners will likely dominate the event, but within that generality, some particular opportunities are worth noting.
“The lake is usually phenomenal (spring),” Wright said. “May is a very good month to fish Lake Fork because a lot of them are coming off beds and you have a lot of them feeding up on the shad spawn in the morning. They gorge themselves that time of year.”
“Then you can go catch fry guarders; you’ll still have a few fish on beds and then you can go out deep and catch them cranking. That time of year, some of the biggest females are going to back far off. You can kinda catch them doing everything.”
Wright said a smart game plan will start with early shad spawn pursuits. From there, anglers may fish shallow or deep, but that first hour after sunrise holds day-making potential.
Likely Baits: For shad spawn action, Wright suggests targeting shell beds on shallow points with underspins, squarebills and topwaters. From there, sight fishermen will be looking for bed fish with Texas-rigged craws or creature baits. For the offshore game, deep diving crankbaits in chartreuse/blue back or sexy shad are good bets.
LAKE SAM RAYBURN
June 6-7, 2020
What’ll Play: When the 2020 season concludes at the lake on which it commenced, anglers will see Rayburn’s late-spring/early summer look. As Bonds points out, this time of year tends to shrink the playing field, but the concentrated opportunities can create lights-out potential.
“There will still be some relatively shallow stuff, but 80-90 percent of the people will be fishing offshore in 15-25 feet of water,” Bonds said. “That time of year, you can catch fish on brush piles, you can catch fish on flats in 20 feet of water, you can catch them on breaks.”
That being said, Bonds points out another possibility — flooded bushes. Should 2020 bring another round of high water, anglers will have the option of poking way back into the bushes for fish that forego the traditional deep movement in favor of the dense shoreline cover.
“If that water is up in June, if it’s 2-3 feet over pool, the tournament will be won in the bushes,” Bonds said. “If the water level maintains a downward trend, it’s definitely going to be won offshore. And if the grass really starts to grow, you may see some flipping.”
Here, and with the season opener in February, Bonds said he has high expectations for Rayburn to show its stuff: “At either the tournament in February or the tournament in June, if I walked up to the scale with 30 pounds, I would not feel safe. I’m not saying you can’t win with 26 or 27 pounds, but there are so many big ones in Rayburn.”
Likely Baits: If high water points anglers to the bushes, there will be a lot of Texas-rigged creature baits, beavers and craws heading into the thick stuff. Should the lake see more of a normal summer pool, dragging those big worms, winding big crankbaits and pulling the tried-and-true Carolina rig will be the way to go.
Texas Team Trail events are made possible through the sponsorship and continued support of these well-respected brands: Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, Ranger Boats, Lucas Oil, Duckett Fishing, Mercury, Triton Boats, Power-Pole, NITRO, AFTCO, Sunline, Protect the Harvest, Garmin, Valley Fashions, T-H Marine, Atlas, G-Juice, and Powertex Group.