By David A. Brown
Given the heavy rainfall much of Texas has experienced in recent weeks, Casey Bennet believes water level could play a significant role in determining how Lake Whitney performs for the Texas Team Trail Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, June 5-6.
Setting the scene, Whitney is a flood control reservoir on the main stem of the Brazos River in North Texas. Created in 1951, this 23,500-acre lake was impounded by its namesake earthen dam; a 166-foot high structure owned and operated by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
With a maximum depth of 108 feet, Whitney stretches 45 river miles long and 4 miles wide. This year’s spring rains raised the lake level about 6 feet and pushed it about 4 1/4 feet into flood pool a week and a half before the championship. Bennet, who makes his home in Waco, about 40 minutes from Whitney, said the fluctuation will likely impact clarity, as well as angling opportunity.
“It’s still almost 3 1/2 feet high (a week prior to the tournament); it came down half a foot overnight, so (the USACE) is letting out some water pretty quick,” Bennet said. “It’ll probably stay high by the time we get to the tournament.
“On the dam side, it’s pretty clear; you can see 5-6 feet, maybe 10 feet in some places on the south end,” Bennet said. “Up on the river end, it’s pretty muddy.”
Having recently fished a few local tournaments on Whitney, Bennet said the fishing has been a little tough. Catching fish isn’t a problem, he said; it’s the consistent quality that’s been harder to find.
June is typically transition time, as most postspawn fish pull out of their spawning areas and head for deeper waters. This spring has been less regimented, as the lake’s up-and-down water story seems to have the fish off schedule.
“With the high water, some fish have been heading to the bank,” Bennet said. “I don’t think we’ll be in a pure summertime pattern. The fish are kind of half and half — they’re really confused with the water going up and down so much.
“The (Corps) lets water out of that lake every day regardless because it produces electricity for (local communities), but they’ve been letting out twice as much as they normally do.”
Noting that the entire lake should be in play for the Championship, Bennet said he expects a mix of shallow and deep patterns. Both could produce quality bites and, at this point, it’s difficult to predict which has the greatest potential.
“I’ve caught some out deep, but I don’t think they’ll be way out there in their summer haunts in 30-40 feet of water,” Bennet said. “I think the tournament could be won in both ways — shallow or deep.
“That’s what I’ve been doing the last couple of weekends in some local tournaments. It’s been about half and half.”
As Bennet points out, a the tail end of the shad spawn has been holding some big fish up shallow. Whitney’s mostly a rocky, gravelly lake, so big shallow rocks are the usual places to find shad spawns; but marinas and floating docks can also factor into this deal.
“It’s all timing and you have to be there at right time,” he said. “I don’t think it will last long in the morning. There’s some big old shad in that lake and a lot of big stripers. Sometimes those bass will roam with those stripers, so you never know if it’s bass or stripers blowing up on bait.”
Common shad spawn baits include spinnerbaits, bladed jigs, topwaters and squarebills. Beyond that, Bennet said he’d look to Whitney’s main lake points — possibly the secondary points, as well, since some fish may be following bait with the higher water. Medium to deep diving crankbaits should produce well.
For those remaining shallow after the shad spawn, fishing swim jigs around isolated bushes is a good bet; as is a buzzbait or a walking topwater. Flipping shallow targets with jigs and Texas-rigged plastics will always have a place in late spring tournaments — particularly given the current conditions.
Bennet explains: “With all the high water, a lot of the crawfish have been flushed out of holes.”
For the offshore game, dragging football head jigs, Carolina rigs and big worms will complement the cranking. The big concern, Bennet said, could be the tournament’s weather.
“If the wind gets too high, the waves can get pretty big,” he said. “And with water up, there’s not much bank to break down waves.”
That being said, Bennet sees the potential for someone to hit a home run on the offshore stuff. With fish seasonally transitioning, a team could land on a group of recently arriving fish and have that gold mine to themselves.
All things considered, Bennet believes the winning total could reach the mid 40’s. He fully expects more than one team to weight 20-plus the first day. Two 20-pound bags will be tough, but not impossible and the team that adjusts well with the lake’s water level could end up holding the trophy. Take-off and Weigh-in will be at Loafers Bend Day Use Park. Weigh-in starts at 3 p.m. on both tournament days.