Lakecaster Online

By Sue Crochet

It may be a little early to predict, but with the lack of rain we've had through 1999 and thus far in 2000, I suspect Spring fishing on Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn will be quite different than it's been in past years. In 1999, local anglers found themselves struggling to catch fish as water levels dropped and grasslines either disappeared or moved further off shorelines and became more sparse.

This doesn't mean that the fish aren't there! It just means they've adapted to other forms of "structure". They'll move out to main lake and secondary points, close to deeper drains and mouths of creeks. Main lake humps, surrounded by deep water, will also become more natural areas to find bass.

As the spawning season approaches, if water levels stay as they are, we'll have to find new strategies for catching spawning bass. Bass will look for the warmest and generally, the shallowest, water nearby to spawn in. Often, on a lake where the water level is fluctuating or continually dropping, bass will adapt by preparing their nests in a little deeper water.

Most of us have our favorite places on the lake where we usually catch fish at this time of the year. I plan to go back to these same areas and find the first "drop". If the water level is holding pretty steady, I'll fish from there to shallower water until I find where the fish are "staging". If there are no submerged bushes or stumps in this area, I'll try to key on areas where there is some type of bottom change, including areas where there is a little more grass.

There are a number of lures that will catch fish in the Spring, but my favorites are the Rat-L-Trap, spinnerbait, and of course, lizards. Until bass are actually on the beds, a crawfish-pattern Rat-L-Trap is a phenomenal fish-catching bait. You can fish it slow or "burn" it. There is also a floating model, which is ideal in shallow cover. The spinnerbait can be fished in thicker cover and just as the Rat-L-Trap, can be fished as fast or slow as you want.

Finally, there is nothing that will make a spawning bass madder than putting a 6-7" lizard on its nest! When the water level is high enough to flood brush on or near the bank, methodically pitching your lizard at the base of each bush is probably the most effective way to fish this lure. Also, when the water is still pretty cold, bass won't move very to take a lure. So, I wouldn't hesitate to throw at a single bush at least a couple of times ... one side and then the other.

On the other hand, if water levels stay as low as they have been or continue to drop, you may have to Carolina-rig your lizard. In shallow water, I'd use a very light weight, now more than an 12 - 24" leader, and maybe a smaller (3-4") lizard. As you move out to depths of 5' and deeper, I'd use a little heavier (1/2 - 1 oz.) weight, as long as the grass isn't too thick. If the grass is sparse, as it is currently in most areas on Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn, I'd keep my leader the same length and use the same size lizard.

With Carolina rigging, you'll need to experiment with leader length and lure size. If you're getting hits, but the fish aren't taking the lizard, you might want to try a French Fry. I caught the biggest bass of my life (9.83#) on a Texas-rigged French Fry, using a 1/8 oz. slip sinker, and pitching at the base of bushes on Farmer's Flats at Sam Rayburn. However, that was a few years ago, before the water levels dropped so severely and the grass died off.

Another tactic that has been very effective over the past year at both Rayburn and Toledo is wacky-style fishing. When fish are suspended and/or being finicky, they'll usually pick up a wacky worm when they won't bite anything else. Basically, you take a weightless hook and pull it through the middle of a worm, letting the worm dangle over both sides of the hook, leaving the point of the hook exposed. The most predominantly used lure used for this style of fishing is what we call a "do nothing" worm ... something like a French Fry, Trick Worm, or Finesse Worm.

When this "finesse" style of fishing was first introduced to anglers, a nail was placed in one end of the worm to give it a little weight, mostly for ease in casting. Personally, I like to use the Finacky Hook, which has a weight built right onto the shank of the hook. These are sold with and without weed guards, and in various sizes and weights. I also like to use lighter line (10-12# test), which makes this light lure a little easier to throw.

A very dear friend of mine calls this "sissy" fishing. A die-hard jig fisherman by nature, he had a very hard time believing that this method would catch quality tournament fish. Since that time, another very dear friend (female in gender) has proven to him that large fish can indeed be caught this way. Last year, she consistently caught fish using this style of fishing and made a believer out of him!

As I said, it's still a little early to know what we'll have to do to catch fish this spring, but I'd definitely have a Wacky rig ready. Chances are this will put more fish in your boat, too!

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