By Todd Ceisner
The calendar says it's fall and across most of the country, that means bass are starting to make their transitions to their feeding haunts to load up for winter. The weather in Texas, however, still has the fish at Lake Conroe thinking it's summertime, and that's made for a challenging practice period for the 50 anglers in town for the Toyota Texas Bass Classic.
By the sounds of it, this year's edition of the TTBC, which gets started Friday morning, could be won in a similar fashion to how Bryan Thrift rallied to win last year's derby – junk-fishing out deep.
Water temperatures are still in the 80s despite a good bit of cloud cover this week. A cold front that's expected to arrive Saturday might knock it down a few more degrees, but the impact likely wouldn't be felt until the final day of competition on Sunday.
The water's down 3 feet from normal pool and is a foot or so lower than it was for last year's TTBC. That's taken some docks out of play, but there are still fish available toward shore where a fair number of anglers will ply the banks for a limit before they go giant-hunting offshore.
This marks the fifth straight year Conroe has hosted the TTBC, but those who have competed in numerous TTBCs at Conroe seem to be anxiously awaiting next spring's event at Lake Fork, which can turn out some mammoth fish and stringers.
Longtime Conroe guide Carl Bostick, who operates WetHook Guide Service, believes the lake will put on a good showing this week and thinks the winning fish will be caught on some sort of deep structure like brush piles or ledges.
"Any time one of the key variable changes like water level, it'll affect them," he said. "These bass are very temperamental and the water being low has a big effect on them. We don't have any grass here so you're going to have fish structure and ledges because there will be a lot less docks in play. With the water being down in the low 80s, the ones throwing cranks on ledges fairly close to shore will find some good fish stacked up pretty tight and plenty of them."
Fishing shallow and flipping docks will still produce bites, he said, regardless of the weather. He also thinks the creek arms, more specifically the first break heading back into the creek, could be a big draw as some fish could be staging in those spots.
"If the barometer holds or drops some, I think they'll catch them good," he added.
Here's a look at how Conroe lays out, courtesy of Google Maps.
It's Still Texas
As challenging as it's been for some during practice to figure out a consistent bite pattern, Conroe is known for producing some double-digit brutes. While a 10-pounder might not show itself during the tournament, the pros know anything in the 5-pound class or better will go a long way.
"You could junk your way into a big bag of bass here real quick or you could go out and catch two 9-pounders and not have three keepers to go with them," said James Watson, who qualified via the PAA Series Angler of the Year points and is coming off a victory at Table Rock Lake last month.
"The key will be to catch a big one over 5 pounds each day," said Alton Jones, who's fished one TTBC before at Conroe. "That'll go a long way. Ideally for me, I'd like to go catch a limit early and then go fish for big fish. But when you're fishing for small ones, that might take a half day or more to get that limit before you can put yourself in position to go after the big ones."
Russ Lane likens fishing in Texas, even at some of the tougher lakes, to fishing in Florida, where you're always one cast away from a giant.
"You're always one bite away or a limit away from being in contention, but you can't get those good bites if you're not fishing for them," he said. "You have to choose things to get yourself bites and have the patience to catch the big fish."
Notes from the Field
Following are practice notes from a few of the anglers who'll be competing this week.
"I've only fished here once before and it had about 2 more feet of water in it. Everybody knows I love to fish shallow, but I've spent a lot of time off the bank this week. I had one good day, but that was followed by a couple days where I struggled. I think it was because I got away from how I caught them the first day.
Russ Lane expects some pretty stout stringers to be caught this week at Lake Conroe.
"I did catch an 8 1/2-pounder so this place does have some giants in it. It's a fun place to fish for that reason. Every day in practice, I've tried to keep an open mind and do some different things, but I feel comfortable going into the tournament fishing the like I did the first day of practice. I don't think the fish I'm catching are replenishing so there's no sense in beating them up. I'm just looking for something in particular and when I find it, I feel like I can catch some good fish.
"It's definitely going to fish small. With all the technology and electronics out there, there are no secrets. Anybody can find them offshore, but you're going to need to catch some big ones to win here."
"I don't like going out and using my StructureScan to look at brush piles, nor do I like to pick up a deep-diving crank and go down the bank or over points.
"I've gotten a few buzzbait bites and spent the rest of time flipping docks, but a lot of docks don't have enough water on them. They don't have much to hide under. I think the guys who can deep-crank or rig offshore a little bit are going to be hard to beat here. I don't think it'll be won flipping just because there's not enough quality up there.
"I've caught one big one, but that's about it. It's definitely a crapshoot. Look for the brush-pile fishermen to do well and those who put in an effort with their StructureScan. It could also be a guy who puts in zero effort in practice and just picks up their flipping stick and goes to town that does well."
"It's been hard to duplicate anything. The water's about a foot lower than last year. It's just fishing different in that I'll get a bite doing something and you'll try to push it for a while with no success. You're going to have to mix it up during the tournament. I'm not convinced it'll be won a certain way.
"Thrift mixed it up last year and I won't be surprised if someone wins it doing something of the same nature this year. I've had a poor practice. I had high hopes coming up here. I had a good finish up here last year and was looking forward to it. But we've been here at the same time every year for how many years now? I don't want to say it's getting boring, but it's getting repetitive."
"It's been tough for me. I'm no Conroe expert. The 2011 TTBC was my only other time here. It seems much tougher this time to get a quality bite. You try to fish a little deeper or closer to the break for the bigger bites and I spent a whole day doing that and I'm pretty sure if I did that for a whole day during the tournament, I wouldn't catch a limit. When I say that, I mean I might catch one or two fish. It's also difficult to fish for keepers and get a big fish doing that. It's quite a conundrum.
"It's just a very difficult bite. Part of it is the season says it's time to change, but the weather says it's still summertime. We're supposed to get a front this weekend that could bring the water temperatures down some."
"It's normal Lake Conroe in the fall. It's always kind of slow. I think I've figured out a couple deals to get a bite, but it always seems to be a little better in the tournament. Everybody always seems surprised at what's caught in the tournament. The weights can add up quick when you catch a 6- or 7-pounder.
"Last year during practice, it was hot and calm and bright and sunny. This week, we just had a big storm roll through after 3 days of clouds and drizzle and then it's supposed to be sunny and 90 degrees by the weekend so it'll be the exact opposite of last year. Pretty much anything you've figured out these last few days more than likely won't fish strong in the tournament. I was thinking with the 3 days of clouds, the fishing might be getting better around the bank, but as soon as that sun pops out and it gets up to 90 degrees, they'll be pulling out. I say that because the shoreline cover now is only about a foot deep.
"You'd think it would pull them out deeper and there are big ones definitely out deeper, but there are still keepers up around the banks. There will still be a lot of guys beating the banks to beat out limits. I think the guy who can find two or three places where he can catch four or five big ones will do well. I've caught a few good ones and I'll probably be pitching to cover like docks or stumps with the Big Bite Baits Real Deal Craw and throwing some SPRO crankbaits around."
> Anglers will launch at 8 a.m. CT all 3 days from Waterpoint Plaza (15264 Highway 105 W, Montgomery, Texas). Weigh-ins on days 1 and 2 will get under way at 6 p.m. CT at the Lone Star Convention & Expo Center (9055 Airport Rd., Conroe, Texas). Weigh-ins on day 3 will start at 4 p.m. CT at the Lone Star Convention & Expo Center (same address).
> Fri., Oct. 4 – Partly Sunny - 90°/70°
- Wind: From the SSE at 5 to 10 mph
> Sat., Oct. 5 – Cloudy, Thunderstorms Possible - 87°/58°
- Wind: From the WSW at 3 to 6 mph
> Sun., Oct. 6 – Partly Cloudy - 78°/48°
- Wind: From the N at 12 to 22 mph
> For a complete schedule of events, click here.
> To learn more about Bostick's guide service, which also caters to catfish, crappie and striper anglers, click here.