By Todd Ceisner
Speckled trout and redfish.
That’s all Todd Faircloth had fished for in his previous few trips to Orange, Texas. While chasing saltwater species on Sabine Lake, bass were merely an afterthought.
“Other than that it was all new to me,” he said.
The resident of nearby Jasper, Texas, added another triumph to his already stellar tournament record with a grind-it-out victory at the Sabine River Elite Series. At the sprawling venue many had never heard of or seen before it was announced as the site of the season opener, the 5th-ranked angler in the BassFan World Rankings presented by Livingston Lures http://bassfan.com/rankings.asp coaxed pre-spawners and spawning fish out of a shallow, remote bayou he had all to himself all week.
His 49-06 winning total was slightly more that some pre-tournament estimates that predicted a 12-pound average would win. He overcame having just four fish on day 3 to catch a 14-09 limit on the final day to win a virtual tug ‘o war with Dean Rojas by more than 6 1/2 pounds. Only Kevin VanDam (six) has more Elite Series victories than Faircloth (four) now.
Since the start of 2012 (Bassmaster Classics and Toyota Texas Bass Classic included), Faircloth has collected two Elite Series wins, four other Top-10 finishes and failed to cash a check just once. With a berth in next year’s Classic already locked up, he’s free to take some more chances he wouldn’t otherwise.
“I’ve got the Classic made now, so I’m not worried about points to qualify,” he said. “I can kind of roll the dice if needed — maybe gamble. I’ve never been in this position in my career.”
Here’s how he did it.
The proximity of Jasper to Orange (90-minute drive) made it fairly easy for Faircloth to work in a few days of scouting in December before the Sabine went off limits. In addition to marking fishy-looking locales, he was more concerned with learning how to get around on the delta system as very little depth detail was available on the latest mapping chips.
“I didn’t have a real good understanding how everything laid out down here,” he said. “I hadn’t ever spent any time down here or bass fished down here. Being that close to my house, you feel obligated when there’s an event that close to your home to put more effort into it because it’s so convenient.”
“I rode around a bunch and this one area that I ended up fishing in, to me, looked the best and looked the most fertile. It looked like a miniature Florida fishery or a Venice, (La.), area. It had a lot of grass and had some pads and reeds in it.”
The water in are of Taylor Bayou that he focused on was much cleaner in December than it was last week, but he still made it part of his rounds during official practice. The first day, he practiced side by side with Aaron Martens and neither were all that impressed with the fishing.
“I went through there the first day of practice and only had like three bites, but it was cold and it was real muddy,” he said. “I won this tournament on the third day of practice. I went back to the area around noon and the water had warmed up and it had cleaned up and I had like eight bites in like 2 hours. My confidence just went through the roof.
“Up until noon on the third day of practice, I had no idea where I was going to fish the tournament.”
> Day 1: 5, 10-07
> Day 2: 5, 16-08
> Day 3: 4, 7-14
> Day 4: 5, 14-09
> Total = 19, 49-06
Faircloth opened the tournament with a decent limit for 10-07 that had him in 10th place, a little more than 5 pounds behind leader Rojas. The bites in his prime area weren’t as furious, though, as they had been the day before and he briefly considered going elsewhere to start day 2.
Ultimately, he opted to stick with his game plan and it resulted in a tournament-best 16-08 stringer on Friday that catapulted him to the lead. His key fish, a 4-plus pounder, came first thing in the morning as he probed deeper into the bayou. He had his limit before noon and backed off the spot since he was the only angler in there.
“After the first day, I fished in there all day and only caught six keepers, and I was a little hesitant to go back in there,” he said. “I had another area in Taylor Bayou where I felt like I could catch a few keepers out of. I was contemplated going in there first and then going back in there later in day. I fought that off and it was definitely the right decision.”
He admitted to fishing too fast through the outer reaches of his area on day 3 because he was anxious to see if he could catch similar quality out of the back of it. Instead, he caught plenty of short fish and wound up with just four keepers for 7-14 that dropped him back to 2nd, more than 3 1/2 pounds behind Rojas.
The Shimano Chronarch was Faircloth's go-to reel this week at the Sabine River.
Knowing Rojas was sharing an area with two other anglers in the Top 12, Faircloth was confident that if made the right decisions and fished methodically enough on the final day, he could make a run at the win.
That’s exactly what happened as he boxed another 4-pounder and got on a roll that helped him close with final-day 14-09 and seal the victory before the largest crowd ever to witness an Elite Series weigh-in.
Winning Pattern Notes
The area he fished was a flat that stretched nearly a mile in length and was about 500 yards wide. He worked back and forth each day and would bypass certain stretches that didn’t produce any bites the previous day. He keyed mainly on vegetation, but wood was also prevalent.
With the water temperature climbing in the mid-60s during the event, he surmised that most of the fish were moving in to spawn although he wasn’t necessarily sight-fishing due to the stained water.
“It’s a vast, wide-open area, and the fish were scattered throughout it,” he said. “Before off limits, the water was a lot cleaner that it was while we were here. Any time when I’m driving around on a new body of water and I see an area that has a lot of grass in it or vegetation, generally speaking, somewhere within that area is going to be a large population of fish. In my opinion, it was the best-looking water I saw down here.”
The flat was so shallow, he was genuinely concerned about navigating his way out of the area each day.
“Back where I was at, I could run in there on pad, but I couldn’t get on pad once I was back there,” he said. “I had to idle probably 3/4 of a mile out before I could get back up on pad. That was something that added to the stress level as well. It was a about 15- to 20-minute idle before I could get on pad and it was real shallow even where I was getting on pad. You’re idling through all that muck and grass and you’re losing fishing time, but you’re also worried that something could possibly happen.”
Winning Gear Notes
> Swimbait gear: 7’ heavy-action CastAway casting rod, Shimano Chronarch casting reel (7:1 ratio), 30-pound Sunline FX2 braided line, 1/16-ounce worm weight, unnamed 4/0 heavy-gauge offset hook, 5” Strike King KVD Perfect Plastic Swim’n Caffeine Shad (double header red and watermelon red/clear sparkle).
> The retrieve was key to triggering bites with the swimbait. “I was just swimming it through the grass real slow,” he said. “You couldn’t fish it fast. I was fishing it anywhere from 6 inches to a foot down in the water column and just crawling it through there. That bait was the bait for me.”
> Soft stickbait gear: Same rod, same reel, 16-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon line, unnamed 4/0 offset hook, 5” Strike King KVD Perfect Plastic Ocho (double header).
> While he caught the majority of his fish on the swimbait, a couple key big fish fell for the Ocho.
“Whenever one would miss the Caffeine Shad, I’d cast back in there and catch them on that,” he added.
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – Commitment to the area and also not giving up on it after the first day of practice. That was the biggest deal. I could’ve very easily have gone to some other section of the river or another area and totally missed out on it.”
> Performance edge – “My (Skeeter) boat and (Yamaha) motor, definitely. I got up on pad in 1.8 feet of water and if I didn’t get up on pad there, I would’ve had another mile to idle before I could. It saved me about 30 minutes of fishing time. There are many boats and motors that can get up in the shallow of water.”
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