By Todd Ceisner
The talk around Toledo Bend last week was that the lake was fishing wide open with fish scattered from the bank out to some post-spawn transition areas.
The effects of an extended spring were still being felt as fish were still moving on beds throughout the tournament. It was the post-spawners, though, that seemed to carry the rest of the top finishers through the event. Some said it shaped up to be a junk-fisherman's tournament, but those who nailed down Top-5 finishes all had something solid they relied on every day.
Commitment to those patterns was key to success because despite some lulls between bites, staying in those areas where the fish were moving out to resulted in some quality bites.
Here's a recap of how those who finished just behind Jacob Powroznik filled their livewells.
2nd: Chad Morgenthaler
> Day 1: 5, 18-15
> Day 2: 5, 24-13
> Day 3: 5, 11-12
> Day 4: 5, 21-14
> Total = 20, 77-06
With the windy conditions in practice, Chad Morgenthaler made up his mind that he'd narrow his focus down to one area of Toledo Bend.
"I knew it'd be a popular area, but it's typically where a lot of big fish and tournaments weights come from," he said.
Despite a wicked thunderstorm that forced him off the water for a while on the first practice day, he figured he caught a 27-pound stringer, including an 11-pounder on a frog.
"I caught the rest on a jig and by then I'd already seen the hay grass was holding a lot of nice fish," he added. "I was keyed in on that and knew I needed to expand on it quickly. I knew I could sight-fish because I'd found some on beds so I felt like I had enough going with the weather coming to get me through."
Most of his fish came off secondary points in the hay grass in 3 to 4 feet of water.
"The key was the stretches of milfoil," he said. "There was a little lane between the hay grass and milfoil and the fish were in there to spawn a little deeper or for the shad spawn. I think they were set up on the hay grass line because of the sunshine and it was a great ambush points for shad and bluegill.
"I didn't put gas in the boat the first 3 days. I just stayed in those areas and it looked good," he said, "I didn't try to run all over the lake and that was the biggest key. I fished real clean and stayed on the same pattern."
He did have key windows were the bites would come fast and furious on one area. He caught most of his weight on the first 2 days by being there at the right time.
"It was odd that the bite started at 10 and went to 1 or 2," he said. "Everyone else's bite was early or real late."
> Flipping gear: 7'11" heavy-action Denali Jadewood flipping rod, Lew's Super Duty Speed Spool casting reel (7.1:1 gear ratio), Shimano Core Mg casting reel (7.0:1 gear ratio), 55-pound Toray Bawo Finesse braided line, 3/4-oz. Lunker Lure jig (black/blue), Zoom Big Salty Chunk trailer (black/blue).
> He also caught some fish on a Senko, a Zoom Horny Toad, a SPRO frog and sight-fished with a Missile Baits D-Bomb, but would ultimately cull everything out with the jig. He did weigh in one bed fish on day 3.
> Main factor in his success – "Maximizing my time and not getting caught up in making a big run. I find that I fish my best when I can go into an area and stay there and just put my trolling motor down and just go fishing. It can be frustrating at times with the long dry spells and it can be very difficult to stick to my guns, but it was like Lake Okeechobee where one big fish can change things quickly. I would have 10-minute spans where I'd catch two or three big ones, then go for a while without a bite, then catch another big one."
> Performance edge – "I'd stand on my Minn Kota trolling motor all day long. Another key was that Denali flipping stick. It allowed me to fish very clean throughout the whole tournament."
Randall Tharp was able to fish his strengths at Toledo Bend and he came away with his best finish of the year.
3rd: Randall Tharp
> Day 1: 5, 16-05
> Day 2: 5, 24-13
> Day 3: 5, 17-04
> Day 4: 5, 18-04
> Total = 20, 76-10
Randall Tharp was simply blown away by how well Toledo Bend matched up with his strengths as a grass fisherman.
Other than the first part of day 1 when he ran north, but eventually was turned away by a fog bank, he fished his entire tournament in Lowe's Creek. In practice, he'd found some decent areas up north around some docks and sea walls.
"I knew it would go away, but it felt safe to me," he said. "The way I practice now, I don't know what I'm on until the tournament starts. I wasted the first half of the first day up the river because I ran into some fog. I came back down and caught 16 pounds and that may have cost me a shot at winning. I really thought I could go down the bank and catch them everywhere up there."
He noted, however, the fish on the southern end were in much better shape.
"The fish that came out of the grass the fish I was catching shallow were two different kinds of fish," he said. "The fish in the grass were healthier and heavier while the shallow fish were beat up and skinny."
Once he settled into Lowe's Creek, it was all about keep his bait in the water as much as possible.
"It was about making as many flips as I could and covering as much water as I could," he said. "I probably hit every blade of milfoil in there over the 4 days."
His presentation was crucial to maximizing his fishing time.
"When I'd flip in there, I'd hop it once if the bite was slow," he added. "If not, I'd let go to the bottom, then reel up and flip again. I feel like I've perfected that technique and that's how I did it this week.
"It was good enough for third and this was one of the best tournaments I've fished this year without a doubt. I never got fuel the whole time I was there. We get 8 hours to fish each day. I must've fished 7 hours, 50 minutes each day then."
The key sections of grass for him were the clumps that were about the "size of the hood of a car," he said. "There was very little of it topped out and I think that's why guys didn't find it or overlooked it. It was mostly 6 to 12 inches from the surface and it was growing in 2 to 8 feet of water."
He got most of his bites on the fall in 5 to 8 feet and felt like the weather was a key factor in his success.
"If it would've been cloudy and wind, I wouldn't have caught what I caught," he noted. "I was really blessed with the conditions we had."
> Flipping gear: 7'11" heavy-action Halo Fishing Twilite casting rod, Shimano Core Mg casting reel (7.0:1 gear ratio), 60-pound Gamma Torque braided line, 3/4-oz. Reins Tungsten flipping weight, 4/0 VMC heavy duty flipping hook, unnamed punch skirt (green-pumpkin), 4" Trigger X prototype craw bait (green-pumpkin).
> Main factor in his success – "Being pretty stubborn. Fishing the way I was, I was convinced I was going to win that way. I'm just really confident fishing that way. I'd go through some dry spells, but I'm glad I stuck with it because when they started biting I was there doing the right thing."
> Performance edge – "Every piece of my set up was extremely critical – the rod, reel, line – every piece I have I feel is the very best you can get. I'm 100-percent confident in all of it. One is just as important as the other."
Mark Davis threw a Carolina rig all week, leading to his fifth straight Top-4 finish.
4th: Mark Davis
> Day 1: 5, 17-14
> Day 2: 5, 22-09
> Day 3: 5, 15-14
> Day 4: 5, 18-02
> Total = 20, 74-07
For the second tournament in a row, Mark Davis did something a little different than the rest of the field and it helped garner him another Top-4 finish. Not that a Carolina rig at Toledo Bend is considered foreign, but it wasn't among the popular presentations during the Elite Series event.
Davis stuck with it all tournament long and despite running low on areas with quality fish, he managed to climb the leaderboard each day.
"My practice was great," he said. "You never know, though. I thought I had enough fish for three tournaments, but really you can never have enough fish found."
As it turned out, the fish in the areas he was targeting were not replenishing so he was hunting for new areas every day.
"I thought I could catch them off these areas for more than one day," he said "You use up everything pretty quick in a 4-day event when that happens."
He was focused on inside grass lines in 4 to 6 feet of water where he felt some fish were spawning and other were coming to after spawning.
"The fish were leaving me, actually," he said. "There were a lot of fish still shallow and I know a lot of them were sight-fishing and flipping, but a lot of the fish were being depleted by me and because they were heading out deeper."
On the final day, he had to fish water he hadn't even practiced on, which made it difficult.
"I had to piece it together and that's even harder to do with a Carolina rig because you're fishing so slow," he added. "If I had been fishing a crankbait, it would've easier to cover more water."
> Carolina rig gear: 7' heavy-action Team Lew's casting rod, Team Lew's Pro Speed Spool casting reel (7.1:1 gear ratio), 20-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, 3/4-oz. unnamed barrel sinker, 3/0 Gamakatsu EWG worm hook, 4" Strike King Caffeine Shad (watermelon red).
> He weighed in one fish on the final caught on a Strike King KVD jerkbait. Other than that, everything he weighed came on the Carolina rig.
> Main factor in his success – "Quickly identifying key hard spots that were void of grass that were holding both spawning and post-spawn fish. It's hard to do that on this lake because there's not a lot of it."
> Performance edge – "My Lowrance units. I have the HDS-12 and it allowed me to idle around and look for those hard spots. It was without a doubt my most valuable tool this week."
Casey Ashley used a combo pattern of cranking and flipping along with a football jig to earn a second straight 5th-place finish.
5th: Casey Ashley
> Day 1: 5, 15-06
> Day 2: 5, 21-11
> Day 3: 5, 17-06
> Day 4: 5, 19-05
> Total = 20, 73-12
Casey Ashley had a tough practice mainly because of the wind as he was trying to get an offshore pattern figured out.
"For one, you couldn't really fish," he said. "I tried to find fish out and knew it would be with them in between. The wind blew hard every day and that made it hard to stay out there and fish effectively. You'd drift across a place, but it was hard to tell if it was any good."
Eventually, he got dialed in on an offshore cranking pattern with a secondary game plan of flipping deep hydrilla, which is how he caught some of his bigger fish.
On day 1, he caught everything dragging a football jig around and then went mostly cranking and flipping the rest of the event.
"The first 2 days, I culled a good many times," he said. "I was just trying to get to the 15-pound mark because I thought all that was there was 3-pounders. I probably screwed up on day 1. Maybe I left too early."
Each day, he had 15 pounds before 10 a.m., which allowed him the rest of the day to hunt for kicker bites.
"I figured I could catch 15 off my starting place, but I had no idea it would hold up for 4 straight days," he said.
His key area was a big flat in the mouth of a spawning bay.
"There wasn't much to it," he said. "It was just a little flat point with a ditch that went from 8 to 12 feet. They were loaded up there. Those fish were in transition. I'd catch them there one day and the next day they'd be pulled our further."
> Cranking gear: 7'4" medium-heavy Quantum Tour KVD cranking rod, Quantum EXO casting reel (6:6.1 gear ratio), 10-pound Hi-Seas fluorocarbon line, Lucky Craft LC Deep Diver RT 2.5 crankbait (chartreuse shad), Strike King Series 5 crankbait (sexy shad, chartreuse sexy shad).
> Jig gear: 7'6" heavy-action Quantum EXO Tour PT casting rod, Quantum EXO casting reel (7.3.1 gear ratio), 20-pound Hi-Seas fluorocarbon line, 3/4-oz. Jewel football jig (green-pumpkin orange, Zoom Super Chunk trailer (green-pumpkin).
> Flipping gear: 7'10" heavy-action Quantum EXO casting rod, same reel as cranking, 65-pound Hi Seas braided line, 3/0 Gamakatsu flipping hook, Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Craw (green-pumpkin, black/blue).
> Main factor in his success – "Looooong practice days. It took a lot of hours just to figure it out. I'd already found the deal I caught them on the last time we were here, but that grass deal, it takes a lot of time to find that stuff. You can't see it with your eyes so you're constantly watching your graph and trying to find points and indentations in the grass line. That was very time consuming."
> Performance edge – "My Triton and Mercury were great. I was burning 30 gallons of gas every day and I never had a problem."
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