By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

There were lots of fish in all three stages of the spawn last week at the Sam Rayburn Reservoir FLW Tour. Anglers who finished near the top of the standings caught them at depths ranging from mere inches down to 18 feet.

Sight-fishing would've played a major role had the water not been stained from a long winter of wind and rain. Many quality specimens were caught off of beds, but the vast majority weren't looked at beforehand.

Here are some of the particulars about how the competitors who finished closest to winner Bryan Thrift compiled their numbers.

2nd: Mark Rose

> Day 1: 5, 23-14
> Day 2: 5, 19-02
> Day 3: 5 16-01
> Day 4: 5, 11-01
> Total = 20, 70-02

Rose isn't a grass-fishing aficionado, and he went into the tournament determined to find some hard-bottom action away from the green stuff (sparse this year) that would attract so much of the field. He located quite a few points during practice that were stopovers for fish heading to and from the spawning grounds. To his befuddlement, only one of those was productive during the event.

Big bites including a tournament-best 9-pounder on day 2 kept him near the top of the leaderboard throughout, and he led after days 2 and 3. His hotspot had run dry by the final day, however, and he had to sight-fish the lone quality specimen he brought to the scale.

"I think I had them coming and going there for awhile," he said. "The wind made a big difference for the post-spawn fish I think they'd pull up to feed on that area when it blew."

His key offerings were a Carolina-rigged lizard and three different crankbaits.

> Carolina-rig gear: 7'3" heavy-action Kistler Helium rod, Lew's Tournament Pro casting reel (7:1 ratio), 17-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line (main line and 2 1/2-foot leader), 3/4-ounce unnamed weight, glass bead, unnamed 4/0 hook, Strike King Rage Tail Lizard (junebug or watermelon red).

> Cranking gear: 7'11" medium-heavy Kistler Mark Rose Signature Series rod, Lew's BB1 Pro casting reel (5.1:1 ratio), 12-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon, Strke King Series 5 or Series 3 (chili craw).

> He also picked up a couple of fish on a wacky-rigged worm from the extreme shallows.

Main factor in his success "Committing to not fishing the shallow grass like most people do on Rayburn. Grass and me don't get along too well."

Performance edge "My HydroWave. Most of the fish would stop biting when the wind quit blowing, and I felt like it produced a strike or two when things got calm."

Photo: BassFan

Greg Hackney caught all 20 of his weigh-in fish on a swimjig.

3rd: Greg Hackney

> Day 1: 5, 16-03
> Day 2: 5, 20-08
> Day 3: 5, 16-09
> Day 4: 5, 14-09
> Total = 20, 67-13

Hackney has vast experience on Rayburn, but couldn't get anything reliable going during practice. Then he got on a strong swimjig pattern early on day 1.

"I started on a shad-spawn place where the grass was almost to the surface in 5 to 6 feet of water," he said. "The wind blew that out, so I just went to the bank. I'd found fish there in practice, but they were all rats.

"My first bite was a 4-pounder. I kind of figured them out and went to work on them."

He ran the pattern in numerous locations that shared some key characteristics.

"The deal seemed to be really flat places with almost no contour. I fished little drains with a foot and a half of water, and the water around them would only be a foot deep. Some of them were as far as 200 yards from water that was 4 feet deep I was boiling mud with my trolling motor pretty much the whole tournament.

"I'd have the boat as shallow as I could get it and I was throwing shallower. I made long casts and I was just waking the bait. The bites were all visual and it was pretty awesome fishing they were really aggressive."

> Swimjig gear: 7'6" medium-heavy Quantum EXO PT rod, Quantum EXO PT casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 65-pound Gamma braided line, 3/8-ounce Strike King Hack Attack Heavy Cover swimjig (white, black and blue or green-pumpkin), Strike King Rage Craw trailer (white, black/blue flake or candy).

Main factor in his success "I guess the biggest thing was I just kind of fished on gut feeling. I really left myself wide open and let the fish tell me what they wanted."

Performance edge "I'd say my Lowrance unit. That might sound funny when I was fishing so shallow, but I was navigating some pretty treacherous areas and it was hard to see a lot of stuff. I just ran old trails from the past that I had on the unit."

FLW/Colin Moore
Photo: FLW/Colin Moore

Jason Meninger weighed the biggest bag on 2 of the event's 4 days.

4th: Jason Meninger

> Day 1: 5, 17-05
> Day 2: 5, 24-02
> Day 3: 5, 8-03
> Day 4: 5, 17-03
> Total = 20, 66-13

Jason Meninger finished among the Top 5 in a tour-level event for the first time ever, and only a horrible day 3 prevented him from contending for the title.

His performance was based on a single location (a 75-yard stretch of water) and his pattern was wind-dependent he needed it to be blowing from the south to push baitfish in. The north wind on the third day was a killer.

"When I found that spot, it's not like I was out mapping," he said. "I was literally idling around a point and it didn't look special at first, but I could look down and see the break where it went from 10 to 18 feet. I could see the fish there (on his graph). I turned the rig around and threw out there and caught one that was 3 or 4 pounds, and right then I knew it was a good spot.

"I really went into the tournament wanting to fish shallow with a swimjig, but that bite just kept dying on me. At 11 o'clock the first day when I had no keepers, I went to that spot."

He caught fish on a Carolina rig and a jig that were as deep as 18 feet, but most were in the 12- to 14-foot range. His bags on days 2 and 4 were the best in the field.

> Carolina rig gear: 7'5" G. Loomis GLX rod, Shimano Chronarch Ci4+ casting reel (7:1 ratio), 50-pound PowerPro braided line, 14-pound Gamma fluorocarbon leader (2 1/2 feet), 3/4- or 1-ounce weight, clear glass bead, 4/0 Gamakatsu EWG SuperLine hook, 4" Yamamoto Senko (watermelon), Z-Man ZinkerZ (green-pumpkin) and various other soft plastics.

> Jig gear: 7'3" G. Loomis GLX rod, same reel, 14-pound Gamma fluorocarbon, 3/4-ounce River2Sea (brown) or 1-ounce Buckeye Lures (watermelon candy) football-head jig, Z-Man Flappin CrawZ (green-pumpkin) and other soft-plastic trailers.

Main factor in his success "That spot was just magical for some reason."

Peformance Edge "My Lowrance HDS 12 Touch. If it wasn't for seeing those arches and clearly knowing they were fish, none of it would've happened."

FLW/Brett Carlson
Photo: FLW/Brett Carlson

John Cox has notched back-to-back 5th-place finishes.

5th: John Cox

> Day 1: 5, 14-12
> Day 2: 5, 21-14
> Day 3: 5, 14-01
> Day 4: 3, 10-07
> Total = 18, 61-02

Cox loves to throw a spinnerbait, and doing so has garnered him 5th-place showings in each of the last two events.

"I was throwing it up in the bushes on the bank," he said. "Some of the fish would take it real shallow and some would eat it right at the boat in 10 feet of water.

"The main place I fished had a big, giant spawning area that everybody was beating up in practice. The weather kicked a lot of the fish out and I was catching them as they were coming back in. I covered about 7 miles on the trolling motor the first day, and the second day was the same thing. The last 2 days I just ran around.

He also caught a few weigh-in fish on a swimjig.

> Spinnerbait gear: 7'3" medium-heavy MHX rod, unnamed casting reel, 20-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon, 1/2-ounce Rattle Head spinnerbait (chartreuse/white).

> Swimjig gear: 7'6" medium-heavy MHX light flipping stick, Lew's Tournament Pro casting reel (7:1 ratio), unnamed 30-pound braided line, 3/8-ounce Rattle Head swimjig (black/blue), Angler's Choice Flappin' Craw trailer (black/blue flake).

Main factor in his success "Just that area that I was fishing."

Performance edge "Probably my rods. I was working the spinnerbait and the swimjig really fast and popping them a lot, and I needed a rod with a lot of tip that would flex and spring the bait forward."

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