The FLW Tour opens its 2007 slate today at Texas' Lake Travis, but anglers will have to be in midseason form if they expect to fare well. This is no place to shake off the rust from a long off-season.
Few in the 200-angler field are familiar with Travis, a lake that even the most seasoned locals find to be a booger at times. Also, the water level is 34 feet low, which will make it fish small, and the weather pattern has been unstable. Air temperatures have dipped into the 20s the last two nights and water temperatures could be in the high-40s in a lot of places by today.
The fish are in the pre-spawn mode and are scattered at depths down to 40 feet, with most hanging at 20 feet or below. Limits shouldn't be a major problem because of the lake's huge population of Guadalupe spotted bass (12-inch Guadalupes can be brought to the scales), but they're not big enough to be parlayed into a high finish.
Largemouths in the 2 1/2- to 3-pound range will be the key. They're out there, but there aren't enough to go around. Those who catch more than their fair share will have a shot at making Friday's Top 10 cut.
Before getting into more information about the bite, here's more about the lake itself.
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake name: Lake Travis
> Type of water: Highland reservoir
> Surface acres: 18,622 at full pool
> Primary structure/cover: Rockpiles, ledges, steep dropoffs, boat docks
> Primary forage: Threadfin shad
> Average depth: 65 feet
> Species: Primarily largemouths, some Guadalupe spotted bass
> Minimum length: 14 inches for largemouths, 12 for Guadalupes
> Reputation: Some quality fish swim here, but they can be extremely difficult to catch
> Weather: Chilly on day 1, then gradual warming
> Water temp: Low- to mid-50s
> Water visibility/color: Upper end slightly off-color, lower end primarily clear
> Water level: 34 feet down (significant because all of the vegetation and many of the best rockpiles are dry)
> Fish in: 2-40 feet
> Fish phase: Pre-spawn
> Primary patterns: Crankbaits, jerkbaits, deep jigs, shakey-heads
> Winning weight: 45 pounds
> Cut weight (Top 10 after 2 days): 22 pounds
> Check weight (50th place after 2 days): 14 pounds
> Fishing quality: 2 for Travis
> Biggest factor: Weather – wind could hurt the deep bite
> Biggest decision: Deep or shallow
> Wildcard: A 5-pounder, which could be just about worth its weight in gold
All Eyes on Wendlandt
Two-time Angler of the Year (AOY) Clark Wendlandt lives nearby and knows the lake better than anybody in the field, so he's at the top of everybody's watch list. But he said his local edge probably isn't as great as many think.
"I haven't seen the lake this low since maybe when I was a kid, and when it's like this, I don't think I have all that great of an advantage," he said. "Yeah, I have a little more knowledge than most, and under normal conditions I might know where a few more rockpiles are.
"But when it's like this, it's more difficult to have an advantage. I'm going to have to make good decisions, just like everybody else."
He said the lake's present "smallness" will be the biggest factor.
"The pressure's going to hurt more than anything, because it'll be intense. There's just a lot less lake to fish. I think the deep bite will probably end up being best, but I'm just wondering if you'll have to change to finesse tactics to catch them. That's one of the questions I've got.
"I think the guys who really do well will figure out something that's just a little bit different, which is the way it is at a lot of tournaments. A guy that can come up with something just a little bit off the wall might win the tournament."
Mike Hawkes lives just a few hours away, but he's not a big fan of Lake Travis.
Mike Hawkes, another Texan, doesn't hold Travis in high esteem, but his spirits have been boosted by some quality bites in practice.
"I only live 3 hours away, but this is such a poor fishery that nobody ever comes over here unless somebody puts a gun to your head," he said. "And then those people usually just end up killing themselves.
"I fished here once before and caught 77 fish, and one of those was a keeper."
His ratio has been a lot better on this trip.
"There are more keeper largemouth here than I thought there were. I've been getting three or four a day, so it's not impossible.
"I don't really have a spot or a specific area because the lake is fishing so small. Everybody's on the same stuff – points, rock ledges and things like that. Most of the stuff you want to fish has a boat sitting on it."
Gagliardi has Hope
Reigning AOY Anthony Gagliardi hasn't gotten many quality bites in practice, but he hasn't given up hope. He knows if he can find a way to catch just a couple of decent fish a day, he'll be in business.
"It's not so much that I haven't found anything that'll hold up, but I just can't find bigger fish. And on the rare occasions when I do catch one, I can't duplicate it.
"You don't need five big ones here – just one or two decent ones will probably be enough to put you right there. When you're only one or two fish away, you always have a shot."
He's not convinced that the deep bite will prevail.
"I know some guys have been catching them shallow, and even after we got some pretty cold weather, they were still catching them pretty good. I think fish will be caught from the bank all the way out to 40 or 50 feet, with the majority coming from the 10- to 20-foot range.
"This is a small lake, and if you did figure something out, you could run around and fish everything you wanted to fish."
Nixon Expects Company
Veteran Larry Nixon doesn't expect today to be one of the greatest days on the water he's ever had.
"With the cold weather (last night and tonight), it could be just a brutal day, and I'm dreading it," he said. "At my age, my stuff just doesn't work right when it's that cold.
"If we get out there and it's a bluebird day that's just dead-slick calm, it could be an absolutely disastrous fishing day."
He said he has a little something going, but it's not enough to make him confident he can achieve a high finish.
"I've only caught a couple of decent fish since I've been here, and they were both from the same type of place and about the same depth. I'm not going to fish shallow, but I'm not going to go real deep either. I'm going to stay around the mid-range.
"I think I can catch a limit, but there are going to be a lot of us fishing the same type of water. It might be a real zoo out there."
Top 10 to Watch
Here, in no particular order, are BassFan's recommendations for the Top 10 to watch in this event.
1. Clark Wendlandt – He's logged more time on Travis than any angler in the field and he's also a savvy veteran capable of adjusting to whatever conditions are present. Local favorites usually don't win, but he has to be at the top of this list.
Shinichi Fukae often has reason to smile after a tough-bite event.
2. Shinichi Fukae – He won two tough-bite events on the Tour last year, and this is his kind of tournament. His finesse-fishing skills should serve him well.
3. Jay Yelas – Another versatile veteran who won't get rattled if keeper bites become extremely scarce. He had a Top 10 at the brutal Havasu Western FLW Series 2 weeks ago, and this could be the same type of event.
4. David Fritts – Crankbaits could be a big factor. If they are, he will be too.
5. Sean Hoernke – He's a Texan whose confidence is running high, even though a miscalculation brought on a bomb at the Okeechobee Eastern FLW Series last month. Low-weight events don't scare him.
6. Anthony Gagliardi – He's as versatile as just about anybody on tour and has a history of doing well on rocky impoundments. Look for him to crank up a few good ones.
7. Luke Clausen – He's become one of the most consistent anglers in the business during the year since his Bassmaster Classic victory. The knowledge gleaned from his formative years on the deep waters of the West will help him here.
8. Dave Lefebre – Another consistency-based pick. He was the AOY in last year's FLW Series, so he knows how to catch them when the catching isn't great.
9. Matt Herren – He's always near the top of the points list because he nearly always figures out a way to catch quality fish. A strong finish from him is expected, no matter the conditions.
10. Jim Moynagh – He works a deep jig as well as anybody and is coming off an outstanding year. Unless strong winds knock down the offshore bite, he should be able to keep his momentum going.
Anglers will take off at 7 a.m. CST today and Friday from Highland Lakes Marina, located at 16120 Wharf Cove in Volente, Texas. Today's and Friday’s weigh-ins will be held at the marina beginning at 3 p.m.
Those who survive the Top 10 cut will launch at 7 a.m. Saturday and Sunday Travis County Mansfield Dam Park located at 14370 Mansfield Dam Road in Austin. Weigh-ins on those days will be held at the Austin Convention Center (500 East Cesar Chavez St.) beginning at 4 p.m.
> Jay Yelas thinks the big fish are mixed in with the little ones, and plans to work through numbers in search of size. To read his full practice report, click here to go On Tour With The BassFan Big Sticks.
> Wendlandt said there's no vegetation and very few stumps in the lake due to the low water. "There aren't any bushes or anything like that. It's more like a river lake right now, with just a lot of rocky banks."
> Hawkes expects a lot of limits to be in the 5- to 7-pound range. "It'll take 8, 9 or 10 (pounds) to do any good."
Here's the OutdoorsFanWeather.com forecast for the tournament days.
> Thur, Feb. 15 – Partly Cloudy – 45°/26°
- Wind: From the north/northwest at 1 mph
> Fri, Feb. 16 – Sunny – 56°/42°
- Wind: From the south/southwest at 9 mph
> Sat, Feb. 17 – Sunny – 64°/38°
- Wind: From the west/southwest at 7 mph
> Sun, Feb. 18 – Partly Cloudy – 63°/42°
- Wind: From the east at 4 mph