The 2015 Texas Team Trail, presented by Cabela’s, held it’s second in a series of four qualifying tournaments at Toledo Bend Reservoiron February 21stwith 254 teams represented. Toledo Bend spreads out for approximately 65 miles and has about 185,000 surface acres, so the anglers had plenty of water to fish. However, a big problem this year was the weather. Winds prior to the tournament were gusting in the 30mph-plus range so tournament officials made the decision to let all participants trailer to their fishing locations. Many of the anglers headed north to fish shallow, stump-filled waters, mid-lake anglers were seeking medium-depth grass-lines, while those heading south seemed to be keying in on the 12- to 20-feet staging areas. The lake was wide-open for options, but the anglers had to stop fishing at 3pm and be in the weigh-in line no later than 4:30pm.
Early predictions by local pros were for this massive Sabine River reservoir to produce some huge stringers and BIG bass – and boy were they right. The team of Bart Blakelock and James Benedict were the third team to weigh-in and set the bar high for the rest of the field with a whopping bag of bass that weighed 35.56 pounds. Among that 35.56 pound bag of Toledo Bend bass was a lunker that went 11.42 pounds. Their tournament win was worth $32,125, which included $1270 for Big Bass. That’s impressive!So how do you go about catching a 35 pound bag of bass in a tournament as prestigious as the Texas Team Trail? It’s actually pretty easy if you are in the right place at the right time using the right bait – and your last names are Blakelock and Benedict.
“We fished north and our area was a 50-yard stretch in the bend of a ditch that had some isolated hydrilla patches,” stated the winning duo. “We were using ¾-oz. Rayburn Red Rat-L-Traps, 17- to 20 pound test line, working the bait slow and ripping it out of the grass. The second cast of the morning is when the 11-pounder hit and at first we didn’t think it was that big. However, when we got it to the side of the boat it was so big it was scary. We had three good fish by 9am and lost one in the 5-pound range right at the boat. The rest of the day was a grind to get our limit and we only had a total of seven bites.”
Wind didn’t play a huge factor in Blakelock and Benedict’sfishing since they were partially sheltered behind an island. I might mention that this is the same area they fished during the Bass Champs Tournament the previous weekend when they finished in 25th place. The big bass just didn’t turn on for them during that event, but they sure did on February 21st.
Second place and $8,327 went to the team of Jonathan Simon and Cade Durio with a total weight of 26.28 pounds. The team fished mid-lake all day and had about 25 pounds in the livewell by 8:20am. All of their bass were taken on Bass Kandi soft plastics fished on a Carolina-rig with a ¾-oz weight. In some areas the fish were positioned on the inside of the grass-line while in others the bass related to the outside edges. The team caught between 30- to 40 keepers during the day with two of the bass over eight pounds. This always tough team stated that their 12-foot Minn Kota Talon power-poles were a real key to their success. For those not familiar with this anchoring system, they are the vertical poles mounted on the back of the boats that can be raised or lowered depending on the fishing conditions. The extra length of the power-pole (most poles are 8-feet in length) allowed them to “stick” to the bottom in windy areas where otherwise they probably would not have been able to fish correctly. Way to go guys!
Third place and $5630 went to the team of Clay West and Clint West with a total weight of 26.09 pounds. This team also spent their time in the mid-lake area and worked drops in the 15- to 26-foot depths that had scattered grass and stumps. They fished an A-rig almost exclusively but did take a few bass on a Carolina-rig.
“In practice we found a spot where we caught a couple of 3-pounders and a 4-pounder,” stated the West duo. “We were using the Hog Farmer A-rig (umbrella rig) with Keitech plastic bodies. We started our day in Housen Bay … and it seemed like there were about 300 other boats fishing that area … (ha). We had a 4-pounder on the first cast and then a 5-pounder. We were working the rig fairly deep and anytime you could bang the A-rig off a stump (and not get hung-up) you would get a bass. We fished a couple more spots and then with 25-minutes left in the tournament we went back to our starting spot and caught a 6-pounder on a Carolina rig. It was a great day for sure!”
As I visited with other anglers it was apparent that the bass saw lots of different lures during the day. Some of those other baits used to bring in some hefty bags of fish consisted of jigs, spinnerbaits, bladed-baits, crankbaits, flukes, swimbaits and Senkos.
Last years TXTT Championship winners Phil Marks and Tim Reneau brought in 19.45 pounds and stated that they just couldn’t get anything going deep so had to go shallow with the Strike King Rage Blade and a new proto-type Red Eye Shad for their fish.
As the weigh-in progressed I was truly amazed at what a bass factory Toledo Bend really is. Even with the tough weather conditions there were 783 bass brought to the scales, total fish weight was 2323.07, average weight per team was 9.18 pounds and the average weight per fish was 2.97 pounds.-