SAM RAYBURN RESERVOIR
21815 FM 705
Broaddus, TX. 75929
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We’ve had our first really cold fall days (from 25 to 28 degrees), the Threadfin Shad are moving in and Deer Season is in full swing with my Buck already in the freezer.
This time of year is either the optimum or most complex season for many Texas sportsmen due to the fact we are able to Hunt - Fish or possibly both. Here in the Sam Rayburn area, we have good Largemouth Bass and Crappie fishing with Angelina National Forest providing both squirrel and Whitetail Deer plus several species of Waterfoul.
Although fall and winter can provide some stimulating weather conditions on Big Sam’s 115,000 acres reservoir, the key is listening to weather condition and planning your area accordingly. This is exactly why I selected the area I retired too which is the large peninsula separating the Angelina River and Ayish Bayou. There are three separate boat launching areas within one and a half miles of my home. We live on the large cove where Powell Park Marina is located which opens up towards the East facing Needmore Peninsula. This is a full service Marina with year round restaurant, cabins, lodge, camping sites, basic tackle supplies, groceries and fuel. A second launching area is the USA Corp of Engineer Rayburn Park recreational area whose boat ramps face South. Our third location is U. S. Forest Service Bayou Recreation area, commonly known as Five Fingers that faces North. During Rayburn’s normal/conservation pool of 164.4 EMSL Five Fingers covers six hundred acres of water surface area. This includes distinct creeks, in addition to eleven defined pocket coves. With these three launching sites I can pinpoint areas to allow fishing in all but the most serious windy weather conditions.
Currently our Threadfin Shad are beginning their third move of the year. Having a good Hydrographic map and Sonar GPS unit will save a lot of angling time by reducing the guessing of where Bass are locating. Their seasonal Fall movement begins as they school up coming in out of the main deep reservoir areas into the drains leading back into coves. By referencing your lake map, you can identify the deeper drains to key in on. The best map on Rayburn is the Lake Products Company’s which utilized the ten foot contour USAC of Engineers Reservoir records plus David Wharton’s personally marked map for the North end and my marked map for the South end. These maps are available at Powell Park Marina (phone # 409-584-2624).
By referencing this map and locating several drain migration locations before launching its a matter of using your sonar to pinpoint individual schools of Shad. As these baitfish move in they will mostly suspend in depths of ten to thirty feet and be grouped in large bunches. On my Lowrance HDS console unit, I’ve set it to show both down and side scan where they will appear as various sized Blobs sometimes as big as your thumb nail on down scan. Individual Bass will be identified by either a partial or fully inverted V (^). Using the side scan they will be indicated by the fore mentioned Blob or a closely arranged bunch of Dots as the inverted V (^) only shows up directly below your Lowrance HDS sonar unit’s transducer.
Many times these schools of Shad will hesitate along or over structure brakes such as points or humps before continuing their migration. In addition, these structure areas may have existing cover possibly holding fish which can be be filed using your HDS Snap Shot feature. It’s easy to identify these Snap Shots by using a preselected Icon to mark its location which will show up on your unit’s screen for future reference.
One of the many productive methods on school Bass are dropshot rigs using soft plastic. Other school fish methods are Cordell Jigging Spoons, Cordell Gay Blades and Heddon’s Sonar Blade. Both the Gay Blade and Heddon Sonar have a pulsating vibration that can be worked in either a vertical jigging motion or a stop and go horizontal movement. Both these blade baits and Cordell Jigging Spoons can be controlled to work anywhere in the water column your Bass are holding.
While I use the larger size in all three of these metal lures they are also made in a smaller one-quarter ounce size. While searching for deeper schools of winter time Bass you will on occasion stumble on schools of Crappie, especially in and near submerged brush piles. On Rayburn and other reservoirs Crappie and smaller Spotted Bass are harder to differentiate between on our HDS sonar units but both have smaller mouths and are easier to land using these smaller sized lures. A key is if you miss hooking several fish, try switching to the smaller lures.
When using the larger sized Cordell and Heddon metal lures I use either a six and one-half or seven foot Medium Power with Fast Action Loomis rod with a level wind reel loaded with Power Pro 20/25 lb. test braid. You also need to use a Fluorocarbon leader about 6 feet long with 15/20 lb. test so when you hang up and you will, the leader breaks before your line, hence saving expensive braid.
A trick I learned many years ago will save not only lures but also lost fish. When using Jigging Spoons in and around stumps or thick brush piles I change out the factory equipped treble hooks. I use a open eye Owner SIWASH hook commonly used by Salmon anglers for heavy Spoons and other metal lures. These hooks have a much deeper throat and wider gap which Bass can’t throw as easy when they come out of deeper water jumping and shaking their heads. The single hook also helps after hanging in brush or stumps as it’s easier to snap and bounce loose than our multi point trebles.
Many years ago I fished with Tom Mann when Eufaula (Walter F George) Reservoir in Alabama first opened and received a quick lesson in deep water jigging. While Tom used a open faced Spinning reel the same method also works on level wind baitcasters. He showed me two distinctly different methods. One was a long full sweep using your rod’s entire length and letting your spoon or tail spinner fall between sweeps. The second method was vertically jigging your 3/4 ounce Cordell spoon but using a slow upward motion seldom over two feet and a controlled drop keeping in touch by applying a slight tension on your line. Many times your boat’s rocking motion with your rod held at a forty degree angle will provide the needed action.
This method accounted for the most single day Bass I’ve ever had customers catch in my forty plus years of guiding on Rayburn. We found a huge school of Bass holding on a main lake hump in thirty to fifty feet of water that wore out my two anglers from Arlington, Texas. This was before I found out about changing to the Siwash hook and they lost about a dozen 3/4 ounce Cordell Spoons in either Gold or Silver, it didn’t matter. In about two hours they caught over two hundred Bass ranging from one half to about two pounds. In those two hours it was a matter of my keeping the boat within twenty feet of markers I had dropped out on each side of the school. I was using my Lowrance Paper graph and kept that section of paper which I use to make copies for use in our Electronics class each year to show anglers what a real school of Bass looks like.
The soft plastic DropShot takes a little getting use to and requires different equipment and rigging but is worth the effort. I use a Loomis 6 1/2 foot spinning rod with Light Power Extra, Fast action and a Shimano Sustain 1000 spinning reel. By purchasing an extra spool, you can have one with 6 lb. and a second with a 10 lb. test monofilament or monofilament on one and the second with Power Pro Braid. I also have Loomis’ 6 foot 10 inch ShakyHead casting rod that is a Medium Power with Extra Fast Action using a level wind Chronarch 5X1 reel loaded with 10 lb. test Power Pro Braid which allows using ShakyHead and DropShot for those preferring a bait casting setup.
Those anglers troubled with spinning reels line twist when using monofilament line on DropShot rigs have found that using braid cuts down on much of the line twist. Another help with line twist is to use a small ball bearing swivel above your weight. Long time fishing buddy Billy Murray came up with yet another remedy which like carbon paper is simple, yet very effective. He uses a cylindrical designed weight on which he applies a 1 1/2 inch long section of 1/2 inch wide either Duck Tape or Fiber Strand Strapping Tape. He places the weight in about 3/4 inches from each end of the tape then presses the two ends of tape together around the weight. This arrangement actually makes a “RUDDER” out of your tape which cuts down a great deal on your weight twisting the monofilament especially when you are retrieving between drops.
With our Bass following the migrating schools of Shad one of the fastest and surest methods of finding fish is the use of Crankbaits. The first place to start are points leading off of drains, creeks and many times the edge of shelves/ledges. I rig several Crankbait rods with lures that will run from 10 feet to about 20 feet deep while using different but basic shad patterns. I’ve written previously about what constitutes a good Crankbait rod as follows. It should, in my opinion, have a moderate action and be rated for the lure weight you are casting. On large reservoirs like we have in East Texas, a seven foot rod with a longer handle works well. This rod loads well allowing longer casts and picks up more line allowing a more efficient hook set. I use a Chronarch bait caster with a slower 5X1 retrieve which will allow your large lipped lures to dive deeper. On these reels I prefer monofilament line as its a little more forgiving on big Bass and todays hooks are much sharper than those of yesteryear. We used to check every treble on a new lure as many times they needed a little work with a fine tooth file but I haven’t needed to sharpen a hook for the last couple of years although I still check.
I start out on deeper points with Bombers big 3/4 ounce Fat Free Shad that will run down to 19 feet on a long cast with the wind. Another deep diver is Norman Lure Company’s DD 22 that weighs 5/8 ounces and reaches down to about 17 feet on the same 7 foot rod. Norman also makes a Heavy DD 22 that will cast somewhat farther allowing you to keep it at the same depth a little longer.
Bomber Company’s Fat Free Shad family and Norman’s “N” family both have a series of (Family) lures that cover the water column from the above depths to about six feet. These families of lures are one reason I use multiple rods as it allows us to search various depths without continually changing lures. Most anglers will find that as the day wears on and we tire out, we tend to continue to use the same lure rather than take the time to tie a different lure on. “But” if we have other rods already rigged with other lures we will swap. By remembering that just because they won’t take a Chrome Belly, Blue Back 6 A Bomber doesn’t mean they won’t take a Shad color Norman Deep Little “N” or even a War Eagle Spinnerbait.
Our current Theadfin Shad movement will continue throughout fall until Rayburn’s and other Texas waters reach a constant temperature of approximately 50 degrees or a little above. This includes waters all the way back to the end of fishable waters unless we get heavy cold rain which may move Shad back into the drains deeper waters before the shallows again warm up and Bass again move shallow.
Additional lures such as topwater poppers, slushbaits, minnow imitators and walkers will also continue to produce while Shad stay shallow. Poppers such as Rebel’s Pop-R which imitates the Popping Spitting motion of a fleeing Shad when worked using a short subtle twitching motion with your rod tip rather than a hard jerking motion. When cast back into little open pockets of surface vegetation these little twitches will sometimes draw strikes throughout the entire day. A common problem Bass anglers have when fishing Rebel’s Poppers and other surface lures is we don’t wait until the Bass really have a lure before setting the hook. What then happens is your lure ends up six to eight feet out of the strike zone. Booyah Lure Company previously came out with a lure using the one-quarter ounce Pop-R style body but added a very small lip in front and named it a PRANK. What this lip did was if you didn’t get a good hook set the lure dived deeper into the water and then popped back to the surface in the same area. At this time, we could pop it again or on a slow retrieve get it to swim just under the surface in a wide wobbling motion. Many times this motion would result in the Bass that missed it would come back for a second try or since Bass many times are bunched up, another would try. A problem with a smaller topwater was our Fall winds tended to let it drift out of narrow vegetation alleys and hang up. This year Booyah has added the same Prank lure but in a heavier slightly larger body size that holds in the wind and casts a little farther. This larger lure is also going to be another one of what I call Switch Hitters in that its going to also draw a lot of Saltwater attention. The same missed strike advantage will apply but also its heavier weight will allow it to cast even farther over open saltwater flats. In addition, many anglers working flats will have grass a foot or so under the surface which is ideal for a Popping lure that also swims just below the surface.
Our topwater Slushbaits are another major contributor for fall anglers topwater success. I call these lures Slushbaits because when worked with short but vigorous jerks they imitate the water spitting slushing noise made by surface fleeing Threadfin Shad. We have two types of these, one has a single propeller on the rear that tends to hang tail down and makes a deeper toned slushing noise. Heddon Lure Co. has a Torpedo Family which includes four sizes ranging from their 1/8 ounce Teeny for light spinning up to their 5/8 ounce Magnum. The Magnum draws strikes from not only Big Bass but Northern Pike, Musky, Saltwater Channel Bass (Redfish) and Spotted Seatrout (Specks).
I’ve been using a doubled bladed 3/8 ounce Cordell Crazy Shad in any chrome finish combination for as long as I can remember. Whenever we get shallow Bass in any of the fifteen states or Canada I’ve fished, it will catch Bass plus most other gamefish. Other examples are Cordell’s Boy Howdy with Gold/Black or Chrome/Blue. We also still have a wooden duel prop made by Smithwick. It’s hard to find commercially made wooden lures because anglers think you need rattling plus all wooden lures will swell after their paint finish cracks. But this cracking isn’t the end of your lures fish catching. I’ve got a couple really old Smithwick Lure Company’s Devil’s Horses in 3/8 ounce Blue/Chrome Orange belly and Bass/Orange belly that have been through several repair jobs. With wooden lures there is a simple but effective repair method. Remove all hooks, screw eyes and other hardware then let them “DRY” for several days, locate all cracks or other openings such as screw eye holes and seal with two coats of clear fingernail polish. Let that set for another day then replace all hooks and hardware as you’ve now got a good as new lure. Smithwick makes these wooden Devil’s Horse topwater baits in most popular color patterns in both 3/8 or 1/2 ounce size.
If you are after really Big Bass another Topwater “Slusher” is Heddon’s Wounded Zara Spook which at four and one-half inches and 3/4 ounces sports 2 inch propellers and makes the most racket of all. My largest five Bass topwater string of Largemouths on Rayburn weighed 32 lbs. and all were caught using the Wounded Spook one October morning over hydrilla next to a drain edge.
Our Walking baits must begin with Heddon’s Zara Spook which not only, in my opinion but that of most seasoned anglers, is our best “Big Bass” topwater. The largest topwater Bass I’ve had a customer catch was just over 10 pounds early one fall morning. It came on the original style Spook 4 1/2 inches long and 3/4 ounce in a Flitter Shad finish which he was working along the outside edge of a Hydrilla bed on a long point in Five Fingers Cove. This 3/4 ounce lure is a little heavier than most anglers topwater rod handles but Heddon also has a Super Spook, Jr. which at 1/2 ounces is a little easier for most anglers to use.
Spook’s like many other lure Families come in the same body style, but has 5 different weights from 1 ounce Super Spook XT down to a 1/4 ounce Zara puppy. This size range covers anglers fishing for everything from Northern Pike, 50 pound Muskies to Bull Reds off the Louisiana coast plus our Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass.
Heddon also makes a lure with the elongated Spook body but has a cupped chugging style mouth. Its not unusual to have Bass holding in submerged vegetation which anglers don’t attract due to a Spook’s quieter “Walk The Dog” action. But Heddon’s Chug’n Spook allows anglers to “Walk The Dog” but also occasionally stop, using it as a Chugger, then continue Dog Walking. This method is also many times productive when Bass miss your moving lure or you set the hook too soon.
I use a Loomis 7 foot Saltwater Moderate Action popping rod rated for 5/8 ounce lures for most of my topwaters except the 3/4 ounce Spooks and larger Crankbaits for which I use a Loomis Crankbait rod rated for 1 ounce lures.
On bright summer days with our clear fall waters the Bass will many times move into our Hydrilla beds, patches of Lily Pads and Pondweed where we can’t use crankbaits or topwaters. When this happens its time for our soft plastic like Yum Companies Dinger which is a fatter pencil shaped soft plastic that comes in 4 sizes from a 3 inch up through 6 inches. When fished in thick cover a Yum Dinger can be rigged Texas style with or without weights since its dense enough to cast and sinks slowly.
When Bass are feeding they usually hold just back inside some type of cover where there is shade that provides ambush cover. Many years ago Billy Murray brought a video to one of my Fishing Schools showing a septic tank one-half full of water and several Bass. He had put a studio light on one side with his camera on the other. Over the septic tank he placed a sheet of plywood that he could move which would provide a shade line below the plywood. He would drop a hand full of large live minnows into the tank and this is when we found out just how much Bass used shade as cover. The Bass that were laying just inside the shade line facing out would dart out and catch the minnows while those Bass holding back in the tank paid no attention whatsoever to the minnows.
Using that ideology its clear why we catch so many Bass when our Yum Dinger drops off the outside edge of vegetation or into interior holes back in the vegetation. When fishing my Yum Dinger weightless, I use a straight shanked hook that I put a wooden toothpick through the worm body and hook eye then cut off the protruding section of the toothpick. This method actually holds the bait on better for me than using a offset hook.
When fishing another soft plastic I use a 7 foot Loomis Extra Fast Action rod with braided Power Pro line and Fluorocarbon leader on a Calcutta round reel. One reason for the round Calcutta is I can’t break 20/30 lb. test brad with my bare hand. My solution is to wrap the line around the reel posts which allows me the heft to break the line. Most regular palming style reels don’t have the external posts required for this and braid will cut into the reels nylon frame.
When using a weighted Texas rig, I again use a straight shanked hook but instead of a tooth pick to keep the soft plastic on, I use a Florida style screwlock style bullet sinker. Both the toothpick and screwlock serve the same purpose which is keeping your lure and hook together when fishing in and through aquatic vegetation or brush. If the soft plastic pulls off the hook eye section it will usually pull below the hook’s point, consequently you get hung up in cover and that ends being fishable.
Another method of using Yum Dingers is to rig them Wacky style which entails your Dinger being rigged so it falls in a more horizontal manor. There are two different methods for rigging Wacky style, one is to use a short section (1/2 to 3/4 inch) of surgical tubing just big enough to slide over your Dinger. Then I use a Hall Hook Company’s (601-695-4588) 2/0 or 3/0 weedless short shanked wide gap through the tubing and worm sitting at the egg sack with the size hook depending on diameter of your Dinger.
In deeper grass or with windy conditions I use the same Dinger but with Hall Hook Company’s ring weight and hook. This ring weight slides over the Dinger’s tail up to its egg sack then the weedless hook is positioned to run through the weight’s manufacturer’s positioned holes. After running the hooks through those two holes I reposition the weedguard over the hooks point. This ring weight setup really makes a difference when fishing deeper areas with a Dinger or casting into the wind which is usually blowing in the Fall and Winter in East Texas. In addition, both the sections of surgical tubing and Hall’s Ring weight cuts down on the number of Dingers lost when Bass come to the top jumping and shaking their heads. This same style of hook in size #1 or #2 is also what I use on a DropShot rigged with Yum Companies Sharp Shooter and Warning Shot finesse style worms. Yum’s 4 inch Swim’N Dinger is also a good DropShot worm with its paddle tail creating a little extra enticement.
When doing seminars at boat and outdoor shows, anglers continually want to know what’s new on the market. The thing is its hard to come up with anything new as most lures have already been developed. But what we do have is existing or previously designed lures that can be improved upon much like the Booyah Pleak.
Those reintroduced lures which had been discontinued were brought back due to anglers demand. Probably the best example would be Rebel’s Pop-R which was discontinued for several years until anglers demand caused Rebel to begin marketing it again. Billy and Bobby Murray owned Murray and Associates, a wholesale distributor, would place orders with Rebel Lures for several thousand of these customer required Pop-R’s which today are still top Bass producers.
Wayne Kent, owner of Creme Worm Company has reintroduced “The Tube Worm” from many years ago. It is truly a Floating worm but must be rigged so that your hook doesn’t pierce its hollow body. When Texas rigging I’m using a 2/0 wide gap straight shanked Owner Hook #5103-121. The Tube Worm’s body from the head through its egg sack section is soft but dense and requires the hook to be Tex Posed which works on all soft plastics as it’s weedless but you’re still able to get a good hook set. By using Owner’s 2/0 hook you can run the hook about 1/4 inch into the worm head then bring the point out and reinsert the hook in the “Egg Sack”. This keeps your hook out of the hollow portion but allows you room at its head to run a round toothpick through the body and the hooks eye then trim the excess which holds the worm on when fishing through grass or over cover.
When Texas Fishing with a bullet sinker I rig it as follows allowing the Tube Worm to really come into its own. Put your bullet weight nose first on the line before your hook. Then after slipping the toothpick through the worm and hook eye, keep the cut off toothpick’s end and use it to peg your weight to the line. By moving the weight up the line one or two feet depending on if you’ve got smooth bottoms or emerging grass you will have a truly Floating Tube worm.
It’s kind of like having a Junior Carolina Rig that can be cast and used like you would a regular Carolina. This allows the worm to float up off the bottom where its much more tempting since it can be twitched and wiggled while being retrieved. For those who’ve Squirrel hunted we found it’s much easier to see them up in a tree than on the ground. I think the same will apply to Creme’s Floating Tube Worms and Bass.
A second method is to use these Tube Worms with a DropShot rig using one of Hall Hook Company’s #1 round bend short shanked hooks. If you are fishing your DropShot in or around cover Hall Hook’s has the same style hook but with a weedguard. By hooking the Tube Worm through its head you have six inches of worm floating out away from the line wiggling and jiggling with every twitch of your rod. If you need more of a finesse style worm, just snip off just about 1 3/4 inches leaving 1/4 inch of the Eggs Sack to hold your hook without getting into its hollow body.
While working drains as you follow Shad movement there are a multitude of Spinnerbaits which are another really good Fall Bass bait. War Eagle makes a 5/16 ounce model I use equipped with a gold Colorado and nickel Indiana blades dressed with a white duel length skirt. These are small enough to resemble an adult shad but actually cast well and their blade combo truly Flashes.
When fishing a Spinnerbait in the outside edge of Hydrilla or other vegetation a single Willowleaf blade doesn’t hangup like duel blades or a Colorado. While its hard to find a single Willowleaf blade you can buy a 3/8 ounce Booyah Single Colorado Blade then replace the Colorado blade with a number 4 nickel Willowleaf blade and you are in business.
We still have some areas with live Lily Pads and Hydrilla that warms up enough for Bass to hold in. Using a 1/4 ounce white Booyah Swim’N Jig with a 3.75 inch Yum Watermelon Red Craw Chunk in late afternoon or early evening is also taking some good fish.
If you find some of the same type cover that is holding Shad being worked over by Bass, Creme’s worms soft plastic Du-Dad in imitation Threadfin worked like a Buzzbait is getting some good action again late in the day.
All these patterns are going to last until Shad have finished their Fall seasonal movement, then when our water temperature starts dropping back down towards the fifties, everything will turn around and the Shad and Bass will head back out to deep water.
Our 2020 Fishing Schools schedule is as follows.
Map & Electronics Class February 21 - 23, 2020
Big Bass Week March 2 - 6, 2020
For further information, I can be reached before 8:00pm at 409-584-3177
Will is the Director of "The Fishing Schools” which are held on Sam Rayburn Reservoir. He is an active member of the Texas Outdoor Writer’s Association and before resigning, he was one of twelve anglers statewide who were members of Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s Freshwater Fisheries Advisory Board. In 2009 he was appointed by Governor Perry as one of the nine commissioned members of our state’s Advisory Panel on Recreational Boating Safety.
Our Sponsors include: Arbogast, Bandit, Bomber, Booyah, Cordell, Creek Chub, Heddon, Lindy, Norman, Rebel, Smithwick, Thill, Yum, War Eagle, Gene Larew and Bobby Garland www.lurenet.com, Lowrance Electronics (www.lowrance.com), G. Loomis Rods (www.gloomis.com.
For further information on Sam Rayburn Resorvoir or The Fishing Schools, please use these links or give me a call at 409-584-3177
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21815 FM 705
Broaddus, TX. 75929