SAM RAYBURN RESERVOIR
21815 FM 705
Broaddus, TX. 75929
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RESERVOIR RISE - ALMOST SPAWN - $ PUBLIC WATERS
All winter long we were told East Texas was and would continue to see drought conditions. Then we saw 12 inches of rain in 2 weeks here at my home on Big Sam which extended all the way north of Jacksonville which is the top of our watershed.
Rayburn had dropped down to EMSL of 161.49 on January 7th which was 3 feet below conservation pool of 164.4. On March 5, 2018 our EMSL was 166.33 equating to almost 2 feet above pool, an almost 5 foot rise. With only the 2 power generators open 10 hours a day and both gates closed plus up stream drainage still occurring, we won’t see much drop in Reservoir levels even without additional rainfall.
This leaves our current water levels back behind the Torpedo grass, Buck Brush (Button Willows) and Shoreline timber. In addition, we’ve still got a tremendous number of dead Pine trees still standing besides those Pines already on the ground. Those dead Pines are mostly due to our two consecutive years of high water levels which in turn drowns Pine trees. If and when we get one of our high straight line wind storms most of our dead Pines on the south end will be on the ground. One of our US Forest Service rangers told me they are seriously concerned about this happening and then a forest fire starting along the Reservoir's boundaries within its limited access.
The north end of Rayburn which is fed by both the Angelina River and Attoyac Bayou is currently dingy down to about the 147 bridge. It starts clearing as it widens out below that but still stays off color towards the Dam. The inactive coves from Veach Basin south are not as turbid until you start back north up Ayish Bayou towards Miller Creek.
With all the vegetation such as Hydrilla in coves like 5 Fingers, Cole Branch, Norris, Farmer’s, etc. the water will begin clearing fairly fast without additional heavy rainfall. Our surface temperatures are still in the upper fifties to mid sixties with a white one-half ounce War Eagle spinnerbait visible to about eighteen inches.
I’m getting phone calls about Largemouths being on the beds but it’s still a little early for the major spawn. There are several factors that come into play before the female will lay her eggs. A male must make a bedding area, water condition must be right with both water and air temperature being adequate in addition to enough daylight hours. But even with all other conditions being met “SHE” must be ready for her eggs to be laid and if she is not ready, it AIN’T going to happen.
One of the real advantages to having The Fishing Schools since 1989 is I had some of our nation’s premier biologists providing information both in Class and written. Mike Ray, a now retired Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s biologist who at one time headed up- our state’s Freshwater Hatchery came to class multiple times plus fished with me on Rayburn and explained as follows: When the Female is ready to lay her eggs there is only one distinct object that indicates this. Located between her anus and anal fin another opening will appear that is not readily visible except during the spawning period This is the OVIDUCT which is the tube that serves for the passage of her eggs.
As her eggs become developed and approach time to lay, this opening will take on a pinkish to red hue and increase in its opening size. On a five pound bass approaching spawn, this duct’s opening will be the size of an English pea and deep red.
The aforementioned Mike Ray once kept four different female bass from 3 to 5 pounds which were in various stages of pre-spawn. We took each individual bass, with wet hands, and he pointed out the difference in each bass’s OVIDUCT’s development with his estimate of spawning time. He explained you could also get additional indicators by feeling the basses internal egg mass but that’s way more than we need to know or try to understand.
At Dave Holder’s recent 43rd Annual Houston Fishing Show following one of my Bass Seminars several anglers who read these articles brought up they couldn’t afford some of the equipment I write about.
The biggest single item on being affordable is I’ve only had 3 boats in the last 42 years and none were financed but saved for. My outboard is a 2005 but every January I take it in for a complete physical just like I go to my doctor.
In addition I live within 1 1/2 miles of three boat ramp locations which cuts down on running time. A second element is buy really good equipment and then take care of it. I’ve got Loomis rods that are twenty years old that I still use and its the same with reels.
Depending on your involvement level, you don’t need a garage full of tackle and equipment. Equipped with three outfits I bass fished from Florida to Wisconsin carrying an 11 foot aluminum John boat with a 5.5 hp motor and still had fun.
The next two months are annually the only time of the year most ANGLERS and most BASS are located in the same depth of our Reservoir’s water column. We still have some cold fronts that will move Largemouths out into deeper water but they won’t move as far out or stay as long.
Many years ago when I first started learning about the importance of balance specific use rods I broke them down as follows. First is a 7 foot Extra Fast Action soft plastic and Jig rod. Second was a rod for Spinnerbaits which was softer than my worm rod and third was a Crankbait, topwater combo.
There are several combo’s that can be used to search both deep cover and structure areas with Carolina Rigs being a good choice. I use a Loomis model 855 GLX BCR 7 foot 1 inch fast action rod rated for 1 ounce lures and 25 pound test line. This will handle both 3/4 and 1 ounce lead bullet sinkers plus your bigger soft plastics. I use a Shimano round 5x1 Calcutta 200 loaded with 30 lb. test Power Pro braided line on which I add the sinker followed with an 8 MM round bead then a good barrel swivel. On the lure side of your swivel I add a 2 to 3 foot Silver Thread Fluorocarbon leader. The leader length I use is its length should equal the distance you move your rod’s tip when retrieving your bait. A key to hooking Bass on this rig is always set your hook with a side ways stroking motion and not an upwards Texas style hook set. Your hook size should depend on what soft plastic you will use with a good benchmark being your hook’s throat, distance between hook shank and barb should be as wide as your soft plastic’s thickest point doubled. I use mostly Owner Hook Company’s twistlock (similar to Cork Screw) style round bend wide gap model 5167 in 2/0 to 4/0. This Twistlock screwed into your soft plastic is a much more efficient method than the offset hook technique. These hooks handle everything from a 4.5 inch Yum Christie Critter through their 6 inch Lizard and 7.5 inch Yum Ribbontail worm.
When fishing shallower water, I’ll use a lighter Loomis GLX 854C JWR Extra Fast Action which is for 20 lb. test line and 5/16 to 3/4 ounce lure. I’ve got a Calcutta 100 with a 5x1 reel loaded with 20 lb. test Power Pro braid and the same Carolina setup but using Silver Thread’s 17 lb. test Fluorocarbon tippet, I’ll use the 3/4 ounce out in front of our grass edges in sparse cover or go with a 1/2 ounce if there are laydowns or shallow cover. The same Yum lures can be used but Yum also makes a more compact Wooly Hawgtail that does lots of flopping and flapping with its 4 rear appendages.
If the water really clears up back in some of our steeper, deeper banks an even lighter setup using 4 inch Yum Lizards or 4.25 inch flat bodied Bad Mamma may do the trick.
The key to Carolina rigs is to keep your sinker on the bottom dragging up bottom sediment and your lure riding above the bottom. One way to think about this is its way easier to see a squirrel up in a tree than on the ground and the same adage works with bass seeing your lure above and beyond a slip sinker. This dragging motion using your rod rather than reeling is what keeps your sinker on the bottom, in turn drawing the bass’s attention. On a recent guide trip we used Carolina rigs while sitting off an 18 foot deep point and caught both Largemouths and Spots on 4 inch Chartreuse Yum Dingers during early morning.
These same rod and reel combinations are what I use for my larger jigs, be they Standup, Brush or Barrel style. BooYah’s Football style jig comes in 3/8, 1/2 and 3/4 ounce size and six color combinations. I use a 3/4 ounce in either Black/Blue or Watermelon/ Brown skirts when fishing deep stumps or laydown logs.
One of the reasons I use ROUND style reels on Carolina rigs, jigs and larger soft plastics is its hard to break off when hung up while using heavy lures and lines. These round reels allows me to wrap line around the all metal reel frame giving me enough gripping area to snap the leader.
I use a Yum 3.75 inch Money Craw in Green Pumpkin, Couter Brown (Brown/Orange) or Bama Magic (Blue/Black) for a trailer on my Football Jigs. The key to fishing football jigs is to keep them slowly moving which creates a rolling wobbling action similar to that of a football being rolled along the floor. This in turn causes the Money Craw’s paddle type claws to have a continuous swimming motion
The standup style jig such as a Yum’s Bankroll can be very effective when used with Yum’s 4.25 inch Bad Mamma, 3.75 inch Mighty Bug or 4.5 inch Wooly Hawgtail. All three of these soft plastics have a fairly stiff body which allows them to stay more up right. This in addition to their external appendages makes them ideal for use with a standup jig head. In most East Texas waters Green Pumpkin, Black Blue Shadow and Black are go to colors in our Spring’s more turbid waters.
Brush type jigs are exactly what their name implies, jig for fishing in brush or other types of cover, be it dense, sparse or even brushpiles.
While the head designs maybe somewhat different, a good indicator of pitching or flipping style jigs used in dense cover is their hooks are usually extra strong heavier hooks used by anglers utilizing braided line of 50 plus pound test or more.
Having been a licensed guide since 1974 I do very little pitching into brush with jigs on guide trips. My reason is basically the only angler who can really work close in brush is the angler fishing from the bow and if you want to stay guiding your customers need to be catching the fish, not the guide.
When I’m fishing by myself with jigs I use a Loomis model MBR 783 GLX which is a 6.6 foot Fast Action for up to 3/4 oz. jigs and 17 lb. test line. It has a Chronarch 5x1 loaded with 20 lb. test Power Pro Braid with a 17 lb. Fluorocarbon tippet. Most of the time I use a 1/4 oz. Green Pumpkin Booyah Boo Jig which has a somewhat pointed head with a flat bottom and fiber weedguard. For a trailer I use either a Yum Wooly Hawg Craw or 2.75 inch Craw Papi which both come through Buck Brush without hanging up. Some of the Jig trailers have a lot of appendages that tend to hang-up on brush branches requiring a heavier jig that in turn falls too fast. The slower your jig falls the more you can shake it and hopefully, tempt a bass. As in other jigs both skirts and trailer colors here on Rayburn have been those with some shade of Green or combinations of Green, Black/Blue or Brown/Orange working well in both deep and shallow waters.
As the Spawn really kicks in, a Swimming style jig works well through Torpedograss and other shoreline aquatic vegetation. Local publications and guides are using the misnomer of Hay Grass to identify this vegetation but there is no such emergent plant according to both Texas A&M and our Aquatic Plant Society. Torpedograss is a dense noxious vegetation imported to be used as livestock forage due to its ability to grow in wet soil. It like Water Hyacinth, Giant Salvinia and Hydrilla can be detrimental to our lakes, streams and rivers but on really large reservoirs like Rayburn, Hydrilla can also provide good habitat for bass. The biggest problem with Torpedograss is its root mass is so dense native terrestrial vegetation's can’t reestablish themselves following a draw down. This robs us of Rayburn’s ability to revitalize itself from decaying vegetation that has previously provided the nutrients that kept Rayburn one of our nation’s top fisheries.
This all ties in with the hammering it receives from the huge number of For-Profit Bass tournaments held throughout each year. These organizations don’t promote the proper methods of “Keeping Bass Alive” as outlined in B.A.S.S.’s own publication of 2002 and Rayburn is losing its reputation as the recreational anglers place to catch bass including that occasional Lunker.
Back to the Swimming Jig which is exactly how its fished, BooYah makes one of these that’s head is shaped like a arrowhead with a fiber weed guard, 50 strand silicone skirt and a keeper spike for its trailer. The Swim’N Jig comes in 1/4, 3/8 and 1/2 ounce sizes and several colors. I use the 1/4 ounce white with Yum’s 2.75 inch Craw Chunk in Watermelon/Red, Virgo Blue or Crawdad which is Brown/Orange. This Chunk has a wide flat body that helps it plane fast and when the hook is placed in the exact center of the body, it’s claws continually flap as its retrieved.
I use a medium powered 6 ft. 9 inch Loomis Spinnerbait rod rated for 3/4 ounce lures and 20 lb. test line. This rod loads really well but has enough backbone to get most bass out of the Torpedograss. This grass is very fibrous and when a large bass balls up in it, you’ve got a problem if you try to force her out by cranking. What I do with everything I use in this grass, be it jigs, worms, Yum Dingers, frogs or buzz baits is head the boat into them and get a straight vertical pull from above them.
The reel I use for Swim’N Jigs is a 6x1 Shimano Curado that Fishing Tackle Unlimited has kept running for me since mid 2000. I spool it with 20 pound braid and a 17 pound tippet. The 6x1 gear ratio lets me speed up my retrieve after exiting the cover which allows me to make more casts since we are fishing specific cover.
We fish the holes in this grass plus open pockets between individual Buck Brushes with the same rod when using buzz baits. A change we make is using a 7x1 gear ratio reel again loaded with Power Pro 20 lb. test braid with 17 lb. test tippet. There are several areas with steep banks on the south end that have narrow parallel fringes of brush and grass next to deep water. These areas are ideal for a 1/4 or 3/8 ounce Booyah Buzz with an all white or White and Chartreuse skirts. By using the 7x1 ratio reel you can get your buzz bait started when it hits the water which keeps it from hanging in vegetation or submerged branches.
Later on in the year, this same rod and reel setup works when using buzz type Frogs or Toads. Creme Lure Company makes a paddle foot Du-Dad that has a flat bream shaped body that comes to the top really quick while making lots of surface commotion with its twin paddle feet. Owner Hook Company makes a Double “Toad” 5/0 hook that is equipped with their Twistlock cork screw type attachment that really holds into the Du-Dads head.
Our bass’s continual movement during pre-spawn and the spawn makes the ideal condition for crankbait use. With most prey fish now being adult size, our 3/8 - 5/8 ounce size crankbait, swimbait and minnow bait lures are the ticket. The problem anglers have is choosing which among the untold thousands of lure designs, sizes and color combinations that are available for you to buy. Long time friend and originator of our fishing school concept, Billy Murray spelled out many years ago the “5” characteristics to be considered when choosing a Lure: #1 Depth, #2 Action, #3 Speed, #4 Size, #5 Color.
Those 5 features are all tied in to seasons, time of day, weather conditions, feeding senses, water temperature, size of predominate forage and color patterns of seasonal forage. With the large number of coves situated on the south end of Rayburn we’ve got an enormous selection of points, both inside coves and on the main lake to fish with Crankbaits.
If I were starting out, my first lure would be Bomber’s Fat Free Shad. It was designed and developed by PRADCO Outdoor Brands lure designer, Jim Gowing at the suggestion of legendary bass angler, Bill Dance. It is one of several Bomber’s lure families that comes in the same body style but different sizes. The Fat Free Shad family starts at 1/4 ounce model BD 4F diving to six feet up to their 3/4 ounce model BD 8F diving to about 19 feet. I use a Loomis 7 foot Moderate Fast Action Medium Power rod for 1/4 - 5/8 ounce lures. I’ve got a 5x1 gear ratio Chronarch reel loaded with 12 lb. test Silver Thread copolymer clear mono which casts well and has great knot strength. For the larger 3/4 oz. BD 7F and BD 8F I use a GLX 845 C CBR with a Shimano 5x1 Calais that picks up 17 inches of line. I’’m also trying a new Loomis 7 foot 2 inch IMX-PRO crankbait rod called a Deep-Flex that is a little slower action which handles lures to 1 3/8 ounces and is one of their new mid-range priced rods. Rebel Lure Company used to make a double Deep Maxi R, one ounce Deep V plus we had the one ounce One Knocker lipless crankbait, Heddon’s Hellbender is still in production and one of our deepest diving crankbaits. Many Texas anglers think about the Hellbender as a trolling lure with a small jig tied on a short mono leader for Whites, Hybrids and Stripers. But it’s one of the first deep diving Bass lures many of us used along with the original 600 series Wooden Bomber, its companion Waterdogs and Arbogast’s Magnum Mud bug. The 2018 Bass Pro Shop catalog has quite a few of the bigger crankbaits including the oversized Gliding Swimbaits. These larger baits need a more powerful rod like the Deep Flex without having to go to a Muskie rated rod.
On the other end is bass rods we need when our Threadfin Shad move in to Spawn about one-half way into our major Bass Spawning period. All fall and winter we’ve been using adult sized artificials with hefty rods and equipment because of the available forage. But when Threadfin Shad spawn the millions of newly hatched Juvenile Shad become Basses main forage and these are the exact opposite in size.
Rebel Lure Company has reintroduced their Rebel Humpback which is 1.75 inches long, weighs 1/4 ounce and dives about one foot deep. Although with today's close tolerance casting reels being able to handle small diameter line, I still use a spinning reel for these light weight lures. I have a Loomis’ 6 1/2 foot Medium Fast Action IMX model SJR 781 with a Shimano Sustain 1000 FB spooled with 8 lb. test Silver Thread mono. If you have trouble with line twist remember to pump your bass rather than trying to reel them in which is what causes the most line twist. Another helpful option is to go with 8 lb. test Power Pro Braid and a Silver Thread mono tippet. Texas anglers don’t use spinning outfits enough because many consider them incapable of handling large bass. My two largest bass on Rayburn were both over eleven pounds and came on Carolina Rigs with a 10 lb. leader. My largest on a spinning outfit weighed 8 pounds on a 4 inch Yum Watermelon Swim’ N Dinger using 6 lb. test Silver Thread. One of the biggest pluses to fishing light weight tackle and smaller lures is your 2 pounder feels like a 4 and makes things a little more equal in the basses favor.
There are a multitude of small artificial lures available that resemble Shad such as Bandit lures series 100 and Cordell’s 1/4 oz. Super Spot. The Rebel lure family has several even smaller lures that require a lighter spinning or spincast rod and reel but are the ticket for those newly hatched Threadfin Shad that are feeding our Bass.
Finally, the most used lure this time of year during pre-spawn and spawn is our soft plastic “WORMS”, although the market is covered up with every conceivable design some work better than others.
Right now with our high water and its flooded brush and grass, lures with lots of append-ages work in front of our grass on jigs and Texas Rigs but not into the cover itself. If you remember, basically the first WORM was Nick Creme’s Scoundrel which was molded after a plain old Night Crawler that was nothing but a gooey slimy natural worm that fish eat. This same slimy worm still catches fish and to introduce kids to fishing is still our number #1 sure fire method. Many of today’s outstanding anglers started with a Zebco spincast, five foot cheap rod, one inch plastic bobber, #2 long shanked hook and a live Night Crawler or Red Worm.
As the old saying goes the only difference between men and boys is the price of our toys.
For the last several years my #1 worm has been Yum’s 5 inch Dinger which can be rigged to fish in any and all Largemouth Bass cover. When rigging Texas style I use a screwlock sinker and a #2/0 wide gap Owner Hook. By using the screwlock sinker, your sinker never gets away from the Dinger when fished in cover. A second advantage is when your Bass jumps and clears the water your weight and bait slides up and holds on the line a foot or so above the hook. This takes away its worm and sinker weight reducing its ability to throw the hook. Although you don’t need a weight when fishing Dinger’s shallow, the little 1/16 ounce still holds the worm away from your hook when the Bass is jumping.
Creme Lure Company has a new designed soft plastic called a Flip-Flop that has a scoundrel front half and twin rear legs with Frog style feet. Rigged Texas style it should work in our shoreline vegetation.
I use Loomis’ seven foot one inch NRX 852 JWR with Extra Fast Action for all my lighter soft plastics. I have a Calcutta TE 50 spooled with 20 lb. test HiVis Yellow Power Pro braid with a Silver Thread Fluorocarbon leader. The reason for HiVis yellow is I try to fish with a slack line so I can see the bass pickup my soft plastic. Playing in a touchy - feely contest with a bass is usually won by the bass but by watching your slack line you can see if a bass has your lure. If the line starts going out they are moving away, if it starts getting more slack they are coming towards you and sideways is self explanatory.
This time of year with some bass shallow and others still out in deeper waters, I use the 852 with 1/8 and 3/16 screwlock for the shallower bass in about 12 foot or less. A newer rigging for Yum’s 4 and 5 inch Dingers is Hall Hook Company’s Ring Weight and Weedless Hook (Ph. 601-695-4588). A problem many anglers have with Dinger style worms is tearing at the hook location. When this happens and your bass jumps there goes your bait. The rigging method with Hall’s ring weight considerably reduces this and a second advantage is even though the ring weight is light it really helps when casting into winds. Lastly is the additional weight increases your Dinger’s sink rate allowing more fishing time in our 8 to 12 foot Hydrilla Beds. We recently used a 5 inch Watermelon Seed Dinger using this weight fishing off the edge of a 10 foot shelf in Pigeon Roost Cove and landed several nice Largemouths.
For deeper fish and larger lures I use the same basic rod but a 7 foot 5 inch Extra Fast Action Model NRX 893 JWR. The Calcutta I use is a TE 100 spooled with 30 lb. test HiVis Yellow braid and again the Silver Thread Fluorocarbon in 20 lb. test. The deeper water has less brush but we have Hydrilla out in 12 to 18 foot so Dingers are still a good choice but their 6 inch model seems to draw a little bigger bass. Yum’s 4.5 inch Christie Critter and 7.5 inch Ribbontail worm both in Green Pumpkin, Junebug or Watermelon Seed colors are also better deep baits.
Now for Texas Parks & Wildlife and anglers dollars. A recent FLW Tournament held here on Rayburn with an entry fee of $1,750.00 for each Pro and $525 fee for each amateur with a total of 450 anglers having entry fees totaling $511,875.00. The pay out was $335,890.00 which leaves the FLW Tournament organization with $175,985.00 not counting local fees paid to FLW nor advertising dollars they received.
Yet for this, the participants pay the same Texas license fees as Mom-Dad-and the Kids. Our almost 2 million recreational anglers pay in over Nine Million dollars each year in the $5.00 dollar Freshwater Stamp fee that was to have ended in August 31, 2014.
This was one money tournament on one Texas Reservoir for three days and TPWD has no idea of how many of these money events are held each year in Texas.
But since TPWD spent $45 million dollars for a Fish Hatchery that’s original cost was $13.5 million dollars, recreational anglers cannot expect their wastefulness and squandering to change.
The Director of TPWD continually touts a $2,000,000.00 ten year donation from Gulf States Toyota which equates to $200,000.00 a year which is $24,015.00 more than the one FLW Tournament event took out of our state from entry fees alone.
With our next online report we will provide more information on our recreational angler dollars supporting private enterprises.
Remember fishing is supposed to be a fun event and not something with Texas recreational anglers almost totally supporting commercial enterprises.
Our 2018 Fishing Schools schedule is as follows.
Map & Electronics Class is February 9-11, 2018
Big Bass is March 26-30, 2018
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, Silver Thread, Smithwick, Thill, Yum, War Eagle, 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