By Todd Ceisner
There aren’t many pros who would turn down an opportunity to fish a lake where 40- to 50-bass days are the norm. Lake Travis is such a venue, but the challenge facing the FLW Tour competitors who’ve descended on central Texas this week has been generating any semblance of a consistent keeper pattern.
Come Thursday, there will no doubt be reports of anglers catching dozens upon dozens of fish, but some will be left frustrated that only a small number of them reach the 14-inch length threshold. The hope is that five hit the mark because the bigger fish that inhabit Travis’ waters are pretty well spread out and can only be classified as “random” at this point.
After some cloudy and rainy and chilly conditions in practice, the field will be greeted by high skies and sun when things get going in the morning. How, or if, that will have any lasting impact on the event remains to be seen.
What should remain constant is the breadth of techniques and baits that are in play this week. Some call it the Kitchen Sink pattern, meaning just about anything – from spinnerbaits to flipping and deep cranking to finesse – will catch a bass at Travis right now. The trick is fooling those 14-inchers.
“You could throw a hot dog out there and probably catch one,” joked California pro Cody Meyer, “but even then it probably wouldn’t be a keeper.”
As it is Texas, not everyone will be crying the small-fish blues. Travis does possess the potential to kick out quality fish. Two weeks ago, a 28 1/2-pound stringer won the 172-boat Central Region Bass Champs season opener at Travis with a 7.85-pounder serving as the kicker. There was one other 20-pound bag and the top 10 teams all had 16-plus pounds.
Travis was one of several lakes in the Texas Hill Country near Austin hit by a lengthy drought between 2010 and 2015. During that time, Travis’ water level plummeted to one-third of its normal pool. Boat ramps were barren and became unusable, and recreational fishing became more of an afterthought.
New life was breathed into Travis in May 2015 when more than 17 1/2 inches of rain fell in the span of a month, triggering a dramatic rise in water levels. Travis rose nearly 37 feet during the month of May that year and has held near or been above normal pool ever since. In total, the lake came up more than 51 feet during 2015.
With all the additional water and cover in the lake, it set the stage for a good spawning season last year and some are surmising that if current conditions hold steady for a couple more years, Travis could rocket up the charts as a must-visit fishing destination.
In February 2007, when Travis hosted the FLW Tour season opener, the lake was roughly 35 feet lower than what it is this week as the FLW Tour makes its second stop of the season after kicking things off at Lake Guntersville two weeks ago.
Competitors will find a lake smack full of bass, but catching a limit of keeper-sized specimens could prove challenging for some. Not only is there a good population of largemouth, the lake also supports a healthy Guadalupe (or “Guads” as the locals call them) bass fishery.
Clark Wendlandt gets to fish close to home this week and that puts him among the favorites at Lake Travis.
“The lake was so low for so long that those fish had time to get big,” said Charles Whited, a native of San Marcos, Texas, and operator of Barefoot Fishing Tours. “The drought didn’t hurt it. The numbers were there. There were other lakes that didn’t bounce back, but Travis is going to fish really well. It’s fishing better than it has in 25 years.
“They’re probably hitting it at the best time. There will be some spawning fish and staging fish and some deep fish so guys can stay shallow if they want. A lot of different fishermen can fish their strength.”
That will come as welcome news to those who spent several days doing nothing other than casting and winding at Guntersville earlier this month.
Before getting into more about the bite, here's the lowdown on the lake itself.
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake name: Travis
> Type of water: Flood control reservoir on the Colorado River
> Surface acres (full pool): 18,622
> Primary structure/cover: Flooded brush in rivers, boat docks, rocky points, bluff walls, marinas
> Primary forage: Crawfish, shad, perch, bluegills
> Average depth: 20 feet
> Species: Largemouth, Guadalupe
> Minimum length: 14 inches for largemouth, 12 inches for Guadalupe
> Reputation: A lake that's bouncing back in a good way after a lengthy drought
> Weather: It’s been mild and stable and should remain that way until Sunday, when rain is expected
> Water temp: Low to mid 60s
> Water visibility/color: Fair amount of stain throughout the lake; 5 to 6 feet of visibility toward the dam; 2 to 3 feet up lake
> Water level: A couple feet above normal pool
> Fish in: 4 feet to 25 feet
> Fish phase: Mostly pre-spawn, some spawning
> Primary patterns: Jigs, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, worms, some sight-fishing, finesse, jerkbaits, spoons, flipping
> Winning weight (4 days): 63 pounds
> Cut weight (Top 20 after 2 days): 24 pounds
> Check weight (Top 54 after 2 days): 19 pounds
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 4 (no problem catching numbers, but keepers and big ones are scattered and random)
> Biggest factors: Which pattern to follow. Plenty of things are working, so zeroing in on what can hold up for 4 days will be key.
> Biggest decision: Where to start and how long to stay. Both rivers and the main lake have plenty of fish to go around.
> Wildcard: Marinas. Someone may be able to intercept a few bigger fish that have moved up ahead of schedule.
Here’s a closer look at how Travis lays out, courtesy of the Navionics Web App:
Rivers Will Loom Large
Whited said if he were competing this week, he’d start in one of the rivers and target drains and long, drawn-out points before working his way back to the main lake where he’d focus on specific docks that sit on or near ledges.
“Docks on ledges are a big deal there,” he said. “If you have a dock that’s over 15 to 18 (feet) near where it drops to 60, that’d be one I’d pay attention to. There are some docks on the lake that will give up 3-pounders if you can find them.”
His recent tournament experience at Travis clued him in that the Colorado River arm is worth checking out.
“The last two tournaments I’ve fished there, we had a lot of moving water coming down and those fish moved up the rivers,” he said. “Whomever goes up the river and figures ‘em out could win. The wolf packs up there seem to be bigger. The fish are weighing bigger up the river.”
Cody Meyer had a difficult time generating consistent bites from keeper-quality fish in practice.
He favors the Colorado over the Pedernales simply because it’s a big bigger stretch of water.
“During the drought, the Pedernales almost dried up to the split,” he said. “It grew hundreds of acres of willows so there’s so much stuff in the water up there now.”
That seems to be the case all around the lake as there are bushes from the bank seemingly out to 40 feet.
About That Time
With mostly stable and warm weather around the Austin area over the past 10 days and a full moon on Feb. 10, Whited believes a few fish have already started to move into staging areas or are already scoping out spawning habitat. He thinks competitors will do well to check main-lake pockets in search of pre-spawn fish or even females that are already locked down.
“Right now, every pattern has been working,” Whited added. “The most consistent depths have been in the 18- to 25-foot range. That’s where we caught some good, quality 3- to 4-pounders. Coming off that new moon, 8 to 15 feet might be key. If that’s the case, they’ll be so much easier to catch.”
Some competitors feel it’s premature to say this could turn into a spawning derby before the weekend’s out due to the chilly conditions in practice. They acknowledge the water temperature and other factors are lining up for fish to start heading to the bank, but they also feel it’s a couple weeks early.
“There will be people catching them in the big marinas,” Whited predicted. “There are some wolfpacks moving in there. The most consistent bags will be up the river, though. The numbers are just phenomenal all over the lake.”
The ‘Guad’ Factor
While Travis has its share of chunky largemouth, it’s also full of Guadalupe bass, the state fish of Texas, and anglers who target either river should run into their fair share of them since they prefer to live in or near moving water.
“They usually spawn earlier (than largemouth) and they’re rock-related, much like a smallmouth,” Whited said.
Those who struggle to string together five keeper largemouth might have to fill out their bags with 12-inch Guadalupes.
“At the Bass Champs, one guy had a 10-pound bag of Guads,” Whited said. “A 2- to 2 1/4-pounder is a good one here. They’re really aggressive this time of year.”
Notes from the Field
Following are practice notes from a few of the anglers who'll be competing this week.
“(Travis) is similar to some other south Texas lakes. It was really low and now it’s full. I can’t say it’s on the comeback, but it’s got a lot of fish in it. That’s somewhat of an issue this week because you’re going to pull a lot, but you’re also going to let go a lot because it’s hard to get a 14-incher.
“I’m going to fish the mid-section of the lake. Clarity-wise, it’s fairly the same throughout. We had some rain Monday night so I’m not sure how it’ll impact the upper reaches of the rivers. I didn’t see any mud, but it sure was windy (Tuesday).
“I’m optimistic. I had no problems getting bites. I’m on the fence whether I’ll spend more time deeper or shallow. I’ll let day 1 give me that read. I practiced both ways. You want to be where the fish are coming to, but you can also get behind them or you can get ahead of them. That’s all part of finding that happy medium.”
“The lake’s in a bad spot. With the lake being up 40 feet, there are miles and miles of cover and it runs out deep so the fish are scattered. It’s hard to get a good game plan together. I know what I like to do and I can a get few bites doing it, but it’s been hard to get keeper bites. I’m going to stay on the lake portion. I’m not a river rat so I don’t plan on making a big run. That’s not my style. I will fish my comfort zone and give myself the best chance to get a limit and maybe a big one each day.
“You can catch 20 or 30 a day if you want, but to get a keeper it’s difficult. You could catch five non-keepers and then catch a 4-pounder. You just have to fish the way you like to fish best, whether it’s cranking, spinnerbaits, fishing structure. Go with your gut and fish your strong suit.
“Travis is full of bass. It probably has a better bass population than any place I’ve fished in a long time. They’re everywhere from shallow to mid-depths and out deep. It’s just like a lake with hydrilla and grass. There’s so much cover in it and if they get plenty of food, this lake will be on fire soon.”
“This is the first time I’ve ever fished it. It’s been pretty tough. It’s full of tiny fish, but there are big ones in there. Right now, they seem really random and there’s been very few of them to be caught.
Jason Reyes caught plenty of non-keepers during practice and is settled on fishing around the mid-lake area starting tomorrow.
“I’ve narrowed it down to where I feel like I learned something to key on Tuesday and a bait or two that will get me some bites. It seems like when I do catch keepers, they won’t be enough for a check if I have five of them. You need a big one each day and I’ve only had one of them in three days. It’s still a guessing game for me.
“I’ve got a few spots strung out over the entire lake, but I’m not sure if I want to work my way up the lake or run up and work my way back. It seems like some stuff has all short fish and some stuff might have one or two. It also seems like there are sections of the lake where you don’t catch much at all and other sections with a bunch of little ones. There is not a whole lot of stuff where you can pinpoint and catch a keeper. You can pull up and catch 20 shorts or catch one keeper.”
“This lake reminds me of the Ozark lakes like Table Rock. When I got here and saw the clear water and rock banks and bushes, I figured it’d play more like a reservoir rather than a river system.
“On Sunday, I had several bites, but didn’t catch many. The thing about it is you’re catching 40 to 50 a day, but 14-inchers are hard to come by. I have had a great big bite every day. I think you’ll see some big weights, but I don’t think it’ll be two days of big weights.
“There is some spawning going on and with mid-60s water, they can’t be doing nothing but coming more than going. It’s happening. It could be something big. I’m going to spend most of my time way up the river.”
“I like that you can catch bass just about every cast at this place. I don’t like that they’re tiny. You can catch 60, 80 bass a day, but it’s hard to get five keepers. I don’t know why. I’ve never seen a place where you can catch so many, but it’s so hard to get a keeper. Usually, you can catch enough short ones and eventually catch the right ones.
“I sat on some places Tuesday from the bank out to 40 feet and I caught 25 in one spot, but not one keeper. They eat anything you throw, too. Guys are catching some big ones from what I’ve heard, but it’s so random. I’ve flipped bushes, I’ve fished deep, docks, everything. It’s the same thing.
“It’s chilly and windy today, but the sun’s out so that could change it, too. Maybe they’re roaming and when the sun’s out they get on stuff. It’ll be a definite junk tournament for me.”
Top 10 To Watch
With the above in mind and more, here, in no particular order, is BassFan's recommendation on the Top 10 to watch at this event:
1. Andy Morgan – Fresh off a top-10 to start the year, the sport’s top flipper could have a heyday up one of the rivers this week.
2. Clark Wendlandt – Was the favorite to win in ’07, but settled for 2nd. Lives in nearby Leander so he’s seen the fall and rise of Travis up close. Has finished in the money in eight of his last nine full-field FLW Tour starts, including three top-20 results.
3. Bryan Thrift – He took 3rd at Travis back in ’07 and is coming off a runner-up showing at Guntersville. This is shaping up to be a junk-fisherman’s dream and nothing would make him happier.
4. Jeff Sprague – Started strong at Guntersville and gets to compete in his home state this week. He has the ability to adjust on the fly and won’t get rattled by the slew of small fish.
5. David Dudley – Very few are able to put their heads down and grind out a limit like the three-time Angler of the Year. This is shaping up as a tournament that could play right into his hands.
6. Matt Arey – Some have compared Travis to the Ozark lakes (read: Beaver Lake) and Arey could be in his glory if he’s able to get on a pattern like has in the past at Beaver, site of his two wins.
7. Scott Martin – The world’s top-ranked angler needs a good bounce-back event after a dismal start at Guntersville (127th). He’s as good as any when fish are moving in to spawn and he had a top-20 at Travis 10 years ago.
8. Shin Fukae – Should be able to employ his finesse tactics on deeper fish as he looks to build on his top-5 finish at Guntersville.
9. Darrel Robertson – Has rediscovered his A-game of late and is well-versed in deep, rocky lakes that are similar to Travis. Coming off a top-20 effort at Guntersville so momentum is on his side.
10. Tracy Adams – Never flashy, but seems to thrive in tournaments where the weights are stacked up tight. Could use a bounce-back performance after a triple-digit bomb at G’ville.
> Jay Yelas passed along this video report summarizing his practice at Lake Travis:
> Anglers will launch at 7 a.m. CT all 4 days from Jones Brothers Park (10301 Lakeside Dr., Jonestown, Texas). Weigh-ins all 4 days will take place at Jones Brothers Park (same address) with days 1 & 2 beginning at 3 p.m. CT and day 3 & 4 beginning at 4 p.m. CT.
> Thurs., Feb. 16 – Mostly Sunny - 67°/48°
- Wind: Light and variable
> Fri., Feb. 17 – Mostly Sunny - 72°/55°
- Wind: From the S at 10 to 15 mph
> Sat., Feb. 18 – Partly Cloudy - 79°/62°
- Wind: From the SSW at 10 to 15 mph
> Sun., Feb. 19 – Thunderstorms - 73°/60°
- Wind: From the SE at 10 to 20 mph