By Todd Ceisner
Lake Travis was certainly a much different lake than it was in mid February 2007, the last time the FLW Tour visited the desert highland impoundment that’s part of the Colorado River system.
For starters, it was 40-plus feet higher this time around. During a years-long drought that ended in the spring of 2015, thousands of trees and bushes sprouted up where there’d previously been water and when the water came up swiftly two years ago, it gave the bass at Travis a sprawling underwater landscape to seek refuge in.
During practice, there were reports of endless strings of sub-14-inch largemouth being caught, a testament of the health of the fishery and a harbinger of what could be a bright future for the lake. But finding quality bites on a consistent basis was a true challenge.
The field had cloudy and windy conditions during practice and then a string of sunny, high-sky days to start the tournament. Despite the water temperatures being in the mid to upper 60s – a prime range for fish to start their spawning rituals – there was a surprising number of fish still out deep despite signs that some fish were already into their post-spawn rituals.
Coming into the tournament, competitors knew consistency would be the key to being in contention. There were places that reloaded with fish who were either feeding or making stops on their pre-spawn staging migration. Those were crucial as was locating groups of fish suspending in and around trees, sometimes down as deep as 50 feet.
Following is a rundown of the rest of the top 5 finishers took care of business at the second FLW Tour event of the year:
2nd: Bryan Thrift
> Day 1: 5, 24-12
> Day 2: 5, 9-06
> Day 3: 5, 11-07
> Day 4: 5, 12-13
> Total = 20, 58-06
Bryan Thrift says the bass at Lake Travis had a tough time telling the truth last week. He pointed to the biggest fish he caught during practice as evidence.
“I caught one 6-pounder in practice, but it lied to me,” he said. “I caught it on a jerkbait, but that was the only jerkbait bite I got all week.”
As it happened, while Thrift turned in the stringer of the week on day 1 with a 24-12 effort (only two other 20-pound bags were caught in the event) he had to scramble the rest of the way to stay in contention.
He was surprised by the number of fish that were still deep, considering the conditions, and he wound up pulling 15 of the 20 fish he weighed in out of 15 feet or deeper. Most of those fish were related to rock.
In practice, he relied mostly on a jig, but couldn’t generate any big bites with it. He stuck with the jig early on day 1, but switched to a shaky-head with a Damiki finesse worm and caught the big bag of the tournament on that.
“It was the perfect little staging spot,” he said of the area he shared with Scott Martin for much of the first two days. “It was a secondary point that split two pockets. It was 15 to 18 (feet) on top and it had a rock ledge falling off into the creek channel. Most of them were up on top.”
The shaky-head produced most of the 9-06 he caught on day 2 when he relinquished the lead to Stephen Patek.
On the weekend, Thrift shifted to junk-fishing mode as he sorted through countless small fish. He figured with the sunny conditions, he could follow some fish that had moved shallow. He continued to revisit the area the produced his big bag, but he also incorporated docks and by day 4, he was throwing a buzzbait in an effort to entice another big bite.
“The buzzbait lied to me (Sunday),” he quipped. “It was hot and muggy and in the first five minutes, I caught a couple decent keepers on it. I threw it for the next three hours and never got another bite.”
He spent most of the tournament between the split in the rivers and Jonestown. He never spent any time toward the dam, where Rose found his big-fish spot.
This was the second top-3 finish for Thrift at Travis. He was 3rd in 2007.
“I’m getting better,” he joked.
> Shaky-head gear: 6’10 medium-heavy Fitzgerald Fishing Versa Series spinning rod, unnamed spinning reel, 15-pound P-Line TCBX braided line, 8-pound P-Line fluorocarbon (leader), 3/16-oz. unnamed shaky-head jig, 6.5” Damiki Finesse Miki (watermelon candy).
> Jig gear: 6’9” heavy-action Fitzgerald Fishing Bryan Thrift Signature Series skipping rod, unnamed casting reel, 20-pound P-Line fluorocarbon line, 1/2-oz. unnamed jig (brown), unnamed chunk trailer (brown).
> Main factor in his success – “That Finesse Miki was critical to start because without that 24-pound bag on day 1, I don’t make a check here.”
> Performance edge – “My skipping rod and that P-Line fluorocarbon were key when fishing those fish around the dock cables and stuff.”
Dylan Hays caught the majority of his fish early on in the tournament out of 3 to 6 feet of water.
3rd: Dylan Hays
> Day 1: 5, 14-15
> Day 2: 5, 13-07
> Day 3: 5, 12-10
> Day 4: 5, 13-00
> Total = 20, 54-00
Dylan Hays found a consistent flipping pattern about as far as one could go up the Colorado River and he parlayed it into a 13 1/2-pounds-per-day average to lock up a top-3 finish in just his second FLW Tour event as a pro.
“I didn’t miss it by much,” he said. “I don’t know what I would’ve done differently. They fished one entire day more than me this week for all the driving I did.”
Within the first 30 minutes of practice, Hays caught a 3 1/2- and 4-pounder flipping two willow trees up the Colorado.
“I looked up and saw 100 more willow trees,” he said. “I knew nobody else would find it because it was so far away.”
Unlike most of his competitors, Hays had found an area with a concentration of quality fish and he spent the rest of practice trying to expand on it as well as locate areas where he could pick up a quick limit.
“I went to the back to the same area on day 2 and had a 3-pounder bite,” he said. “I came back out to the main river and my first bite was a 6-pounder. I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is stupid.’ In practice every day, I just worked down the river, but at the same time I didn’t want to get too far away. I wanted to figure out how to catch keepers because I knew I’d need to catch a limit. I picked up a Carolina rig and on five points in a row I caught a 2- to 3 1/2-pounder. It was easy.”
He ran to the area up the river with the willows and camped there on days 1 and 2, sharing the area with Brad Knight. He flipped bushes and trees in 3 to 6 feet of water on a sprawling flat and tallied more than 28 pounds at the halfway points.
On day 2, he stopped on one of those points down the river that had some trees on it. His co-angler had a field day on it, catching 12 pounds, which prompted Hays to ask him to stop casting on it so as to preserve it for the next day if Hays qualified for the weekend.
“One of those points was a key spot during the tournament,” Hays said. “I had no idea how good it was. I weighed nearly all of my day-3 and 4 fish off that point. It was just a main river point, somewhere they’d stop before they’d go back into the bay to spawn. There were trees all over it.”
The key presentation there was a 6-inch lizard Texas-rigged behind a 1/4-ounce worm weight.
“We just let it float down into the trees,” he said. “I guess they were down in those trees eating shad. We kept making the same cast over and over again.”
On Sunday, that same point produced a limit in the matter of an hour and an upgrade later in the day as he moved up one spot on the final day.
> Flipping gear: 7’3” heavy-action Falcon Rods Cara T7 casting rid, Lew's BB1 Pro Speed Spool casting reel, 20-pound Hi-Seas fluorocarbon line, 1/4-oz. unnamed worm weight, 4/0 Mustad KVD Straight Shank Grip-Pin worm hook, Zoom Super Hog (watermelon candy).
> Lizard gear: Same rod, same reel, same line, same weight, same hook, 6” Zoom Lizard (pumpkin chartreuse).
> A Zoom Brush Hog and Speed Worm also caught fish for Hays on day 4.
> Main factor in his success – “Getting quality bites early in practice. That’s always important. I had all practice to expand on it. At Guntersville, I didn’t get any quality bites until the last two hours of practice and I couldn’t expand on it. That area of the river where I was at is real fertile and there were a lot of big fish up there, plus it got a lot less pressure.”
> Performance edge – “My Costa glasses were really important. I wore the Sunrise lens and in the early morning making those long runs made it really bright. On day 1, I ran 40 miles in the fog without an issue.”
Clark Reehm capped off a huge comeback last week with his best FLW Tour finish.
4th: Clark Reehm
> Day 1: 4, 6-13
> Day 2: 5, 21-11
> Day 3: 5, 8-14
> Day 4: 5, 15-13
> Total = 19, 53-03
Only Mark Rose caught more weight over the event’s final three days than Clark Reehm, who made up a ton of ground with a 21-11 stringer on day 2 that brought him from 108th up to 6th.
Reehm caught less than 10 pounds on days 1 and 3, but had strong enough stringers on Friday and Sunday and register his best FLW Tour finish.
His best area was a main-lake flat with a couple drain coming up into it. The fish would congregate early in the day around some submerged bushes and ambush baitfish. He relied on double-willow spinnerbait slow-rolled in 15 feet and a Carolina-rigged fluke to fool those fish. A paddletail swimbait was a key producer on day 4, especially around docks later in the day.
Reehm said it wasn’t until the final day of the tournament that he finally figured out why those fish were there in the morning. He figured, initially, they were staging by that break before heading elsewhere to spawn.
“I was wrong,” he said. “They’d pull up there to feed and by 9 a.m., when the bait left, the fish left.”
His only regret was not going to the flat first thing Thursday morning. His initial plan was to throw a Carolina rig, but his better fish in practice were caught on a spinnerbait so that’s how he started.
“On day 1, my rotation was off,” he said. “I didn’t show up there until 10:30. I’d started on some bushes where I’d caught a 4-pounder in practice. I wound up catching a 4 1/2 there on day 2 there, but those fish on the flat was a timing deal. They were there to feed.”
Working against him was the 35-minute run required to reach the spot.
“When your window of opportunity ends at 9 a.m., that eats up a lot of time,” he said. “After 9, it was a grind to catch one here and there.”
> Spinnerbait gear: 7’3” medium-heavy Dobyns Champion XP casting rod, Daiwa Tatula casting reel, 17-pound Seaguar AbrazX fluorocarbon line, 3/4-oz. War Eagle Gold double-willow spinnerbait (spot remover).
> Swimbait gear: 7’3” heavy-action Dobyns Champion XP casting rod, same reel, same line (15-pound), 1/2-oz. Revenge Swimbait Hedz, 4.8” Keitech Swing Impact Fat (chartreuse shad).
> Carolina rig gear: 7’8” heavy-action Dobyns Champion Extreme casting rod, Shimano Curado casting reel, same line (20-pound), 1/2-oz. Elite Tungsten worm weight, 5/0 Gamakatsu EWG worm hook, Zoom Super Fluke (watermelon).
> Reehm dipped the tail of the fluke in chartreuse dye to match the perch that inhabit Travis’ waters. “It’s a classic Texas pattern,” he added.
> He went with a lighter weight on the Carolina rig so the bait would come the bushes easier.
> Main factor in his success – “I do a lot of prep work for tournaments and I utilizing everything I can, including Google Earth and aerial photographs. Every night I’d look at pictures for an hour or two and was able to make 200 waypoints from the isolated bushes I could. Being able to figure it out and spend time preparing like that for the event was huge.”
> Performance edge – “The Hydrowave was key because when I used that, I could see those fish get more active.”
Clark Wendlandt was impressed with how wide open Travis fished last week.
5th: Clark Wendlandt
> Day 1: 5, 12-07
> Day 2: 5, 17-03
> Day 3: 5, 12-02
> Day 4: 5, 11-00
> Total = 20, 52-12
As much time as Clark Wendlandt has spent fishing at Lake Travis, it was a new lake to him in many respects last week. He admitted he didn’t have the local sweet spots or history holes that other anglers rely on when the Tour comes to their home waters. That’s a result of the lake coming up 40-plus feet since the spring of 2015.
“My mindset was I wanted to find an area of the lake to spend most of my time because I knew things would change with the water temperatures where they were,” he said. “I wound up spending most of my time from the mid-lake section up to the rivers.”
He welcomed how big the 18,000-acre impoundment fished as that allowed him to zero in on certain areas without worrying if other anglers had already gone through there.
“It’s not a huge lake, but when you have that much brush and can catch one everywhere, it spread everybody out,” he said. “That doesn’t happen that often.”
He started practice combing shallow water, but he didn’t see the concentration of quality fish he was anticipating. He transitioned to deeper water – he caught some out of 38 feet of water, the deepest he’s ever caught bass at Travis – and that’s where the bulk of his best work was done during the tournament. He said his deepest catch in the tournament was 23 feet.
“Day 1 didn’t go that great,” he said. “I had a small limit by 9, but couldn’t upgrade. I went to a deep place and culled everything out. That helped to put me in a groove of what to fish.”
His deep-water offerings were a jig and Carolina-rigged creature bait.
He made his move into the top 10 on day 2, thanks to an 8-06 behemoth that took big bass honors for the tournament.
“I didn’t know there were any fish there,” he said when asked to describe the spot that he relied upon the rest of the event. “I went there with 8 minutes left on day 1 and caught a 3-pounder so I started day 2 there and caught the 8 and caught two 4s there on day 3. It was kind of a rough spot with decent-sized rock and a little brush.”
On Sunday, his big-fish spot didn’t produce and he made some bait changes to cobble together an 11-00 bag. He flipped bushes and brush and also cranked for a bit under cloudy skies.
“Every place that was deep had some brush element to it and a lot of times those fish were suspended in the trees, but not always,” he noted.
> Jig gear: 7’6” heavy-action Cabela’s XML flipping stick, Cabela’s Arachnid casting reel, 20-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon line, 1/2-oz. Strike King Hack Attack Heavy Cover jig (green-pumpkin), Strike King Rage Tail Baby Rage Craw trailer (green-pumpkin), 3/4-oz. Strike King Tour Grade football jig (green-pumpkin), same trailer.
> When he was in 20 feet or more, Wendlandt opted for the 3/4-oz. football jig. When he was inside of 20 feet, he went with the Hack Attack jig.
> His flipping set up was the same as his jig tackle, but he flipped a green-pumpkin Strike King Rage Tail Menace.
> He also mixed in a Strike King Rage Tail Hawg on a Carolina rig to give the jig fish a more subtle presentation.
> Main factor in his success – “Having fished there my whole life. It’s not like it’s the same lake, but it still is. It’s just different now that it’s full. I understand what the bass do there. I like fishing there.”
> Performance edge – “My Garmin electronics were a huge key. Just my familiarity with them, a lot of times I could see the fish I ended up catching. I ran a four-bank screen with mapping, traditional sonar, DownVü and SideVü. I could keep up with what the fish were doing pretty easily.”
Much of the tackle referenced above is available at the BassFan Store. To browse the selection, click here.