By Todd Ceisner
Let’s get something straight: Lake Travis is not to be confused with the well-known big bass factories in Texas. It’s not anything like Lake Fork or Conroe or Amistad or Falcon or Rayburn or Toledo Bend, where the next cast could result in a double-digit behemoth.
“This place is like nothing else you’ll see in Texas,” says longtime pro Terry Scroggins.
What Travis does have going for it, though, is that it’s a great fun-fishing lake. It’s not uncommon to have 50-fish days at the lake located in the Texas Hill Country outside of Austin.
“It won’t be boring,” added Matt Herren. “You might not have anything to weigh, but you can catch the fire out of small ones.”
The challenge facing Elite Series competitors this week during the Toyota Texas Fest will be coming up with a limit of largemouth that exceed the 14-inch minimum size threshold.
“If we had a 12-inch limit, everybody will have a limit in 10 minutes,” said Texas native Alton Jones, Jr., who said he went 37 straight fish at one point during practice without catching one that measured 14 inches.
With the temperatures expected to remain in the mid to upper 90s through the weekend, this tournament figures to be the ultimate grind, both physically and mentally. Add to that a lake known for its recreational usage and boat traffic already a noticeable factor in practice, and the challenges abound at this unique event.
The tournament will follow a catch-weigh-release format with anglers being credited with the weight of their five biggest fish over the course of the day rather than hauling their stringers to shore to be weighed on stage.
This is the third Elite Series in the past four weeks and with a berth in the 2019 Bassmaster Classic on the line, as well as a new Toyota truck for the angler who catches the big bass of the tournament, the stakes are pretty high for a mid-season tilt.
This is the first Elite Series at Travis, but competitors didn’t have to search that far back to find some general information about how tournaments tend to go there. Bass Champs, a team circuit based in Texas, is a frequent visitor to the lake and back in February it took 27.56 pounds to win with a 26.02 stringer finishing 2nd. Recent Tuesday night club events have yielded several 20-pound bags as well.
In February 2017, the FLW Tour paid Travis a visit and Mark Rose won with 59-02, just shy of a 15-pound daily average. To cash a $10,000 check, it took 18-11. Just three 20-pound bags were caught over four days and limits were not a guarantee. On day 1 with 164 boats competing, 85 limits were caught (51.8 percent) versus 62 (37.8 percent) on day 2. Over the course of the tournament, just 57 bags in excess of 12 pounds were recorded.
This difference this week is the bass are well past the spawning phase and settling into their summer patterns. Schools of baitfish are around just about every corner and so are prodigious numbers of 10- to 13-inch bass. Bigger ones are there to be had, but practice reports have pegged those specimens with the “random” tag as it’s been difficult to pattern the above-average sized fish.
The lake is still rounding back into shape after a prolonged drought from 2010-15 saw lake levels fall to one-third of its normal pool. The month of May 2015 produced 17 1/2 inches of rain and brought the lake level up 37 feet. It came up a total of 51 feet in 2015 alone.
Since then, it’s been at or above normal pool, but a dry spring has the lake down approximately 16 feet from where it was for the FLW Tour last year. There’s still plenty of hard cover (wood) to target, but this will be a departure from the bush-flipping that went on at Kentucky Lake two weeks ago.
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, threadfin shad, perch, bluegills
> Average depth: 20 feet
> Species: Largemouth, Guadalupe
> Minimum length: 14 inches for largemouth, 12 inches for Guadalupe
> Reputation: Bouncing back in good way after a lengthy drought
> Weather: Summer has arrived in Texas with temperatures in the mid to upper 90s through the weekend
> Water temp: Mid 70s warming into the 80s during the day
> Water visibility/color: Very clear on the lower end (10-15 feet visibility) and some stain in the rivers
> Water level: Roughly 15 feet below normal pool
> Fish in: 4 to 40 feet
> Fish phase: Mostly post-spawn/summer
> Primary patterns: Topwater, jigs, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, worms, finesse, spoons, flipping
> Winning weight (4 days): 63 pounds
> Cut weight (Top 50 after 2 days): 18 pounds
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 4. No problem getting bites, but the ones that go on the scoresheet have been tough to figure out
> Biggest factors: Luck. It’s going to fish like a Florida tournament with big fish bringing separation on the leaderboard
> Biggest decision: When to bolt. After 30-something bites and not one keeper, it might be time to change spots
> Wildcard: Boat traffic. It’ll be a factor, especially on the weekend
Here’s a closer look at how Travis lays out, courtesy of the Navionics Web App:
Prepare for Anything
Three-time FLW Tour Angler of the Year Clark Wendlandt is a frequent visitor to Travis due to its close proximity to his home in Leander, Texas. He finished 5th there last year, relying mainly on a jig and a Carolina rig around brush in water as deep as 23 feet.
He expects the deep bite to be a factor again, but also thinks this event will turn into a junk-fisherman’s paradise.
“I think there’s going to be a variety of patterns that emerge,” he said. “There’s a lot of fish up the river. That water, just because it’s a river, is more stained. Some will be caught there and there are a lot of docks on that lake.
“I think finesse techniques and power-fishing will play well, too. This is the best time of year to fish that lake and there’s a variety of ways to fish and catch them.”
If he were competing this week, he wouldn’t be too concerned about the water level falling. There is still plenty of wood cover that cropped up during the low-water period years ago.
He said the recreational traffic will be a factor as well.
“The number of boats that come out on a warm weekend is going to be staggering,” he said.
Wind Will Help
Charles Whited, a native of San Marcos, Texas, and operator of Barefoot Fishing Tours, said the best odds of catching a big fish at Travis is to locate schools – there are plenty of them, he says – and then work them over.
“Marinas and points and ditches up the river all have big schools of 4- to 6-pounders,” he said. “Guys who pinpoint schools could have 20 pounds, no problem. They’re definitely grouped up.
“I hope they get a little wind. That will get them biting better. After 10 a.m., those guys on the bank will struggle while the guys in marinas will shine.”
Lake Travis and Aaron Martens' skillset seem to match up well.
He said there’s no one technique or pattern that’s out-producing all others right now and that’s why he believes those who do well this week will need an open mind and multiple options to lean on.
“There’s a topwater bite and a spoon bite,” he said. “On those drawn out points, I’d throw an Old Monster worm or a Carolina rig. There’s a lot of patterns right now. Guys can go fish their strengths and go okay. You just have to find the wads of big girls.”
Whited noted that the water at Travis has been steadily dropping since last summer, but it hasn’t had a negative impact on the bass fishing.
“Three weeks ago, I fished a Tuesday nighter and we had 24.98 so I think there will be some good bags caught,” he added.
While both the Colorado and Pedernales rivers are known fish havens, he expects the winner to catch the bulk of his weight on the main lake.
“I think 18 to 25 feet will be the key depths,” he said. “A lot of the marinas are 30 to 35 feet and there a lot of fish in that depth, too. You just have to keep your head down. I think it’ll be won out of a marina. There are some single docks that have big schools on them, but they’re definitely grouped up and they are big this year.”
Notes from the Field
Following are practice notes from a few of the anglers who'll be competing this week.
“I think we’ll catch them a little bit better (than the FLW guys), but it’s still a little challenging. It reminds me of Table Rock. It’s a deep, clear, rocky lake. I’ve been fishing deep, but saw some up shallow, too.
“The challenge will be whomever gets one or two big bites will leap ahead a little bit. It’s so random, though, whether you get a big bite. I’ve caught a couple of them. Just because of the time of year, I’m going to fish deep. It’s 15 feet low, but at the same time, it’s still plenty deep. There will be a few 20-pound bags, but I think 10 per day will get you to the 50-cut and 15 to 16 a day will be looking pretty good.”
“This is my first time here and it reminds me of some desert lakes. It has zebra mussels and the clear water and rock formations like Lake Mead and Lake Mojave. There’s a lot more fish here, though. The water has been dropping every day, but it doesn’t affect the bite. You can catch a lot of them.
Dave Lefebre is hoping to "survive" this week with a top-50 finish.
“I’m trying a lot of different things and the bite is good in the morning so you have to make hey when the sun isn’t shining. After that, it becomes a grind. It’s going to fish like a Florida tournament with a lot of 14-inchers and a big one. That’ll be what separates people from 10 to 12 pounds and up. We’re going to see some bigger bags. It’s Texas and this lake has big fish in it. Someone will get a couple of them.”
“I was here in 2007 with FLW, but it was 40 feet low. It doesn’t look a whole lot different. This place has its own look, like Table Rock or Amistad or a West Coast lake. It’s really puzzling right now. The lake is chocked full. You can’t go anywhere without getting a bite. There are so many 10- to 12-inch bass, it’s stupid.
“I have not unlocked the $64,000 riddle. I’ve caught some decent fish, but it’s one here and one there. It’s hard to duplicate. Anywhere we go, whatever lives here, this crew is going to catch ‘em so if 25 (pounds) lives here, somebody’s going to catch ‘em. Overall, a 3-pound average is going to be pretty strong.
“There are fry everywhere. These fish had a good spawn. I tried to look out and shallow and I haven’t dialed in on a solid deal in either place. It’s almost like they’re in between or I haven’t figured it out in either place.”
“It’s super deep and rocky and super clear. I hate everything about it. I just have to survive. I’m jacking on everything, which is weird, and I caught 60 or 70 (Tuesday) and over 100 Monday. I caught two keepers Monday and three Tuesday.
“It seems like it’s going to be a such a huge luck factor. Guys will figure out how to catch big ones, but for lot of us it’ll be, ‘Oops, I got a big one.’ It’s going to be a grind. This is a survival tournament for me. I bombed two so far that I had good feelings about. This one, I have no high hopes so maybe this is the one.
“There’s bait everywhere. I’ve seen it on bluffs and tons of it. The fish are everywhere. I’ve caught them in 50 feet on the bottom up to 20 to 25 and in a foot of water. They’re little no matter where you go so you just keep hoping. It’s hard to keep going. You mark them and see them there and fish it and your bait doesn’t get to the bottom. It’s hard to mentally keep going because you come to the next point and see the same thing.”
Alton Jones Jr.
“It’s definitely an extremely unique body of water. I can’t put a finger on another Texas lake that’s like it. There are a few clear-water fisheries west of here, but I can’t say they’re as clear or as deep as this place. It’s got a healthy population of little fish and I think a ton of fish will be caught this week. You can catch 50 to 60 fish and not catch a limit (of keepers).
“It’s always fun to get a bite and there will be no shortage of that this week. The ace in the hole is there are really big fish in here. There's 6s to 10s in here and the difference between 80th and making the top 12 here could be one bite. You’re going to see everybody stacked in that 8- to 10-pound range and if you get that 5-pounder, that’ll be the difference.
“The challenge will be fishing for a big one. You have to put your head down and grind through 50 to 60 bites. One thing I’ve noticed is I’ve caught quality in 2 feet and 35 feet so there are fish in all stages. For me, that first hour will be really important to just get a limit in that 10-pound range hopefully. Just get something in the livewell so I can fish for that one or two key bites because you need all day to get them.
“Boat traffic will affect the fish. I’m not sure how, but it will. This is our first really hot week of the year and I expect everybody who owns a boat to be out.”
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. Aaron Martens – Don’t look now, but Martens has only missed one cut in the last calendar year and arrives at a lake that will remind him of his old stomping grounds out west where deep, clear water didn’t scare him.
2. Clifford Pirch – To some, Travis resembles a desert lake and few are better on deep, clear reservoirs than Pirch. His Arizona roots also mean the Texas heat won’t rattle him. Looking to bounce back from a 90th at Kentucky Lake this week.
3. Brett Hite – Off to a great start with three cuts made. Another Arizona-based angler with a strong finesse game to go with anything else that may arise.
4. Gerald Swindle – The junk-fisherman’s junk-fisherman could be right in his element this week, especially if they’re eating his brown-and-green ballhead jig. He’s bounced back from a 70th at Lake Martin with made cuts in the last two events.
5. Wesley Strader – He’s collected a trophy each of the last two weekends and is fishing with as much confidence as he ever has. There’s no ignoring that, plus he finished 22nd at Travis last year in an FLW Tour event.
6. Roy Hawk – Sensing a western theme yet? Hawk stumbled at Kentucky after two top-3s to kick off his rookie season, but Travis with its rocky makeup provides an opportunity to bounce back.
7. Josh Bertrand – Another angler with three cuts to his credit already. His Arizona background should come in handy at Travis as he tries to follow up a 6th-place finish at Kentucky Lake.
8. Brandon Palaniuk – Got off the snide with a top-40 finish at Kentucky Lake and now the scene shifts to Texas, where he won last year’s Texas Fest at Sam Rayburn. He’s a big believer in momentum and he only needs a little bit to get going.
9. Brent Ehrler – As good as there is at the finesse game, Ehrler could be a threat, especially if there are some big fish mixed in with the schools on the lower end. He’s versatile enough to mix in other patterns, plus Texas has treated him well in the past in marquee events.
10. Mike Iaconelli – If Iaconelli wants to keep his streak of consecutive Bassmaster Classics alive, he’ll likely have to win this week since he’s slated to miss the Sabine River Elite Series in two weeks. He’s been backed into corners before and done what he needed to do so it’s hard to bet against him when he’s laser-focused on one goal.
> Anglers will launch at 6:15 a.m. CT all 4 days from Jones Brothers Park (10301 Lakeside Dr., Jonestown, TX, 78645). Weigh-ins all 4 days will take place at Jones Brothers Park (same address) beginning at 3 p.m. CT.
> Thurs., May 17 – Clear, Sunny - 96°/70°
- Wind: Light and variable
> Fri., May 18 – Clear, Sunny - 98°/71°
- Wind: From the S at 10 to 15 mph
> Sat., May 19 – Partly Cloudy - 97°/71°
- Wind: From the SSE at 10 to 20 mph
> Sun., May 20 – Partly Cloudy - 94°/69°
- Wind: From the SE at 5 to 10 mph