By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
If you take a guide trip with Darold Gleason at Toledo Bend Reservoir, there's a good chance you'll end up throwing a Carolina rig in a quest to connect with some of the famed impoundment's monster largemouths.
There's zero chance you'll be throwing the same color of V&M Pork shad that he used on his C-rig en route to winning last week's Bassmaster Central Open on his home lake.
"The color is green-pumpkin candy and it's no longer in production," he said. "When I found out they weren't going to make my favorite color anymore, I scrounged up as many as I could and I only use them in tournaments. That just shows how quirky we all are about something we believe in. I've won several big tournaments on them and it's usually been when the fishing was tough.
"I'm down to five or six bags now, so I'm starting to hit panic mode. People (at V&M) told me that if demand for it got high enough, they'd bring it back, so I'm hoping that's what happens."
The 36-year-old Gleason, who operates South Toledo Bend Guide Service, spent a solid month practicing for last week's derby. It paid off in a victory that will gain him entry into the 2020 Bassmaster Classic (provided he competes in the three remaining Central Opens this year) and gives him a big leg up in his quest to qualify for next year's Elite Series.
It was an improbable triumph considering he was in 20th place, more than 7 1/2 pounds off the pace, after day 1 and that the event was shortened to two days (the middle day was canceled) due to rough weather. He pulled it off with a 25-03 haul on the final day that gave him a 40-02 total and left him 9 1/2 pounds clear of runner-up Taku Ito of Japan.
"Almost 8 pounds back in a two-day event, fishing against top national, regional and local sticks, that isn't supposed to happen," he said. "Every aspect had to line up for me, and this time they did.
"Winning really wasn't on my mind that day," added the former junior high school teacher and girls basketball coach. "I was trying to focus and execute and get out of their with the most points that I could. It ended up being a tough day for everybody else and I didn't need near as much (weight) as I had. It was a wild deal."
All 10 of his weigh-in fish came from making repeated throws to an offshore ledge where the water depth dropped from 10 to 24 feet. He scored on two different C-rig baits, two different crankbaits and a football-head jig.
"I found the spot within a spot and I basically made the same cast the whole tournament. It never varied by more than 20 yards the whole time."
An 8-pounder that he caught on a crankbait within the first 10 minutes on the final day provided the foundation for his winning rally. He had it in his livewell before the two anglers he was sharing the spot with had arrived on the scent.
"That one was the catalyst," he said. "It gave me a huge boost of confidence and told me the right fish were there and I needed to settle in and get it done."
He'd found the location during his extended pre-practice period. He'd been on a mission to pin down a group of quality fish that were at least somewhat off the beaten path.
"It really comes down to your preference of whether you want to fish shallow or deep at Toledo Bend," he said. "I was prepared to go shallow if I needed to, but we had enough cold weather in February that it held some out there deep.
"I wanted to find a place where I could be at least somewhat alone; that wasn't going to get too much pressure. All the community holes get covered up – guys show up and within a day or two, they've found them. I knew I couldn't rely on them."
The Pork Shad (a fluke-style offering) was Gleason's primary C-rig bait, but he sometimes switched to a V&M Chop Stick for a less obtrusive presentation. "When it got really slow, I wanted something that was very subtle and would basically just do nothing," he said.
The crankbaits he employed were a Strike King 6XD and a 6th Sense Cloud 9 Series C15, both in chartreuse/blue. He said the C15 dives a bit more aggressively and runs a little deeper, and it was a better bet on wind-swept day 1. The 6XD produced the early-morning giant on the final day.
"The new Falcon Expert Series rod was vital to that program because I was bombing the crankbaits," he said. "It was very critical to make a long cast and keep the bait in the strike zone as long as possible.
"I'm on the lake so many days every year and I used the baits that that I fall back on to get a bite when fishing is tough," he concluded. "A lot of it is between the ears and depends on how you present them, but I feel like if I put those baits in front of bass, they're eventually going to eat them."
Winning Gear Notes
> Carolina-rig gear: 7'6" heavy-action Falcon Cara rod, Quantum Smoke HD casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 15-pound Hi-Seas fluorocarbon line (main line and 2' leader), 1-ounce egg-shaped sinker, no bead, barrel swivel, 4/0 Gamakatsu wide-gap hook, V&M Pork Shad (green-pumpkin candy) or V&M Chop Stick (green-pumpkin).
> Cranking gear: 7'8" medium-action Falcon Expert Deep Cranker rod, same reel (6.3:1), 12-pound Hi Seas fluorocarbon, Strike King 6XD or 6th Sense Cloud 9 Series C15 (chartreuse/blue).
> Jig gear: 7'4" Falcon Cara Heavy Cover Jig rod, same reel (7.3:1), 15-pound Hi-Seas fluorocarbon, 3/4-ounce V&M Football Jig (blue shadow), V&M J-Bug trailer (green-pumpkin with tail dyed chartreuse).
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