By Rob Newell
Special to BassFan
As the old saying goes, don’t mess with Texas.
However, if you want to mess with some big bass in Texas then Todd Castledine of Nacogdoches, Texas, is good guy to get a few fishing tips from.
Castledine may not be well known on the national level bass tours yet, but those who compete against him in regional circuits around the Lone Star State know him all too well.
His track record around his home state is as blistering as the summer Texas sun. He is a two-time FLW Series winner and he owns three FLW Series Angler of the Year titles. Beyond that, his resumé with team partner Russell Cecil in regional team circuits such as Bassin’ Bucks, Bass Champs, Ram Open Series, TTT and Angler’s Quest is littered with wins and points titles. What’s more, Castledine’s uncanny ability to drop 25- to 35-pound limits into the till at weigh-in is stunning.
His fishing mindset is similar to that of other great Texas sticks like Ray Hanselman or Dicky Newberry: Fish only for big ones all of the time. As a result, you will not find any spinning rods or dropshots in Castledine’s boat.
Given Castledine’s proclivity for catching Texas lunkers, he seemed a perfect candidate for an edition of Pros Pick Three. Except in his case, there’s an added Texas twist: Castledine’s three must-have lures for big bass in Texas – three lures that he feels can be taken to any waters in Texas at any time to catch the biggest bass.
“I already know exactly which ones they are,” Castledine said after being pitched the premise. “If I’m fishing in Texas, all three can be found on my deck at all times.
“No knives at the gun fight today,” Castledine quipped, letting his good-natured wittiness surface. “If you want to talk about securing a limit with a shaky head, you might have check with someone else for that topic.”
The first lure Castledine wants to discuss is Strike King’s Popping Perch and for good reason – he helped design the bait with big bass in mind.
“No, it’s not a popping frog,” Castledine interjected when the words “like a hollow-bodied frog” were used to describe his lure. “It’s a perch. When a big bass eats a hollow-bodied lure that we call a ‘frog,’ that lure is imitating a perch, or a big shad or a bluegill or some kind of sunfish. It’s that simple: the Popping Perch is made to resemble a perch that’s in some form of distress and needs to be eaten.”
When creating the Popping Perch, Castledine wanted a big profile topwater that could be worked fast.
“Some hollow-bodied lures work great when fished slowly, but when you try to fish them fast they dive or roll or get out of rhythm too easy,” he explained. “So I wanted the Popping Perch to walk extremely fast while staying true. I think speed is a big factor in forcing a big bass to commit instead of giving the fish time to check something out. By combining a big profile and speed I feel like I can force that fish to react out of instinct.”
The other reason the Texan favors speed is so he can cover water quickly and efficiently.
“Topwaters are great fish finding tools, especially in Texas where we have so much shallow-water cover in so many of our lakes,” he added. “But topwaters with open trebles slow me down too much. That Popping Perch is totally weedless so I can go down the bank throwing it at anything and everything – from skipping it up under docks and into bushes to fishing it across any kind of vegetation. I’ll fish it in open water as long as there is some kind of scattered cover nearby. I’ll even fish it around isolated objects like laydowns or stumps where most guys might throw a squarebill.”
Castledine admits that the coldest weeks in January may not be the best time for the Popping Perch.
“But it’s safe to say that bait can be used 90 percent of the time to hunt big fish in Texas,” he added.
His favorite combo for the Perch is a 7’3” extra-heavy action Falcon Cara T7 Reaction casting rod with a Lew’s Super Duty casting reel (8:1 ratio) and 65-pound test Sunline FX2 braided line.
When kidded about the bazooka-like power of his set up, Castledine was unfazed by the ribbing.
“This article is about big bass in Texas, correct?” he countered. “Okay, just making sure we’re still on the same page. In fact, that rod and reel is going to be the same one I use for the other two lures, too. Remember no knives at the gun fight.”
Castledine says he is in favor of fishing with the heaviest tackle he can get away with.
For Castledine, it a go-big-or-go-home mentality when fishing around his home state of Texas.
“I have a lot of guys ask me: Why not just go with 50-pound braid,” he said. “And I’m like, why not just go with 65-pound braid? Why drop to 50 when you can get away with 65? When I’m wrestling a 10-pounder out of thick grass or bushes I want to make sure nothing in my system is going to break. With that set-up I know, without a doubt, the lure, the rod, the reel and the line are not going break.”
Texas-rigged creature bait
For choice number two, Castledine opts for a Strike King Rage Bug rigged beneath a 3/8-ounce worm weight.
“Due to Texas’ climate and terrain, our fish stay shallower longer, putting shallow-water techniques in play for much of the year, which is why the Rage Bug is such a go-to for me,” he said. “Two of my primary big fish techniques in Texas are sight-fishing and flipping and that one lure is perfect for both.”
When prompted for a color, California craw got Castledine’s pick as the best all round hue for the Rage Bug.
Like other previous participants in Pros Pick Three, Castledine also secured a ½-ounce jig as one of his choices. The good old ½-ounce jig rules as a popular choice due in large part to its extreme versatility and reputation for garnering quality bites.
He points out that the jig market has become highly specialized these days. There are specific shapes and sizes made for precise presentations such as swim jigs, football-head jigs, skipping jigs and finesse jigs. But to some degree, they were all derived from a standard ½-ounce jig head with a rubber skirt and a weed guard.
“Under normal circumstances, I would have those specialty jigs tied on for specific purposes,” he said. “But if you’re going to force me down to just one jig, I’m going with a Strike King ½-ounce Structure Jig because it’s the jack of trades. I can do everything with that jig: Flip it, pitch it, cast it, drag it, skip it, swim it – it’s one lure that covers so many bases that I can’t do without it.”
As for color, black/blue or blue craw suits him just fine. For a trailer, he sticks to a Rage Bug.
When pushed for his favorite way to fish a jig for Texas-sized bass, Castledine answers with a bit of hesitation, “Swimming it on 25-pound test fluorocarbon.”
“I got onto swimming jigs in Texas about 12 years ago,” he revealed. “Not necessarily swimming them up shallow, but swimming them out deeper in grass and cover and that technique has been a big bass killer for me.”
With his three lures chosen, there was one question remaining: What about the good old-fashioned Rayburn Red Rat-L-Trap for big bass in Texas?
“A rattling lipless has its place in Texas for sure, but it’s not for me,” Castledine said. “First, it’s somewhat limited to certain times of year. Second, it’s what everyone throws in February and March. And I haven’t even used a rattling lipless at all in the last few years in Texas, so it wasn’t really a consideration for me. Just give me the Popping Perch, the Rage Bug and the ½-ounce jig on my ‘bazooka tackle’ and I’ll catch plenty of big ones in Texas.”