With an early deadline looming due to playoff baseball on Thursday night — by the way, good luck to Denison head coach Charles Bollinger and his area champion Yellow Jackets squad — there isn’t any way that I can give you a completely accurate report this morning.
On the first day of competition down near Austin on Lake Travis, that is, sight of this weekend’s 2018 Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest, an annual event that benefits the Inland Fisheries division of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
I can tell you who was leading the event early on Thursday afternoon, at least according to the unofficial BASSTrakk standings available at www.bassmaster.com.
Keep in mind that the unique catch-and-release event is one where B.A.S.S. anglers and this week’s in-the-boat judges will weigh and release the fish, recording the official weights on paper.
B.A.S.S. officials note that those weight totals won’t be official however until the daily weigh-in when anglers bring some of their biggest bass to the Jonestown, Texas based stage along with the day’s written scorecards, which will be verified against BASSTrakk standings.
With that in mind, Del Rio, Texas resident and Bassmaster Elite Series competitor Ray Hanselman, Jr. was in the lead as of 2:30 p.m. with five bass that weighed in at 21 pounds, 15 ounces.
That was more than two pounds better than the second place angler, Josh Bertrand, with five bass checking in at 19 pounds, five ounces. The remainder of the top 10 included: Cliff Pace (third place at 19-03); Jacob Wheeler (4th at 16-14); Brent Chapman (5th at 16-01); David Mullins (6th at 15-15); Brandon Coulter (7th at 15-14); Brandon Palaniuk (8th at 15-13); Kevin VanDam (9th at 15-09); and Keith Poche (10th at 15-02).
As of press time, some other names of note in the field included Flint, Texas angler Kelly Jordon (13th with 14-01); Rick Clunn (15th with 13-09); Aaron Martens (19th at 13-07); Takahiro Omori (22nd at 13-04); Brent Ehrler (25th at 13-01); and Ardmore’s Jeff Kriet (26th at 12-14).
Keep in mind that the BASSTrakk unofficial leaderboard is in flux and will likely change several times before you read this on Friday morning.
That being said, there are several things that stood out to me from the excellent coverage that Bassmaster.com always provides for one of their events.
First, it was slick and calm on Lake Travis during the first half of Thursday’s first round, something that doesn’t help the fishing on the very clear and deep serpentine lake lying upstream of Austin on the Colorado River.
Like it is on many other Lone Star State bass waters in late spring and early summer, as Brett Hite told veteran Bassmaster.com reporter Steve Wright about the bass fishing on Travis, the wind is your friend.
“I think in the first three hours of the day you’re definitely going to get a couple of your key bites,” Hite told Wright on Wednesday. “On a reservoir that is clear like this, you want wind. It’s not in the forecast for Thursday, so those early bites are really going to be key.
“It can blow 40 miles-an-hour and it wouldn’t be a problem here just because it’s real narrow and there aren’t many open spots. A 15- to 20-mile-an-hour wind is no problem. It would make the fishing a whole lot better.”
Second, given the slick conditions on Thursday, those quality bites are more important than ever.
Case in point was Ardmore, Okla. Elite Series angler Jeff Kriet, who moved up the leaderboard thanks to a 6 1/2-pound largemouth later in the morning. After previously catching nine smaller bass under two-pounds, Kriet needed that bigger fish to move up in the standings as he tries to claim the $100,000 top prize and the automatic Bassmasters Classic berth that awaits this weekend’s champion.
Such fish are very important on Travis this weekend because catching numbers of bass apparently isn’t much of an issue as some anglers reported 100-catch days in practice according to veteran Bassmaster.com writer Craig Lamb.
“During practice, I could pull up on a spot and catch bass after bass for 30 minutes,” said Elite Series pro Jacob Wheeler to Lamb. “So what it’s going to come down to is catching quality over quantity.”
Finally, keep a watchful eye out for that Kalamazoo, Mich. fellow who goes by the initials KVD.
Why is that? Because Kevin VanDam, the sport’s reigning GOAT — who learned earlier this week that he and Texas bass pro Gary Klein are among the inductees voted into the 2018 Bass Fishing Hall of Fame class — has found a bit of a comfort zone on Travis.
“(Earlier this week) was the first time I’ve ever fished here, and I like it a lot,” VanDam told Bassmaster.com writer Alan McGuckin. “It reminds me a lot of Table Rock in terms of the rocky terrain and all the rocky shoreline transitions.”
Mike McClelland, the Elite Series’ resident expert on Table Rock, agreed.
“Yep, Kevin’s exactly right,” McClelland told McGuckin. “It reminds me a ton of Table Rock too, as well as places like Bull Shoals and other Ozark reservoirs.
“Before I saw this place I envisioned it looking like Choke Canyon, maybe with vegetation like a lot of the great Texas fisheries we’ve been to, but it’s really more like Table Rock, or even a miniature Amistad.”
With most of Travis’ bass in the post-spawn phase and water temps in the upper 70s, there will be plenty of ways to catch active bass as the 2018 Texas Fest rolls towards Championship Sunday.
“Fans can expect to see us use just about every lure imaginable this week — from soft plastics of every shape and kind, to crankbaits, spinnerbaits, swimbaits — you name it — this event is one in which you’ll see ‘em all used,” said McClelland to McGuckin.
KVD - who was sitting in the Top 10 as of press time on Thursday — agreed.
“It’s that time of year, shad are spawning all over the southern half of the country right now, including here,” KVD told McGuckin. “So it’s time to get out there. I only practiced 13 hours (the other day).”
Which means KVD has probably found a pattern, technique, or location that is very much to his liking, something that makes the Michigan bass fishing legend a threat to win his 26th overall B.A.S.S. tournament by the end of the weekend down on the edge of the Texas Hill Country.
He’s won on Texas bass waters three other times including on Sam Rayburn in 1999, on Lake Lewisville in 2005, and on Toledo Bend in 2016, even though that latter event was staged out of Many, La.
So don’t bet against the king of bass fishing this weekend in the shadow of ATX. Because there are plenty of bass to be caught, including some good ones, as the next champion of this event gets crowned on Sunday afternoon, deep in the heart of Texas.