If there was any question that Sam Rayburn Reservoir is the hottest bass lake in Texas right now, that idea was put to rest in a big way last weekend as the Texas Team Trail tournament organization staged its inaugural event of 2020 on the famed water body near Lufkin.
Actually, it was put to rest in a giant way as the 114,500-acre East Texas lunker factory gave up — one week after producing a 15-pound largemouth bass, mind you — a five-fish team bag limit for the ages.
Despite a pre-derby cold front that left the region on the chilly side, the angling team of Danny Isles and Brian Shook brought to the scale a back-breaking collection of five bass that brought stunned reactions from the crowd and viral meltdown on Internet fishing forum threads and social media posts.
That reaction is understandable after the five-fish bag limit tipped the weigh-in scale to a staggering 49.31-pounds, perhaps the best team bag limit ever recorded in Texas.
And that’s after a pre-derby practice that had suggested the event would produce good fishing up shallow rather than out deep as Big Sam’s bass start to move up for the coming spring spawn.
“Last weekend we fished offshore in practice and didn’t catch anything but three or four little ones,” said Isles to writer David A. Brown in a TexasTeamTrail.com tournament wrap-up news story.
“We talked about it earlier this week and thought ‘It’s been colder, maybe the fish will back up a little bit.’ When we left (at take off), we said ‘It’s 50/50 whether we’re even going to catch one or not.’”
Thanks to the cool weather, the pair decided to see what the offshore bite would bring.
As it turned out, it didn’t bring much in terms of quantity - the pair of anglers got only six keeper bites all day long according to Brown’s story.
But the pair hardly noticed since their bag limit was huge on quality, giving them their winning weight total from three spots by 10:15 a.m.!
“Honestly, the cold front we had the middle of the week is the only reason we caught those fish,” Isles said to Brown. “It seems like they had really moved up shallow pretty good, but we had a pretty severe cold front that knocked the water temperatures down and pushed the fish out of the little pockets that they had been in.”
Starting off on a sizable drop-off in the lake’s SH 147 bridge area, Wired2Fish.com reported that the two anglers tossed Strike King 10XD and 6th Sense Cloud 9 C20 crankbaits. According to Brown’s story, the pair tossed those baits towards the bank, reeling them back out to the drop-off that was littered with brush and timber on the bottom.
That idea worked as the pair told Brown that they caught an 11.47-pounder and a 10-pounder at the first location. But then the spot played out, forcing the team on to their next waypoint.
That spot gave up a 7-pound fish that gave the pair of anglers confidence that they could eventually win the day’s derby.
“Okay, we have three that weigh around 26-27 pounds,” Isles told Brown. “If we catch two more 2-pounders, we may win this thing.”
At the duo’s third spot, they did indeed catch two more largemouths. But instead of 2-pound keepers, they caught two more giants, a 9-pounder and the tournament’s big fish at 12.04-pounds.
“We were already thinking about what we had to do later in the day to catch a couple of 2-pounders, but then on the next offshore place, we caught two more (big ones) and we knew we had enough weight to win it,” Isles told Brown.
How did Isles and Shook catch their historic bag? According to Brown’s story, a steady diet of deep crankbaits, 7-11 Power Tackle cranking rods, 16-pound fluorocarbon line, and 2X strong Owner round bend treble hooks switched out with the crankbait’s stock hooks.
Anchored by the derby’s big bass that weighed 12.04 pounds, the winning team of Isles and Shook outdistanced the tournament’s runner-up team of Casey Burleigh and Josh Rodgers by 18.5-pounds. And despite a day that saw six other teams weigh in bag limits of 20-plus pounds, Isles and Shook easily outpaced the rest of the field too.
The huge weight total caught by Isles and Shook produced a hefty $52,560 payday for the winning team, prizes that included a fully rigged Ranger Z19 bass boat and a 225 HP Mercury engine; $3,030 in Angler’s Advantage cash; and $1,535 for the event’s big bass award. The team also added an extra $2,000 in dealership bonus money because of their win.
Incidentally, the second place team of Burleigh and Rodgers weighed in five fish at 30.82 pounds, a bag limit often good enough to win an event. Despite their runner-up finish, Burleigh and Rodgers couldn’t have been too disappointed in a day that produced an 8.38-pound bass and some $9,897 in prize money.
As good as last weekend was, there will almost certainly be more big bass fireworks on the Texas Team Trail circuit this season as it visits some of the state’s best water bodies after several years of good rainfall and springtime spawns in most of the state.
After the big bass bonanza at Sam Rayburn last weekend, the Texas Team Trail circuit will head back to East Texas in a few weeks for a March 21st date at big bass producer Toledo Bend.
Then the tournament trail will head out to the West Texas town of Del Rio for an April 18th event at Amistad Reservoir.
As the circuit wraps up its 2020 schedule, it’s back to East Texas on May 9th for a derby at Lake Fork, followed by the group’s championship event at Sam Rayburn on June 6-7.
For more information about the circuit and its future events, please visit www.TexasTeamTrail.com.