MANY, La. — I fished the co-angler side of Bassmaster Tour events on Toledo Bend in 2001 and 2003, and I managed to cash a modest check in each one, so I certainly remember what a great fishery the big border lake can be. In fact, in the 2003 event, I had the good fortune to practice with eventual winner David Wharton, and he was in such a zone that at times I had to pinch myself to make sure what I was seeing was really happening.
Because I’m a glutton, though, I also remember the meals. The tournament may be based out of Louisiana, but the town of Many is more typically East Texas than New Orleans (which is nearly 300 miles away).
Nevertheless, I managed to weasel my way in to a crawfish boil at Dennis Tietje’s camp on the lake. Although Tietje now fishes the Elites, at the time he was still a farmer with aspirations of going pro who knew everybody. I remember watching Peter Thliveros boiling the crawfish, listening to Kevin VanDam and Kelly Jordon talking about peacock bass fishing, and seeing Kenyon Hill put a hurting on Tietje’s yearly crop.
At that same event, I met up with a former member of my bass club, Randy Reehm, at a restaurant called Bryce’s on the Texas side of the lake (its motto should’ve been “all fried, all the time”). Randy brought his son, Clark. Like Tietje, Clark Reehm was then an aspiring pro. Reehm subsequently fished the Elite Series for six years before leaving to open a guide service, with many of his trips on Toledo Bend.
Because those two pros have a long and continuous history on the lake, I figured they’d be good sources of info for choosing my Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team. Tietje took his first boat ride on Toledo Bend at 6 months old and has fished there every year since. Reehm might not have started that young, but because he guides there and won’t be competing, I felt he might give up a little more dirt than Tietje would. The bottom line, both agreed, is that while there may be some memorable meals this time around for the competitors, it’s the bass that will truly be gorging themselves.
“If you look at the tournament results, the lake is probably in the best shape it’s been in the last 10 years,” Tietje said. “It’s really healthy with a lot of big fish being weighed. There have already been at least 50 heavier than 10 pounds. The lake is on fire, from north to south, and you’ll be able to fish your strengths.”
Reehm, who took second place in a Rayovac event on Toledo Bend last month, agreed: “It’s wide open to do anything you want to do. The lake is healthy, but the fish were behind, so instead of trickling up little by little in February, there was a bum rush in late March. It’s taking 30-plus to win some tournaments.
“It could be the best Elite event of the year,” said Reehm.
With their guidance, and some of my own hunches, here are my picks for the upcoming tournament.
As usual this is the toughest bucket, because any of these guys can win any event on the schedule. How do you pick against Jason Christie or Randall Tharp, two great big-fish anglers who excel in the grass? How do you go against Mark Davis, who is on fire, has tons of experience at Toledo Bend, and is one of the handful of best postspawn fishermen in history?
Keith Combs is another one who always seems to show up in the Top 12 any time the tours travel to Texas, whether it is Falcon or Texoma or anywhere in between.
I’m half-tempted to pick Takahiro Omori, simply because I believe it was at Toledo Bend that he produced one of the greatest Bassmaster TV moments of all time, hooking the butt area of his rain pants with a crankbait and then spinning in circles trying to figure out what happened and to free himself.
My gut pick, though, is Todd Faircloth. He may be quiet, but he excels not only in East Texas, but also early in the season.
Faircloth finished 15th on Toledo Bend in 2012, 17th in 2011, 18th in the 2009 Central Open, 17th in the 2002 Central Open, and 17th in the 2001 Top 150, along with checks in both 2003 events. He’s like a blue chip stock here; he might not win, but he’s going to get you good points no matter what variables are thrown at him.