MANY, La. – Dennis Tietje can barely keep the smile off his face now. But that smile was turned upside down last May, when Tietje was one of the Bassmaster Elite Series anglers competing on Toledo Bend.
Even though he grew up fishing this big impoundment on the Sabine River, Tietje's back was hurting so much he couldn't take advantage of that knowledge.
"It got to the point that I couldn't compete at this level, " said the 47-year-old Tietje (pronounced "tee-jay"). "It was either get it fixed, or I was going to have to do something else."
After surgery to repair a herniated disk in November, Tietje requested a medical leave of absence from this year's Elite Series. Only in the last two months has he been healed to the point he could work as a guide for bass and crappie anglers here.
Last Saturday Tietje and a partner won a bass tournament on Toledo Bend. It marked his first competition since the surgery. Now you know why he's smiling so much these days.
"I didn't realize until after the tournament was over that I never thought about my back," Tietje said. "It was a heckuva way to come back. I've been completely pain-free for about two months."
During that time, he's been essentially following Toledo Bend's bass population on a daily basis. After fishing the Elite Series for two years, he knows how quickly these pros can come to a lake and figure out a pattern, often one that local anglers didn't expect. Tietje thinks he knows what the winning pattern will be over the next four days of the Toledo Bend Battle, but he won't be surprised if he's wrong.
"It's going to be neat for me to see how these guys decipher things," Tietje said. "There are very few opportunities like this. I know what's going on. But it could be the reverse of what I expect. I may get shown that I didn't know as much as I thought I did."
Toledo Bend stretches for 65 miles, mostly north and south. Therefore a strong wind from either direction can turn this lake into a monster. But the weather forecast through the weekend doesn't include strong winds.
Last May, when the bass were spawning, Dean Rojas won here with a total weight of 70 pounds, 15 ounces, edging Gerald Swindle by one ounce. David Walker finished third with 70-2 in what was primarily a sight-fishing tournament. Toledo Bend's bass are now in post-spawn mode, which typically presents problems. However, the bass population is so healthy, Tietje predicts 70 pounds won't get it done this time.
"It could be in the 80s, if the weather permits a good four days," he said. "If the wind is a factor, I think you'll see it go down in the 60s.
"This lake has some really big schools of fish right now. It's just which angler is going to locate those schools and have the confidence to stay with them."
When the bass start feeding, big things can happen in a hurry.
"Whoever can activate one of those big schools of fish, he can catch 20 pounds in a matter of minutes," Tietje said.
He won't be surprised if someone weighs a five-bass daily limit totaling 27 or 28 pounds. In the last week, Tietje has seen some giants caught. There was a 13-5 put on the scales in an Everstart tournament here last weekend. Tietje took a 12-11 to the scales at a local tackle shop. He's seen a couple more caught that topped 10 pounds.
"Anytime you're seeing 10- to 13-pound fish caught this time of year, it's pretty incredible," Tietje said.
That should make for an interesting four days at Toledo Bend, especially for Dennis Tietje, who is now on the outside looking in.
Daily takeoffs begin at 6:30 a.m. CT and weigh-ins start at 3:15 p.m. at Cypress Bend Park, 3462 Cypress Bend Drive, Many, La. There is no admission charge.