Sam Rayburn: How They Did It

Sometimes it doesn't much matter what you do or how you do it. The stars are in alignment for the other guy.

Stephen Johnston

Sometimes it doesn't much matter what you do or how you do it. The stars are in alignment for the other guy. It's over. You know that in your heart even as you struggle, hoping against hope, that you can change the course of events.

 And so it was for Todd Faircloth and Kris Wilson, who finished second and third behind Hemphill, Texas, angler Stephen Johnston. Johnston found big fish; the other guys... not so much. Johnston's bass held for three days; the other guys... not so much. Still, Faircloth and Wilson caught limits, respectable limits as a matter of fact. Had they not been chasing fate, they might have pulled it off.

 Here's how the three best finishers did it.

 Stephen Johnston
(1st place — 57 pounds, 5 ounces)

 Stephen Johnston has fished Sam Rayburn for many years. He has a solid working knowledge of the bass that live in its waters. That showed this week as he marched to victory.

 "In late summer and early fall the bass start moving up on the main lake ridges into 15-20 feet of water. They follow the shad. This year was classic. They started moving up just before the tournament. I found several ridges in 15-19 feet of water that were holding bass.

 "When the sun's out, the shad drop down near the bottom. The bass are easy to target at that time. I was fortunate that the sun came out on the first day and the last day. And on Friday when there was some cloud cover, the bass didn't move very far."

 When the shad were deep, Johnston fished his ridges by tossing a 1/2-ounce Falcon Stand-Up Football Jig (peanut butter and jelly) with a Strike King Rage Craw (green pumpkin) as a trailer.

 Early in the morning his bass were active. He hopped his jig up off the bottom and let it fall straight down on top of the ridge. Later in the afternoon, however, he found that a more subtle drag over the edge put more weight in his livewell.

 On Friday, when cloud cover blocked the sun, his bass moved off the ridges into the surrounding water. He met that challenge by Texas rigging a Gene Larew El Salto Grande Worm (red bug).

 "It was a matter of finding the bass and then figuring out how they wanted it. The lesson here is to know your water and then have confidence in your practice. There were times when I could see the bass on my electronics, but I couldn't get them to bite. I stuck with it, sometimes for as long as 30 minutes on one spot without a bite. In the end that strategy paid off for me."

 Johnston caught his winning weight with Power Tackle rods — Model 104 for the jig, Model 144 for his Texas rig — and a Pflueger President reel (6.3:1 gear ratio) spooled with 20-pound-test Sunline fluorocarbon. He weighted his Grande Worm with a 3/8-ounce tungsten weight and armed it with a 4/0 Gamakatsu hook.

 Todd Faircloth
(2nd place — 47 pounds, 0 ounces)

 Todd Faircloth caught all five of his Thursday bass with a jig and a craw from thick, matted grassbeds. On Friday the Jasper, Texas, Elite Series pro caught most of his bass on a worm fishing the outside edges of the same stuff. Come Saturday, he alternated between the two patterns to weigh a limit of just under 15 pounds.

 "I've fished Sam Rayburn a lot in the past, so I had a pretty good idea of what to look for when this thing started. I worked grass in 8-12 feet of water anywhere I could find something a little different. My best sack came from a corner of a thick growth of weeds, right alongside the deeper edge.

 "I was comfortable with my pattern, but I also knew it wouldn't get me 20 or 30 fish a day. I knew I had to make the most of what I was getting. I'm fairly satisfied with that. I lost a couple of good fish on Friday. That upset me a little at the time, but as things turned out they wouldn't have made any difference.

 Faircloth's jig was an All-Terrain Tackle 1-1/2 ounce Grassmaster Weed Jig (green pumpkin) with a Yamamoto Flappin' Hog as a trailer (green pumpkin). His generic craw (green pumpkin) was Texas rigged with a 3/4- or 1-ounce tungsten weight and a 4/0 straight shank hook.

 His worm was a big Yamamoto ribbontail version in red bug. He rigged it with a 5/16-ounce tungsten weight and a 4/0 high-quality straight shank hook.

 Faircloth fished his jig and craw with a CastAway 7-foot, 6-inch flipping stick, a high-quality 6.1:1 reel and 50-pound-test braid. He worm fished with the same rod and reel, but switched to 14-pound-test Sugoi fluorocarbon line because of the lighter cover.

 Kris Wilson
(3rd place — 46 pounds, 14 ounces)

 
Montgomery, Texas, angler Kris Wilson combined a ton of spots and a carefully mapped out milk run with a simple jig technique to claim the third place slot.

 "I had well over 15 places to fish. All I did was target grassbeds between 12 and 15 feet deep near points, channel swings or anywhere I could find really thick, matted stuff.

 "I'd pitch my jig out, let it fall, shake it once or twice and then reel it in and start all over again. At least 90 percent of the time they hit it on the initial fall. It was basic grass fishing on Sam Rayburn."

 His jig was a 1-ounce Dirty Jigs Tackle Tour Level No-Jack Grass Flippin' Jig (black and blue) with either a Sweet Beaver or a Big Bite Fighting Frog (black and blue) as a trailer. He pitched with a Falcon 7-foot, 2-inch rod — "stiff as a broomstick" — and a Shimano Curado reel (7:1 gear ratio) spooled with 70-pound-test Daiwa Samurai braided line.

 "The fast reel was really important. It allowed me to get my jig back quickly and make a lot more casts than I could have with a slower reel. You'd be surprised at how much difference that makes."

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