Rayburn memories and plans

Our next Bassmaster Elite Series event is on Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Texas. It’s a legendary lake — one of the most visited venues in B.A.S.S. history. I can still remember watching The Bassmasters hosted by Bob Cobb when I was young. He talked about the Black Forest area, about Buck Bay, about Needmore Point and about eating at The Stump Restaurant. 

When I had the chance to fish there myself, I had to fish all those spots and I had to eat at The Stump. I was fortunate enough to win a Central Open there in 2004, and it’s a pretty special place for me.

So, as you might imagine, I’m excited about the chance to go back to Rayburn. I haven’t been there since the second-ever Elite event back in 2006. Greg Hackney won that tournament.

A lot of things combine to make Rayburn a great fishery. It covers well over 100,000 acres and is a tremendously diverse place that’s seemingly never the same body of water twice. It now has lots of hay grass. It’s long been famous for hydrilla, but in the past 25 years or so, cypress trees have come into play. Places that were famous for buck brush now don’t seem to have any, and spots that didn’t have it years ago have it now. Rayburn is always changing, always different. 

I think it’s a great time to be going to Rayburn. We’ll be fishing a diverse fishery at what may be the most diverse fishing time of the entire year. In May, we can expect a shad and bluegill spawn. A few bass may still be spawning, too, but many more will be postspawn. There may be more ways to catch bass on Rayburn right now than any other time of the year. 

And that’s a double-edged sword. With so many patterns and methods that could be working, it can be tough to get dialed in on the one particular thing you need to do to win the tournament. On the other hand, with so many potential patterns it can definitely open things up to make winning a little easier than usual. May really spreads the field out.

As you watch the Rayburn leaderboard, know that the top 12 anglers may all be doing something very different, in different areas, using different baits at different depths. Rayburn and the month of May can make that happen.

A key for me will be keeping an open mind as I enter the practice period. I plan to look deep and shallow for what I think are the winning bass. If the water level is up, that could take deep water out of the picture. The diversity of the lake and time of year can also lead an angler to misinterpret what he’s found. You can find some bass almost everywhere, and you can catch something doing almost anything, but if you catch a good fish and mistake that for a solid pattern, it can take you out of the tournament early.

I’ve been asked how I know when I’m on the fish it will take to be competitive. It’s a great question, and sometimes a tough one. Basically, I try to use my knowledge of the fishery — through research and personal experience — to keep me on track. Going in I have an idea of what it will take to do well. Sometimes I get surprised, but if my research and understanding are good, I’m usually on the right track.

I think Rayburn could be won on a single pattern or even on a single spot. The lake is big enough to support several strong patterns, and I once found a spot on the lake that produced great catches almost every day from the first of February to the end of May.

It’s also true that you may not know what you really have until after the tournament starts. In practice, I’ll usually catch one or two good bass in an area and then leave. I’ll use tournament time to refine the pattern — not practice time. Of course, in the Elite Series, we have four competition days. If you’re a weekend tournament angler, you only have one or two. You may need to develop your patterns more fully before competition starts.

Ideally, I’d like to be working one or two strong patterns on Day 1 of the event. It’s best if at least one of them is an offshore pattern for a couple of reasons — they tend to be more stable; they have the potential for more fish; and they’re less likely to be found by other anglers.

Rayburn should be a great tournament, and I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully, when you take a look at the leaderboard, you’ll see me in position to go for the win.

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