I grew up in Central Texas, and while we had some decent lakes nearby, none compared to the mythical Sam Rayburn in far East Texas. I fished there for the first time when I was 14 years old and that just lit a fire under me. After that I followed all of the Rayburn tournament results, along with the careers of the top anglers on the lake, and that’s what inspired me to move to the area six years ago. Now I’m headed out on the lake for the first time in Bassmaster Elite Series competition.
Just as it was when I was a teenager, today Rayburn remains the most popular tournament lake in Texas, and the largest lake wholly within the state. Notice that I didn’t say it’s the best lake in the state at all times, but I believe that it is right now. I won’t be surprised if it takes more than 90 pounds to win.
Why is it so good right now? I believe that it’s because of the water levels in recent years. After several seasons of low water, we’ve had two consecutive years when the water was far up into the brush during the spawn and then into the summer. When the water is 6 or 8 feet up into the bushes, you simply can’t access a large portion of the lake. As a result, while we were held at bay on the outside of the brush line, the fish experienced a couple of great spawns and then were able to grow and eat without any pressure. It wasn’t just the bass – the baitfish also flourished, as did the populations of other fish like crappie.
I’m excited for this event not only because I feel that the fishery is in exceptional health, but also because I feel that Rayburn is just about the perfect tournament lake. It’s a big playing field, but unlike some other big lakes it won’t fish small. There will be fish caught dirt shallow out to 35 feet deep, and everywhere in between. They’ll be in all of the river arms as well as in the main lake and down by the dam. Quality bass will be caught on spoons and topwaters and frogs and crankbaits...just about any lure you have in your tackle box.
The beauty of Rayburn is that it changes every year. I remember when I first started visiting the lake there was so much vegetation in some places that it looked like a golf course, but the location of the best grass would change from year to year as a result of the fluctuating water levels. If the Elite Series were to schedule tournaments here in mid-May for the next five years, it might never look the same as it does now.
I know that some of my predictions have been off so far this year on what it would take to win at places like Conroe and Toledo Bend, but I really have a good feeling about this one. I was happy to see it when they announced the schedule and I still expect that it will produce our biggest weights of the season.
In a team tournament earlier this year there were three bags over 30 pounds and 60 over 20 pounds. We might not see those kinds of weights all the way down the line this week, but it’s a possibility. Knowing that’s possible, it’s hard to script a better tournament than that.