Fishing's great, could be better

MANY, La. — Nobody is complaining about a lake that produces two 25-pound bags and 11 more over 20 pounds, like Toledo Bend did Thursday at the Evan Williams Bourbon Elite Series Tournament.

But according to Toledo Bend veterans Todd Faircloth and Kelly Jordon, it could be so much better. They were pretty adamant about that after the first day of this four-day event.

"I promise you, if we would have been here when we were at Table Rock (the first week in April), it might have broken the (Elite Series) record," Jordon said. "There would have been several heavyweight belts given out."

The Elite Series record for a four-day, five-bass daily limit tournament is 132 pounds, 8 ounces, caught by Paul Elias on Falcon Lake in 2008. The much-coveted heavyweight belts Jordon referred to are awarded to everyone catching at least 100 pounds in this Elite Series format. They are rare. The last three came from Falcon in 2013, when Keith Combs, Rick Clunn and John Crews topped 100 pounds.

Jordon is a great story-teller, but occasionally stretches the truth, you know, just to enhance the tale.

But nobody on the Elite Series is more "just the facts" than Faircloth, who grew up fishing Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn reservoirs. The Jasper, Texas, resident thinks it will take an average of about 20 pounds a day to win here. And like Jordon, he believes only timing keeps it from taking 100 pounds to win.

"If we would have been here a month earlier or a month later, it would take 25 pounds a day," said Faircloth. "I honestly believe that. We're just in an in-between stage. If it was a total pre-spawn tournament, it would be lights out. If it was a month later, all the fish would be out."

And it would be lights out then, as well. But that's not where Toledo Bend is right now. Faircloth's day was a good example of a fishery that is in all three stages of the spring spawning pattern. His eighth-place bag of 21-14 included mostly post-spawn fish, he estimated. But he did catch an 8-pounder off a spawning bed.

"I got a little lucky today," Faircloth said. "I was real fortunate to roll up on her like that and catch her."

It's not that big a deal if it takes 80 pounds or 100 pounds to win this tournament. Nobody will have a negative word to say about the bass fishing at Toledo Bend. And Mother Nature dealt these cards with the unusually long winter over most of the U.S. The point is that this lake, which was as good as any lake in the country in the 1990s, might be better now. And nothing demonstrates that like 100-pound totals in an Elite Series event.

"Back in '96 and '97, it was really, really good, like it is right now," Faircloth said. "I think there are probably more fish in the lake now than there was then. The lake overall is just really, really healthy right now."

It's a healthy lake creating lots of headaches. How many how-to stories have you read about catching bass during the pre-spawn period? Hundreds, probably. And it's the same for the spawn and post-spawn periods. But who is the expert on fishing all three phases at once? None of the 108 Elites Series anglers claimed to be Thursday.

No one who caught a 20-pound-plus bag on Day 1 is confident about repeating that on Day 2. On the other hand, those who didn't catch 'em Thursday, still believe they might on Friday.

"I'm not a bit disappointed," said Mark Davis, who is in 26th place with 17-14. "I know I can catch around 25 pounds tomorrow and be right back in it."

So here's the key: View this tournament as a rare educational experience. Whoever wins this event will have figured out how to catch bass when they're in all three spawning phases at once, on one of the best bass lakes in the U.S.

That's a story.