Rayburn to challenge kayak anglers

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Lake Sam Rayburn in Jasper, Texas, is one of the premier largemouth bass-fishing destinations in the country, perhaps even the world. Bassmaster Magazine, in fact, ranked it #1 in the U.S.A. back in 2018. It’s also the next stop for the Hobie Bass Open Series (B.O.S.) Anchored By Power-Pole, and a crew of elite kayak anglers simply can’t wait for the action to begin. Many grew up watching and reading about this 140,000-acre reservoir, the largest lake in the Lone Star State. They know it has a reputation for producing outlandishly heavy limits and personal bests. Indeed, there’s a good chance some B.O.S. records will fall during this event but, no matter what, you can bet just fishing on these famed waters will be a thrill for many.

“Getting to run tournaments all across the country certainly is a privilege,” says Hobie B.O.S. tournament director, A.J. McWhorter, “but when you see a lake with a pedigree like Sam Rayburn it creates a little extra excitement - not just for me as a director but for all our competitors as well. This lake has the potential to produce our biggest limits ever and every grass mat or laydown could be hiding the bigmouth of a lifetime. If this place doesn’t get your heart racing, nothing will. It’s so popular and productive that more than 300 bass tournaments are held here each year.”

While the potential for big bass and heavy hauls in this two-day catch, photo and release (C.P.R.) tournament are amazing, nothing is ever guaranteed in the world of competitive bass fishing. This area has endured unprecedented rainfall in recent weeks, and that’s likely to create challenges for the Hobie fleet. Still, McWhorter believes they can overcome the odds and make a great showing. “As we’ve seen time and again in destinations across the country,” he says, “these folks can fish. One way or another they always rise to the occasion and overcome the obstacles Mother Nature puts in their path. I have no doubt they’ll come out on top here, too.“

Joseph Sanderson, 26, of Austin, Texas, agrees with McWhorter. “There are going to be quite a few elite anglers at this event, including a large contingent of Texas bass fans who want to really represent this state. It certainly will be interesting to see who steps up and gets the job done. The waters right now are about 9.5 feet above normal and still rising. That means even though this lake looks big, it’s going to fish smaller than usual since a lot of ramps and access points will be closed. Expect the open ramps to be busy, and their nearby waters to see plenty of pressure.”

Luckily, Lake Sam Rayburn has enough cover and structure to go around. Pre-impoundment timber remains standing, hydrilla is spread liberally across more than 12,000 acres, and there are another 2,500 acres of additional vegetation including coontail and pondweed. Add in 750 miles of shoreline, much of it sporting laydowns or covered in brush, plus some deep-water ledges, channels, humps and creek beds, and anglers are sure to have plenty of choices.

“We’ve had a much cooler winter and spring than usual,” Sanderson continues, “so the shad spawn might still come into play for those who fish shallow. We’re also in a transition period which could find bass in a foot of water along the shore or in 25-foot depths on submerged structure. The shoreline probably has the edge, but some big limits have been taken from deep water in recent tournaments, so go for it if that’s in your wheelhouse.”

The St. Croix pro plans to spend most of his time throwing moving baits in the shallows, an approach he says is among his strengths. No stranger to this lake, he had his best day of fishing ever in a 2018 tournament here in which he saw or hooked five fish topping 8 pounds. “I only decked one,” he says with a chuckle. “Lost a couple big ones I never saw, too. There are legitimate monsters here. An FLW tourney earlier this year produced a 13.5-pounder.”

Like Sanderson, Jim Ware, 52, from Rome, Ga., is super excited about this Hobie B.O.S. event. “This one’s on my bucket list,” he says. “I’ve heard about Lake Sam Rayburn since I was a kid watching Roland Martin and all the legendary pros fishing in the Bassmaster Classic. To me, this is the epitome of bass fishing,” adds Ware, who fishes in a Hobie 360 PA14 because, “it has so much mobility.”

Ware has been studying the big lake and thinks he’s well prepared. His forte is deep-water fishing and that’s how he’ll start out on Day 1. He plans to drag a big plum-colored ribbon worm across the bottom around structure and cut in a Picasso Hog Snatcher spinnerbait or weedless frog if he needs to fish around vegetation.

“I know high water moves bass into the shoreline brush,” reveals Ware, “but some recent tournaments were won around offshore structure. I love that kind of fishing, so I’ll be working over ledges and humps, at least in the early going. This lake has produced 40-pound bags for tournament boat anglers. I’d be absolutely thrilled with a limit like that, but if I can just manage a personal best, that would be sweet, too. The Hobie Bass Open Series (B.O.S.) Anchored By Power-Pole is the best trail out there for kayak fishermen. It’s professional, fair, and I love the human-powered aspect of the competition. All around, it’s a good time, win or lose.”

In addition to substantial cash prizes, competitors at Lake Sam Rayburn will have plenty more on the line. The top three non-qualified anglers will punch their ticket to the Hobie Tournament of Champions (T.O.C.) at Lake Eufaula, Alabama, Nov. 12-14. All-important points toward Angler of the Year (A.O.Y.), presented by FarWide, the Outdoor Access App, will be distributed to the top 100 competitors, and the largest bass of the two-day tournament will earn a $400 check for the Bassin’ Big Bass Award. Also up for grabs is the Dakota Lithium Power Move award, which recognizes the angler with the greatest leap up the leader board from Day 1 to Day 2. That prize is a Dakota Power Box with a 10-amp lithium battery.

“I can’t wait to see how this all plays out,” sums up McWhorter. “Hopefully, there will be more launch ramps and access points open by the time we kick off. Either way, these competitors are going to fish their hearts out. I’m sure we’ll see some great catches no matter the conditions. I wouldn’t expect anything less from such a stellar field.”