JASPER, Texas — B.A.S.S. has visited Sam Rayburn Lake for a total of 34 events, dating back to 1969. Only two of those tournaments were held during the current dates in September, with winning weights of 57 and 52 pounds, respectively.
Will we see that average winning weight trend continue this week at the Basspro.com Bassmaster Central Open?
Maybe so, because this is Sam Rayburn, the legendary big bass sibling to the west of Toledo Bend. However, an 18-pound daily average is a tall order given the current weather history leading up to the event.
Sure, it’s hot, but this is the norm in East Texas. Daytime highs in the mid-90s, very little rain and wind can add challenges to building up to that daily weight. Reports from anglers during practice sway both directions about how tough — or easy — attaining that weight will be. Even so, multiple double-digit largemouth were caught during practice.
“There will be the haves and the have nots,” said Darold Gleason, a full-time guide on Toledo Bend and a veteran tournament angler. “There will be separation in the field with the local sticks fishing this tournament and the others from out of state.”
That is a good indicator of how local knowledge of how the largemouth set up in the classic summertime offshore areas will be essential for success this week. The good news is there are two very distinct patterns in play to help balance the playing field.
“There are two very distinct patterns in play this week, shallow and deep,” Gleason said. “Here, that means you can catch quality weights in either place, because the big ones live in this lake.”
Brian Latimer added that he thinks that will create opportunity for the field of about 430 pros and co-anglers to spread out, so the fishing pressure will be evened out across the 114,500-acre mega-fishery.
“What will be cool to see is all the different patterns in play,” he said.
Lee Livesay, who balances out his Bassmaster Elite Series career with a side job as a guide on Lake Fork, likes one particular pattern that is most definitely in his angling wheelhouse. That would be the shallow bite.
He said there are three different patterns in play there. Those are fishing the gnarliest vegetation and lily pad fields using a soft plastic frog, and flipping and pitching soft plastics to the pads and isolated wood mixed in with the vegetation.
“The challenge is going to be fishing pressure due to the fish being pulled out into concentrated areas due to the water level dropping,” he said. “The shoreline hay grass and many of the shoreline cypress trees are out of the water.”
Even so, Livesay caught largemouth exceeding 9 pounds during practice. His goal is to catch a limit in the 16-pound range early, then switch to the big bite to top off his goal of 18 pounds.
The final influencer in this tournament is the weather, or lack of it. The weather pattern has been stagnant. Just a little wind goes a long way here this time of year, and it’s produced by summertime storms.
“Rayburn, like Toledo Bend, is not a power-generating lake like you have in other parts of the South,” said Gleason. “On those lakes the summertime bite is driven by current generated for power, and we don’t have that here.”
That makes wind-driven current a must for triggering the otherwise lethargic bite.
“Thunderstorms stir up the water and you get the wind-driven current that pushes the bass into ambush areas, where they set up on shoreline brushpiles, shallow points and grass edges,” explained Gleason. “Just a little wind here goes a long way this time of the year.”
Greg Hackney agreed, adding the winning angler will be mixing up his game plan to compete on Championship Saturday.
“I think due to the stable weather that it’ll take a guy fishing a shallow and deep pattern, because just focusing on one of those will not hold up for three days,” he said. “I think the winner will build up a pattern over the three days and expand on those two patterns.”
Gleason believes the lake just turned over, adding to the challenges ahead.
“When that happens here the fish roam around a lot,” he said. “They suspend without the wind and can be tough to pin down.”
Gleason is a believer in the deep pattern for the win. Hackney and Latimer are going with both patterns, and one thing is for sure. This is Sam Rayburn, no matter how you stack things up. Anything can happen, and there are over 400 rods in hands at any given time.