MANY, La. — Most of the 108 professional anglers on the Bassmaster Elite Series have had at least some experience on world-famous Toledo Bend Reservoir.
But that was before recent record floods hit the portions of Louisiana and Texas where the 185,000-acre fishery is formed by the Sabine River.
Now with multiple flood gates open at Toledo Bend Dam and the lake muddied and well above full pool, the anglers may need to learn the lake all over again to be successful during the Bassmaster Elite at Toledo Bend scheduled for May 12-15.
“I’ve only seen Toledo Bend at this kind of stage at this time of year once or twice in my life,” said Dennis Tietje, an Elite Series pro who lives in Roanoke, La. “The last time the Elite Series came to Toledo Bend (in 2014), we’d had one of those cold, cold winters where the spawn was delayed for an extensive period, and that threw everybody off a little.
“This time, we’ll actually be dealing with a physical change in the lake.”
Tietje has spent a lot of time guiding on Toledo Bend for crappie and bass. But the lake has been off-limits to Elite Series competitors since April 11, and he’s stayed as far away as possible to remain completely within the rules.
Still, the rain he’s received at his own home and the public generation schedule for Toledo Bend Dam have given him a decent idea of what to expect.
“Anytime you look and see flood gates open, you know it’s drawing a lot of water from the rest of the lake,” he said. “It pulls muddy water from the creeks, and you can just about bet it’s going to be muddier than usual.”
Noted Toledo Bend guide Harold Allen, who works for Living The Dream Guide Service, said the heavily stained water won’t keep the lake from producing the gigantic bags of bass it’s become known for. He added, it could take as much as 22 to 24 pounds a day to win — and the anglers who’ll have the best chance will be the ones who are willing to adjust to the conditions.
Though spawning bass have played a role in all of the first four Elite Series tournaments held this year, Allen said that phase has long since passed on Toledo Bend.
“The last five or six major tournaments here have been won deep, and I think that’s how this one will be won,” Allen said. “There should be a good grass bite early in the morning, and that might be a good way to get a couple of big fish. But if you’re fishing in that grass all day hoping for seven or eight bites and you miss one of them, you could be in trouble.
“There are good fish being caught as deep as 32 feet right now.”
Allen expects plastics frogs and other topwater presentations to be good for the first hour or two each day. But then he said anglers will likely have to move to the mid-range depths of 8 to 10 feet with some type of moving bait, like a swimbait.
As the day progresses, he believes lots of big fish will be caught deep with big worms and swimbaits. He said umbrella rigs have been a big producer on the lake recently, but they’re illegal in all Bassmaster competitions that qualify anglers for the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro.
To demonstrate how many big fish are being caught on the fishery this year, Allen pointed to the Toledo Bend Lunker Bass Program. Under program rules, anglers who weigh in a bass that tips the scales at 10 pounds or more at one of several pre-determined locations receive a free replica mount — as long as the fish can be released unharmed back into the lake.
After awarding 81 replicas in 2015, anglers have already weighed in 137 qualifying bass this year with almost two weeks remaining. Based in part on that output of giant bass, Bassmaster Magazine ranked Toledo Bend No. 1 on its current annual list of America’s 100 Best Bass Lakes.
“The water will be more stained than what some of the guys are used to on Toledo Bend,” Allen said. “But it’s been that way all spring, and I think the bass are used to it by now. I don’t think it’ll stop those guys from finding the fish.”
Daily takeoffs will be held at 6:15 a.m. CT from Cypress Bend Park, with weigh-ins held back at the park at 3:15 p.m. A full field of 108 anglers will fish the first two days, with the Top 50 advancing to the semifinal round and only the Top 12 competing on Championship Sunday.
The winning angler will receive $100,000.