When the national spotlight turned to Toledo Bend in May, the lake really showed off.
And a week later, with even more pressure on this lake ranked No. 1 by Bassmasters Magazine, the reservoir flexed its muscles again in the Sealy Big Bass Splash.
Even with all that pressure on back-to-back weekends, our sprawling impoundment delivered bass — big bass at that — like a champ.
And, with hydrilla returning in full force after being so scarce the past few years, it shows no signs of slowing down in July.
It doesn’t really matter that the heat of summer will be on, mostly because of the height of the water (it was at full pool plus a couple inches at this writing) and that healthy hydrilla growing from the Indian Mounds south to the dam.
As a resident fishing guide, I couldn’t be prouder of the lake. Kevin VanDam won the Elite tournament with four-day weight just short of 100 pounds. We were all hopeful of a 100-pound winning weight but, heck, that 96-pound, 2-ounce total was close enough.
Then the following weekend it took an 11.74-pounder to claim the biggest bass of the Big Bass Splash — and the two-day event produced three bass topping 10 pounds, as well as countless 8s and 9s. Most of the time it took at least a 6-pounder to make the Sealy Big Bass Splash money each hour.
During the final day of the event, 139 free replicas of 10-pound-plus bass were awarded to anglers who entered them in the Toledo Bend Lunker Bass Program from May 2015 to May 2016.
Imagine that: 139. The previous 12-month total was 83.
Will there be more trophies handed out next May? The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries believes the lake’s capability of yielding double-digit bass hasn’t peaked.
Even though it’s summer, you can still put a 10-pound plus bass in the boat, as evidenced by the steady onslaught last summer that led to this amazing total of 139.
If it’s too hot for you during midday, there’s always bassin’ at night during the full moon. Opportunities abound this summer to hook up with bass — big and small.
The lake level was 172.38 feet as of May 24, which means the water will be high enough for successful bass fishing in 4- to 8-foot depths. I mean, it should be very good shallow, as the pepper grass has grown beautifully and matted on the surface all over the place.
As long as baitfish are there the bass will be there, and at this writing the shad spawn was in full swing and bream are spawning in the peppergrass.
To catch the bass hanging out around the peppergrass, I use a Stanley Top Toad. I throw various colors but always, always go back to Color No. 204 (watermelon red/pearl).
Other plastic frogs, such as Ribbits, Horny Toads, etc., should be just as productive.
Another artificial lure that should tear them up in peppergrass has come on like gangbusters. Throw a bream-colored ChatterBait and hold on.
The shallow bite should remain as good as it was when the Elite pros were here. Ten of the Top 12 stayed relatively shallow.
Another factor coming more and more into play is hydrilla: What a wonderful sight on the lower end of the lake after not seeing it for a couple summers. It’s growing, with the outside line now in 8- to 9-foot depths.
While we might not see the 15-foot-plus depths of hydrilla as in past years, we could get some deeper hydrilla if the water falls 1½ feet or so.
Of course, as KVD proved, the bite can be awesome in 25- to 32-foot depths using a deep-diving crankbait or a jigging spoon. Get a Strike King 10X (chartreuse/blue or sexy shad/chartreuse) and crank like VanDam.
Roanoke’s Dennis Tietje, one of those Elite Series pros who fished Toledo Bend, dropped by after the event and said an elbow was still sore from all the cranking he did during that tournament on his way to a 15th-place finish. He was excited about the return of the hydrilla.
He pointed out there were two patterns working during the event: shallow and deep. Obviously, the heavier fish were offshore, but plenty of bragging-sized bass were caught by 2012 Bassmaster Classic pro Chris Lane (who was second with 88-7) and North Carolina’s Hank Cherry (who was sixth with 81-2).
I don’t see anything to change the status quo in July. The summer numbers will be good, and the opportunity to get bit by big, fat, sassy bass is good because they’re there.
They’re ready to bite. It’s going to be good.
Crappie fishing also is red hot. In fact, it’s going through the roof, as the panfish have finished their transition from shallow to deep. As I wrote this column, limits were being caught on minnows fished 22-feet deep and deeper around brush piles.
For up-to-the-minute information on bass fishing Toledo Bend, go to johndeanjrfishing.com. Hope you enjoy it.