Toledo Bend gives up four 10-pound plus bass in two weeks

Tyler Vidrene of Lake Charles caught this 10.36-pound bass on Feb. 3 at Toledo Bend. (Photo courtesy Toledo Bend Lunker Bass Program)

Toledo Bend rounded into shape as the calendar turned from January to February, with warming waters putting all kinds of good fish into places where fishermen could reach them. Four of them wound up being double-digit beasts:

  • Cliff Crochet of Pierre Part, a Major League Fishing pro, landed an 11.06-pound bass on Jan. 30 in an MLF Bass Pro Tour event;
  • Tyler Vidrene of Lake Charles boated a 10.36-pound largemouth on Feb. 3 that wound up being big fish in a Fishers of Men event;
  • Brandon Pippen of Broussard caught an 11.65-pound lunker on Feb. 9, fishing out of a pontoon boat because the outboard on his bass rig had broken down;
  • Deon Gipson of Orange, Tex., caught the real big girl, an 11.81-pound bass, on Feb. 11. His was the 16th fish to qualify for the Toledo Bend Lunker Bass program for the 2023-24 season.

Practice makes perfect for Vidrene

Vidrene had a great two-day practice for the Fishers of Men event, boating a 5-fish limit of around 19 pounds on Thursday, Feb. 1, then following it up with a 26-pound limit on Friday, Feb. 2. But a weather front pushed through that evening, dropping water temperatures about 5 degrees overnight and knocking out a lot of the big fish Vidrene had found, scattered around the lake.

Except for one, fortunately.

“I have one spot I fish all the time, every year; it’s always produced for us,” he said, describing a grass line back in a creek in the Indian Mounds area. “I caught a 5-(pounder) and a 4-(pounder) back to back on Thursday. I knew the fish were going to move up and follow that grass line back there.”

Saturday morning, around 8 o’clock, Vidrene pulled back into his favorite area after 45 fruitless minutes in Housen Bay. He was fishing a shallow-running crankbait on a Dobyns Champion XP rod and Shimano Curado reel spooled with 16-pound Sunline fluorocarbon.

“I (hooked) three in a row in there, two about 14 inches and one close to 2½ pounds – but I lost that one at the boat. I tried to net him by myself, got a little excited and hit him with the net and knocked him off,” Vidrene said. “Two casts later, my bait was about 4 feet from the boat when it loaded up. I thought it was a catfish, because it loaded up and went straight down.

The fight didn’t last long, but just long enough for Vidrene to grab his landing net.

“It never pulled drag, just took the crankbait straight down,” he said. “I had my rod tip all the way down in the water. It all happened so fast, and when she started up, I had time to grab the net. I had the rod in one hand and the net in the water in the other, and when she came up, she just walked across the top, right into the net. I put her in the boat and screamed.”

Vidrene’s portable scales registered the fish at 6.47, but he had his doubts. He showed up at the tournament weigh-in with his big fish and four more around the 2-pound mark. Right before he got to the scales, Tater Reynolds of Florien put the winning limit of 26 pounds – anchored by an 8 ½-pound bass – on the board.

“I got to the scales and they asked if I had one bigger than 8 ½, and I said I had a big one, but I didn’t know,” Vidrene said. “When he dropped it in the basket, it said 10.36.”

The lunker, 25 ½ inches long and 20 inches in girth, was the day’s big fish. It pushed VIdrene all the way to ninth place with 18.06 pounds, good for a $1,400 payday.

“I was so excited,” he said. “I caught my biggest fish ever, got a replica of it, and won some money.”

No bass boat, no net, no livewell, no problem for Pippen

Brandon Pippen of Broussard caught an 11.65-pound lunker on Feb. 9 at Toledo Bend. (Photo courtesy Toledo Bend Lunker Bass Program)

Pippen wasn’t about to let trouble with the outboard motor on his bass boat keep him off the water. He fished out of a Party Barge, a pontoon boat. On the water way before daylight out of Shadows Landing, he pulled up to a familiar spot and caught a 7-pound bass on a Bill Lewis/Mark Daniels MR6 crankbait (chartreuse/blue) on his first cast.

“This is one of my milk-run spots,” Pippen said. “She was about 20 feet off the side of a boat dock on a place where the bank drops off right out to 10 feet. I had to get on my stomach and lay down and really stretch to get the fish out of the water, because I didn’t have a net or anything. I took a picture and threw her back. Then, I cut my line and retied. About 5 minutes after I caught that first fish, I threw back in there and caught the big fish.

“I was watching my crankbait coming back on my LiveScope, and I saw this fish turn on its side and come and eat the bait,” he said. “I didn’t realize it was that big until she took off. I just kept my thumb on the spool, because I was fishing 10-pound line. I knew it was a good fish, not a catfish. I reached down as far as I could to get her.”

On a set of portable scales, Pippen weighed his fish at 11.4 pounds. He didn’t have a livewell on his pontoon boat, but he had a long piece of rope. He strung the fish up and tied it to the dock, then ran back to Shadows Landing, planning to go to his camp for a cooler into which he could put the fish to take it and get it weighed. At the landing, he ran into Josh Sikes of Bent Rod Guide Service, told him of his problem, and Sikes produced a portable aerator. He retrieved the cooler from his camp, hooked up the aerator and headed back to the dock, where he found his fish, none the worse for wear. She went in the aerated cooler, and Pippen headed to Keith’s Toledo Bend Tackle, where the fish weighed 11.65 on certified scales. It was 25 ½ inches long and 20 ¾ inches in girth.

“I will never forget it,” said Pippen, whose previous big bass was an 8-pounder from Caddo Lake. “It was still dark, and I could see, but it was neat to see that fish coming to get it on the LiveScope – a bait I’d bought the day before at Toledo Bend Tackle. I learned from that 7-pound fish, which jumped plenty. I kept my rod tip down to keep that big one down.”

Gipson’s super-class fish on Super Sunday

Deon Gipson of Orange, Tex., caught this whopper 11.81-pound bass on Feb. 11 at Toledo Bend. (Photo courtesy Toledo Bend Lunker Bass Program)

Gipson and his son-in-law, Michael Teeples, have made it a habit to fish the morning of Super Bowl Sunday, then come in and watch the game, and last week, that practice made perfect.

“We had been fishing since Friday, and we’d figured out a little pattern – nothing big, but good numbers,” Gipson said. “We were catching fish in the back-third of creeks on Senkos, wacky-rigged or Texas-rigged. We’d mostly been fishing afternoons, because I’d been meeting contractors at my camp in the mornings. Sunday was my first free morning.

“At the first spot we started to work our way in; I was following the channel on the LiveScope, trying to keep it next to the channel in about 7 feet of water. I was throwing a wacky-rigged Senko, and my son-in-law was throwing a Texas-rigged Senko. He had tried all kinds of moving baits – Traps, Chatterbaits – but we couldn’t get them to bite anything but a Senko.”

On a still, foggy morning, Gipson had made “10 or 15 casts” when the big bass ate his watermelon/black flake Senko, fished on an 7-foot, ALX Deputy rod mated with a Lew’s BB1 Pro reel spooled with 15-pound Seaguar Invizx fluorocarbon.

“She ate it on the fall,” Gipson said. “When I engaged the reel, she was already on.”

On a set of scales in his boat, Gipson weighed the fish at 11-8. He went back to his camp, showed his wife and daughter the fish, took a few photos, and started calling around to find a place with certified scales.

They eventually headed to Fins & Feathers Resort, where the fish weighed 11.81, measured 27 inches long and 19 inches in girth.

“She was so long, she couldn’t turn around in my livewell,” Gipson said. “She didn’t have a big belly; I don’t think she’d started to really get eggs – either that or she’d already spawned. But her tail was fine. She was just a big, beautiful fish.”

The fish was the biggest of Gipson’s life. He’d caught a 9-13 and a 9-12, and he was in the boat when his father caught a 10-14 at Lake Sam Rayburn and a 10-2 at Toledo Bend, but the big girl was his first double-digit bass.