March arrived on Monday at midnight, but big bass showed up in fishermen’s livewells on Toledo Bend Reservoir a little bit earlier, as two local anglers hit the jackpot over the weekend.
Chris Ebel of Many, La., boated a 12.38-pound largemouth the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 26, and Jason Courville of Hemphill, Texas, a Toledo Bend guide, caught an 11.51-pound bass the morning of Sunday, Feb. 28.
Ebel’s bass, caught in Negreet Creek, came from relatively shallow water, 5 feet, and was caught on a crankbait. Corvette’s fish, caught in Mill Creek, hadn’t made the big move and was caught in 23 feet of water on a Carolina-rigged, soft-plastic bait.
The right conditions
Ebel had been watching the weather, and when last Friday afternoon promised to be more like spring than winter, he slipped out.
“I looked at the weather, and it had been so cold, I thought, all it’s gonna take is for the water temperature to go up 4 or 5 degrees, and the fish will start moving up,” he said.
Ebel, 61, went to an area where a ditch wound through a series of spawning flats and picked one particular “hairpin turn” in the channel.
“This is a place where I’ve caught some good fish. I’d caught some nice fish in there the past three weeks,” he said. “If you find them when they come up, staging, you can catch them. When it gets cold, they fall back in the ditches and channels. Those big fish will get right up on the ‘shoulders’ of the outside bends. The shoulders are about 6 feet deep, and the water drops into 8 or 10 feet in the channel of the ditch. There are some stumps on the shoulders.”
Ebel fished one side of the bend and caught one fish, then moved to the other side, and within a handful of casts, he caught a 5-pounder. Fishing a 7-foot-6, medium-action All Star rod and Lew’s Speed Spool reel spooled with 10-pound Seaguar Invixz fluorocarbon, he noticed the line had gotten frayed during the fight and quickly retied.
Wrangling the big bass
About 10 casts later, he was slowly retrieving a small, shad-pattern Lucky Craft crankbait with a stop-and-go cadence. After one pause, when he resumed reeling, the fish was there.
“When they’re real aggressive, you may see them knock slack in the line, but with the cold weather lately, they aren’t. You pull on the bait and they’re just there. So I set the hook, knowing I could break that 10-pound test line if I set it too hard. She started away like a freight train. After a few seconds, I got her turned a little. If the water had been 5 degrees warmer, she would have been able to clean my clock. I’ve caught enough big fish with the water between 60 and 70 degrees, and they’re strong.
“The first time she came up, I thought she weighed 8 or 9. The next time, she was half-again closer to the boat, and when she came up, I thought, ‘That’s a real big one.’ I don’t know why I didn’t get shook up.”
Ebel didn’t have his landing net with him, so he was faced with grabbing a 25 1/2-inch long bass with a 20-inch girth next to the boat. That didn’t prove to be a big problem,
“There was enough room in that mouth, that even with the crankbait in there, both trebles buried, that I got my hand in and lipped her.”
Ebel fished a little while longer, then cranked his outboard and headed for home. He caught the fish around 3:30, and by 4:30, he was on the way to Toledo Town & Tackle to weigh the fish on certified scales and enter it in the Toledo Bend Lake Association’s Lunker Bass Program.
Courville’s big fish was his eighth he’s entered in the program, but his biggest so far at 11.51 pounds. He caught it on Sunday morning while on a guide trip. Courville, 52, operates Jason Courville’s South Toledo Bend Guide Service; he had barely started fishing with his party, a couple from Mississippi, when the big fish hit in Mill Creek.
“I went to my first spot, a deep area on a creek swing,” he said. “I sat on the shallow part and got locked in and rigged everybody’s pole and told them where to cast. They were throwing a 1-ounce Carolina rig into 23 to 25 feet of water.”
Courville got his K&S Custom rod and Lew’s reel spooled with 30-pound braid and a 17-pound leader of Berkley fluorocarbon rigged with a Zoom Fluke in the popular tilapia magic color and made a couple of casts when the fish got his attention.
“I had just turned my head to talk to the client, when all of the sudden, I felt a long, hard pull,” he said. “When I set the hook, it was like setting it into a log, but it stared moving. I said, ‘I’ve got a big fish.’ It was a struggle. I knew I had to get him off the bottom, which was a difficult task.
“Usually, when you hook a bass, it will come to the top right away, but this fish didn’t want to rise. I could feel it digging, shaking its head, but I felt some rolls, too. I thought it was a big catfish. I kept tension on him — the drag locked down — it was a tug of war. To me, it was just a big, old catfish. But halfway to the boat, a big bass exploded to the top. She was so big she couldn’t come all the way out. I told the man to get the net; he put it in the water, and I led the fish into it. He got it perfect.”
Getting the lunker weighed
When he put the fish, which was 24 inches long and 21 inches in girth, in his livewell, it turned belly up, having come from deep water.
“Instead of fizzing it, which was the last thing I wanted to do, I took some fin weights and put them on it, but it didn’t do any good. Then, I opened another pack. I wound up with six weights on it before it swam upright. I didn’t want to take away from my clients, but I knew I had to get it to certified scales as soon as I could.
“I called some friends, told ‘em my situation, and they met me at the nearest ramp. One of my partners got in my boat and took my clients while I went to the scales. I took the fish to Fins & Feathers; it was a quick trip. I got him weighed and did the paperwork, and I was back with my clients.”
Courville’s big fish was his personal best by 10 ounces. It came from 51.7-degree water.
“If it wasn’t for the harsh freeze we went through a week-and-a-half ago, a lot of fish would have moved up by now; they’d be staging in 15 to 18 feet of water. A lot of fish have pushed back into deeper water.”