High water level puts Toledo Bend largemouths in shallow cover

Aiden Gainey proudly shows a chunky bass he caught on a Neko-rigged Senko while he and his grandfather, Bobby Gainey of La Porte, Texas, fished with John Dean at Toledo Bend.

Normally at this time of year, I’d be talking up targeting deep water for a consistent bass bite at Toledo Bend.  But this has been anything but a normal year, and heck, what’s been normal for nearly two years? Coronavirus pandemic concerns aside, this year, there’s been an ice storm that pushed back the bass-fishing calendar 1 to 1½ months, tornadoes, floods and heavier than usual, torrential rains.

The combination has left this great border lake just 4 inches below full pool in July. That’s pretty much unheard of, the lake being 99.4% full now, for goodness sake.

I don’t mind a bit. What that does is add something to the playing field for late July and, I’m sure, August, because heavy rains seem to be with us for the unforeseeable future. The tropical forecast was for an active season, and that brings more rain.

Why don’t I mind if the water stays above full pool, which is 170.0? That means I can fish like I prefer to fish, even though it’s late summer. Sure, it’s hard to predict, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say the rainfall and any tropical system should keep the lake up. That means I’ll be targeting the new, expansive, healthy grass that’s growing in 6-foot depths and less, early and late, certainly, and depending on conditions, resorting to flipping that matted vegetation I call alligator grass.

Mixed grass bonanza

On a recent trip, I found plenty of hydrilla and milfoil thick in the Blue Lake area. That mixture is available in many areas in 6- to 7-foot depths, but none that I’ve seen in the main lake so far.

Bream and other baitfish should be in that alligator grass in 4- to 6-foot depths. If bream and baitfish aren’t around, don’t even bother fishing there (same as offshore). With the water up, well, you know, fish follow water. Bass will be there if the food and underwater vegetation are there.

I’m a shallow-water fisherman. If I can catch them shallow, I’ll stay shallow, stay tied to vegetation 3, 5 or 6 feet deep. I’ll stay there as long as Mother Nature lets me. It’s prime time for plastic frogs, Neko rigs, Tokyo rigs, Senkos and bladed jigs. Top soft-plastic colors for Neko rigs and Senkos are redbug, junebug and plum.

As for plastic frogs, you know how much I love my creation, the Stanley Top Toad. There are times, like recently, when it’s been imperative to match the hatch. The baitfish on that recent trip were about 1 to 1½ inches long, so I went to a small SPRO frog in sexy shad with chartreuse stripes along each side. On my fifth cast, a nice one smoked it, and the fun was on. That got my attention real quick.

Tokyo rig? Yeah. I’ll put a black/red Speed Craw on and drop it in holes the size of a beer can in the matted grass. I started doing that and catching fish consistently in early July and got broken off by a big ’un in 5 feet of water. I’ll flip or punch that Tokyo rig with a 1/2-ounce tungsten weight on an EWG 3/0 hook.

Big fish deep, not consistent

Don’t get me wrong. I believe the opportunities for bigger bass are in 18- to 25-foot depths around structure. Tournament anglers who rely on their marine electronics know that, but they also realize that they can be over a wad of bass and never get a bite for an hour, come back two hours later, and the dinner bell rings. Out there, it’s hard to beat a shad- or bream-colored and chrome deep-diving crankbaits, Carolina-rigged soft plastics, drop-shotted soft plastics and spoons. My priority would be a drop-shotted soft plastic. The same colors — redbug, plum and junebug ­— apply for the soft plastics.

Crappie fishing is fair to good but it takes a bit more effort to get big numbers, like 50 to 60. Successful fishermen are needing to hit multiple brush piles in 18- to 22-foot depths with artificial jigs, but more and more fish are being caught on minnows, according to some guides.

To set up a guided trip with John Dean, a longtime Toledo Bend guide, call 936-404-2688.

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About John Dean 65 Articles
John Dean has been guiding on Toledo Bend most of his life. If you’d like to join him on a trip, give him a call at (936) 404-2688.

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