By David A. Brown
NEW SMYRNA BEACH, FL (February 12, 2021) – Danny Iles will carry plenty of optimism into Lake Sam Rayburn at the Feb. 20 season opener for the Texas Team Trail presented by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. He will, however, balance that disposition with a healthy dose of realism.
Specifically, Isles knows he and his partner Brian Shook will be facing a very different scenario than the one the produced their incredible winning limit of 49.31 pounds. That’s fishing, of course; and these past champions have a game plan for what they’ll face.
“It’s a lot different than last year,” Iles said of Rayburn’s current complexion. “It’s quite a bit warmer (water temperature 55) than this time last year and most of the lake is pretty stained. The lake came up 2 feet or so in January and that brought in a lot of off colored water.
Shook agrees: “The lake has had a lot of changes with the water coming up and turning color. The mid lake is probably some of the cleanest, but the offshore bite is struggling because of the rising water. When that water comes up, 9 times out of 10, it kills that offshore bite.”
This, along with a warmer winter, has kept the shallower areas more relevant. The long-range forecast shows an early-February cooling trend, but anglers will have to watch the overall weather picture to determine if Rayburn will experience any significant impacts.
“Last year, the lake had been cold for a while and then we had a cold front right before the tournament,” Iles said. “That pushed those big fish out to deeper water. This winter, the water never got cold enough to push them out there and we’ve not had a sustained period of cold weather.”
Iles also pointed out that Rayburn’s grass is in much better condition than last year. This major habitat feature tends to hold more fish shallow, so anglers will certainly factor this into their strategies.
Last February, Iles and Shook fished deep drop-offs in the 147 Bridge area. Sitting in 28 feet of water, they cast shallow and worked crankbaits out to the 25 foot drop-offs where big fish were holding around brush and old timber. Their first of three stops produced a pair of giants — 11.47 and 10 pounds.
That’s going to be a tough act to repeat in 2021, but Iles said anglers won’t have any trouble finding suitable fishing grounds. Barring any significant changes, he expects the event will see good bags caught from one end of the lake to the other.
“I don’t think the offshore bite will be as big a player in this event as it was for us last year,” Shook said. “If it remains warm, would suspect a lot of the inside grass edges are going to get hit pretty hard, but it we get some strong fronts, they may push back outside to the outer edge.
Shook said the tournament will see a lot of lipless crankbaits, swim jigs and chatterbaits; while others throw Senkos and wacky rigs. Those plastics, he said, could produce competitive sacks if stable weather positions the prespawners well.
Iles said he’s not entirely counting out the offshore game, but he’s confident the better opportunities will come from shallower spots. Mobility, he said, will be necessary, but too much moving around could end up wrecking the day. “I think it will be the normal (routine) of stand on the trolling motor and chunking and winding something,” Iles said.
“I think you have two options: Pick a spot and do your best to stay on the trolling motor and work it thoroughly, or run around and try to hit a bunch of different areas.
“I’m sort of inclined to stick on one point and fish it all day long. You’re not doing anything special than the boat in front of you that recently fished a spot, so it makes no sense to throw the same red Rat-L-Trap that everyone before you threw.”
The quality fish that allowed Iles and Shook to claim their 2020 win by an astounding margin of nearly 18 1/2 pounds still swim Rayburn’s waters. In fact, with February typically finding fat prespawners right on the verge of their shoreward push, Iles is expecting plenty of big bags. That being said, he’s adjusting expectations to current conditions.
“We just got lucky last year; but I would think a more traditional bag of 25-28 would win this time, Iles said. “I think the fish are going to be scattered and with so many people fishing shallow, it’s going to be hard to find a group of fish that you’ll have to yourself.”
Shook said he’s looking for something over 10 to take the event’s Big Bass award: “It’s just that time of year and Rayburns’s got‘em. I’d definitely look for one or two double-digit fish.”
If tournament week does experience a significant cooling, the lake’s weather-sensitive Florida-strain bass won’t like that. However, Iles dispels a common misconception.
“People often say that those fish shut down during a cold front, and that may be true to some degree; but I don’t think they stop biting entirely,” he said. “Somebody is going to catch them.”
On-site registration is set for Friday, February 19, from 3-6 p.m. at Umphrey Pavilion (5438 Sam Rayburn Parkway, Brookeland, TX 75931). At least one team member must attend, as boat numbers will be assigned during this time. Anglers will be required to wear face coverings at registration.
Teams will take off at safe light from Umphrey Family Pavilion, at 5438 Sam Rayburn Parkway, Brookeland, Texas 75931, Brookeland, TX 75931. The weigh-in will also take place at the pavilion, beginning at 3 p.m.
The Texas Team Trail consists of three regular-season events and a year-end championship. Each regular season event is a one-day team tournament and delivers 100 percent payback, including a fully-rigged 18-foot, 150-horsepower bass boat guaranteed as the first-place prize. Registration is ongoing for the Lake Sam Rayburn event and can be taken over the phone at 210-281-1752 or online by visiting www.texasteamtrail.com/tournaments/register/. For more information on rules and tournament payouts, visit www.texasteamtrail.com.