Jasper, TEXAS — The guys whose reels and rods are rigged up with frogs and punch rigs must be smiling. The skies over Sam Rayburn are covered in clouds. This is a game changer.
The reason why is there are two very distinct patterns in play. Those are a shallow bite in the gnarliest cover available: thick, matted hydrilla mats and dense fields of lily pads, with a mix of isolated wood cover throughout. A punch rigger’s dream and likewise for anglers who play the game with the frogs. And there is an offshore bite, with those anglers opting to run a rotation of areas with isolated bottom cover as the casting targets. Both patterns are working quite well.
How will it last? Well, it shouldn’t even be cloudy. The forecast called for a repeat of yesterday and the days before it. Sunny skies, humid air and hot temperatures. Your basic East Texas summertime weather setup.
I’m not a forecaster but a self-professed weather geek. Watching The Weather Channel revealed a low-pressure system coming in from the northeast, which explains the wind direction and choppy conditions on the lake. That is a complete turnaround in wind direction from the previous days, with light southerly winds, and mostly calm conditions unlike those rarely seen during this time of year.
Yesterday’s weigh-in interviews revealed the predicted mix of shallow and deep bites, with more of those leaning toward the latter. Will the clouds hamper the deep bite? Normally, yes, because low light eliminates the need for the largemouth to conceal themselves by holding tight to cover (aka casting targets). Those fish should be roaming this morning and hard to pinpoint.
Timing seems to be everything. Thursday leader Masayuki Matsushita rotated through a series of breaklines with brushpiles as the key largemouth attractor. Low light was a key bite window, so the Japanese angler is getting more of his wish this morning. Matsushita also weighed in at 2 p.m., or 45 minutes before first fish.
Logan Latuso weighed in before Matsushita, delivering 21 pounds, 3 ounces to the scales, including a largemouth weighing 7-5. The south Louisiana angler is fishing his angling strengths, which is fishing in the jungle of shoreline cover with a frog.
Texan Brian Schott, second with 27-10, is leveraging his local experience as a frequent tournament angler on Sam Rayburn. Like Matsushita, he is running an expanded circuit of 50 offshore spots with vegetation as the key fish attractor.
“I am covering a lot of water, running and gunning, stopping and starting again,” he said. “I have three patterns going, which are an early, low light setup, an offshore pattern and a grass bite.”
Schott emphasized a narrow bite window kept him on the go, and the reason why he is running and gunning.
“What it comes down to is timing,” he said. “if I pull up and they are biting, I stay, and if not, I move on.”
Bottom breaklines, drains running through the backs of creeks and isolated wood are his casting targets.
Minnesotan pro Josh Douglas is the wild card among the top anglers. Douglas doubles up as a guide during his downtime on Mille Lacs Lake, known for its superb summertime offshore smallmouth bite. He is doing what he does there for largemouth on Sam Rayburn.
“I spent the entire practice idling around the lake, marking subtle bottom areas with brushpiles, hard spots, isolated grass,” he said.
Douglas has roughly 50 spots in a rotation and only hit about half of those on Thursday.
And then you have Keith Combs, the Bassmaster Elite Series pro from nearby Lufkin. Call yesterday a learning experience for the local expert. Combs weighed 19-5, while his co-angler Dusty Frank turned in 15-5 (including an 8-pounder) to take the lead in his division.
“He taught me something that I wasn’t doing enough of and I plan to add that into my game plan on Friday,” said Combs.
That lesson is using a jig over deep water vegetation, a popular summertime pattern. As I write this, Steve Bowman called to confirm that is indeed what Combs is using, and there is an 8-pounder in his livewell.
On Thursday, the anglers mixed it up, fishing shallow, midrange and deep areas. Combs never dialed in a pattern, opting instead to cover water until determining the best option for success.
One thing is for certain. Today is a totally different day. Will the big weights tilt toward the shallow bite? Will the deep bite suffer? Maybe not. This is Sam Rayburn and it’s loaded with heavyweight bass. And based on how the weights are stacked up, all it takes is one bass weighing over 8 or 9 pounds to boost an otherwise average weight limit.