Veteran Ranger-Evinrude pro Russell Cecil says Rayburn is in good shape and expects big weights for the upcoming TXTT event.
by Brett Carlson
The Texas Team Trail, presented by Cabela's, is thinking big for its 2015 season-opening tournament, slated for Jan. 31 on the historic Sam Rayburn Reservoir. The venue, an impoundment of the Angelina River, spans over 100,000 acres and possesses over 550 miles of shoreline. The fishery is massive and so are both the bass and the tournament payouts. To bring home the top prize, a boat-motor package valued up to $45,000 with available bonuses, teams will have to unlock the secret of Rayburn's giant prespawn largemouths.
"You will see some of the biggest sacks of the year for sure," said Ranger-Evinrude pro Russell Cecil. "The weights will be impressive, but it's not easy fishing. You don't catch many, but it's a rare time of the year where you can trigger the big ones to bite."
Cecil, along with his team partner, Todd Castledine, won the 2014 opener on Rayburn with a five-fish limit weighing over 35 pounds.
"The big bag we caught last year was just a couple flurries; it wasn't like they bit all day long," added Cecil, the prominent regional pro from Willis, Texas. "The bites we got were really big though and we were fortunate enough to capitalize and put them in the boat."
Cecil said Rayburn could potentially fish even better this year than it did in 2014. For starters, the lake has come up recently (2 feet week in the past two weeks) and is almost at full pool. Secondly, with the exception of a recent cold front, the winter has generally been mild with water temperatures sitting in the low 50s. But the major boon to the largemouth population has been the continued growth of submerged vegetation.
"Overall, Rayburn is in real good shape. We've had a three-year trend of more and more grass and the rain we've gotten recently has all of the east Texas lakes coming up."
Barring an unusually string of warm, sunny weather, Cecil predicts most of the bass will be caught in or around staging areas.
"I definitely think it will be a prespawn deal. In Texas, you can almost fish a prespawn pattern all winter long. I have seen fish spawn before during the last week of January. I don't think it's going to happen, but it wouldn't shock me."
Rayburn is known as one of the premier Rat-L-Trap lakes in the country and there's no doubt traps will be a factor in this event. In addition, Cecil predicts teams will catch fish on ChatterBaits, shallow-running crankbaits and Carolina rigs.
"Guys will be fishing both the inside grass in 5 to 7 feet of water and the outside grass in 12 to 16 feet. The man factor is figuring out if they're on the inside edge or the outside edge. With the rain, those places that were shallow are now prime for the trap because there's 2 or 3 feet of water on top. Overall, there's now enough grass where it spreads the field out and the best spots don't get so beaten down."
Cecil said it's possible to contend for the win without fishing the grass. One option would be running far up the Angelina River and fishing shallow cover such as lay-downs, cypress trees and stumps. The other would be to probe deep brush piles that are typically placed for crappies.
"In my experience, when the lake has grass, you better be fishing grass. But I know some guys have done real well recently running up the river. It has become more of a factor."
Cecil explained that Rayburn is one of the tougher fisheries to predict, but he offered his best winning-weight estimation.
"I will say 30 pounds is definitely possible again. The lake has been getting better and better. It's Sam Rayburn, if the conditions align, you could see a freak show. Let me say it this way: I cannot imagine it taking less than 25 pounds unless the wind blows hard."
Teams will take off at safe light from Umphrey Family Pavilion, located at 5438 Rural Route 255 West in Jasper, Texas. The weigh-in will also take place at the pavilion, beginning at 3 p.m.
Registration is ongoing for the Sam Rayburn event and can be taken over the phone at 210-788-4143 or online by clicking HERE.