Toledo Bend is still in the throes of the annual spawn, which means double-digit bass are more accessible than during any other time of the year. And these guides share how to put your lure in front of those fish.
DAVID A. BROWN
It’s a big lake and it’s chock full of bass, but Toledo Bend is no gimme — even with its well-merited title of the nation’s top lake two years running.
Fish there and you’ve definitely selected a target-rich environment: You simply have to play her game, and that starts with understanding what to expect from this Sabine River gem.
Straddling the Louisiana/Texas border, Toledo Bend annually attracts the nation’s top talent, with frequent stops by the major bass tournament circuits.
But no one knows this lake better than the folks who live on or near her shores and spend the better part of their year bending rods on Toledo Bend brutes.
Talk to anyone in the know and a common theme will be the accelerating influence of atypically warm conditions delivered by the year’s first quarter.
That being said, here’s a preview of coming attractions, as told by some of the anglers who know her best.
Dave Mansue, Dave Mansue Guide Service
Outlook: The story starts with a lake level about 3 feet below normal pool (172 feet), a fact guide Dave Mansue said allows for plenty of room to handle any heavy spring rains without any great disturbance.
Mostly warm weather has pushed water temperatures into the mid- to upper-60s already, but Mansue said anglers should pay close attention to the duration and severity of any April cold fronts — particularly the overnight lows.
If nighttime temps take a significant dip, that will push spawning fish off the beds and put the brakes on any advancing prespawners.
Seasonal tactics: Mansue said he loves to target commonly overlooked fish.
“A lot of people will go down the hay grass and look for fish that are spawning on the back side of that grass closer to the bank,” he said. “I like to catch those fish that are staging on the outside of the hay grass.
“Most people are looking for the fish they can see; I like to fish for the ones where I can’t see them and they can’t see me. Typically, that’s going to be in a little deeper water in that 3- to 5-foot range.”
Wacky-rigged Senkos and lightly-weighted, Texas-rigged Zoom Baby Brush Hogs work well in calm conditions.
But let some wind bluster the area, and Mansue moves to reaction baits. Specifically, he likes a 4.3- or 4.8-inch swimbait.
Preferring white lures on cloudy days or silver flash under sunny skies, he rigs his swimbait weedless on a belly-weighted hook, as this helps avoid tangles in trees.
Mansue said this tactic yielded an 11-pound, 3-ounce toad last spring.
He likes the lake’s lower end from Indian Mounds to the dam because a resurgence of grass keeps these waters clean.
Another productive tactic here: Tempting post-spawners by walking topwaters across long points with grass.
Key considerations: “This time of year, you’re going to hit cloudy days (and) sunny days,” Mansue said. “You have to adjust to those conditions. The majority of the fish are going to be pointed toward the bank, and we have to remember that.
“As the days goes on, typically they like to move shallower and shallower, so you have to move with the fish. Keep trying different depths until you get a few bites and they tell you where they’re at.”
The key depth can change during the day.
“They move quickly this time of year, so you might catch them in 10 to 12 feet of water in the morning, and then in the afternoon, they’re going to be in 3 to 5 feet,” Mansue said.