“When my crappie lights start coming on after the evening news,” said Joel Lance, “I know it’s time to start checking out my staging areas for big bass. No particular month, although February has been a pretty consistent one over the years, has much bearing on when the big females start showing up.”

“For that matter, even water temperature hasn’t seemed to play as big a role as more hours of daylight,” added Lance.  “Here on Toledo Bend, however, the big bass bite seems to start even earlier for me than the lakes a little farther to the north like Lake Fork and Lake Pinkston.”

Fishing those two lakes back in the late eighties and early nineties when both lakes were in their prime changed the 77-year old retired welder’s approach to bass fishing forever.  “I worked outside of Mineola for about seven years and I just fell in love with chasing only big bass”, said Lance.

“We fished days and nights year-round and I honestly can’t tell you how many bass over ten pounds my fishing partner, Cody, and I caught and released.  Neither one of us ever caught a bass over 13 pounds, but we had more than our share of larger bass on hook during that time!”

Lance relocated to Toledo Bend due to health reasons in the late nineties, but continued his pursuit of only bragging size bass. “For a long time, a seven-pound bass was still a good fish and most folks really didn’t even believe that you could catch a double-digit fish on this lake.”

Unlike Fork, a lot of structure related aspects have changed on Toledo Bend over the years.  Initially there were acres of dense standing timber and water hyacinth, then the trees rotted off at the water line, the hydrilla took over and now much of that coveted grass virtually died over night.

As incredible as this may sound to a younger generation of bass fishermen, I well remember the first discussions I had with the only two other guides I knew as to what we were going to do when the open lake hyacinth mats between boat lanes six and nine disappeared.  We fished that hyacinth over 40-feet of water as if it were covering less than five feet of water.

The bass out there spawned in the submerged forks of limbs just beneath the surface and we all knew the best trees.  Our structure fishing consisted of jigging the deep tree lines with Little Georges and spoons or Texas rigging worms and lizards and fishing dead fall piled up along the bends of the river channel or extended points.  Believe it or not….we detested hydrilla!

So, here we are forty years later crying about the lack of that same hydrilla.  Admittedly, that grass greatly expanded the productive fishing acreage and proved to be the number one contributor to Toledo Bend’s ascent to the top of the best lakes in the United States.

“You were here much earlier than I was,” said Lance, “but I have learned a lot in the past twenty years.  I’d be willing to bet that I have caught more bass over nine pounds in that time than you have caught since the day you started fishing up here,” he added with a hint of a smirk.

“Unlike guides or tournament fishermen that are forced to do otherwise, I fish only for big fish.  I figured out a man’s number of days spent fishing are numbered and I am not afraid to zero so long as I am in the hunt for another big bass.  I have caught at least four bass over nine pounds each of the last six years,” pointed out Lance, “and last February alone I caught three over ten pounds.”

He doesn’t consider those to be Fork-like numbers, but few folks I know could say the same.  He is willing to share his secrets, but not his spots.  He fishes only a jig and craw worm or a slow-rolled spinner bait with a single Colorado blade.  He fishes no shallower than eight feet nor deeper than 14 feet.

“That magic depth may change a foot or so on either end depending on the lake level,” says Lance.  “I really prefer the level around the 170 mark, but we have learned that is playing with fire anymore for folks living below the dam. My best advice for a fishermen looking for his first ten-pound bass is to start targeting “big fish only” tomorrow morning!”