While the much anticipated winter crappie run on Toledo Bend has failed to materialize, there is little else for area fishermen to complain about. Even the fishing on Sabine Lake has rebounded with the unseasonably warm days and clearing water conditions.

Bass fishermen still waiting for someone to tell them that the spawn has started better get out in the garage and charge their boat batteries tonight. Toledo Bend has given up some good fish in the past week, but Sam Rayburn has been on fire and is only getting hotter.

The weights and numbers of big stringers that have been weighed in each weekend since the middle of January have been staggering. When you cannot earn a check with a five fish twenty- pound stringer, you know the big fish are already doing more than just staging for their annual love fest.

While visiting with Matt Purgahn last week, we were discussing the increasing number of tournaments held on Rayburn each year. “It is very seldom,” pointed out Purghan, “that you cannot fish at least one and possibly two tournaments every weekend.”
The frequency of cast for cash events, combined with the rising cost of recreational fishing, has all but eliminated club fishing in southeast Texas. Team fishermen can now fish for a much larger purse for a modest entry fee depending on their choice of circuits. Even in the more expensive tournaments, top money justifies the added cost. A number of young bass fishermen with the itch to compete often shy away from the richer circuits, not so much due to the extra expense as the fact they are intimidated by the stiffer competition. Outside of hiring a knowledgeable guide or sharing the boat with a veteran angler, there is no better learning experience for the money. Winning money is a bonus in the early stages as the guaranteed value is the opportunity to compare your own skills with others while fishing under the exact same conditions. If you have a poor day, but other anglers in the field do well, rather than dwell on the negatives of your own performance, you can pick up on techniques and lures that will produce for you under the same conditions in the future. That is fishing money well spent! Purghan and Ross Smith have been fishing a team circuit this year and their experiences the past two weekends are a perfect example of not only how hot Rayburn is, but also the difference a single fish can make at the end of the day. Just because you fish efficiently does not mean that you are going to cash a check every tournament. Matt and Ross found a good concentration of solid bass two weeks ago, stayed in one area and picked the moss apart with jigs and lizards, and cashed a first place check with a 22-pound plus stringer at the end of the day. They returned to the same area Saturday and fished the same pattern, but the larger bass of the weekend before did not show. They weighed in a very solid 16-pound catch, but finished just out of the money. It would eventually take a 26-pound sack to win it all. Should they have abandoned their program in an effort to upgrade their stringer? That question would be answered the following day. When I called Ross Smith on Sunday to see how they had done the day before, he was on the water fishing another tournament. It was eleven o’clock and he was back in the same area fishing the same pattern with the same choice of lures.
With a lot of fishing left to do, he already had his five fish limit, which included a nine-pound fish and another seven-pounder. The decision as to when to bail out and when to stay the course is usually a gut feeling based on past experiences. The annual CCA S.T.A.R. tournament is a “must” event for Texas saltwater anglers each year as it lasts all summer, is inexpensive with an incredibly rich and diversified payoff that involves the whole family, and it benefits their sport. This year, anglers on the Texas coast will have the opportunity to sign up and fish another event that they can participate in every time they fish.

The tournament lasts the entire year, but it is divided into quarters. If you do not like your chances of beating a posted weight, you can simply wait until the next quarter to sign up. The entry fee is $25 per quarter and the largest trout, redfish, and flounder will each win you a $1000. There is also second and third place money to be won in each category.

Area anglers can sign up as well as weigh their catch at The River Rat Marina on DuPont Drive or Bridge City Bait on Roundbunch road. The first quarter is well under way, but the next quarter kicks off April 1.

You can find out how you stand each month by going to salttournament.com. on your computer.

I appreciate the e-mail response regarding last week’s column mentioning the pipeline work in the lake and I will get more information this week.

I also received a huge number of e-mails from trout fishermen hunting Crazy Croakers. I discovered that the Tidal Surge web page is down while being upgraded, but you can still order them direct by calling Sergio Noyolla at 713-628-1550. If you need them faster than that, Ronnie Burton still has a few left down at The River Rat. His price is the same as ordering direct, so it is really just a matter of getting there first!