Beatin' the Bank with Bernie Schultz - 2016 BASSfest, Lake Texoma

By Bernie Schultz

Prior to the Lake Texoma event, Oklahoma experienced weeks of heavy rainfall — swelling its streams and rivers to record highs.

By the time we arrived, the Texas-Oklahoma impoundment was more than 10 feet above normal pool, and most of the lake’s parks and ramps were closed as a result. The only dependable access was the ramp next to Dennison Dam, on the lake’s southern end.

With the water so high, Texoma was like a different lake … even for those with years of experience plying its waters.

Getting Started

Traveling with fellow pro Cliff Prince and his family, we rented a large riverside cabin located just below the dam. Joining us were Louisiana pro Dennis Tietje and his wife Trudy.

At first, I had concerns of so many people staying together under one roof … but as the week unfolded, it proved to be a lot of fun.

On day one of practice, I launched and headed straight for Granpappy’s Marina, to explore the “residential” docks filling the cove. Like a small floating village, it reminded me of the many “camps” lining the bayous of Louisiana.

I started with a 3-bladed Hildebrandt spinnerbait, casting it parallel to the floats supporting each dock. When that didn’t produce, I switched to a bladed jig, then a Yamamoto D-Shad. Those didn’t work either, so I abandoned that and moved to the shoreline, where I rotated a variety of lures — including a Rapala Skitter Pop, Hildebrandt SqueakEasy buzzbait and homemade swim jig.

All of the shorelines I visited featured flooded brush and trees, as deep as six feet or more. Reaching the hard bank behind them was nearly impossible. The cover was either too dense or the slope too gradual. The actual waterline was back more than 100 yards in places.

I flipped, cranked and threw topwaters, but the morning search proved to be a waste.

They don't call it the Red River for nothing!

They don't call it the Red River for nothing!

Shortly after noon, I ventured up the Washita Arm, just above the second bridge. There, I encountered a thick mudline working its way downstream. Seeing that, I immediately backtracked to the first creek south — to a place where I would find my eventual starting spot for the competition.

The creek featured numerous side pockets, all lined with flooded bushes and hardwoods. The bites weren’t quick, but the quality was good. I marked each productive piece of cover on my Raymarine GPS, then moved to other pockets with similar features.

On day two, I went up the Red River to scout several creeks I noticed on Google Earth. Although the main river had a thick red hue, the creeks were reasonably clear and I was seeing some action in no time.

On day three, I stayed on the lower end of the lake, fishing flooded main-lake willows. The bite was painfully slow, but it did produce a few solid fish. I felt I had figured out a backup should the water level suddenly drop.

Competition Time

Having a late number in the take-off sequence, I sat and watched as each competitor streamed north from Dennison Dam … wondering which of them would end up on my chosen starting spot.

Finally, more than 30 minutes later, my number was called. I exited take-off and raced up the Washita arm to the creek where I had found my best fish during practice.

When I arrived, I noticed Gerald Swindle with several spectator boats at the mouth of the pocket. It looked like he was throwing a buzzbait.

Passing him by more than 100 yards, I started with a tandem-willow Hildebrandt spinnerbait and quickly boated a 3-pounder. A few minutes later, I scored again. This time with a 2½-pounder. As I put the fish in the livewell, I heard a roar from Swindle’s entourage. Apparently, he had boated a big one behind me.

I kept my head down and continued to work the back of the pocket.

Twenty minutes later, Swindle showed up on the opposite bank. I watched as he carved the shoreline cover with each cast. He never scored … and neither did I. We both left for new water — Swindle in one direction, me in the other.

Fish like this one kept me in the race.

Fish like this one kept me in the race.

My next stop was in a nearby cove to a bank of flooded cedar trees. In one particular stretch I caught several key fish and finished my limit.

I was pumped! Bites were so few and far between in practice, I wasn’t sure if I could even catch a limit. It was a major relief to have that behind me.

By day’s end, I culled to 14 pounds and was solidly in the money. I knew full well, though, I’d have to repeat on day two in order to make the cut.

Down The Stretch

The next morning I raced, once more, to my starting spot up the Washita. When I arrived I found Jordan Lee on my best stretch of bushes. Minutes later, I heard Swindle pull in. Then a local boat joined us. At that point, I decided it was way too crowded, so I yanked the trolling motor, cranked the big Merc and abruptly left for my second spot.

Minutes after arriving, I put two nice spotted bass in the boat. Then the bite died. I tried switching lures and casting angles, but the best stretch of cedars failed to produce any more fish. From there I moved to the opposite bank, guessing a fish or two might have moved there.

I guessed right.

Next to two isolated bushes, I caught my third and fourth fish. Things were looking up … or so I thought. My next bite wouldn’t come until late in the day.

With less than an hour to go, I moved to a stand of main-lake willows. It was there that I scored my final keeper — a fat and scrappy, 14-inch spot.

Light at the end of the tunnel? Hope so!

Light at the end of the tunnel? Hope so!

Happy to have a limit, I raced to check-in with the hope that it would be enough.
Unfortunately, it was not. I fell short of the money by about a pound. Disgusted, I trailered the boat and drove to weigh-in, then returned to the cabin.

Neither Cliff nor Dennis had done any good either. That night, we drowned our sorrows with a twelve-pack of Coronas while watching the movie, 13 Hours — the true story of the Americans slaughtered in Benghazi. Somehow seeing that made us forget about our problems, which were trivial by comparison.

The next morning we all left. The Tietje’s headed south for Louisiana. The Prince family and I aimed for New York and some smallmouth fishing. I couldn’t wait to get there!

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