Beatin' the Bank with Bernie Schultz - 2017 Toledo Bend BASS Elite

When I first saw Toledo Bend on the schedule, I have to admit, I wasn’t too excited. Even though it’s been voted the best bass lake in America the past two years running, I somehow find a way to miss out on all the action.

In two previous BASS Elite events held on Toledo Bend, I finished 100th last year and dead last the time before. I was praying this trip would be different.

Accepting an invitation to stay with locals John & Kelly Girouard, travel partner Cliff Prince and I arrived at their lakeside home a couple of days early. We were coming off two weeks of roadwork and wanted to unwind some before heading into battle. Our downtime was spent working on tackle and getting to know the Girouards better.

John is a contractor and his wife Kelly sells real estate around the lake. Both are really fine people and, even better, they’re outstanding cooks. They made sure Cliff and I had little to worry about except for finding fish.

An eerie morning on Toledo Bend.

An eerie morning on Toledo Bend.

Practice Begins

On day one of official practice, we decided to launch near the dam, approximately 30 miles south of the Pendleton Bridge. With a waxing moon soon to be full, both Cliff and I believed a wave of late season spawners might show up.

Starting in Indian Creek, we each took a side and began our search.

In no time, we found the bank lined with buck bass fanning beds. They were so thick you could see bright spots nearly every 10 yards. The only problem was, most were small … too small.

Trolling at high speed along the shoreline, I marked any keepers I saw with my Raymarine electronics. During the search, I threw a Yamamoto D-Shad ahead of the boat, scoring an occasional fish from deeper water.

Eventually, Cliff called to report catching several big fish. His bite sounded much more promising, and it forced me to speed up the search. By day’s end, I had found several good areas I believed would pay off during the actual competition.

On Day two, we headed to an area called the Indian Mound. Cliff started on a point near the boat ramp where he found quality bass feeding on spawning shad. Choosing to fish an offshore flat, I missed that completely.

After sharing his discovery, we went our separate ways.

I moved to Housen Creek where I found a field of submerged hydrilla covering a large, shallow flat. Using a Rapala Shadow Rap and Chatterbait with a Yamamoto Zako trailer, I got a number of bites by ripping the lures through the tops of stranding grass. Although none of the fish were big, they were solid and I felt the area might prove even better in the early morning hours.

Filing that information away, I moved to the bank to look for more spawning fish.

These are the lures I used throughout practice and competition.

These are the lures I used throughout practice and competition.

By day’s end, Cliff had scored several more big fish, including an 8-pounder. I had only 3-pounders to show for my efforts. That was concerning … it made me wonder what I was missing.

On the final day of practice, I decided to fish north of the Pendleton Bridge. In one particular area, I found a good shoreline bite using the D-Shad. It seemed steady and reliable, so I called Cliff and told him to try it. In minutes, he called me back, confirming that it was working for him as well.

Between that, the hydrilla fish and the many beds I marked, I felt I was ready for the competition. If I could just connect with a big fish or two…

Competition Time

Having a late draw in the take-off order, I sat wondering how many other competitors would reach the hydrilla flat inside Housen Bay before me. Finally, my number was called and after a quick procession through check-out, I headed south.

It was a cool, crisp morning with a light breeze — perfect for jerkbaiting.

Rounding the turn into Housen, I could see a group of boats in the distance. Once within range, I was able to identify Brent Chapman, Randy Howell, Jason Williamson, the Lee brothers and numerous non-competitor boats — all of them occupying the sweet spots. I stopped anyway, choosing to work my way into the area.

The time passed quickly and I was able to put three 2-pounders in the livewell. It wasn’t a great start, but I was happy to have them.

With the sun now high enough for sight-fishing, I left Housen and raced to Indian Creek to retrace my trail of marked beds.

The conditions were perfect and, in no time, I was culling and improving my overall weight. Realizing how strong the bite was, I figured the rest of the field must have been doing well. With that in mind, I fished through each bedding area, hoping to find a big female locked down.

I never did. By weigh-in time, I had about 15-pounds. It was a good start, but narrowly inside the cut. I knew I would need another solid day if I had any hopes of fishing on the weekend.

Back at the Girouard’s, Cliff shared his day with me. To my amazement, his catch was subpar. He was on such a solid bite in practice; it was hard to believe his areas didn’t hold up. And as good as he is I know he made all the adjustments possible. It just wasn’t his day.

After a big dinner, we encouraged each other to work harder then called it a night.

Kelly Girouard (l) and Kelley Prince (r) show off our Thursday seafood dinner.

Kelly Girouard (l) and Kelley Prince (r) show off our Thursday seafood dinner.

Fishing Toward The Weekend

Early the next morning, I decided to go with the exact same game plan. Starting in Housen, I boated one 2¾-pound fish using the Shadow Rap. Several more nipped at the bait, but none would commit to it. The bite was off. It was frustrating. With just one decent fish in the box, I was forced to head to Indian Creek early.

I raced to the same pockets, picking up where I had left off the previous day.

Soon, I realized the full moon had pulled more fish to the bank. It was easy. In no time, I put a solid limit in the boat. And sometime around noon, I finally got the right bite — a near 6-pounder slammed the D-Shad and the pressure was off. I knew then I would make the cut.

Fish like this are essential for success on Toledo Bend.

Fish like this are essential for success on Toledo Bend.

On day three, I started again inside Housen Creek — hoping the jerkbait bite would provide a jumpstart to a good stringer. It never happened. The weekend brought out countless non-competitor boats and, in that area, it was now “take a number.”

I fought it as long as I could then finally gave up.

Heading next to Indian Creek, I hoped to find some relief. Unfortunately, I encountered the same problem there. Every pocket was filled with recreational fishermen. It was just too nice a day and it seemed everybody was on the lake.

In spite of the crowd, I managed to finesse a modest limit of bass using the same tactics as before. By day’s end, I had only 9-pounds to bring to the scales. It was a bit humbling, but I wasn’t alone. The weights were way off. Nearly all of the Top-50 competitors had suffered a similar setback.

When the final weights were tallied, fellow veteran John Murray rallied to victory. It was one for the old guys and I was really glad to see it.

Next comes Ross Barnett — a modest-size reservoir in central Mississippi that’s sure to fish small. Stay tuned!