Site selection for this year’s Texas BASSfest event was Lake Travis — a beautiful, deep and clear reservoir near the city of Austin.
At first sight, Travis reminded me of other southwestern impoundments, like Havasu and Amistad — places where I’ve done well in the past. Seeing that, I liked my chances going in. My only real concern was for boat traffic. Austin is home to more than 2 million people and Travis is their playground.
There are countless marinas and boat docks throughout the lake, most of which harbor large yachts and cruisers. At some point, I knew they would become a factor on the water.
On day 1 of practice I exited the official take-off site in the back of Big Sandy Creek, and then headed for the main lake. My first stop was to a large commercial dock against a bluff bank where I hoped to find a shad spawn happening beneath the floating structure. Having no luck with that, I moved to the bluff behind the marina where I found a number of bass cruising a long, shallow ledge. Some of them were big, too.
Several responded to topwaters, others went for a 4-inch weightless Senko. In a single 100-yard pass I saw enough fish to know I would return during the actual competition.
From there, I ventured upriver to a series of flat points where I noticed schools of fish breaking the surface. At first, I thought they were sunshines or perhaps small stripers, but they were blacks … good ones, too. I thought I had found the motherlode.
They responded to a variety of lure choices, including topwaters, jerkbaits and small swimbaits. When the schooling stopped, I could coax them with a drop shot. Although most were non-keepers, I still felt I could catch a solid limit by sorting through them. With that assessment I continued north to find similar banks, but by day’s end, I found nothing better.
On day 2 I went south toward the dam — trying some marinas early, and then searching humps and drop-offs along the main river channel. I caught fish everywhere I stopped, but none were 14-inch keepers.
On the final morning of practice, I checked a few marinas for spawning shad, but found nothing. From there I moved upriver to try a variety of points and banks. Again, I caught fish just about everywhere I stopped, but I felt only two spots warranted a return visit.
By 3:00pm, I was headed in to prep my boat and tackle, then attend registration.
Having a late draw in the take-off order, I figured all of my best spots would be taken. To my surprise, however, no one started on the bluff bank behind the main-lake marina.
Ready to begin my day, I advanced down the shoreline, making lengthy, parallel casts with a Rapala SkitterWalk … expecting a strike on every cast. Strangely, nothing happened. Not even a single rise.
Seeing that, I decide to downsize to an X-Rap Pop. Chugging it subtly against the rocks, I was able to fool a few smaller bass, but it was clear things had changed. Having stable weather conditions, I wondered what may have caused the better fish to leave.
By the time I reached the end of the bluff, I had only a single keeper in the box.
My next stop was to the flat point where I discovered the schooling fish. I was again a bit surprised that no one was there. Immediately, I began chasing schools of busting bass with topwaters and swimbaits … and in minutes, I added several more keepers to my creel.
Then disappointment came.
On three separate occasions, I hooked up with smaller fish only to have magnum-sized females chasing them, trying to get the lure. Each time I freelined the smaller hooked fish, hoping the bigger ones would latch onto the lure, but it never happened. I watched as several fish over 6 pounds flashed and darted around the smaller ones, only to fade back into the depths from where they came.
When the schooling stopped, I probed deep hoping to find them, but by days end, I managed only a couple of more pounds. I was way off the pace.
On day 2, I raced back to the schoolers, picking up where I left off. This time the wind was blowing up a light chop from the south. I knew then it would kill the topwater bite, so I opted for a small swimbait and targeted suspended fish. Unfortunately, I managed only a few keepers. The bigger fish never showed themselves.
As the sun got higher, I switched to a 5-inch green-pumpkin Kut Tail Worm, rigged to a 3/16-ounce drop shot. That single rig accounted for more than 50 fish, and it was, by far, my most reliable producer.
In the end, however, I fell short of the cut by more than five pounds. I never connected with the size fish required to make it through to the weekend. And after four poor showings in a row, making the AOY Championship now will require a Herculean comeback.
Having nowhere to go but up, I welcome the challenge.