Beatin' the Bank with Bernie Schultz: 2018 BASSfest - Lake Travis

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.

Practice Begins

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.

Morning take-off includes a check for functioning nav lights, livewells and the engine's kill-switch. - photo by James Overstreet

Morning take-off includes a check for functioning nav lights, livewells and the engine's kill-switch. - photo by James Overstreet

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.

Competition Time

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.

The local fire department raised this magnificent flag for our morning anthem.

The local fire department raised this magnificent flag for our morning anthem.

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.

Morning lights can hypnotize. - photo by James Overstreet

Morning lights can hypnotize. - photo by James Overstreet

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.