Starting at Sam in Six

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Some years the tour level off-season seems unbearably long, but this time around it has been mercifully short, largely due to the fact that we’ve had an unprecedented amount of tournament news over the past couple of months. It wasn’t on-the-water news, but it kept us tuned to the internet nonetheless. That’s good because the B.A.S.S. guys finished up their AOY chase two months ago, and the poor FLW crew has been done since mid-August. Those who didn’t qualify for the Cup were done before that. I know that the majority of them have not been sitting on the couch watching reruns of “The Golden Girls,” but instead competing in other events, guiding, working at other jobs and catching up on family time.

Nevertheless, the hardcore competitors among the FLW crew must be itching to get out and get after it. I know that they say they compete just as hard in a Wednesday night fruit jar event, but nothing can really replace fishing for six figures.

That’s why they should be excited to know that exactly six weeks from today they’ll be at Sam Rayburn for the first FLW Tour event of the season. For those of you scoring at home, that’s the numero uno lake in the country. Even before that declaration, I’ve always thought of Rayburn as the ultimate tournament lake – not because it’s always produced huge weights (although it usually does), but because it offers everything a true pattern lake should contain. There’s grass, timber, offshore structure. There’s not much rock, but we’ll forgive them that one deficiency. You can deep crank, sling a red Rat-L-Trap, sight fish and flip, not necessarily all during the same week, but there will likely be at least two distinct patterns going on no matter when you go.

Whatever you think about the reconfigured FLW Tour field – and I don’t need to go there because the message boards have relentlessly picked it apart – they are still going to catch the snot out of them. Sure, there could be a cold front that sets the Florida strains back a bit, or there could be massive waves that impede traveling safely to distant areas, but the field contains a lot of people who are going to catch them everywhere, and especially at Rayburn. Of course Bryan Thrift will be back, but he’ll be joined by 19 Texans – including a bunch of guys like Todd Castledine, Russell Cecil and Dicky Newberry, who may not be household names, but who’ve paid their mortgages with Big Sam winnings. That doesn’t account for other locals and would-be locals like Clark Reehm, who conducts electronics classes on the lake, and Larry Nixon, who was fishing Rayburn before Reehm was born.

A tour season has to remain compelling from beginning to end to be memorable – especially when there are now three of them to distinguish – but the best way to accomplish that is to start strong. If I’m the schedule maker, I’m going to places with 100-pound potential every year right off the bat. There’s nothing wrong with an Ohio River dink derby or Sabine River event once in a while, but you set the tone with slugfests, and there’s probably no better place to consistently do that in January than Jasper County, Texas.