Lake Ray Roberts in transition
By Luigi De Rose
|Texas legend, Zell Rowland explains Ray Roberts.|
(Photo: Zell Rowland)
The 51st. Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk, on Lake Ray Roberts and hosted in Fort Worth Texas on June 11-13, is set to be as exciting and spell bounding as the 50 Classics before it. Originally planned for March, it was rescheduled to June due to Covid 19. The 54 Classic anglers will fish Lake Ray Roberts, a 29 350-acre reservoir north of Denton, Texas, and the weigh-in will be held in Fort Worth.
A shining star, Lake Ray Roberts isn’t a popular venue on the national tournament circuits yet is should make Texas proud. Overshadowed by legendary San Rayburn, Lake Fork and Toledo Bend, Ray Roberts is a strong fishery. With an excellent largemouth population, Ray Roberts has good numbers and plenty of 5-to-7-pound bass making it a great venue.
Zell Rowland, a Texas native with 4 decades of tournament angling along with 5 BASS wins and 16 Classics and 1 FLW Cup under his belt predicts that the 2021 Classic winner will have to play the current water conditions and weather to perfection.
The entire State of Texas has experienced wild and weird weather since the very beginning of 2021. A severe winter storm in February, which saw temperatures plummet well below freezing, set the precedent. A slow thaw prolonged the spawn delaying the typical timetable anglers are accustomed to fishing. Along with a drawn-out spring, the rains have yet to stop coming. Many of the State’s big reservoirs are at flood levels; San Rayburn, in Jasper, Texas, is 11 feet above normal pool. As of Sunday, June 6, Ray Roberts is above normal pool but not at a catastrophic stage yet. Jeff “Gussy'' Gustafson, the 2021 Tennessee River BASS Elite Champion and a Classic qualifier states “that most of the trees have at least 3 feet of water around them and many of the local boat ramps are down due to the high water.”
The weather forecast called for rain and chances of thunderstorms for much of the official Classic practice period. For Monday, June 7, there is a Flash Flood warning for much of the Ray Roberts area. Luckily, the storm weather looks like it will subside during the three tournament days, greeted anglers with sunny, hot days and light winds.
There is a fear that the lake level might need to be drawn down suddenly to offset the highwater level especially if the flash flood warning comes into fruition.
“I’ve tried to make the deep bite work but the fish don’t seem to be out here.” Explains Gustafson. “It’s been a difficult practice for me and my buddies. It’s been tough to catch a big one.” For any southern angler, June translates to fishing out deep. Humps, creek channels, long points and main lake ledges are the norm. Jeff, a 2 time Classic qualifier, feels that under the current fishing conditions, a lot of good anglers will not be able to catch a 5 bass limit every day of the Classic.
|Jeff "Gussy" Gustafson hunting for this first Classic win.|
(Photo: Brandon Palaniuk)
When the announcement was made that the Classic was postponed to June, Jeff Gustafson took notice. An award-winning smallmouth angler, he loves probing the depths for bass. A June Classic with a consistent deep-water bite fit Gustafson’s fishing style well. “I’d prefer to fish deep as I like it and its my preference but I’ve put a lot of time out deep and haven’t be able to make it work.” Summarizes Jeff. (He was actually idling over deep-water locations while we spoke on the phone.)
After the interview, Gustafson was planning on spending the remainder of the day searching shallow. He has seen some promising patterns starting to emerge during the brief periods he spent shallow during practice.
Playing the Conditions
With a lifetime of experience of fishing in Texas, Rowland feels that the anglers who play the current water conditions will find success. “On San Rayburn, the guys who are back in the pines with their aluminum boats are wearing them out!” jokes the Texas legend. “Flipping the grass, and I don’t mean aquatic grass, I mean stuff that was grown on dry land before the water came up, is where you’ll find bass now. Running a frog or buzzbait will also do well.”
“The last 60 days we have had tremendous rain. With that much rain and the water above normal pool, much of the lake will be off-colour or stained. With this amount of rain and the water colour, much of that deep cranking, Carolina rig, jig bite is gone.” concludes Rowland. “Pitching and flipping a creature bait or jig to shoreline cover and also working a frog over cover should work as that section of the water will clear first.”
Zell determines that the anglers who bring in a 15-to-18-pound limit each day will be on top. When asked who's his pick to win it all, he wasn’t as clear cut. “Based on what I know of the guys who are in this year’s Classic, I think a guy like Matt Herren as he's strong with a flipping stick and fish shallow water well. I don’t know much about those Canadian brothers or Seth Feider but if everyone is better at shallow water flipping, they might do very well as well.” Predicts the topwater magician.
Get all the action of the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk, on Lake Ray Roberts here in the following days along with official press releases.