Choke Canyon Lodge held its annual invitational tournament Saturday, August 7th and 20 teams came out to conditions that were historical…historically tough! Much like many lakes as of late, fishing was brutally difficult; in fact, it only took a little over 11 pounds to win it, and bags in the seven and eight pound range were rewarded handsomely. And with the names in this event, you can start to understand just how off Choke Canyon is fishing right now. Hot weather, fishing pressure, dying vegetation and suspended Florida strains were just a few of the many excuses the anglers threw around at the event.
But sticking it out and taking home the big checks was the team of Mike Harman and Bob Jenkins. Harman and Jenkins swept the tournament winning the first place check of $3,800, first place Calcutta money (they bought their own team) of $2,120 and the first place Big Bass side pot worth another $250! Mike told us how they brought in the winning bag at 11.25 pounds.
“We found those fish in practice in a river channel bend. Caught ‘em on various baits until about 10 in the morning, then it was over. We caught the five pounder on a Strike King 6XD; all the other fish were caught on Big Bass Candy baits. With that said, I also want to send out a special thanks to my sponsor, Big Bass Candy owned by Paul & Terry Cobb.”
Finishing second for the day was the duo of Dustin Day and Justin Lackey; their three fish weighed 8.69 pounds and paid out $2,750! Dustin hung around afterwards to give us some insight into their day.
“Started out shallow, but it was not what we expected. Little guys were everywhere, and we caught ‘em on blades and square bills in the morning. But we knew that wouldn’t get it done.”
But like successful tournament anglers, they adapted.
“Decided to make an adjustment and went after some deep fish I found on Thursday. Before that we had tried some unsuccessful grass punching. But when we got out deep, we started C-riggin’ a Maximus worm by Xcite Baits in a plum color; also caught ‘em on that same worm with an X-Lock jig head they make.”
The team made their final cull with only seven minutes to go, and was fishing a ledge in about 20 feet with chunk rock and timber scattered throughout.
Dustin would like to thank Waterloo Rods out of Victoria, Texas, Xcite Baits, Oldham’s Lures and Chevron.
Kelley Mauldin and Ronnie Trower brought in a limit at 8.30 pounds, which was good for third place and $1730. They also purchased their own team in the Calcutta the night before to earn them an additional $850! Kelley talked to us after the weigh-in.
“Ronnie and I started at the boat ramp on a shallow grass edge; the day before we had a five pounder and three other keepers there. Saturday we were able to get one small keeper there, then we started flippin’ trees and caught two small keepers that way. After that it was time to head to a deep brush pile I had been having some success on this year.”
Ronnie was able to catch their big bass, a 4.80 pound fish good for the second place Big Bass side pot money at $110, out of this pile in 25 feet of water. They also flipped some grass in a drain and caught another keeper before heading back to the deep brush pile and catching another 10 or 11 keepers! But every fish other than the big one was a small 14 to 15 incher.
10 inch worms were the flavor of the day for this team; motor oil/red Power Worms for Ronnie and watermelon red Zoom Ol’ Monsters for Kelley. With Kelley being a guide on the lake, we were particularly interested in his take on why Choke is being so stingy.
“With the quality of anglers in this deal, it was obvious the big ones weren’t bitin’! There are lots of hits deep, but nothing there when you try to hit ‘em. Sometimes on this lake, even ‘perch bites’ can be big bass, so you have to swing on ‘em all. Most are too deep to get a crank down to them so you have to go with plastics, and I think they are really becoming conditioned.”
Kelley reminded us the Florida strain bass make up over 75% of the bass population in Choke Canyon, and as we all know they are as picky as a three year old in front of a plate of broccoli. They are also especially vulnerable to even slight temperature and weather changes. And to top it all off, pressure affects them even worse than the regular Texas strain largemouth.
“Used to be as a guide, I’d see no other boats out during the week. Now you see 400 to 500 boats a week down there and the pressure has gotten to be unbelievable. People call Charles (Whited) and I from Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin…even Canada! The fish are there, just smarter. You can still catch big fish, it’s just very hard to do now.”
Kelley would like to thank Cliff and Mary Brown of Texas Boat World, Line-X and Jacky Roberts of Fish Finders Marine for donating two Power Tackle rods.
Speaking of Line-X and Cliff and Mary Brown, they donated a Line-X bedliner or keel application, and it went to the fourth place team of TTZ’s own Dale Read and Andy Nuyen. Their limit was 8.14 pounds, and just an eyelash shy of third place. Andy told us about their day.
“Our plan was to catch a quick limit early and head for deeper water to fish for one decent bite; we had the three fish we ended up weighing in the boat by 8:30. In fact, we caught over a dozen keepers in our starting water in Opossum on Senkos and Horny Toads around grass in one to three feet; most were cookie cutter two and a half pounders with one just over three pounds. At 8:30 we headed back to Calliham to set up the weigh-in trailer and by the time we got back on the water at 9:30 our morning bite was over. We never found a deep bite but did end up catching several keepers throughout the day on toads in skinny water.”
When asked how the team would split their prize, Andy chuckled and said,
“I’m in a MasterCraft and Dale is in a Skeeter…didn’t take long to figure out what to do with the Line-X certificate.”
The actual biggest bass of the event was 7.88 pounds, and was caught by Shaun Kuviak. He and his partner David Cosner are members of the Texas State Fishing Team, and unfortunately did not enter the side pot. David told us all about the big bite that single handedly put them in sixth place for a Power Tackle rod.
“Had a game plan to throw big baits all day. In practice, Shaun caught one near eight pounds, it was on a brush pile in about 14 feet just outside of Calliham. 14 feet seemed to be the magic range in practice. We marked a lot of brush in this range with access to deep water. We fished a jig and a Hag’s Tornado in practice, but couldn’t really get them to eat those as well on tourney day.”
We asked what it took to get the big girl to commit.
“A Mag Fluke in watermelon red. Caught some fish in green pumpkin magic on that same bait also. We were really just spitting distance from Calliham when the big one bit at 10 am. We had done some research, and it seemed all the big fish are caught around there because of the good cover and deep water access. Plus a lot of fish get released there. We decided to go big or go home, and it paid off I suppose. Really happy to get that big fish in the boat, but just couldn’t put any other keepers with it.”
“We would really like to thank Choke Canyon Lodge for putting this thing on. It was awesome to meet all those great anglers! Also, thanks to Sure Life for keeping that big fish healthy all day long in that heat. Would also like to thank Hag’s Tornados, they really helped us locate fish in practice on a Carolina Rig especially. That 6.5 inch is awesome down here!”
As expected, the fishing was very tough. We find the fishery is looking much better and should improve if the lake can maintain a constant water level. This lake fishes best when it is full of hydrilla, and that hasn’t been the case since 2004. When the bottom fell out of the lake, the grass rapidly disappeared; it’s starting to come back and everyone looks forward to the fishing picking back up in the fall.
But the weekend was awesome! Networking with great anglers and even better people is a rare treat. We’d really like to thank all those in attendance, and all that made it possible. Special thanks to Choke Canyon Lodge, Rick Anderson, Blake and Donna Nelson, Happy, Cliff Brown and Texas Boat World, Jacky Roberts and Fish Finders Marine, Power Tackle, Waterloo Rods and Xcite Baits. This was the first year prizes were donated to the tournament and it surely won’t be the last! Please support these folks the next time you get the chance.