SANGER, Texas – All the teams competing in the 2016 Texas Team Trail Championship, presented by Cabela’s, knew Ray Roberts Lake possessed trophy largemouth bass. The mystery was where these Florida-strain bass would be located, as mid-May is known as a transition time. Would the kickers still be cruising the banks or would they be positioned deep? Mother Nature emphatically answered that question as high winds and stormy weather made offshore fishing nearly impossible. After a strong pre-practice, Ricky Campbell and Donnie Robinson were already committed to the shallow-water program. For two straight days, Campbell and Robinson picked apart one willow-laden area and came away with a whopping 42.90 pounds.
“We found those fish about a week before the cutoff,” explained Campbell, a retired police officer. “They were just choking a jig in practice. I had one day in practice where I caught 29 pounds myself.”
On day one, Campbell and Robinson headed south a few miles from takeoff and were happy to discover the bite was still strong despite the weather. Like most teams, their other productive areas were trashed in the unrelenting wind.
“The fish were just feeding – ambushing shad and crawfish,” said Campbell. “We caught five limits of fish the first day. We could’ve had 35 pounds if not for a few lost fish, but that happens.”
Robinson estimated the water in the area was 4 to 8 feet deep. The fish were staging out in front of the willows on small secondary points.
“This is one of the later spawning areas on the lake,” Robison added. “By Texas standards, it has been cool recently and the fish hadn’t left the area yet. When it was cloudy, the fish were away from the willows. When it was sunny, they were in the willows. That first day we’d pitch to the willows and then our bites would come 5 or 6 feet away.”
While the jig dominated during prepractice, a mix of three baits were used in the tournament.
“I caught the 8.91 (the biggest bass of the tournament) on a custom 3/4-ounce football jig (black, brown and amber with chartreuse strands) with a Zoom Fat Albert Twin Tail Grub,” said Campbell. “But we also caught them flipping the new Strike King Structure Bug (green pumpkin dipped in chartreuse dye) and Carolina rigging a Zoom Baby Brush Hog (green pumpkin blue flake).”
On day two, the bite declined considerably. Campbell and Robinson received only five bites all day, but they executed on each as Robinson put No. 5 in the livewell at 2:30 p.m.
“It took us all day to get five bites and we got them all in the boat,” said Campbell. “We knew that if we got five bites from that area they would be five good fish. Coming in, we still didn’t think we had enough.”
For winning the year-end championship, Campbell and Robinson earned a Ranger Z519 powered by a 225-horsepower engine, $1,650 in Anglers Advantage cash and $635 for big bass for a total prize package of $51,785.
“That’s what you shoot for all year,” said Campbell. “There’s a lot of great fishermen and good sportsmen in this circuit. To beat them and come out on top, that’s a real accomplishment.”
“It’s a great win,” concluded Robinson. “We’re both retired senior citizens. It’s like (Rick) Clunn and winning the Elite Series event. It’s good to see we’ve still got it.”
Batson and Greer slip to second
After a 27-pound opening day, Lee Batson and Jason Greer caught only four bass on day two, but it was still enough to claim the second boat-motor package, this one also a Ranger Z519 with a 225-horsepower outboard, thanks to being in the Ranger Cup powered and currently powered by an Evinrude (contingency upgrades). Their two-day total for nine bass weighed 36.49 pounds.
“We’re absolutely blessed to finish second,” said Batson. “We thought we had given the boat away with only four fish. We’re so excited to finish the year in such a strong fashion.”
In practice, Batson and Greer had identified a strong flipping bite in 4 to 6 feet on main-lake flats.
“These fish were coming out of the major spawning creeks. There was a shad spawn going on in the morning, but it was so windy you couldn’t see them flickering.”
On day one, the strong winds forced Batson and Greer to put down the flipping sticks and pick up moving baits.
“To our surprise, we caught them on spinnerbaits and swim jigs. We used a 3/8-ounce 6th Sense swim jig and 1/2-ounce Terminator spinnerbait, both in shad patterns. We left that first spot with 25 pounds. Then the sun came out at noon and we went to flipping like in practice and upgraded twice.
“Today was a totally different story. We started on the same area and caught two keepers on a swim jig. We kept moving and kept grinding away but we couldn’t get a bite; it was drastically tougher. Finally, Jason made a great call to go back to our primary area. So we went back and caught two, which was obviously enough to win us the boat.”
When they flipped, Batson and Greer used a Texas-rigged Big Bites Baits Kriet Kreature with a 1/4-ounce weight.
“We’re shallow-water fishermen. We love to flip so that played right into our hands. We also call ourselves the Sleep Rehab Team. We slept great last night and our ability to make good, sound decisions was huge today.”
Johnston and Iles third
Stephen Johnston and Danny Iles had intentions of fishing offshore, but the big front pushed them to the bank.
“In the next week or so, it will be unbelievable offshore,” said Johnston, the Lucas Oil-Ranger-Mercury pro. “There was just so much growth shallow; the willows and the buck brush kept them there.”
Johnston described day one as a survival day. While they did catch a pair of 6-pounders, they also did not have a bite until 10:30 a.m.
“When the wind blows, you pick up the spinnerbait or the swim and go to chunking. When they’d miss the spinnerbait, we’d come back with the wacky rig. I think we caught two that way.”
Their primary lures were 3/8-ounce Strike King spinnerbaits (white) and 3/8-ounce Strike King swim jigs (white) fished on 20-pound Sunline Sniper fluorocarbon.
“Today, we just didn’t get many big bites. It was a grind for sure. In the last 30 or 45 minutes we caught two key fish that culled out 14-inchers.”
Despite fishing a clean tournament, Johnston and Iles were still stung with third and missing the boat by .20 pounds.
“This one hurts in the pocketbook. We did everything we’re supposed to do. We didn’t lose any fish. It hurts, but we couldn’t have done anything different.”
Case-Case fourth, Farris-Farris fifth
Robert Case Jr. and Robert Case III finished fourth with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 34.96 pounds. With contingency awards, the two earned $2,510. Behind them was Colt Farris and Clint Farris, who caught limits both days for a total of 32.38 pounds. Anchoring their weight was a 7.96-pound largemouth. For fifth place, they earned $1,452.
Cecil and Castledine claim second Team of the Year award
One year ago, Russell Cecil and Todd Castledine led the Lucas Oil Team of the Year race only to slip to second after a mediocre championship. Finding themselves in the exact same position once again, this time Cecil and Castledine sealed the deal and became the first team to win two Team of the Year awards.
“We knew if we made the top 10 there was no one that could mathematically beat us,” said Cecil. “We got 10th and we did what we had to do.”
Cecil and Castledine caught 11 pounds the first day as they spent most of their time shallow working shad spawn and perch bed patterns. On day two, they fished a little deeper and improved their weight to over 18 pounds.
“It feels good to make the right adjustments, especially being in the same situation,” Cecil added. “Last year we just got beat by two big bags. It was nice to not leave it in anyone else’s hands t
his year. We wanted to win this tournament, but we’re proud of Team of the Year. It’s bragging rights for sure.”
For their win, Cecil and Castledine also receive free entry into the 2017 Texas Team Trail events.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 teams at the 2016 Texas Team Trail Championship on Ray Roberts Lake:
6th: Shawn Temple and Terry Bollom, 32.12
7th: Randy Millender and Rickey Cannon, 29.81
8th: Mark Child and Kyle Draguishi, 29.58
9th: Nicholas Albus and Jim Guzman, 29.57
10th: Russell Cecil and Todd Castledine, 29.42