HEMPHILL, Texas – Russell Cecil, a tackle representative from Willis, Texas, turned a scant 8-ounce lead in the Stren Series event on Toledo Bend into a commanding 9-pound margin of victory Saturday by bringing the biggest five-bass limit of day four weighing 19 pounds, 15 ounces.
Cecil’s four-day total came in at 76 pounds, 8 ounces to give him his first Stren Series win of his career. He collected $25,000 cash and fully rigged Ranger Boat for his victory.
“What really makes this so sweet is the caliber of fishermen I had to beat to win,” said Cecil, who referred to the field of the top 10 anglers as the “Toledo Bend All-stars.”
“I can’t tell you how many times those guys have beaten me over here. Beating them on their home water is no small feat; they’re such legendary anglers to me.”
Perhaps what helped propel Cecil to victory the most was his fresh perspective of the lake. With limited knowledge of the fishery, he found a few key places during practice that delivered his win.
“I do know where some of the common community-type stuff is here,” he said. “But I knew that with the McDonald’s event going on, there was no way I could rely on those places for three or four straight days. So I committed several days of practice to fishing obscure flats and breaks on the lower end that did not have much grass on them.”
Instead of practicing on the traditional grass areas, Cecil moved out to deeper water and began Carolina rigging water in 18 to 20 feet, searching for key stump beds near deeper breaks.
During the last two days of competition, those deeper, less pressured areas ended up being his clutch spots.
“The first two days I fished grass like everyone else,” he explained. “My first 35 pounds from the first two days came from flipping deep grass. On day three, I moved out to the deeper stumps and discovered that those places had a lot more fish on them than I initially thought.”
While flipping and pitching the grass, Cecil used a Big Bites creature and a Lake Fork creature topped with Lake Fork 1-ounce and 3/4-ounce tungsten weights, tied to 65-pound-test braided line.
“When I saw a really thick clump on my depth finder, I’d go to the 1-ounce weight to get through it,” he said.
When Carolina rigging the deeper stumps, he used a Lake Fork Ring Fry and a Big Bites little creature with a 1-ounce weight and a 30-inch, 20-pound-test fluorocarbon leader.
As for his winnings, Cecil added, “We just finished building a house, so it couldn’t have come at a better time.”
Harold Allen second
Allen focused his efforts on submerged wood north of the midlake region.
“It was classic summertime fishing,” Allen said. “I was targeting channel breaks and the end of old ridges that contained lay-downs on the bottom. Some places were 14 feet of water falling off into 25, and one of my best places was 25 feet falling off into 50 feet.”
Allen used a pair of V&M worms in a red-bug color: a straight-tailed Pork Pin worm and a large 11-inch ribbon-tail model. The Pork Pin was teamed with a 1/4-ounce weight while the 11-inch worm was paired with a 3/8-ounce weight, and both were fished on 15-pound monofilament.
Mark Allen third
Allen fished in the midlake Carrice Creek and Cypress Bend area, targeting the outside edges of grass in 14 to 16 feet of water.
His primary lures were a Wave Worm Tiki Dude craw and a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver creature bait, both topped with Lake Fork Tackle 3/4-ounce tungsten weights and both fished on 65-pound-test Stealth braid.
“I used my electronics to stay on the edge of the grass, pitching my baits to thick clumps,” Allen said. “With that technique, 99 percent of the fish hit it on the initial fall, especially when it punches through the deep grass.”
Johnston spent his tournament in the Six Mile Creek area pitching a 1-ounce Falcon jig and a 1 1/4-ounce Stanley jig to deep grass edges, especially edges that coincided with points and drains.
“In the mornings, the fish were positioned right on the edge of the grass, and that’s when I used the 1-ounce jig” he noted. “Later in the morning, they would tuck up in the thicker grass along the edge, and I would go to the 1 1/4-ounce for better penetration.”
Both of Johnston’s jigs were pumpkin-green with a craw worm trailer and tied to 65-pound-test Shakespeare Ugly Braid.
“Good electronics are a key component for that type of fishing,” he added. “And a Lowrance 125 is hard to beat for deep grass fishing.”
Johnston also caught some fish off planted brush piles on a 7-inch ribbon tail worm.
Burgay fished in the north end of Toledo Bend with deep crankbaits, including a DD-22 and Bomber 9A.
He avoided the pressure of the community grass holes by fishing the corners and points of offshore ridges that were sweetened with stumps and wood.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros in the final day of the Stren Series Texas Division event on Toledo Bend:
6th: Tommy Martin of Hemphill, Texas, four-day total of 60-3, $4,849
7th: Glen Freeman of Converse, La., four-day total of 57-15, $4,446
8th: Jeff Buchanan of Zavalla, Texas, four-day total of 45-2, $4,041
9th: Shane Gibson of Kilgore, Texas, four-day total of 41-4, $3,637
10th: Yarri Schreibvogel of Sam Rayburn, Texas, four-day total of 38-13, $3,234