(Apr 28, 2015 - Norman, OK)
James Stricklin, of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Billy Cline, of Grapevine, Texas, brought 16.93 pounds of bass to the scales to win the 2015 Texas Team Trail presented by Cabela's (TXTT) event at Lake Texoma on April 25. The winning anglers took home a Ranger Z119C powered by an Evinrude 225HP outboard and an additional $2,220 of Anglers Advantage money for a total prize package worth $47,025.
The tournament anglers faced tough fishing conditions due to overnight thunderstorms that raised the lake level up nearly a foot. This turned many of the premier pockets into a reddish-mud color, causing the largemouth bite to come to a screeching halt.
Instead of panicking, veteran sticks Stricklin and Cline went to work, knowing that the fish wouldn't really move all that much. During a stormy practice, Stricklin located a productive point covered in submerged bushes. The shallow point was particularly effective due to the presence of shad, which were beginning to spawn themselves.
"In practice, I pulled up and caught a 3 1/2-pounder right away and then I took the hook off my spinner bait and they just kept biting," said Stricklin. "So this morning we started there right off the bat and we caught a meanmouth and two good spots within the first 15 minutes. Then we struggled for a bit."
The team boated a five-pounder mid-morning, keeping up their spirits. In the afternoon, the two returned to their primary area, located in one of the creeks in the midlake region.
"I told Billy we would have to just get around them and fish hard," said Stricklin. "So when we went back, the wind blew all the muddy water out of the creek; I couldn't believe it."
With improved visibility, the culling continued. Around 1 p.m., Cline landed a key 4.5-pound fish on a Kicker Fish swimbait. At 2 p.m., Stricklin put the team's last keeper in the boat - a four-pound largemouth for their final tally of 16.93 pounds. Of their five fish weighed, three were largemouths along with a meanmouth and a spotted bass.
"We were basically targeting bushes in about four to six feet of water," explained Stricklin. "Billy was fishing the bushes we couldn't see with a 3/8-ounce Strike King double-willow spinner bait (pure white), and I would flip the bushes we could see with a 1/2-ounce Strike King flipping jig and Paca Craw (black and blue) trailer. It was one of those days where you had to keep a good mental attitude. Billy and I fish real well together; we feed off each other, and that was key today."
Second-place finishers Greg Fleming, of Holly Lake, Texas, and Rick Turner, of Tyler, Texas, weighed 14.46 pounds to take home $5,225 in winnings. While the winners predominantly fished largemouth water, Turner and Fleming targeted smallmouths upriver.
"Practice was very hard on us," said Turner. "We normally catch a lot of spotted bass and we also had no luck finding largemouth shallow or deep. But, I had some experience on the lake with smallmouths."
Targeting postspawn bronzebacks on rocky banks in seven to eight feet, Turner and Fleming put together a stringer worthy of second place. Both anglers used a 1/8-ounce Spot Remover shaky head with a four-inch Zoom finesse worm.
"I think the rain, the runoff and the muddy water played right into the smallmouth bite," Turner explained. "They tend to turn on a little bit when you have nasty weather. Later in the day we found them a bit deeper than that seven- to eight-foot zone."
The anglers had a limit early and made their first cull at 9:30 a.m. The bite slowed an hour later, but the two were receiving just enough action to stay in the same area all day.
"Even when we made our last cull, we were just hoping for a check," said Turner. "Taking second was a shock. We didn't expect to finish that high and we're tickled to death that we did. We fished real clean; I think we put everything in the boat that would have benefited us."
Philip Crelia and TJ Goodwyn, both of Center, Texas, took third with five bass weighing 14.07 pounds. Their limit consisted of three largemouths, one spotted bass and one smallmouth.
"We caught 15 keepers today, but it was still pretty tough on us," said Crelia. "We had a limit by 9 or 9:30 this morning and we upgraded throughout the day. But we never did get a big bite. We'd catch two or three here and then two or three there."
Crelia and Goodwin realized during practice that the lake was getting muddy and that sight-fishing was going to be difficult. Instead, they chose to junk-fish - targeting bass both up shallow and as deep as 25 feet. They used a combination of Carolina rigs, spinner baits and umbrella rigs depending on the area.
"We're kind of shocked with third," Crelia added. "The last few tournaments we've fished up here there have been some big weights. We knew it would be tough, but we figured somebody would run into a couple of giants. But we'll take it."
The next tournament stop for the TXTT is set for June 13-14 at Lake Palestine for the season-ending championship event where the Lucas Oil Team of the Year title will be up for grabs. With the top 10 teams separated by less than 100 points and double points earned at the championship, the event is shaping up to be packed with suspense and action.
The top contending teams (and points) are Cecil/Castledine (916); Curtis/Mueck (914); Wright/Sims (900); Pringle/Dolezal (888); Flowers/Jordan (882); Iles/Shook (871); Case Jr./Case III (840); Anderson/Renfro (835); Albus/Guzman (827) and Burgay/Wiggins (819).
Winners of the Lucas Oil Team of the Year title will win a pair of custom rings and paid 2016 entry fees, courtesy of Lucas Oil.
For additional information, anglers are encouraged to call 210-788-4143 or check out the TXTT website. Site visitors can register for events, review the television schedule, get official Texas Team Trail gear, view results and learn more about what's in store for 2015.
Texas Team Trail events are made possible through the sponsorship and continued support of these well-respected brands: Cabela's, Ranger Boats, Lucas Oil, Evinrude, RAM, Mercury, Minn Kota, Triton Boats, Power-Pole, Amphibia, Arctic Ice, Stratos Boats, Lowrance, Navionics, Protect the Harvest, General Tire, SuperClean, Mustang Survival, iON Cameras, Garmin, Valley Fashions, T-H Marine, Atlas, G-Juice, Powertex Group. The TXTT would like to thank the Denison Area Chamber of Commerce for their support during this event as well.