Wide open Ray Roberts ready for Texas Team Trail Championship

Wide open Ray Roberts ready for Texas Team Trail Championship

May 10

SANGER, Texas - The most lucrative team trail in Texas concludes its wildly successful 2016 season with the year-end championship, held on Ray Roberts Lake, May 14-15. At stake is not one, but two fully-rigged boat packages as well as the prestigious Lucas Oil Team of the Year award. Thanks to an unusually wet spring, Ray Roberts is sitting 2 1/2 feet above full pool. With the spawn largely over, there are fish positioned shallow, deep and everywhere in between - making the Texas Team Trail Championship, presented by Cabela's, a wide-open shootout.

An impoundment of the Trinity River, the 29,000 acre Ray Roberts is considered small by tournament standards. However, it's chock-full of bass - particularly big bucketmouths. Last spring, a recreational angler landed a largemouth that weighed 15.18 pounds, a new lake record. Catching a five-bass limit isn't always easy, but the abundance of kickers is impressive. Typically, tournaments can get crowded as anglers jockey for the best bank cover or the prime offshore structure.

"That's what so neat about this tournament," said pro Todd Castledine. "There are going to be some fish in 2 feet and there's going to be some out deep. That spreads the field out, but it also makes it scary as an angler. May is real hard to pattern; there's so much going on. You can crush them one day and then strike out the next doing the exact same thing."

Ray Roberts' largemouths have an abundance of structure and cover to hide in, including standing timber, brush piles, points, road beds, and a variety of flooded shallow-water cover.

"There's going to be a shad spawn," added Castledine. "There are going to be fry guarders. We all assume they're going to be shallow, but they're probably going to be offshore too. Ray Roberts has a lot of road beds, a lot of hard stuff. If you find the right spot out there, you can go big real quick; you can win one in 10 minutes. It's kind of scary in that you don't want to sell yourself short. You think you're doing pretty good catching 15 or 20 pounds shallow and then someone goes out deep and catches 28."

"I think deep is the wildcard," said Ranger-Evinrude pro Russell Cecil. "There are big ones in that lake and they like to live deep. The water being up doesn't necessarily mean you have to fish shallow. There's going to be some big ones out deep. We just don't have a lot of experience fishing it deep."

Cecil and Castledine explained that deep in this tournament may only be 10 feet. When the TXTT visited Ray Roberts last year, the lake was several feet low. This year, it sits 2 1/2 feet high, which means what was a productive bank spot could now be a prime deep-water location.

"The old bank line could come into play," said Cecil. "And there are flat areas with ditches and little drains that are now probably in 10 feet of water."

"We've never fished it when it's high," explained Castledine. "That's our biggest concern leading up to the tournament. We understand the lake pretty well and last year we finished third, but now it's a totally different lake."

Those that fish shallow can mimic the shad with spinnerbaits, swim jigs and ChatterBaits. Others will flip the flooded cover and throw topwater baits, such as Spooks and frogs. Anglers probing deep structure will employ Carolina rigs, jigs and crankbaits.

Castledine believes to win the two-day tournament, a minimum of 40 pounds is needed.

"This group is going to catch them. I'd say somewhere between 40 and 45 will take it. Someone might catch like 28 the first day and then come back with 17."

Castledine and Cecil, lead the Team of the Year race with 1,025 points. Last year, they also led going into the championship, only to slip to second.

"Going into it, we're 100 percent focused on winning the tournament," said Castledine. "If there's a chance to hero or zero, we're going to try and be heroes. We're not going to go out and just try and get a limit. The minute you start doing that, you're in trouble. Everyone out here, especially at the championship, is so good. To win, you have to do unbelievable."

"We blew it last year, but we'll approach it the same way this year," added Cecil. "We got to this point by swinging for the fence. Team of the Year does factor into our thinking some, but we're not going to get side tracked by it. We want the title because it's prestigious; you always want that feather in your cap."

In fourth place in the TOY race is Jerrel Pringle and Keith Keele with 960 points. Pringle claimed TOY last season by the narrowest of margins.

"We've got a big hill to climb if we're going to repeat," said Pringle. "Cecil and Castledine would have to really stumble. They're good fishermen and good guys. There's not anybody better in the state of Texas. That's why wining is so cool. Winning both, the championship and Team of the Year, would be the ultimate. We're really looking forward to it."

Teams will take off at safe light from Ray Roberts Marina, located at 1399 Marina Circle in Sanger. The daily weigh-ins will also take place at the marina, beginning at 3 p.m.

The Texas Team Trail consists of four regular-season events and a year-end championship. Each regular season event is a one-day team tournament and delivers 100 percent payback, including a fully-rigged 18-foot, 150-horsepower bass boat guaranteed as the first-place prize.