December 03, 2022
By David A. Brown
Ask Toledo Bend guide Darold Gleason to tell you about his favorite winter spots and he’ll clarify: Do you mean his favorite locations, as in honey holes he’s worked hard to find? Or do you mean the spotted bass that a lot of folks don’t realize inhabit this lake?
If you’re asking the former, Gleason will give you the 1,000-yard stare that urges “Next question.” If the latter, then he’s more than happy to sing the praises of his home lake’s respectable population of spry spots offering a fun balance to Toledo Bend’s more celebrated largemouths.
“Right now, the population of spotted bass is pretty strong,” Gleason said of this Sabine River reservoir straddling the Texas/Louisiana border. “If I had to pick two months to target spotted bass here, it would be December and January.
“You can catch them year-round, but they just seem to group up really well on offshore places this time of year.”
(Notably, Gleason said the same applies to nearby East Texas powerhouse Sam Rayburn Reservoir.)
Know Your Fish
At quick glance, a spotted bass and a largemouth of equal proportions possess enough similarities to warrant a closer look. Starting at the business end, a spot’s tongue has a rough tooth patch that feel like sandpaper. Also, the back edge of the jaw does not extend past the eye; a clear distinction from the largemouth’s longer jaw line.
Look at the spot’s back and you’ll see the primary and secondary dorsal fins are connected, while largemouths have separated dorsals. Lastly, a spotted bass has a distinct horizontal row of dark spots on each of its sides, with very little coloration below.
The Toledo Bend spotted bass lake record is 3.4 pounds, but Gleason’s impressed with anything hitting the 2-pound mark. That’s a far cry from the double-digit largemouth that earn replica mounts from the Toledo Bend Lake Association’s Lunker Bass Program, but consider what spots have going for them:
More Adaptive: Native largemouth can get pretty squirrelly during weather changes and don’t even bother with the stocked Florida-strain bass. Even after generations of reproducing in local waters, post-frontal bluebird conditions make these big green sissies glue their mouths shut.
Not so with spots. Adverse conditions will bug any fish, but given their affinity for deeper, open water—often suspending—their appetites see fewer downturns.
Typically Cooperative: Whether he’s hosting novices or experienced anglers who want to dial in their skills with certain presentations—he knows he can always count on spotted bass.
“I think they’re great for anglers who are trying to work on their offshore game and work on techniques,” he said. “Spotted bass can be very aggressive, so they’re a great learning fish.”
Less Pressured: Understandably, largemouth get most of the Toledo Bend attention. This lake will not disappoint such efforts, but the belle of the ball can, at times, get quite an attitude. A real diva, ya know?
Spotted bass generally eat what they see.
“If you’re trying to get kids into fishing or you’re trying to get a family member interested, spotted bass are great because the techniques you use to catch them are fairly easy to learn and when you get around them, they bite pretty well,” he said. “They’re not really targeted much by tournament fishermen, but for the recreational anglers, they’re really fun.”
No Size Limit: Unlike Toledo Bend’s other black bass species, there’s no minimum length for spots. Most anglers release largemouth and smallmouth, but if you want to take a few spots home for dinner, just keep the ones worth cleaning. (Daily bag limit is eight black bass, any combination of species.)
How To Get ‘Em
Gleason knows he can predictably find spots on offshore humps, channel swings, deep brush and main lake points. The latter excel in windy conditions, as spots pin their disoriented prey against a hard sideline and ravage the hapless forage.
One thing to remember, spots are more current-oriented than largemouth. So, while the green meanies typically prefer the slack side of a current break, spots like to sit on the up-current side and meet their meals head-on.
“It’s all deep water; I’ve never caught spotted bass shallow,” he said. “And I have never caught a spotted bass off a (visible) bed. I guess they spawn out of sight.”
Jigging spoons are one of the simplest spotted bass techniques and they’re particularly good if you have kids or someone who’s inexperienced in more finessey tactics. Beyond this, Gleason likes a dropshot with a V&M Pork Pin worm, a foot-long leader and enough weight for a targeted presentation.
He’ll also use a football head jig with a craw trailer and a Carolina-rigged V&M Baby Swamp Hog on a 2-foot leader. A finesse jig with your choice of twin tails will get plenty of attention and if you want super simple, a 1/4-ounce shaky head with a green pumpkin finesse worm is an everyday spot getter.
Spotted bass are generally less picky than their largemouth kin, but Gleason finds that hitting his baits with a liberal shot of chartreuse can be a real deal closer. Whatever you throw, know that spots pack a load of attitude into those modest bodies. To this point, he recommends packing a bunch of baits.
“When you’re catching spotted bass you go through a lot of plastics because they’re feisty little things that tear up your baits a lot,” he said.
A fair tradeoff for a day of predictable fishing fun.