Exclusive: Bassmaster names Toledo Bend No. 1 again

Jimmy Watson, jwatson@shreveporttimes.com 2:56 p.m. CDT June 20, 2016

After posting a record year for 10-pound bass catches, Toledo Bend Reservoir has set another record by becoming the first fishery in the country to be chosen America’s top fishing destination in consecutive years by Bassmaster magazine.

The official announcement will come later Monday from Bassmaster editor James Hall that the 185,000-acre reservoir, spanning the Louisiana and Texas borders, has once again outshone as many as 230 potential candidates for the prestigious honor.

“When we first started looking at the data for all the lakes this year, I didn’t think there would be much movement at the top,” Hall told The Times. “But the list proved to be very fluid, so to land this honor two times, and two times consecutively, is very significant. There were a lot of very, very productive lakes out there during the past year.”

Toledo Bend topped second place Santee Cooper Lakes, Marion and Moultrie in South Carolina and No. 3 Clear Lake in California. Other lakes in the top 10 overall included Lake Erie (New York), Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (California), Mille Lacs Lake (Minnesota), Lake Berryessa (California), Rodman Reservoir (Florida), Falcon Lake (Texas) and Lake St. Clair (Michigan).

The selection process this year was conducted differently than in the past four years when the magazine has simply chosen a top 100 fisheries in the U.S. The country was divided into four regions this year with a top 25 selected from the northeast, southeast, central and west regions. Then an overall top 10 was chosen. Toledo was tops in the Central Region and No. 1 in the top 10.

“One of the things we did differently this year was adding a writer in the West and Northeast regions to provide input from fisheries in those regions to make sure they were properly represented,” Hall said. “Once we looked at all the data, everyone agreed Toledo Bend was No. 1.”

Bassmaster’s previous top-rated bass fisheries include Falcon Lake (Texas) in 2012, Lake St. Clair (Michigan) in 2013 and Sturgeon Bay (Michigan) in 2014.

Toledo Bend was especially kind to Kevin VanDam, the country’s premier professional angler with four Bassmaster Classic titles, seven BASS Angler of the Year crowns and almost $6 million in career winnings. VanDam, who has won more BASS events than anyone (21), had been winless on the Bassmaster Elite Series trail for more than five years before winning the A.R.E. Truck Caps Bassmaster Elite in mid-May at Toledo Bend with a 4-day total of 96 pounds, 2 ounces.

“To have a great event here at Toledo Bend, unarguably the best bass lake in the country really makes it special,” VanDam said following the win in a bassmaster.com interview.

The No. 1 designation helped create a lot of buzz for an area that’s been hit hard by the loss of oilfield-related jobs during the past year. Still, lodging can sometimes be at a premium for those pursuing lunker bass according to Linda Curtis-Sparks with the Sabine Tourist Commission. There are approximately 424 rooms in hotels, cabins, condos, single family units, along with 870 RV pads in the Toledo Bend area.

“Even though we lost 40 percent of our rooms last year due to age, our tourism has increased 23 percent this year,” Curtis-Sparks said in a previous Times interview.

Hall said he wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers kept increasing.

“The fertility of Toledo Bend is phenomenal, and I know the people in that area are very proud of it, which is great,” he said. “With their double-digit bass catch going from 81 to 139 our readers will once again be excited about visiting that region.

Toledo received the top spot the first time after the Toledo Bend Lake Association awarded a record 81 anglers a trophy replica for catching and releasing a live their bass weighing at least 10 pounds during the 2014-15 recording season. That number exploded to 139 for the season that ended in mid-May for a fourth consecutive year of increases.

To uncover the country’s top bass fishery, Bassmaster officials polled fish and wildlife departments across the country, hundreds of BASS Nation presidents and conservation directors and the 600,000 BASS Facebook fans to come up with a master list of venues to consider.

After researching data on the Internet, the list of candidates is sent to the 3,500-member BASS Council Panel.

“It’s a very elite group of anglers from across the country who fish a lot,” Hall said. “They helped organize the top 100 into what we felt was a solid ranking. To put an exclamation and polish on the final list, I have a group of about 15 people -- kinda of a blue ribbon panel of industry guys, media and anglers -- who fish all over the country, who look it over. Some lakes moved up, some moved down. Everyone signed off on it.”

The Central Division Top 25 had Caddo Lake at No. 7 and Lake Bistineau at No. 16 as the only other Louisiana fisheries. Texas lakes on the Central list included Falcon (No. 3), Sam Rayburn (4), Lake Palestine (6), Lake Ray Roberts (9), Lake Fork (14), Squaw Creek Reservoir (18), Lake Texoma (23). Lake Dardanelle at No. 22 was the only Arkansas fishery on the list.