Two Texas Hammers Say FFS Played Limited Role in 2023 Success

In a state where it seems avid bass anglers are equal in number to Whataburger drive-thrus, few can rival the achievements of Russell Cecil and Stephen Johnston over the past two decades, and that includes yet another stellar year in 2023. 

They’ve competed against one another for years, share a friendship, and have a whole lot in common. Cecil lives near Lake Conroe, and Johnston guides on Toledo Bend and Rayburn, but both run a smooth riding Vexus Boat with a huge front deck, and their facial hair features a fair amount of salt and pepper. 

They also leaned very little on forward-facing sonar en route to sitting atop angler of the year points races in mega-tough trails such as the Brandon Belt Team Series, the Texas Team Trail, and the Toyota Series. 

The two recently met up at iconic Cassels-Boykin boat ramp on Lake Sam Rayburn where they offered not only their thoughts on forward facing sonar, but also the lures that brought them success this past season.

“I’m definitely not the youngest guy in the tournament field anymore, so I guess my two top lure choices for the past season kind of reflect my reliance on something old and something new,” grins Cecil, a highly successful tackle sales rep for brands like 6th Sense, Falcon Rods and Costa eyewear. 

“There are still very few tournaments when I don’t have an old school 10” worm tied on. Aside from the very heart of the spawn, I’ll have a big 6th Sense Ridge Tail worm tied on to fish all kinds of habitat from 8 to 30 feet deep,” he emphasizes. 

The uniquely designed worm features a flat tail, so it doesn’t twist your line like traditional big ribbon tail worms often do, and its action proved plenty appealing to a 9-pounder at Choke Canyon during a Texas Team Trail event. Cecil typically ties it to 20-pound Sunline fluorocarbon with a 3/8-ounce weight and a 5/0 off-set Owner wide gap hook.

“Forward-facing sonar certainly became a bigger part of my fishing this year, but still only accounted for around 30% of what we weighed-in. When we did utilize it, a 3.8” Divine swimbait on a 3/16 Divine jig head featuring a shorter shank hook was my go-to lure for intercepting bass we were looking at on the screen,” says Cecil. 

As for Johnston, who has declined more than one invitation to fish professionally on a national level in favor of guiding and competing closer to home, the latest sonar technology accounted for almost none of his success in 2023.

“Ninety-five percent of what I took to the scales this past year had nothing to do with forward-facing sonar. Relying on that technology just didn’t line up with how we were catching them. I actually caught a ton of fish pretty darn shallow on a new prototype swim jig with a boot tail trailer that lure designer Tim Reneau gave me to use,” says Johnston. 

He believes the swim jig’s unique side-to-side hunting action, versus a typical straight back to the boat swimming action is what generated so many strikes for him at famous Texas fisheries like Ray Roberts and elsewhere this season. 

So perhaps the best take-away from these two Texas bass fishing legends is a willingness to try something new, whether it’s sonar technology or the wide wobble of a new jig head, without fully abandoning the baits that have proved equally as tasty as crispy fries dipped in Fancy Ketchup at one of those 700+ orange and white burger joints that dominate the Lonestar State’s landscape. 

To learn more about the Vexus Boats like the ones these two top anglers love, please visit

Story by Alan McGuckin

Go To Top
Contact Us