Three Hot Bass Lakes

For winter fishing in East Texas, it's hard to beat this trio of proven bass producers! (January 2006)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

East Texas bass anglers have plenty of opportunities to score on their favorite quarry during the winter.

The landscape of the region is dotted with worthy fisheries. Some are highly publicized; others, for a variety of reasons, get very little media attention. Here, we'll look at three lakes that offer serious opportunities for largemouths this month, when anglers can target them with very specific methods suited for the bass' slow wintertime metabolism.

Neither Sam Rayburn nor Toledo Bend needs any introduction, as the legendary bass potential of both is undiminished, despite their having been impounded many years ago. Lake Livingston, however, doesn't get much press for its bass fishing. But as you'll see, anglers willing to fish slow and easy can set a hook in the jaw of some serious largemouths this month.

SAM RAYBURN

The best thing going for Rayburn bass fishing this month is targeting big schools of shad that gang up on the main lake and in the mouths of deep creeks.

For example, during the winter of 1997, I ventured to Sam Rayburn from my home in Orange to try and fill an ice chest with big crappie. A tip from a reader of my newspaper column led me to an area of the lake with large concentrations of shad.

He told me that the crappie weren't hanging around the artificial brushpiles and baited holes as usual. Instead, they were suspended around these big schools of shad, especially in the deep coves around Powell Park Marina and just off the main lake.

By running the fishfinder, it didn't take long to find the shad. There must have been millions of them as the entire middle section of my screen looked like a solid piece of structure!

I grabbed my medium-heavy action spinning combo spooled with 30-pound Berkley Fireline, put on a shiner and lowered it down. Within 10 seconds, I was battling a fish that turned out to be a 4-pound bass.

It was the first of 20 bass ranging from 2 to 5 pounds that I caught that day. And, yes, I eventually found the crappie. Looking back, it might be fair to say that I was a lunatic for even being on the water that day: The air temperature was in the mid-30s, and the wind chill had to be in the upper teens. I rarely go bass fishing during periods of cold weather, but that trip proved that there are good reasons to haul the bass boat to the lake during winter.

Michael Cole of Warren agrees. He likes to fish for bass in the winter because he said it's possible to catch more fish then than any other time.

"The key is that bass are concentrated during winter," he said. "If an angler were to wander aimlessly on a big reservoir like Rayburn, Toledo Bend or Choke Canyon, he would likely come home empty-handed, or close to it. But by looking for large concentrations of fish in a small area, the opposite can be true. You can have the trip of a lifetime."

Cole likes to run his boat around the main river channel in a reservoir and along steep dropoffs adjacent to large creeks and river mouths during winter. That's where shad "stack up" and that's where the bass will be.

"Anglers catch those bass while crappie fishing over shad," said Cole. "That makes perfect sense because some bass act a lot like crappie when it gets cold. Their metabolism is not going to be high enough for them to roam around, chase and corral the shad. So they suspend around big schools of them.

"Oftentimes the bass will lurk around logjams and structure that is located just under the shad, and so they can be hard to locate on electronics. My best advice is to locate the shad and the bass will usually follow."

It's best to locate the shad and put out a marker buoy. You may put out as many as half a dozen buoys before fishing, so you have plenty of spots to hit. For best results, use a 1/3- to 1/2-ounce spoon on a 2-foot leader attached to 15-pound-test Stren Sensor.

Simply lower the bait into the bass' zone, work the bait up and down, and hold on and wait for a hit. If you're not bit within a few minutes, move. It usually doesn't take long to find them when they're actively feeding.

Guide Roger Bacon recommends anglers try to fish along the edges of large submerged weedlines with a Senko. "It sinks slowly," he said, "and because of that, it gives the bass that live inside the weedline a chance to grab it. It really gets their attention. It's a real go-to bait for bass on Rayburn."

Senkos are popular during spring, but I've had luck fishing with them during the winter, especially on clear, warm days when the fish get more active than usual.

Good spots to try your luck include the creeks north and south of Powell Park Marina and the deep holes and grasslines just out of Mill Creek.

TOLEDO BEND

Toledo Bend is an interesting body of water. The largest reservoir wholly within the state, it's also one of the oldest, leading some pundits to declare that its best days are past. Fortunately, that's just not true.

Toledo Bend is a real standby lake. It's held its own through the years and has a real core of anglers who think it's the best thing going.

Toledo Bend is one of my personal favorite places to fish. The creeks on the south end of the lake around Indian Creek, Hillside and in the various creeks and coves can be tremendous. Big, willow-leaf spinners and crankbaits are excellent when fished there on warm afternoons along the main-lake dropoffs.


Another technique that can aid anglers on Livingston is called "dead-worming." Years ago, that was a popular method, but its popularity seems to have faded.
 

Look for shad bunched up around the secondary points and start fishing a crankbait like a Bomber 9A with a slow retrieve. If you find fish and they're active, switch to something like a Rat-L-Trap and boost the retrieve. I took my wife Lisa there last year, and while she is no fan of bass fishing, we had quite the time catching bass on Rat-L-Traps on a point just north of the Indian Mounds.

On Toledo Bend, the shad are sometimes spread along the shorelines, stacked horizontally instead of vertically. If that's the situation

, the bass can be scattered as well, so try trolling. Use the Bomber 9A or a 1-ounce Rat-L-Trap trolled at a slow pace. If you catch a fish, throw over a marker buoy and hit that spot again.

It's best to employ spinners when the water is up high and you have shad clinging tight to the shoreline. Cast parallel to the shore and work it back at a medium pace for best results.

LAKE LIVINGSTON

I'm convinced that Livingston is the most overlooked body of water in East Texas when it comes to bass fishing. However, it has plenty of quality fish and this month the fishing can be good for fishing jigs slowly.

By fishing a jig, or jig-and-pork combo like the new Scorpion jig, at an absolute snail's pace, anglers can increase their odds of catching a nice bass. We have already mentioned that the metabolism of a bass is very slow in winter, but so are the metabolisms of their prey. A jig imitates a crawfish, but don't think for a second that a crawfish is any livelier than its predators.

Wildlife photographer and former East Texas tournament angler Gerald Burleigh once told me that if you think you're fishing the jig too slow during winter months, you're probably not fishing it slow enough.

"The bigger fish move slower than the smaller ones and that is magnified during winter," he said. "Just keep it at a pace where it's almost boring to fish it, and you're probably on the right track."

The late East Texas bass expert and well-known outdoor writer Ed Holder once told me of fishing a large pond stocked with Florida bass. Most anglers had a difficult time catching fish, except for Ed and a few others. Their secret was a slow approach.

"Some guys would take a topwater and pop it all over the place and catch nothing," Holder confided. "But those who popped a bait once, let it sit there for awhile and then popped it again did well."

Another technique that can aid anglers on Livingston is called "dead-worming." Years ago, that was a popular method, but its popularity seems to have faded.

Dead worming consists of fishing a Texas-rigged worm by throwing it out, letting it sit in one spot for maybe 10 seconds and then moving it a few feet and repeating the process. Anglers developed the technique for scoring on finicky bedding bass, but it can produce lazy winter bass as well, and has been especially productive on the lake the past few years.

At Livingston, it's important to find the clearest water. It can be quite murky, but finding clear water on the edges of the main lake with good structure and strong baitfish is crucial.

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.