Houston's Early-Fall Bass Hotspots

Looking for good September bass action near Houston? Then hit any of these four hotspots to find it!

By Chester Moore Jr.

Houston-area bass fishing is red-hot.

After years of falling behind other regions of the state in terms of overall productivity, the reservoirs in the Houston area have come to the forefront of Texas' freshwater fishing.

Lakes Conroe, Livingston, Fayette and Gibbons Creek have always been popular among local fishermen. However, many anglers across the state don't consider these spots as "glamorous" as they do Fork and other water bodies.

But that's changing, what with Conroe frequently producing bass large enough to qualify for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's ShareLunker program, including Toby McDonald's 13.2-pounder caught this year.

Houston-area anglers have some great opportunities for excellent bass fishing right in their back yards. Let's look at Lake Conroe first.

The media often refer to it as "Houston's playground," and for good reason: Many Houston-area residents use this 21,000-acre impoundment north of the big city for water sports other than fishing. Skiing, pleasure cruising and personal watercraft racing are popular pursuits that can dominate water space on the lake on holiday weekends.

However, its bass fishing can be tremendous. In fact, on most weekdays, you couldn't imagine it being anything other than a tremendous fishing destination.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

I would advise anglers wanting to intercept Conroe's brush-loving bass in early fall to employ a sonar unit of some sort, because most of its brushpiles are submerged around main-lake structure like creeks, humps, roadbeds and points. It's very difficult to pinpoint promising locations or to sink brush without a depthfinder.

There are so many brushpiles that you'll never find the ones that are right for big bass unless you're able to get great detail in your look at the bottom. Finding structure atop structure is important. You might think that looking for submerged brush for bass is a bit odd in early fall, but most of Conroe's structure is artificial, and before the first strong cold fronts arrive, shallow brushpiles can be magnets for big bass.

Anglers unfamiliar with brushpile locations should cruise the lake while wearing polarized sunglasses and look for submerged marker buoys. Buoys that are submerged and covered with green slime are the ones to look for. These, put out by hardcore crappie anglers, usually hold plenty of bass.

Pay special attention to your electronics. When you run around some of these markers, you may come across a smallish brushpile right off, but bigger ones usually lie around it, and they'll be the ones holding most of the fish. In addition, there are many fish hanging outside the big school, and you can catch some of these peripheral fish, but you'll have better luck working over the major concentration.

For the best results around these piles, try slow-rolling spinnerbaits or medium-running crankbaits.

Lake Livingston is another major bass producer in the Houston area, although the topnotch catfish action there tends to overshadow that fact.

Main-lake points and creeks entering the main body of the lake are the important areas to fish at this time of year. Throw large Beetle Spins and wacky worms during the midday period; fish topwaters and buzzbaits early and late. Another viable option is to fish the riprap and bulkheads along some of the big marinas, especially in the evenings.

These areas will hold many bass, especially after a late frontal system passes through. The hard part is patterning the fish. I like to use a slow-sinking lure like a Slug-Go or a wacky worm.

Fayette County Reservoir, between Houston and Austin, has become an increasingly popular bass fishing destination. Harboring numerous fish between 4 and 7 pounds, Fayette has the highest per-acre bass count in Texas.

During fall and winter, nothing beats the live version of the larval stage of the tiger salamander - more commonly known as a "waterdog" - at this 3,000-acre honeyhole.

"We've sold as many as 2,000 of the things in a weekend and that's quite simply because they catch lots of bass - and some really big ones," said Fayette fishing guide and bait shop owner Doug Waddell.

Anglers not acquainted with these ugly critters will find it best to fish a waterdog on a freeline with just a Kahle hook rigged through the lips of the dog. In my experience, a braided or fusion line is superior to monofilament for this application because it allows greater sensitivity to the bite and increases chances of hooking the fish.

That said, plenty of spots can produce fish for anglers fishing waterdogs if the bass are in the shallows. "We have quite a bit of shallow, grassy areas and in spring most of the larger fish are caught here," Doug Waddell said. "I like to run through these areas with my fishfinder and locate concentrations of fish; then we can drift through these spots with the waterdogs. I would advise anglers to make a drift or two and find another spot if they haven't contacted fish."

If an early cold front has blown through (as they will sometimes do), the warmwater discharge of the Lower Colorado River Authority power plant is a good option. Waterdogs work as bait here, but over the years I've found that a topwater plug like a Zara Spook or a double willow-leaf spinner will catch plenty of fish.

The riprap along the dam can also be good for intercepting bass. A smart lure to fish here would be a deep-diving crankbait worked parallel to the rocks. I would advise cranking the bait at various speeds or using a couple of different models to reach various depths. The bass sometimes refuse to hit a lure not put right in their faces.

Gibbons Creek Reservoir, near College Station, is only 2,500 acres in area, but it produces some of the largest bass available to anglers within a short drive of the Houston Metroplex. It's got plenty of hydrilla, and anglers can't go wrong by fishing a Carolina-rigged worm through those beds. Jig-and-pig combinations are also popular with big-bass specialists, even during fall.

A lure that some Gibbons anglers have already done well with this year is the Senko. Looking like a ribbed worm with a missile-shaped head, the Senko doesn't offer much in the looks department - from what I've heard, the designer used a ballpoint pen to make the first molds and then made

modifications - but it exhibits a wild action. You can fish it on a freeline or with a weighted rig.

Anglers who can get their hands on these lures should fish them vertically on the edges of the grass. When the bass are on the outside of the grass, they'll dart in and out of holes. If you can locate these holes on and fish there, it shouldn't take long to get hooked up.

If fishing the grass is not your thing, another option is fishing the main-lake points with Carolina-rigged worms. This type of fishing is a bit slow, but it produces some genuine lunkers at Gibbons Creek, whose bigmouths have a super-high concentration of Florida bass genes.

Florida bass, according to the latest research, bite less and tend to be far more lure-shy than are native largemouths. A more-directed, patient approach is necessary in order to get big dividends.

Veteran East Texas outdoor writer Ed Holder once told me about fishing a large pond stocked with Florida bass. Most anglers had a difficult time catching fish, but not Holder and a few others who had a secret: taking the slow approach.

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

On that same note, another technique that can aid anglers seeking finicky Floridas is called "dead-worming." Years ago, this was a popular method, but it seems to have fallen by the wayside recently.

Dead-worming consists of fishing a Texas-rigged worm by throwing it out, letting it sit in one spot for maybe 10 seconds, moving it a few feet, and then repeating the process. The technique was developed for scoring on bedding bass, but it has been known to produce fat, lazy bass year 'round for those willing to try it.

Sometimes being willing to go out on a limb is what it takes to put the bass of a lifetime in the boat. And for anglers in the Houston area, there are plenty of places harboring big bass at which to give these methods a try.

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