Lone Star State 2007 Fishing Calendar
October 04, 2010
In a great state like ours, a serious angler could easily fish 365 days a year. To prove it, here's 12 months' worth of the finest fishing Texas has to offer. (February 2007)
Assignment: Spend a year pursuing a hands-on investigation of fishing in Texas -- now there's a job I'd like to have!
Given the vastness of the Lone Star State and the amazing variety of its piscatorial riches, such a project is almost too much to be comprehended, let alone actually done. But, hey -- we can try to get 'er done, right? If you're game, here's a solid plan for experiencing the best angling action that Texas has to offer this year.
For many Texas anglers, January seems to be a great month to sit in front of the fireplace and dream about fishing. But for those hardy souls willing to brave the elements, the year's first month is a top time to visit Lake Texoma for trophy striped bass.
Thanks to the gazillions of threadfin shad that move into Texoma's marina basins to find warmer water, the striper fishing action -- even at night -- can be amazingly good.
Take last year, for instance. On a nighttime trip inside the Highport Marina basin, I teamed up with Texoma guides Jeff "J.D." Lyle (Texoma Striper Guide) and Mark Macnamara (Texoma Sportfishing) to whack a number of stripers under the marina's nighttime glow.
To be honest, I watched as Lyle and Macnamara, two of the most knowledgeable striper anglers I know, whacked the linesiders with conventional tackle as I tried to do so with my 8-weight fly rod.
Finally, after a few missed strikes, I grew tired of being left out of the fish-catching frenzy. So what did I do? I grabbed a spinning rod with a chartreuse-glow Sassy Shad and soon joined the catching party with a 5-pound striper!
A glance at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's "Top 50 Largemouth Bass" list would seem to indicate that February is a good time to catch a sweetheart of a largemouth bass, especially on Lake Fork.
And while that's certainly true, the year's second month is also a great time to target a lesser-known species -- the chain pickerel -- at northeast Texas' lakes Dangerfield and Caddo.
"That's their spawning time and they are up in Dangerfield's grassbeds in shallow water," said Rob Woodruff, of Quitman, who operates the Orvis-endorsed Woodruff Guide Service. "The same thing is true on Caddo, but once you get to Caddo, they're called 'jackfish.'"
While Texas chain pickerel -- which resemble northern pike -- don't get exceptionally big, they are loads of fun to catch at a time of the year when little else is up shallow and biting. Woodruff suggests white and yellow Beetle Spins, small spinners, and small Rebel crankbaits for conventional anglers. For fly-fishing enthusiasts, try black crystal flash Woolly Buggers with orange coneheads or small flashy streamers with gold, pearl, or chartreuse colorations.
The month in which college basketball madness strikes also figures to see Lake Alan Henry near Lubbock, Lake Amistad near Del Rio, Lake Fork near Quitman, and Sam Rayburn Reservoir near Jasper battle for big-bass supremacy.
While there's little doubt that Fork is still the state's big-bass king, Amistad is my pick for the hottest bass lake in Texas right now. Need proof? See last year's insane four-day visit by the BASS pros, during which sack after sack full of big largemouths got weighed in. By the tourney's end, Ish Monroe stood atop the winner's podium, weighing in 20 bass at 104 pounds and change en route to a $103,000 payday!
Wherever you launch your bass boat this month, Weatherford BASS fishing legend Gary Klein urges you to spend some time figuring out the day's primary pattern. "Early in the day, I'm more prone to fish more and more stuff, but once I get the bite isolated, then I'm good about going from target to target without wasting time," he said.
Keep in mind that once you find a pattern, you should fine-tune things a bit to find the pattern within the pattern. "The biggest difference between a weekend angler and our level of fishermen (in the pros) is that we just don't see a tree in a pocket, but we see where the fish will be positioned on that tree," Klein said.
In my book, the Texas angling throne is occupied this month by the tasty crappie. Why? Warm weather, cooperative fish in shallow water, the smiles of children, and a plateful of fried crappie!
Top crappie spots range from big water bodies -- like Fork, Lake O' The Pines, Lavon, Richland-Chambers, Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn -- to more-diminutive spots -- like 1,020-acre Bonham City Lake in North Texas.
Big water or small, TPWD inland fisheries biologist Rafe Brock says to think shallow water and structure. "Crappie don't utilize vegetation like they do structure like piers, docks or sunken timber," he explained. "That's why brushpiles come into play, because habitat is fairly limiting in some lakes."
What bait should you use? "That depends on your preference," Brock said. "You can start with small jigs, and if that doesn't work, then you can go to small minnows. And keep searching till you find what works."
A tough month for fishing -- mainly because so much great angling action is available across Texas! But perhaps the best quarry during April would be the platter-sized bluegills found at many Lone Star State lakes and farm ponds.
"Caddo is probably as good a lake as we have in Texas for sunfish, especially bluegills and redears," Woodruff said, noting that the natural lake's bluegill beds can be especially large. "If you find a bed and catch one, you can catch a ton." The bigger 'gills tend to hang out around the bed's perimeter and deeper side, he added.
What to use? For flies, throw things like Bream Killers, Wilson's Bluegill Bullies, or Miss Prissy Poppers in white, chartreuse, or yellow. For conventional angling, toss small Beetle Spins around the beds, or fish a live cricket under a bobber.
And keep the fish fryer warmed up -- you'll need it!
In late spring and early summer, it's time to think about catchin
g spawning catfish in a myriad of lakes ranging statewide from south -- Amistad, Choke Canyon and Livingston -- to north -- Coffee Mill, Davy Crockett, Nocona, and Texoma.
So where should you look for spawning whiskerfish at any given water body? TPWD inland fisheries biologist Bruce Hysmith says that once water temperatures warm into the mid-70s, look for areas that have some sort of moving water.
"During the spawn, they can be found along windy banks, but the best thing that they like is inflowing water on tributaries," he offered. "They'll really crowd into inflowing water where they'll move up in there and look for hollow logs, rock overhangs, and stuff like that."
While classic stink bait catfish lures work, Hysmith prefers another top whiskerfish bait. "I would use live crawfish," he said. "The crawfish is a little cleaner, and a little more user-friendly."
The biologist loves to fish a crawfish weightless, encouraging it to move around more and attract the attention of a hungry cat. "If you had to use a weight, I'd use a slip-sinker so that the crawfish would still have the freedom to move about," he stated. He also noted that he doesn't use a real heavy hook, and keeps it covered. "If they feel the hook, they'll spit it."
Topwater Striped Bass
After the up-and-down first half of a day that I spent at 89,000-acre Lake Texoma with Flywater Angling Adventures' fly guide Steve Hollensed last July, the afternoon turned red-hot when, looking across the vast lake, we saw what seemed to be water boiling. It was boiling, all right -- with feeding stripers!
Over the next two hours, Hollensed and I enjoyed the greatest striped bass fly-fishing action of our lives -- with few other boats in sight most of the time. So intense was the feeding melee that at times the landlocked linesiders were knocking threadfin shad up and out of the water some 2, 3, and at times nearly 4 feet into the air.
"It's something you have to experience to believe it," Hollensed said. "When schools come up, often you hear it with your ears before you see it with your eyes."
The guide suggests that fly-fishing enthusiasts use 7-, 8-, or 9-weight fly rods rigged with either a floating line or, at times, a shooting head ranging from 300 to 500 grains. As for flies, he'll use a two-fly rig consisting of a shad-colored balsa-wood popper on top and a small conehead Woolly Bugger or Crystal Shad pattern rigged 2 feet below.
For conventional tackle enthusiasts, the Tom Bean guide recommends medium- to heavy-weight bait-casting or spinning gear coupled with a Pop-R in white or bone color. Sassy Shads in chartreuse, pearl, and white are also good bets.
Virtually absent from the Texas salt for decades, silver kings have been steadily coming back along the Lone Star State coastline in recent years.
If you're interested in catching a tarpon this year, there are three good spots to check out, starting with the deep-water tarpon that swim near Galveston. That's where guides like Capt. Mike Williams (Texas Tarpon Guides), Capt. Jim Leavelle (Tarpon Adventures of Galveston), and guide James Plagg (Silver King Adventures) and others have set up shop.
A second spot to consider in your tarpon quest is off Port O'Connor, where anglers like Orvis rep Dave Hayward and Capt. Scott Graham (Fly Fishing Texas) chase silver kings each summer. In fact, a few years ago, Graham caught and released a world-class tarpon that by formula approached 200 pounds. The guide and his clients now routinely jump and land a number of hefty tarpon every summer.
A final place to cast for tarpon is near beautiful South Padre Island. Adventurous anglers can occasionally catch the silver kings in the Gulf surf and along the region's jetties.
Let me issue a warning: Once you experience the late-summer and autumn flats fishing action for Texas redfish, you'll be hooked for life.
I certainly was after my first trip several years back while fishing from the flats skiff belonging to Capt. Jeff Waugh, who owned and operated Bigfoot Charters out of Port Mansfield. Wade-fishing on the Lower Laguna Madre flats, I was blessed to catch numerous small- to medium-sized red and black drum along with a couple of hefty 25-inch redfish. Waugh himself did even better, landing several reds in the 25-inch range along with an awesome 8-pound speckled trout.
Conventional redfish tackle can include medium-weight spinning gear or baitcasting rigs coupled with spoons, topwater baits, shallow- to medium-running saltwater crankbaits, and soft plastics.
For fly-fishing, try 6-, 7-, or 8-weight fly rods rigged with 9-foot leaders in the 12- to 15-pound-test range. Top flies include crab, baitfish, and shrimp patterns along with spoon flies and topwater poppers.
Autumn is a great time to target sand bass (white bass) and largemouth bass on water bodies like North Texas' Lake Ray Roberts, according to Hollensed.
Why? Because sandies and largemouths will gang up on deeper structure in and around creek channels as they both follow the baitfish to bulk up for the coming winter.
"Sand bass will congregate or stage on deep water structure -- they'll stay there until almost the spring run," Hollensed said.
For conventional anglers seeking sandies, Hollensed recommends bait-casting or spinning rigs coupled with jigging spoons and/or chartreuse or white spinnerbaits. For fly-anglers, he recommends 7-, 8-, or 9-weight rods able to throw a floating line, a sink tip, or even a shooting head of 300 to 400 grains. As for flies, the guide suggests Clouser Minnows or Dave Whitlock Sheep Minnows.
The key with either approach is to find the baitfish, which are often under working birds. "If you find the bait, you will find the fish," Hollensed said.
Finding bait in order to find the fish is also the way to go for bass anglers seeking bigmouths in November. You'll likely find non-crowded lakes ablaze with autumnal color splashed on the Creator's canvas.
"I'd look for bass in the creeks on secondary points and also right on creek channel ledges," Hollensed said, noting that it pays to be versatile at this time of year. "Be prepared to fish the whole water column; the bass may move up on points or out deeper o
ff the points. It just depends on the conditions."
Guadalupe River Rainbows
Rainbow trout fishing in Texas? You bet -- on the Guadalupe River below Canyon Lake near New Braunfels. In fact, the scenic tailwater lined with limestone bluffs and bald cypress, elm, pecan, and sycamore trees forms the southernmost year-round trout fishery in the U.S.
Stocked with rainbows and the occasional brown trout as far back as the late 1960s, the Guadalupe River supports trout for 15 miles below Canyon Lake Dam where the river is fed with cold water drawn from the bottom of the 8,240-acre reservoir.
Thanks to an abundance of insects, scuds, minnows, and crawfish supported by the river's rich alkaline limestone substrate, trout in the Guadalupe River do quite well, with many holdovers surviving to the following year.
While there is dry-fly fishing to be found on the river, Capt. Scott Graham, who guides anglers on the Guadalupe over the fall and winter months, says this is primarily a river for nymph fishing.
He suggests that anglers bring 4-, 5-, or 6-weight fly rods rigged with weight-forward floating lines. To that, he suggests tying 8- to 10-foot fluorocarbon leaders with 4X to 7X tippets, depending on water clarity.
Top Guadalupe River trout patterns include various nymph and scud patterns in sizes 14 to 22; dry flies like Elk Hair Caddis, Blue-Winged Olive, and Tricos in sizes 14 to 18; and terrestrials including ant patterns and Woolly Buggers in olive, black, and brown colors in sizes 6 to 10.
For conventional anglers, light spinning gear coupled with Rooster Tails or small crankbaits resembling crawfish and shad are also good bets.
Good bets, that is, if you want to find the pot of piscatorial gold waiting at the end of the Texas fishing rainbow. And in the Lone Star State, that fishing rainbow for trout -- or just about any other species -- can be nothing short of plentiful, spectacular, and occasionally Texas-sized big!
But then, what else would you expect from the best overall fishing state in the land?
Find more about Texas fishing and hunting at: TexasSportsmanMag.com