JANUARY – Black Drum: Saltwater Jetties, Piers and Passes
These fish gang up before the spring spawn and it’s common to see scores of anglers frequenting areas near passes and other manmade flows targeting fish with a variety of natural baits.
Dead shrimp and cracked crabs and cracked mantis shrimp are among the notable lures and cut bait that always produce for anglers looking to take home some great-tasting filets.
The best surf tactic is to pin the offering to the bottom using heavier weights than most inshore anglers will ever try. Even a “butterfly” drum, one that’s within the slot, can peel drag with the best of the saltwater fish, and having heavier tackle can be handy, especially if the bull drum are in.
Other Options: Choke Canyon Catfish: Target shallow areas of flooded vegetation with natural and cut baits. Amistad Largemouths: Topwaters, buzzbaits and spinnerbaits are hot early and late.
FEBRUARY – Crappie: Toledo Bend Reservoir
At nearly 200,000 acres, this body of water is the largest manmade lake in the state, and features big things for boatloads of crappie. The reservoir straddling the Texas-Louisiana border is among the best places to catch a mess of fish relatively easily.
It should be noted that residents of either Texas or Louisiana who are properly licensed in their state (or are exempt because of age), can fish in any portion of the lakes and rivers forming a common boundary between Louisiana and Texas.
Anglers also should be advised that limits for catfish, white bass and black bass apply on both the Texas and Louisiana portions of the lake.
Other Options: Lake Livingston White Bass: Target the numerous creeks running into the lake and you’ll find sandies. Stamford Reservoir Crappie: Find fish on structure such as old trees or rock dropoffs.
MARCH – Largemouth Bass: Lake Fork
This body of water is the undisputed king for big-water bucketmouths. Of the 50 biggest largemouths caught in Texas, 34 came from Fork, including our 18.18-pound state record.
As temperatures begin to rise, big sow bass start moving to the shallows to spawn and are most vulnerable. They’ll be lurking near bedding areas cleared off by smaller males.
Among the top baits for catching Fork lunkers are jigs, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, plastic worms and lizards. It can be tough to see darker baits, especially on cloudy days, so pick a lighter- or brighter-colored bait you can see when pitching the shallows.
Other Options: Lake Ray Roberts Largemouths: Try a Carolina-rigged worm or lizard in shallow water. Lake Somerville White Bass: Target the creeks feeding into the lake with minnow imitations to catch limits.
APRIL – Largemouth Bass: Sam Rayburn
Sam Rayburn Reservoir has always been a good lake for multiple species. However, in recent years the lake has enjoyed an angling renaissance, with hundreds of tournaments held annually.
Big Sam’s record largemouth nearly touched 17 pounds, and double-digit fish are regularly brought in by tournament winners. The reservoir is one of a handful in Texas that receives annual stockings of fingerlings and fry — the lake has been stocked every year since 1994 — and that has helped to build its population of Florida-strain largemouths and put it among the Top 10 Bass Lakes in the entire country.
The spring 2017 Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest proved that; the winning angler brought in a four-day, 20-fish bag just shy of 94 pounds.
Other Options: Belton Lake Hybrids: Bottom-fish with live bait or troll jigs or crankbaits. Lake Buchanan Blue Catfish: The eastern portion and area near the dam hold big cats.
MAY – Striped Bass: Lake Texoma
This is the prime lake for striped bass in all of America, and the massive hotspot on the Texas-Oklahoma border features a spawning population, the only one in the state. Anglers trolling crankbaits and other deep-running lures often are as successful as those chunking live bait. Lures that have caught untold numbers of fish are slabs and heavy jigs, which can be worked vertically. One spectacular way to catch stripers during cool summer mornings is with topwaters fished near shorelines.
Anglers with Texas licenses can fish in the Texas portions of the reservoir, or purchase a Lake Texoma license ($12) to fish the entire lake.
Other Options: Richland-Chambers White Bass: Watch for bird activity near the surface to find schools of sandies. Lake Conroe Largemouths: Target shallow areas near boat docks and marinas with shad imitations.
JUNE – Red Snapper: Gulf of Mexico
This fish is among the most sought-after species by everyone. And for good reason: It’s among the best-eating fish out there. The fishing season in federal waters in 2017 was severely limited, which makes fishing tough.
However, if you take part in the Gulf Headboat Collaborative, a program that allows only federally permitted headboats to fish for red snapper all year, if they have not exhausted their allocations, you can bring home some great-tasting fillets.
And while the Gulf season remains largely hit or miss, it should be noted that snapper options do exist in state waters. The bag limit in federal waters remains two fish at least 16 inches, while the daily framework in Texas waters is four fish at least 15 inches.
Other Options: Gulf of Mexico Dolphin: When the “mahi-mahi” are in, hook up with a guide. Lake Travis Stripers: Downrigging with bucktail jigs and trailers over submerged humps and deep-water points is effective.
JULY – Hybrid Stripers: Cooper Lake
This sleeper lake northeast of D/FW remains a hotspot for hybrids, and they can be caught on topwater lures, which makes exciting action. You also can find hybrids by throwing slabs, crankbaits and other baitfish-type lures.
Many anglers will slow-roll baits near the bottom including Sassy Shads and spoons and find success while vertically jigging bucktail offerings. Trolling or throwing crankbaits also are excellent ways to find lots of fish. Live bait presentations for both hybrids and white bass are popular too.
The lake record is more than 11 pounds. A fish of that size could be the catch of the year for an angler.
Other Options: Matagorda Bay Speckled Trout: Live bait, especially croakers, is the ticket to filling a limit. Lake Lavon Sunfish: Use nightcrawlers dipped with a cane pole for pure fun.
AUGUST – Bass: Lady Bird Lake
This 500-acre body of water in downtown Austin gets used heavily by the urban crowd, but that shouldn’t deter you from trying to catch multiple species of bass during the summer.
Formerly Town Lake, Lady Bird has an excellent population of largemouths. It sports a respectable lake record of 13 1/2 pounds. The lake also gave up its record Guadalupe bass at just over 3 pounds in August. In addition, Lady Bird has smallmouths, stripers, hybrid stripers and white bass.
Most of the cover on the lake is located along the bank and includes laydown logs and trees, overhanging brush, cypress tree roots, bulrush and cattails. Some submerged aquatic vegetation is found in the lower end of the lake near the dam. Barton Creek enters on the south side at about mid-lake.
Other Options: Lake Tawakoni Channel Cats: Bait holes with sour grain and the fish will come. Nueces Bay Speckled Trout: Try drifting the reefs with paddletail plastics.
SEPTEMBER – Redfish: Gulf Beaches
As these fish mature, they move out into the Gulf where they spend most of their lives. That’s a great thing for surf, jetty and pier anglers. These brawny battlers will take offerings including cracked crabs, shrimp and baitfish of all sizes. They’ll readily slam live and dead baits, but anglers toting artificial lures should always remember to pack heavy spoons, swimbaits and other variations that mimic mullet or croakers. Surf rods that are heavy and stiff are standard tackle.
The daily bag on redfish is three in a slot limit of 20 to 28 inches; you can keep one over 28 inches with the red drum tag from your saltwater license.
Other Options: Lake O’ The Pines Catfish: Use prepared baits or cut baits near flooded vegetation and on main-lake points. Lake Limestone Catfish: Try drifting across main-lake flats with cut shad, shrimp or worms.
OCTOBER – Flounder: Intracoastal Waterway
Flatfish are a welcome addition to a daily bag when you’re wading, but this time of year they’re a common sight in many areas, if you know where to look.
Their mass migration later in the fall lowers the daily limit from five to two with a 14-inch minimum, and they can only be harvested by fishing pole during that two-month period. Flounder skirt along edges where deep channels meet shallow bars where they take freshly dead baits. One common approach is to fish jigs and other baits on bottom tipped with shrimp.
Other Options: Fort Phantom Hill Catfish: Almost any bait works; a 60-pound flathead was caught on a piece of hotdog. Lake Lewisville Channel Catfish: The 22-pound lake record channel cat hit a crankbait.
NOVEMBER – Pompano: Gulf Coast Beaches
Also known as cobblerfish, this is a common find along Gulf beaches and passes. Pompano don’t get large — averaging from 2 to 4 pounds — but the state record is 6 1/4 pounds and even small ones are superb on the dinner table. There’s no size or bag limit.
Live bait will produce, and the fish also hit small spoons, jigs and mullet-looking artificials.
Beginning south of Corpus Christi on the beaches of the Padre Island National Seashore, there are miles of suitable fishing for anglers targeting pompano. The farther south you go toward South Padre Island, the better the fishing gets.
Other Options: Lake Bridgeport Smallmouths: Try crawfish-mimicking baits, spinners, and jigs in turbid, shallow water. Lake Whitney Smallmouths: Target rocky habitat in the middle and lower portions of the reservoir.
DECEMBER – Speckled Trout: Baffin Bay
This remote bay system is known in most circles as the top place in Texas to catch a truly massive specimen – a speck measuring at least 30 inches. True die-hards head to these waters in the dead of winter in hopes of catching the biggest sow trout all year.
The keys to fishing this locale in winter are knowing the nature of specks in cold weather and the impact cold has on where they’re found and their activity levels. Slow down your presentation and target the depths.
Some tried-and-true baits that have helped lure untold numbers of big trout include the slow-sinking Corky and jigs and spoons fished vertically.
Other Options: Community Lakes Rainbow Trout: Take a kid fishing at urban lakes stocked with trout. Braunig & Calaveras Redfish: Target heated discharge areas with artificials, including spoons and deep-diving crankbaits.