January 26, 2017
By Will Leschper
Texas has the best fishing in the country, and regardless of whether you prefer freshwater or saltwater, there's something for everyone.
Some of our hotspots stand out above the rest for quantity of fish, quality of the fishing, or even both, and you should plan your year based on hitting these locales at peak times.
Here's a look at 12 months of fishing across the Lone Star State that won't disappoint.
JANUARY - Black Drum, Laguna Madre
The state record is an 81-pound fish caught in summer 1988 from the Gulf of Mexico, but that doesn't mean there aren't brutes skulking around in the winter. These fish gang up before the spawn that occurs in the spring, and it's not uncommon to see scores of anglers frequenting beach areas near passes and other manmade flows, targeting fish with a variety of natural baits.
Dead shrimp and cracked crab are among the notable offerings, and cut bait always produces for anglers looking to take home some great-eating 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 species, and having heavier tackle can be handy, especially if the bull drum are in.
Because of the drum's strength, many anglers utilize a stout leader, which can aid in subduing especially large fish. Anglers can keep five fish per day in a slot limit between 14 and 30 inches. Drum that exceed that length quickly become less desirable as their flesh gets more coarse and less edible.
FEBRUARY - Crappie, Toledo Bend Reservoir
This body of water at nearly 200,000 acres is the largest manmade lake in the state, and features big things for boatloads of crappie. The reservoir straddling the Texas-Louisiana border on the Sabine River is among the best places to catch a mess of fish relatively easily, as it has an immense variety of fishy cover.
It should be noted that residents of Texas or Louisiana who are properly licensed in their state (or are exempt because of age), or persons who hold valid non-resident fishing licenses issued by either state may fish in any portion of the lakes and rivers forming a common boundary between Louisiana and Texas inland from a line across Sabine Pass between Texas Point and Louisiana Point.
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.
MARCH - Largemouths, Lake Fork
The numbers don't lie. Of the 50 biggest largemouths caught in Texas, 34 came from Fork, including the 18.18-pound current state record caught in 1992.
The restrictive slot limit and superb habitat have made Fork the trophy destination for anglers. As temperatures begin to rise, it's easy to see why. Big sow bass will start to move into the shallows to spawn and are at their most vulnerable for the whole year during time spent lurking near bedding areas cleared off by smaller males.
Among the baits that have been tried and true for catching Fork lunkers are jigs, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, plastic worms and lizards in a variety of colors. It can be tough to see darker baits, especially on cloudy days, and one tip that seems to work for many veteran anglers is to pick a lighter- or brighter-colored bait that fish can see when pitching the shallows in hopes of dragging an offering through a bed.
APRIL - Blue Catfish, Lake Buchanan
The Highland Chain of Lakes long has been a weekend hotspot for anglers from all of Central Texas, and this blue cat hotspot west of Burnet is your best bet this month. While Buchanan also boasts good numbers of channel cats and flatheads, its blue cat population rivals that of Texoma, which some anglers boast is the best for that species in the state.
The lake offers a variety of cover conducive to sustaining healthy catfish numbers. The eastern portion and the area near the dam are rockier than other spots, boasting ledges and rockpiles, which normally hold fish as temperatures slowly rise during the spring. The western portion of the lake features more flats with brush and vegetation. Catfish in Buchanan are susceptible to any kind of stinkbait and cut bait, including punch baits, which easily can be rigged up on a treble hook below a Carolina-rigged egg sinker.
MAY - Stripers, Lake Texoma
Texoma is the prime lake for striped bass in all of America, and the body of water on the Oklahoma border northwest of Denison features a self-sustaining population. Stripers migrate up the Red and Washita River arms in February and March; after spawning they move to open-water areas. The best aspect of summer fishing for stripers is that they will take a variety of baits, including live gizzard shad, their preferred meal.
Among the best places to fish is along the river channel in the main-lake area. Anglers trolling crankbaits and other deep-running lures often can be as successful as those chunking live bait. Other lures that undoubtedly have caught untold numbers of fish are slabs and heavy jigs, which can be worked vertically when you're not able to locate schools of fish chasing shad.
One spectacular way to catch stripers during summer mornings is with topwater plugs fished near shorelines, which also could produce a hefty smallmouth bass.
JUNE - Red Snapper, Gulf of Mexico
Red snapper fishing has become a contentious issue, with state and federal fisheries officials and recreational and commercial anglers squaring off over quotas and season dates. But one thing remains certain: The fish is among the most-sought species by everyone, and for good reason. It's among the best-tasting fish out there.
The fishing season in federal waters in 2016 was limited to less than two weeks, which makes it tough to adequately target the species. However, if you play your cards right and take part in the Gulf Headboat Collaborative, a program that allows only federally permitted headboat captains to fish for red snapper all year as long as they have not exhausted their allocations for the species, you can bring home some great-eating filets.
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 that are at least 16 inches long, while the daily framework in Texas' state waters — where fishing is allowed year-round — is four fish that must be at least 15 inches.
JULY - Channel Catfish, Lake Tawakoni
When it's hot, head to this 37,000-acre lake to take part in a catfish haul unlike anything you've seen. West Tawakoni was deemed the "Catfish Capital of Texas" by the Legislature in 2001, and for good reason. It sits on the banks of your best bet for catfish angling.
Tawakoni's massive channel catfish population continues to thrive; anglers can use stinkbait and cut bait, including shrimp and liver, to haul in easy limits of the good-eating fish. The real secret is to bring along sour grain of some kind and bait up a few holes you intend to fish.
The easiest channel cat rig is a treble hook below an egg sinker on a swivel, which can be used to hold punch baits or any other kind of offering you have. The daily bag limit on channel cats is 25 fish at least 12 inches long, and if you have a couple of friends or family along with you, it can make for plenty of filets destined for the peanut oil later.
AUGUST - Speckled Trout, Laguna Madre
The area from south of Corpus Christi to past Baffin Bay is an ecosystem suited to lots of speckled trout. If you had to pick one area to focus on during the middle of summer — whether you prefer to fish from a boat or wade — the "Mother Lagoon" is your best bet.
The deeper channels of the Intracoastal Waterway hold fish in many places, as the critters move deeper when temperatures warm and come up shallower onto the flats when it gets cooler. Live bait remains a staple of trout fishing at this time of year, and catching your own bait can be done with a cast net, simply by patrolling shorelines early in the morning in search of roving mullet or piggy perch.
You're also in luck if you prefer artificial lures. Spoons, paddle-tailed soft plastics and a variety of attractor flies will work just as well, especially when you find schooling trout. Don't forget to shuffle your feet to alert stingrays of your presence if you're wading.
SEPTEMBER - Flounder, Aransas Bay
Flatfish always are a welcome addition to a daily bag limit when you're wading during the late summer and early fall, 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 fish to two with a 14-inch minimum, and they may only be harvested by fishing pole during that two-month period. Flounder will skirt along edges where deeper channels meet shallower bars and will take a number of baits, especially those of the freshly dead variety. One common approach is to fish jigs and other baits on the bottom tipped with a piece of shrimp.
Another good rule of thumb is to look for feeding birds and baitfish activity. Flounder won't be far behind, hoping to catch the remnants of anything that falls to the bottom.
OCTOBER - Redfish, Gulf Beaches And Passes
The redfish run is among the most amazing sights in saltwater angling, and the runs are in full force along Gulf beaches at this time of year.
As the reds 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 a number of offerings, including cracked crabs, shrimp and baitfish of all sizes. They'll readily slam live and dead bait, 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 for anglers who pitch out multiple baits as far as they can and drop the rods into a holder punched into the sand.
The daily bag on redfish is three fish in a slot limit of 20 to 28 inches, though you can keep one over 28 as long as it's affixed with the oversized red drum tag from your saltwater fishing license.
NOVEMBER - Smallmouths, Lake Whitney
Eight of the Top 10 Smallmouths in Texas came from Whitney. When you consider they fight harder pound-for-pound than largemouths, it makes this month a great time to head to Central Texas. Look for rocky structure and you'll find fish not far from it, including along shorelines where creeks flow into this Brazos River impoundment.
Deep-diving crankbaits and Sassy Shads work as good as anything for finding smallmouths at that time of year, especially lures in patterns that imitate crawfish, one of the smallmouth's favorite meals. The fish also could be ganged up around main-lake points in pursuit of moving schools of baitfish. One hotspot to consider is the rocky shoreline that's part of the lake's state park.
Other areas of the lake to look for smallies include the middle and lower portions where the water is clearer and where there is a variety of rocky habitat that will hold fish almost all year.
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 — which is the trophy standard for most gator-trout aficionados. And while the bay gets most of its guide and weekend-angler pressure during the summer, the true diehards head out to these waters in the dead of winter in hopes of catching some of the biggest sow trout around all year.
The keys to fishing this locale and other hotspots during the winter revolve around knowing the nature of specks in cold weather and the impact the temps have on where they're found and their activity levels. Trout react much more slowly in the winter, saving their energy and often looking for larger meals to maximize their efforts.
Slow down your presentation and target the depths differently than you might during early summer mornings when fish will be up super shallow looking for prey. Some of the tried-and-true baits that have helped lure untold numbers of big trout include the slow-sinking Corky and jigs and spoons fished vertically. Lures mimicking baitfish typically are the go-to staple for winter trout anglers.