September 02, 2021
By Ken Duke
As the saying goes, everything is bigger in Texas, and that certainly applies to the largemouth bass at Camelot Bell, a bass-fishing wonderland in the east-central part of the state.
Mike Frazier, owner and operator of Camelot Bell, claims he "stumbled into" what would become Texas' premier trophy bass pay-to-play destination, and that may be true. But it's also true that he's made the most of it.
Frazier bought the 160 acres that he turned into Camelot Bell in 1997. What started with a single lake has now become three, and the trio has produced lunker largemouth bass weighing up to 16 pounds, 4 ounces, as well as male brood fish weighing in the double digits.
How he did it is a story of determination, tough decisions and a commitment to a bass dynasty.
"First of all, it was critical that there were no creeks or streams draining into my lake," Frazier says. "I didn’t want any other predators or any other strains of bass getting in the way."
The lakes at Camelot Bell feature pure Florida bass (Micropterus salmoides floridanus) and a variety of forage that Frazier oversees with an ever vigilant eye and an iron fist. These include threadfin and gizzard shad, bluegill, redear sunfish, crawfish, tilapia and even rainbow trout that he stocks in winter.
As Frazier explains with understatement, "You can spend a lot of money at this game!"
His investment started with building the 40-acre lake that Frazier calls "Bell." With the help of a biologist friend, he stocked it with 250 pure Florida bass and plenty of food. The genetics have served him well.
The tendency of Florida bass to grow to sizes that others in the Micropterus genus cannot reach is well-established. The biggest largemouths ever recorded have been either pure Floridas or intergrades between Florida bass and their Northern cousins. Even so, Frazier’s success has been remarkable.
Apart from superior genetics, a big part of Frazier's system is simply the commitment to stick with it and to make hard decisions.
"You can manage for numbers of bass," he says, "or you can manage for the biggest bass possible, but you can't do both on the same body of water."
One of those hard decisions involves catch-and-release. Long the standard at virtually all managed fisheries in the bass world, it does not work at Camelot Bell. Here, only the biggest fish are released.
"I don't want anglers releasing any small fish they catch," Frazier said. "Those fish are competing with my big bass for food. I need them to be taken out."
But these culls are not wasted. Instead, Frazier removes 30 to 40 pounds of bass per surface acre each year and sells them to "aquapreneurs" who want what he has—a spectacular trophy fishery with superior genetics. He gets top dollar for these fish, too. Most of the bass he sells weigh between 1 1/2 and 4 pounds, a great start to any new bass water.
The name "Camelot Bell" comes from two references. John Bell was an important personality in the area decades before Frazier arrived, so he kept the name when he purchased some of the old Bell place. "Camelot," of course, is a reference to Arthurian legend and the Knights of the Round Table.
Bell measures about 40 surface acres, and it's the current headliner in his lake lineup. The giants that the bass world has heard about came from Bell, but another lake, Wolfpack, has recently joined the spotlight, and a third is about to come online.
Wolfpack is also roughly 40 acres, and Frazier opened it to angling just a few years ago after stocking it with some of the best fish from Bell. He calls it his "super-lunker program," and he's expecting big things out of Wolfpack in 2021, including catches of 30 to 200 bass a day, many in the leviathan class.
It doesn't take long for bass to get big in Bell or Wolfpack. Frazier says because they're the only real predators in the water and there's a super-abundance of high-protein food available all year long, the bass grow 3 to 4 pounds per year. A little quick math puts them in the double-digit category in less than four years.
If that's not enough to whet your big bass appetite, Frazier has just impounded a third bass haven on his property that will be even bigger—and, he says, better—than Bell or Wolfpack. "The Round Table" will cover 80 acres and be stocked with fingerlings from his select brood stock. It should be open to fishing in about three years.
Camelot Bell stays busiest in March and April and tends to stay booked through May. No surprise there. That's when the bass in this part of Texas are typically shallow and aggressive. But you can catch them at other times, too, and some frequent visitors recommend summer and winter fishing when the bass patterns stabilize.
Most, however, agree that fall is the most challenging time. With so much bait to choose from, it can be hard for an artificial to get noticed then, especially if there's a tilapia kill in the cool weather.
Keep in mind, too, that these are Florida bass, which are notorious for shutting down after a cold front. Early season warming trends are the stuff to write home about, but a cold snap can change everything for the worse.
Two area anglers who are frequent visitors to Camelot Bell and sing its praises loudly are Major League Fishing pro Kelly Jordon and Texas bass expert Chris Mahfouz. They've been fishing the lakes for about a decade in all seasons and under all sorts of conditions. In the process, they've established quite a resume.
Mahfouz has fished the lakes more than 100 times through the years, and Bell produced his personal best largemouth—a 14-pound, 12-ounce behemoth that struck on his first visit. He’s had 10 trips in which his best five bass would have exceeded 50 pounds, and he and a buddy struck gold on a February warming trend last year, boating five bass that totaled more than 55 pounds. He believes that Wolfpack has a chance to produce a new state record, which currently sits at 18.18 pounds, one day soon.
"The first time I fished Bell was in March of 2011," Mahfouz said. "In my first 10 casts I caught the 14-12 on a jig and an 8-pounder on the very next cast. A little later, I stuck a fish so big that I couldn't turn it."
Jordon's experience is similar, though he's fished Camelot Bell only about a dozen times, often with Mahfouz. His biggest bass there weighed 12 pounds, 9 ounces, and was also taken on his first visit.
”These lakes are just phenomenal," Jordon says. "There's never really a bad time to go, and you're always just a cast away from the fish of a lifetime. It's the most amazing lunker factory I've ever seen."
When it comes to gear, Jordon and Mahfouz see little need for finesse. Stick to fluorocarbon testing 15 pounds or more and braids up to 50. Rod actions should be medium-heavy to heavy. As Jordon puts it, "You're bear hunting. Don't bring a knife."
And your favorite bass baits are likely to fare quite well at Camelot Bell. Big swimbaits, crankbaits, plastic worms, jigs, spinnerbaits and bladed jigs all have their moments. Jordon, one of the best flippers and pitchers on the tournament trail, says there's not much in the way of heavy cover to flip or pitch. Most of the bass cover is in the form of brush piles, standing timber and rocks.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Camelot Bell is located in Limestone County, about 35 miles northwest of Waco. The nearest town, Coolidge, had a population of 955 as of the last census.
As you might expect, the fishing at Camelot Bell is not cheap. Frazier charges and gets $1,200 per day for a single angler and $1,500 per day for two anglers fishing in the same boat. There are also rates for larger groups.
If that seems pricey, consider this: One of the things you get for your money is lake exclusivity. There will be no other parties on "your" lake for the day(s) you book. If you're part of a group of four, you can put one boat on Bell and the other on Wolfpack and not see another angler all day. Having some of the best trophy bass waters in the nation all to yourself (or with a fishing buddy) is a pretty special experience, and the efforts to create that experience came at great expense.
If you're interested in staying on-property, there are three cabins that overlook the water and can accommodate as many as nine persons total. For more information, visit camelotbell.com.