Ready for another great year of Texas bass fishing? If so, you'd better make plans to fish at least a few of these hot lakes!
If you want to go bass fishing in Texas, you've got a problem: deciding where to go.
It's a good problem to have.
Most states have two or three bass-fishing hotspots. In Texas, 52 bodies of public water have produced largemouth bass weighing 13 pounds or more.
As David Campbell, manager of the Budweiser ShareLunker program for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, is fond of saying, if you want to catch a big bass in Texas, just fish in water.
Think about that. No matter where you wet a line, something big enough to be scary might bite your bait.
Richard McCarty caught this chunk out of some standing timber on Lake Fork, Texas' favorite big-bass lake. (Photo by Larry Hodge/TPWD)
And this spring and summer should be the best time in a long time for you to hook that bass of a lifetime. Most of Texas had ample -- or even too much -- rainfall for 2003 and 2004. A lot of reservoirs rose substantially for the first time in several years.
That'll help fishing this year in two ways: First, the rising waters increased habitat by flooding vegetation that had grown up on dry lake bottoms; second, the wet conditions should keep lake levels high into spring and summer, thus enabling anglers to get back into the shallow areas in which fish spawn. Drop a plastic lizard in front of a big female on her bed, and you'd better hang on.
The TPWD's Inland Fisheries Division splits the state into three regions for management purposes. The huge Region 1 sprawls from the top of the Panhandle across the Big Bend country, curves around the western part of the Hill Country and takes in all of South Texas. Region 2 runs down the middle of the state from the Red River to just north of San Antonio. The rest of the state -- all of East Texas from the Red River to the Gulf Coast and the Arkansas and Louisiana lines -- constitutes Region 3.
We'lle'll use those divisions to give you the run-down on the lakes that TPWD fisheries biologists are betting on to be this year's bass fishing hotspots.
REGION 1: WAY OUT WEST AND WAY DOWN SOUTH
Probably no lakes in Texas benefited more from the rains of 2004 than did Amistad and Falcon. By summer of 2002, Falcon was 54 feet below normal pool level and covered only 13,000 acres. The situation on Amistad was also dire; in August 1998, the lake was more than 58 feet low and covered 20,905 acres.
And then it rained -- and rained -- and rained. By July 2004, Falcon covered 62,822 acres and Amistad swelled to 44,396 acres.
"I am very excited about both lakes and expect great things from them this year and for many years to come," said district biologist Jimmy Dean. "When the water increased, that created new habitat. In essence it created a new lake."
By July 2004 the TPWD had stocked 552,000 Florida bass and 42,000 northern bass into Amistad. "Most of the stocked fish are 1.5-inch fingerlings that should grow to legal, catchable size within one to two years," Dean noted. "However, we have also stocked hundreds of larger broodfish weighing 5 to 8 pounds each to help jump-start these fisheries."
Dean advises keying on hydrilla in deep water, rocky points and steep dropoffs along the shore. "Anglers should catch lots and lots of smaller fish," he said, "since we have two strong year-classes coming on; they should also be catching a lot of legal fish. Plus there are still a lot of 7- to 10-pound fish in the reservoir. The outlook is very promising."
Falcon is coming back strong, too. "When a drought hits Falcon, the majority of habitat can disappear, since it is a more shallow, spread-out lake than Amistad," Dean explained. "Right now we have thousands of acres of flooded terrestrial vegetation, including trees, that grew during the drought. Some of the areas are too thick to get boats through, but other areas will provide great places to fish.
"We expect tons of small fish to be caught, along with very good numbers of legal-sized fish. There are still reports of 10-pound-plus fish being caught, so the trophy potential still exists."
The TPWD stocked the lake with 313,739 Florida bass in 2003 and followed up in 2004 with more than 664,000 Florida bass fingerlings, 185 Florida bass brooders and 174,000 northern largemouth fingerlings.
As for what baits to use, Dean says that you should stick with what you have confidence in, although he adds that tackle-shop talk runs to white spinnerbaits, red plastics, shad-colored crankbaits and crawfish-colored crankbaits and plastics.
One thing's for sure: The improved habitat for bass also produces more shad, and you'll seldom go wrong with a lure that imitates what the fish are used to eating.
Sleeper of the year has to be Lake Alan Henry, a 2,800-acre reservoir about 45 miles southeast of Lubbock. In October 2003 Baldomero Singleterry of Lubbock landed a 13.14-pound largemouth. On April 2 Bruce Butler of Canyon hauled in a 14.8-pound lunker. Guide T.J. Taylor caught a 13.85-pounder in mid-April.
Taylor reports having caught 22 bass over 10 pounds between Jan. 1 and April 13. Soft plastics in 3 feet of water seem to have been the secret. If you want to catch a trophy bass, Lake Alan Henry deserves a look.
REGION 2: BASS DOWN THE MIDDLE
Bruce Hysmith's territory includes lakes Texoma and Ray Roberts, but his first two picks were tiny lakes in the Caddo National Grasslands: Lake Davy Crockett (350 acres) and Coffee Mill Lake (650 acres).
"I have to go with these two lakes based on catch per unit of effort," Hysmith said. "These lakes are mighty small by Texas standards, but they offer great largemouth bass fishing. I have referred many float-tube anglers to these lakes, especially Davy Crockett, and have received rave reviews. One angler reports it is the best largemouth bass fishing he has ever encountered. He likes to topwater early and follow up with a Texas-rigged worm."
At Coffee Mill, throw spinnerbaits along the willows and the dam in spring; switch to worms and crankbaits in summer.
Small lakes can get crowded, but huge 89,000-acre Texoma has plenty of casting room. Texoma is primarily known for its striped bass fishing, but smallmouths have come on strong since being stocked in the 1980s, Hysmith says. "They seem to shine t
he best in the spring," he offered, "especially in the lower lake around rocky shorelines and in partially submerged willows on the north bank of the main pool. Largemouth bass are distributed fairly well lake-wide."
Hysmith is also bullish on "Ray Bob," though recent surveys have shown the bass population to be down somewhat. "The surveys don't really do this lake justice," he said. "We have witnessed or showed up right after anglers caught 10-pound-plus bass during creel surveys. Jerry Rogers of Wichita, Kan., who holds the lake record of 14.59 pounds, still comes to the lake and reports some of the best largemouth fishing anywhere."
According to TPWD fish and wildlife technician Wes Dutter, Arrowhead, Kickapoo and Millers Creek reservoirs benefited from 2004's good rains. "The rain inundated a large amount of terrestrial vegetation," he observed, "and these areas should stay flooded and, hopefully, catch more water before spring arrives. This means that the bass will be easier to target in the vegetation."
Dutter recommends Arrowhead for fish in the 4- to 6-pound range. "Target the fish with spinnerbaits and crankbaits in and around the vegetation and rocky points," he said. "Once you locate the fish, you can get more precise with Texas- and Carolina-rigged worms. Darker colors of soft plastics will work best. I would concentrate on the areas near the dam, Arrowhead State Park, and Henrietta bridge."
You go to Kickapoo for numbers; since the lake's bass have had no infusion of Florida genes, the lake record is only 5.12 pounds. "The lake is primarily rocky bank, and will be best fished with crankbaits and spinnerbaits in white/chartreuse or chartreuse/blue," Dutter said.
For both numbers and some big fish, try Millers Creek. The lake record of 11.19 pounds was set last June.
"During the spring I would concentrate on fencerows, points, and creek bends with trees or brush on them," Dutter offered. "The face of the dam can also produce nice fish using spinnerbaits, crankbaits, flukes, jigs, worms, and lizards.
"If the water is up you can get back to the bridge, another great area to fish in the spring. The lake has lots of large coves with good creekbeds running to the back of them. Follow these contours to a brushpile or fencerow, and you should find fish."
Stephan Magnelia says that Lake Austin consistently produces the biggest bass in the southern part of Region 2 and should be excellent this year. It's overrun by pleasure boaters in summer, so unless you can go at midweek or very early in the morning at that time of year, early spring offers the best fishing.
Target aquatic vegetation above the Loop 360 bridge. The spawn may be somewhat later in the upper part of the lake, owing to cold water being released from Lake Travis upstream. Look for bedded bass in the backs of major creeks and around marinas and other artificial structure.
Fayette County Reservoir consistently ranks near the top in terms of average weight and fish caught per hour. Two- to 5-pound fish are relatively easy to catch during most of the year, with February through June being the peak months.
If lipless crankbaits don't produce, switch to a Carolina-rigged french fry or lizard around points, the dam, and dropoffs. Suspending jerkbaits work well in early spring. As the water warms, go to floating jerkbaits. Fayette is a power-plant reservoir, so expect bass to be active earlier in the year than they are at cooler lakes.
If you've fished Lake Waco before, you need to take another look. Since October 2003 the conservation pool level has been raised 7 feet, creating about 1,500 acres of new habitat with flooded trees along almost every bank, says biologist John Tibbs.
"The lake has always had a reputation as a good largemouth bass fishery," he reported, "but the new water should bring new anglers and improve the bass population as well."
The TPWD stocked Florida largemouth bass this spring. Anglers who enjoy a challenge have the chance to find the patterns and techniques that will work in the new water.
REGION 3: CALL (555) TRY-FORK FOR A GOOD TIME
If you don't know what a Budweiser ShareLunker is, it'll mean nothing to you that Richard McCarty has caught three. The Lake Fork fishing guide has boated -- and donated to the TPWD for spawning purposes -- largemouth bass weighing 13.56, 14.07, and 13.56 pounds.
Those are impressive fish weights!
Since March 2003, TPWD biologists Kevin Storey and Randy Myers have been surveying anglers on Lake Fork. Through August of this year, 3,137 bass weighing 7 pounds or more had been reported. Nineteen weighed 13 pounds or better; 930 fish tipped the scales from 9 to 12 pounds.
Of the 360-plus fish entered in the ShareLunker program, about 60 percent have come from Lake Fork. Obviously, Fork is the lake for you if you want to target big bass. It may be even better than the statistics indicate.
McCarty has a theory as to why people don't catch even more big fish at Fork. "If a guy has bass patterned on a spinnerbait and is catching a nice fish out of a bush every third or fourth cast, he's not going to want to leave that," he said. "But I think if you want to catch really big bass, you have to do something a little different."
McCarty's "something different" would drive most people crazy. He'll fish a spot no bigger than a basketball hoop for an hour in a battle of wills with a big female that won't bite. Sure, it's frustrating to see a huge fish ignore your lure time after time after time -- but McCarty knows that patience sometimes pays off.
"In early morning I throw a topwater bait," he said. "I keep a rod rigged with a plastic lizard close at hand in case a big fish blows up on the topwater. Lots of times a bass will slam a moving bait out of anger and show itself, but it's not aggressive enough to eat it. I go right back in there with a lizard, and 30 to 40 percent of the time, I'll catch that fish."
McCarty also works shallow bedding areas, sight-fishing for bedded bass. Once he spots a fish's bed, he pitches a green plastic lizard right onto the bed and watches her reaction. "When I pitch the lure on that spot and she turns on it real fast, I know I'll catch her," he explained. "It's just a matter of pitching it enough times, or the right sequence of pitches, to make her bite."
If you catch a fish weighing 13 pounds or more, call (903) 681-0550 to donate it to the Budweiser ShareLunker program. Your fellow bass anglers and the state of Texas will be glad you did!
Sam Rayburn had a largemouth bass virus kill in 1998, but biologist Todd Driscoll says that "Big Sam" is back. The lake is heavily fished by tournament anglers, so there's lots of data to support Driscoll's contention.
"Results have stabilized at what we saw pre-kill," he said. Five-fish limits in t
ournaments can average better than 6 pounds per fish, and 10-pounders are not uncommon.
Fishing guide Will Kirkpatrick says that the part of the lake south of the Highway 147 bridge has the best habitat and fishing conditions, especially the north shoreline of the lake along the Angelina River. Rayburn typically enjoys high water in spring, which makes it possible to fish shallow vegetation.
"Key on newly emerging hydrilla or better yet, eel grass," he said. "Bass will pick it over all other kinds of vegetation."
By June the spawn will be over, and hydrilla beds will be 2 to 3 feet below the surface. "This makes for prime topwater and buzzbait fishing," Kirkpatrick said. "Fish major flats and points with Texas- or Carolina-rigged soft plastics. Run crankbaits 4 to 6 feet deep along the outside edges of hydrilla. The top areas will be Farmers, Needmore, and Caney flats as well as the bigger bays -- Five Fingers, Coleman, Veach Basin."
Other highly rated lakes in East Texas are Monticello, Big Creek, Purtis Creek, Fairfield, Pinkston, Raven, and Conroe. Don't overlook Lake Athens, either. All-time top money winner Denny Brauer fished it in August 2004 and said he couldn't believe how good it is.
Surfing the Internet is a lot more efficient than running up and down the highway pulling a boat as you look for a good place to fish. Massive amounts of information are available to help you plan your fishing trips and make the most of your time on the water. Start with the following sites and Go Fish Texas!