No matter where you go in our state, you aren't far from good bass fishing. These waters are prime examples of what we're talking about. (March 2006)
A year ago, the big-bass battle in the Lone Star State looked something like an Old West shootout between two top gunslingers.
By the time the smoke cleared, upstart Alan Henry, the 2,880-acre water body southeast of Lubbock, had claimed the lunker bass title, taking it in shocking fashion over Lake Fork, the 27,764-acre perennial big-bass ruler of Texas, by a final ShareLunker program count of nine bass to seven.
That said, if the 2005 Texas big-bass race was a duel, then this year's version might be more akin to the legendary Wild West shoot-'em-up at the OK Corral!
"We're real excited about this," said Phil Durocher, the director of inland fisheries for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in Austin. "We've had a lot of large fish caught this past summer -- an unusual number of 10- and 12-pound fish caught -- so things should be good this year.
"I'm looking at absolutely an 'A' kind of year -- maybe an 'A-plus." That's because of the resurgence of lakes like Amistad, Falcon, and Choke Canyon, which have been down in recent years as far as lake levels are concerned. The steady lakes like Fork and Sam Rayburn are going to be there, too, so it's going to be just about as good as it can get."
With all that in mind, here's a region-by-region look at what Texas bass anglers can expect to find at some of their favorite waters around the state this year.
Mention East Texas bassin' at the local coffee shop and the talk immediately turns to the state's crown jewel, Lake Fork, home to what's arguably the best bass angling action in the entire U.S.
Such a claim is easily bolstered by Fork's legendary numbers, which include a total (as of the end of last season) of 222 ShareLunker largemouths weighing 13 pounds or better! Those fish include, of course, Barry St. Clair's current state-record largemouth bass -- an 18.18-pound fish caught on Jan. 24, 1992.
What can anglers expect from Lake Fork this year? More of the same, says Kelly Jordan, the young-gun bass pro from Mineola with four wins on the CITGO Bassmaster Tour and one on the FLW Tour in recent years.
"Fork -- it's really coming into its own again," Jordan remarked. "It's recovered every year since the largemouth bass virus hit. After the virus hit, the numbers were good, and two years ago, I thought we were getting pretty close to having big fish back like we have had in the past. But the year 2005 was the best year since 1999 for big fish, so -- unless something crazy happens -- (2006) will be a banner year on Lake Fork."
Kevin Storey, the TPWD area biologist in charge of managing Fork's treasured bass resources, sees no reason to disagree. "We don't have any information that suggests that it will be dramatically different," he said.
For proof, Storey pointed to recent numbers in the TPWD's ongoing Lake Fork Trophy Bass Survey -- in which anglers, guides and marinas on the lake voluntarily report bass weighing 7 pounds or more -- that show the big-bass fishing at Fork to be about as good as it's ever been.
As of press time, a total of 4,696 bass had been reported since the survey began in March 2003. That includes a staggering 1,381 such bass reported by anglers from January 2005 to August 2005 alone.
Even more encouraging: last summer's big-bass catches including 162 fish weighing 7 pounds or more caught in June, 166 in July, and a surprising 83 in August. Amazingly, because August is the hottest month of the year, that last figure includes eight bass that weighed more than 10-pounds!
Keep in mind as you read this that those big bass have been sacking away the groceries over the fall and winter months. On top of that, the lake's big females are currently putting on weight as this year's spawning peak approaches. Add it all up, and Fork appears primed for another great year.
Of course, Fork isn't the only big-bass water that can turn heads in East Texas. Sam Rayburn Reservoir -- the 114,500-acre bass factory near Jasper known informally as "Big Sam" -- appears to be on the comeback trail heading into 2006.
"Sam Rayburn fell on hard times with the virus," said Durocher, who added that declining water levels didn't help matters either. "But things appear to have stabilized now, and we've had a couple of good years of stable water and spawns. We're getting a large number of good fish back into the fishery."
That seems accurate, given Big Sam's two ShareLunker bass of a year ago: Mark A. LeBlanc's 13.59-pounder of March 5, and Nick Brinlee's 13.36 bass of April 20. Amazingly, those two fish were Big Sam's first such ShareLunker entries since 2002, and only the fourth since 1998 -- proof that a lake with 22 overall SL entries was indeed going through a rough patch at that point.
And don't forget that East Texas has plenty of other small-, medium-, and large-sized bass waters as well. According to Durocher, spots like Bob Sandlin, Caddo, Murvaul, Lake O' the Pines, and Toledo Bend (among others) could produce solid bass fishing as well this year.
A year ago, West Texas stole the statewide big-bass headlines as Alan Henry outdueled Lake Fork for Lone Star supremacy. This year, don't be surprised if that battle shifts south, perhaps all the way to the Texas-Mexico border on the Rio Grande River.
Thanks to recent abundant rainfall, three South Texas lakes can be looked to specifically to turn out great bass action this year. "Choke Canyon, Amistad, and Falcon -- they all caught significant amounts of water in recent years," said Bob Farquhar, TPWD's inland fisheries biologist in charge of West and South Texas waters. Such positive precipitation trends have helped to erase drought conditions that the San Angelo-based biologist said were among the worst experienced in those portions of the state since the dry 1950s.
Much of the recent drought centered on West Texas watersheds, and so led to severe water losses at Amistad Reservoir, lying on the Rio Grande west of Del Rio, and Falcon International Reservoir, which straddles the river downstream from Del Rio. "Falcon was down to where it looked like a river channel," Farquhar said. "Amistad still looked like a lake, but at one time, it was 40 or 50 feet low."
Thanks to heavy, tropically induced rainfall, both border lakes are pretty much full again, and that bodes well for these two desert-country giants. Amis
tad covers 64,900 acres, Falcon 83,654 -- and those waters, according to Farquhar, contain a very high percentage of bass carrying genes from the Florida strain of largemouths. "Our samples show that as many as 90 percent of the fish are pure Floridas or have some influence," he said.
Combine the vastly improved water levels, recently inundated cover, a solid gene pool, and outpost-like locations, and it's easy to see why Durocher is bullish on these two South Texas waters for the months to come. "Falcon in the next three or four years will become as good as it's ever been," Durocher said of the lake with six total ShareLunker bass, including one a year ago.
Mind you, things aren't too shabby at Amistad. While the reservoir has produced only two ShareLunker bass to date -- the last in February 2000 -- that figure could change soon. Amistad had a lot of brush that was flooded, and so it's going to be good too.
"BASS is going to have a tournament down there," Durocher said, "and I think those guys will be absolutely amazed at what is caught."
That tournament, "the Battle on the Border" (slated for March 9-12 as of press time), will feature bass angling's top pro anglers fishing what will be for many of them a more or less unfamiliar venue. "It's so far away and it doesn't get a lot of pressure like a Sam Rayburn or a Lake Fork," Durocher said. "And you know how those pros are: They'll catch them. In fact, the ShareLunker season will be well under way then, so I would not be surprised to have a couple of 13-pounders come out of that lake during that tournament."
Amistad and Falcon could be hot angling stops this year; 25,670-acre Choke Canyon Reservoir northwest of Corpus Christi already is. "It's probably the hottest lake in the state of Texas right now in terms of going out and catching numbers of fish," Durocher remarked. "It filled about four years ago when there was a considerable amount of flooding in that country."
Such rains proved to be timely for the reservoir's bass population. "The lake was down for a lot of years and there was a lot of brush that had grown up and flooded," Durocher said, noting that such flooding inundated plenty of nursery cover needed to protect young bass fingerlings. "Plus, there was a tremendous influx of nutrients from the vegetation and the stuff that washed down in the flood."
According to the inland fisheries director, there are plenty of fish in Choke Canyon now "getting of size." That's good news for a water body that has produced four ShareLunker bass, including one a year ago.
"If you want to catch 30, 40, or 50 fish in the 3- to 5-pound range and have the opportunity to catch an 8- or 9-pounder, that would be the place to go," Durocher said. "That's where I would go."
Of course, many West Texas anglers will argue that Alan Henry Reservoir is the state's hottest bass lake right now. And they would certainly have a valid argument, since Alan Henry has produced 14 ShareLunker bass since February 2000, including nine SL program fish a year ago.
Part of Alan Henry's big-bass surge has to do with the lake's relatively consistent water levels in recent years. "Sure, I think that's what has helped it so far," the TPWD's Bob Farquhar said. "No one, including the city of Lubbock, is using water out of it yet. Plus, it filled in stages."
That slow increase in the water level allowed Alan Henry to increase in size gradually, inundating new cover that has helped to support not only the lake's young-of-the-year largemouths but also the forage fish necessary to support a healthy bass population.
Impounded in 1993, Alan Henry's bass are certainly coming of age, with nine fish ranging from 13 pounds to 13.82 pounds caught a year ago. But the big question seems to be: Will the West Texas big-bass honeyhole enjoy another banner year in 2006?
"If I had a crystal ball," said Farquhar of his 2006 expectations, "I would say it would have another few good fish caught -- maybe another fish in the 13-pound range, and maybe, with a little luck, a 14 or a 15. "I know there are still some big fish in there, and they'll have another year of growth, but the anglers know they're in there, and they'll be targeting them. The word is out on Alan Henry."
Even given the fact that the lake is basically a canyon lake with deep sides, with a lot of places for fish to hide, such intense angling pressure could somewhat blunt the productive edge this body of water has heretofore enjoyed. Overall, expect Alan Henry's torrid ShareLunker pace of 2005 to slow a bit this year, but don't be surprised if anglers catch a headline-maker or two -- or three, or '¦ well, I think you get the picture.
Keep in mind that Alan Henry isn't the whole of the good bass-fishing news in West Texas. The return of the rains in recent years and the TPWD's continuing restocking of Florida-strain largemouths at many locations combine to indicate that fisheries like O.C. Fisher Reservoir, O.H. Ivie Lake, and Twin Buttes Reservoir are primed to shine again one day soon -- especially if outbreaks of toxic golden algae don't return to the region.
Toward the Red River, Durocher noted, two North Texas lakes could raise a big bass eyebrow or two in 2006. In fact, one of those lakes -- 29,592-acre Lake Lewisville, north of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex -- has already done just that with a sizzling summertime big-bass run last year that produced three lake records in a span of less than two months. BASS pro Kevin VanDam, the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Classic champ, got the record parade started in June with a then-lake-record 11-pound, 13-ounce largemouth, and Charles Pratt capped the run in late July with the current lake record bass weighing 12.67-pounds.
"Several years ago, they raised the level (of the dam) on that lake," the TPWD's Durocher said. "When you do that, you flood a lot of good habitat. That changed the complexion of that lake. We knew the population would jump, and it did -- it's almost a new lake."
Durocher believes that nearby 25,600-acre Lake Ray Roberts could also produce a big bass blitz soon. "I'm just waiting for Ray Roberts to explode," he stated. "I think it has as much potential as any of these lakes."
While "Ray Bob" has given up just four ShareLunker fish to date -- the last was a 13.9-pound bass caught by Roger Frazier Jr. on March 6, 2005 -- Durocher has plenty of reason to back up his big-bass hopes for this water body lying in Cooke, Denton, and Grayson counties.
"You've got to have three things to raise big fish," he said. "First, you've got to have a fish that can get big -- the Florida bass -- and Ray Roberts has a lot of them. Plus, you've got to have a good food supply, and Ray Roberts has a lot of food there. And they've got to live long enough. Ray Roberts has some pressure, but it's less than some lakes, so maybe they can live long enough to get there. I would love to see it."
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Durocher certainly must love seeing at the moment is a state chockfull of waters that can furnish anglers with some really good bassin'. In fact, there are so many noteworthy bass lakes across the Lone Star State that there's simply not enough space to cover all of them in this article. After all, 52 different Lone Star State bodies of water -- from Lake Austin to Lake Conroe to Richland-Chambers to Possum Kingdom to White River Reservoir -- have yielded ShareLunker fish since the program began in 1986.
But for all of those once-in-a-lifetime bass that have been caught -- more than 390 ShareLunkers had been entered into the records at press time -- what really makes Texas' bass fishing the best in the land is that anglers regularly land untold numbers of good-sized but not double-digit-weight largemouths.
"Anglers like to talk about the 13-pounders," Durocher said, "but the bread-and-butter fish in Texas is the 8- and 9-pound fish -- that's where we excel. There are a lot of those being caught all over the state.
"As far as 8- or 9-pounders go, overall, Texas is the best spot to catch them. We're trying to produce fishing that gives people an opportunity to catch the fish of a lifetime; that's what they come here for."
And you can rest assured that in 2006, as in other years, that is no Texas tall tale."