Around the state of Texas, bass-fishing lakes are as common as hot days in July -- and at these places this year, you can find largemouth action that's just as hot! (March 2007)
Photo by Tom Evans
Looking for a good place to go bass fishing this spring? Well -- how about 25 good places?
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries biologists checked their creel surveys, stocking reports and electrofishing results, pondered the probable weather, and gazed into their crystal balls to select the 25 lakes that, they predict, will offer the best bass fishing in 2007.
Whether you're hoping to land a lunker or have an action-packed day catching more bass than you ever believed possible, at least one of the lakes below should provide the kind of fishing you're looking for.
Perhaps the most valuable resource for anglers targeting spring bass is the Budweiser ShareLunker database on the TPWD Web site. If you want to know where and when to fish, and what lure to use, for big bass in the spring, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/ visitorcenters/tffc/budsharelunker/ is a good place to start.
THE WILD, WET WEST
There's a saying about Texas weather: If you don't like it, give it a minute -- it'll change.
West Texas had to wait a lot longer -- nearly 10 years -- for rains to break a persistent drought, but when the rains did come, beginning in 2004, anglers found a lot to like about the results.
Lake Amistad rebounded most dramatically, rising from some 50 feet low to near normal level and flooding tens of thousands of acres of brush and other vegetation that had grown up on dry lake bottom. Bass responded to the improved habitat by spawning madly, resulting in a lake swarming with largemouths and not a few smallmouths. If you want to catch bass, and a lot of them, with a very good chance of some 8-pound or better fish as well, Amistad may well be the best lake in the nation.
Far to the north of Amistad is another "A" lake, Alan Henry. This small lake southeast of Lubbock has gained fame the last three years by rivaling fabled Lake Fork in Budweiser ShareLunker production. During the 2005-06 season, Alan Henry actually produced more ShareLunkers than Fork did!
Alan Henry's small size is both an asset and a liability for anglers. The lake's reputation and location near a metropolitan area populated with dedicated anglers means it will be crowded nearly every day of the week during the spring. It doesn't take many bass boats to fill up a 2,800-acre lake. However, the amount of shallow spawning water is limited, since Alan Henry is a typical West Texas "canyon" lake, making it easier to find and target bedded fish, if that's your desire. Some successful anglers bank-fish up Gobbler Creek.
Lake Arrowhead may be the sleeper in the west. It's chock-full of largemouths with Florida influence, and an abundant crappie population lets them grow fast. Because the water is often turbid, throw noisy baits like spinners or buzzbaits; when using worms, go with black and blue.
Some of the West Texas lakes that benefited most from rains were those around San Angelo, said the TPWD's Craig Bonds. "The best bass fishing in and around San Angelo for 2007 will be at O.H. Ivie and Twin Buttes reservoirs," he advised. "O.H. Ivie's bass population is rebuilding after abundant year-classes were produced following water level rises and increased habitat in 2004 and 2005. Our angler creel surveys indicated anglers caught largemouth bass in 2006 at twice the rate as in 2005, although fish tended to be under 14 inches. The 2004 and 2005 year-classes will have had time to grow larger by 2007, improving angler catches of quality-sized fish.
"We've also heard reports of high angler catch rates and decent bass tournament limits caught from Twin Buttes Reservoir, which also benefited from water level rises in 2005, even though levels declined steeply during 2006. We're currently praying hard for rain."
THE DRY EAST
East Texans are praying for rain, too. From Dallas southeast toward the Louisiana border is ordinarily the wettest part of the state, but during 2006 the region was gripped by drought classified by the weather experts as extreme and in some cases exceptional -- worse than the 1950s drought, in fact. Lakes shrank, boat ramps popped out of the water -- and the fishing got better.
Yes -- better: The fish were still there, in less water and with less cover to hide in. Access became the problem on many lakes with shallow boat ramps. Check out the Web site www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fishboat/fish/ recreational/lakes/ for current information on lake conditions.
"The drought has not hurt Sam Rayburn that badly," said Todd Driscoll, TPWD fisheries biologist whose beat includes Big Sam, Toledo Bend, and a number of lesser-known East Texas lunker factories. "If we have normal rainfall between now and March, the lake will be 3 to 5 feet above conservation pool and will have lots of flooded brush" -- which, if current weather forecasts for a weak El NiÃ±o event in the winter of 2006-07 are accurate, exactly describes the conditions that should prevail at that time.
"All the East Texas lakes fish pretty much the same in March," Driscoll continued. "Fish move to the banks into spawning pockets. The best fishing is in less than 10 feet of water. The best lures to use are soft plastics like wacky worms or Senko-type baits. It's almost foolproof if you get in a shallow cove out of the wind and use a subtle presentation."
At Sam Rayburn, Driscoll advised, fish the lower half of the lake in spring. "The upper end is more susceptible to rainfall muddying the water," he reasons. "Protected pockets and coves in the lower half are the best bet-pockets around Needmore Point, Farmers Flats, Buck Bay, Caney Creek, Harvey Creek, Veach Basin."
Toledo Bend is a whole different ball game, Driscoll pointed out. "The lake is at a historic low," he said. "I would be surprised to see it full come March. However, at Toledo Bend the same general pattern as at Rayburn is replicated. Good areas will be Six-Mile Creek, Housen Bayou, and Indian Mounds. If the lake remains low, and we catch 4 to 5 feet of water and have access, fishing will be good. In fact, it will be really good, because fish won't have all the brush to hide out in, and they will be susceptible to being caught."
Driscoll also named three lakes that often get overlooked by anglers zeroing in on the big waters. "Pinkston, a small lake west of Center, is my favorite lake to fish in the springtime," he averred. "It held the state record in
the mid-1980s. What makes it neat is folks with smaller boats or less experience have the fish hemmed in. The lake is 560 acres, and it's basically one big spawning bed. There is no place you can go and not have fish. Tie on a wacky worm and throw it all day long, and you can have a 50- to 80-fish day."
Another point in Lake Pinkston's favor is that it is one of the research lakes in the TPWD's Operation World Record program. The lake, along with five others, is being stocked with fish from the Budweiser ShareLunker program as part of a program to document the growth potential of Florida largemouth bass in Texas. While the ultimate goal of the program is to produce the next world-record largemouth, the more immediate result is likely to be the fish of a lifetime on the end of many an angler's line.
If numbers are your aim, Lake Nacogdoches is for you. "It has lots of big fish, too," Driscoll said. "It's about 2,100 acres and has lots of vegetation, primarily hydrilla. Use the same basic pattern as for the other lakes. Be aware that both Pinkston and Nacogdoches have 14-to-21-inch-slot limits."
In far northeast Texas, TPWD fisheries biologist Michael Brice chose four lakes as his favorites: Gilmer, Caddo, Monticello, and Bob Sandlin. "Gilmer Reservoir is definitely one to keep an eye on," he offered. "It's about 1,000 acres and was opened to the public in September 2001. Hydrilla and flooded timber are the dominant vegetation types. We recently conducted a year-long creel survey at Gilmer and saw high angler catch rates of quality-sized bass. Additionally, several 10- to 12-pound bass were caught there this past year. I would not be surprised if a Budweiser ShareLunker was caught there in the very near future."
Caddo Lake is seemingly associated chiefly with idyllic boat trips through moss-draped trees, but it's also a perennial big-bass producer. Since 1996, Bass Life Associates, a privately funded angler incentive trophy replica program, has had more than 600 8-pound-plus fish entered. The lake has also produced five ShareLunkers.
For high numbers of bass, albeit without the trophy potential of a Rayburn, a Kurth or a Toledo Bend, Brice suggests lakes Monticello and Bob Sandlin. "Monticello produces high numbers of slot bass," he said. "Bob Sandlin has had an increase in bass recruitment in recent years due to an increase in aquatic vegetation, with about 2,000 acres now dominated by coontail and hydrilla. Anglers are catching high numbers of bass in those areas."
THE SOUTH HAS RISEN AGAIN
Everyone worries when rains don't come and lakes go down, but the other side of the coin is that water fluctuations are part of the natural cycle in Texas, and when water levels fall, Mother Nature goes to work. Drying lakebeds spur the growth of grass, brush, cactus and whatever else can take hold and grow. When the waters rise again, all that flooded vegetation furnishes cover for small fish and nutrients that grow the base of the food chain and eventually wind up as a fish on the end of your line.
Lake Amistad is proof that the process works, and so are two other South Texas lakes: Choke Canyon and Falcon. Choke began its rise in July 2002, just two weeks after the TPWD stocked 384,000 Florida largemouth bass. The following spring spawns were tremendous. Those fish grew fast, and by spring 2004 catch-rates of barely legal fish shot up. By summer the fish were 15 to 17 inches long -- and the best was yet to come.
"In spring 2005 the doors opened up," marveled TPWD fisheries biologist John Findeisen. "The average tournament fish weighed about 3.5 pounds, with lots of fish in the 7- to 10-pound range. One tournament had 198 boats that weighed in 886 bass with a total weight of 3,085 pounds. We started to hear reports of 10- to 11-pound fish, and one guy had a 9-, 11-, and 12-pounder on the same day. Not long after, we got a ShareLunker.
"Bass fishing on Choke Canyon is expected to be even better in 2007. Numerous fish over 7 pounds are being caught daily. On average, largemouth bass are reaching 14 inches in 1.5 years, a full year earlier than in other reservoirs in South Texas. Forage is abundant. Anglers should continue to catch larger fish and have heavier stringers in tournaments. Several tournaments in 2006 reported stringers in the upper 30s and one over 40 pounds. I expect there to be more 40-pound-plus stringers in 2007."
Findeisen proposed focusing on long-celebrated locations such as Four Fingers, Opossum Creek, Hawg Island, Mason Point, Greyhound Point, South Shore, and the little coves on North Shore. "Try to find areas where timber and vegetation are together," he suggested. "Those types of areas have paid off in the past. The topwater bite is fantastic over hydrilla, with frog-imitating baits being very productive, but it only lasts a couple of hours except on cloudy days. Crankbaits and lipless crankbaits have been productive along the outside edge of the vegetation, as have weightless soft plastics and jerkbaits.
"When fishing the timber/vegetation combination, throw soft plastics such as Senkos, brush Hogs, or Power Worms and jigs at the base of the timber -- and hang on! Braided line is a must, as the fish will run into the timber after being hooked.
"I don't think we've hit carrying capacity on this reservoir yet," he added. "My expectation is the next three years will be incredible, with more double-digit fish than ever before. This is the longest period of time Choke Canyon has stayed at conservation level, and that means good spawns and tremendous growth."
Findeisen offered one further piece of advice for spring fishing on Choke. "Move to deeper water instead of pounding the bank," he said. "Fish humps like at the entrance to Four Fingers, or creek channels. Doing that has put a 6-pounder in the boat for me on every trip."
Falcon Reservoir on the Rio Grande below Laredo is another South Texas success story because of rising levels. "Border fish have a nearly year-round growing season, and they grow fast," said TPWD fisheries biologist Randy Myers. "Even during the drought years, the tournament guys were doing really well, and it took close to 30 pounds to win a tournament."
Bass took advantage of flooded vegetation to produce tremendous numbers of young that are now of legal size. However, Falcon also offers the opportunity to catch 8-pound-plus fish.
"The big issue is water level," said Myers. Rio Grande water is heavily used for irrigation by farmers on both sides of the border. However, if El NiÃ±o develops as predicted, farmers should need less irrigation water, and South and West Texas lakes, as well as those in East Texas, should rise or maintain their levels. And that's good news for anglers for several years to come.
BOUNTIFUL BASS IN THE NORTH
Bruce Hysmith, TPWD fisheries biologist in North Texas, offers up no less than 10 bass hotspots for 2007. "The top five reservoirs in my district for highest percentage of the bass population 14 inches or larger include Davy Crockett, Lake Texoma, Coffee Mill Lake, Nocona, and Mineral Wells," he said. "For total numbers of bass co
llected during electrofishing, the highest catch rates were from Bonham City Lake (172 per hour), Amon G. Carter, Coffee Mill, Bridgeport, Weatherford, and Ray Roberts. However, keep in mind these data are the results of sampling and are not necessarily gospel. For example, Ray Roberts did not make the big bass list because our sampling collected only 7 percent of bass over 14 inches, but the lake has a lot of potential, because it has produced four Budweiser ShareLunkers of 13 pounds or better. It is also a large reservoir, which means that despite our efforts, bass may elude our sampling gear."
Hysmith detailed the key points about some of his top bass lake picks in North Texas. "Davy Crockett is a small impoundment, but it has produced a lot of 5-pound-plus bass and the highest percentage of bass 14 inches or larger in our sampling -- 24 percent. It has excellent access and plenty of aquatic vegetation. A Dallas angler told me he visited this lake and nearby Coffee Mill -- my second choice -- and started before sunrise with topwaters, chuggers, jerkbaits and buzzbaits, and by 9 a.m. he'd caught more bass than ever before in his life. Then he tied on a black 7 1/2-inch Power Worm and the average size got bigger."
Coffee Mill is a little more turbid than is Davy Crockett, and contains less vegetation, but it has some standing timber in the upper end and some manmade brushpiles along the dam. "There are no bad places to fish on either of these lakes," Hysmith said.
Ray Roberts comes in third on Hysmith's list, and it offers lots more elbow room. Hysmith narrows the playing field by going back in history. "During pre-impoundment in 1985, existing fishes in 14 stock ponds were eliminated and replaced with Florida largemouth bass fingerlings. Also in 1987-88 we stocked some 750,000 Florida fingerlings. There are numerous stock ponds in addition to the ones we stocked, and if you can locate them, you have found a bass honeyhole.
"Ironically, most of our nursery ponds were in the west arm or the Elm Fork of the Trinity arm, while most of the bass fishing takes place in the east arm or the Isle de Bois Creek arm. Some of the prime areas with bass may be being overlooked."
Texoma is so often associated with striper fishing that it gets overlooked for largemouths, and according to Hysmith, that's a mistake. "It's an exciting place to fish, and in the spring and fall, bass fishing can be fantastic. Piles of rocks are some of the best habitat, but don't overlook main-lake points and the downsides of flooded hills that enter the water. Use worms or jig-and-pig."
Texoma also wins points for having both smallmouths and largemouths. "For smallmouths, fish along the dam, along the bluffs at Eisenhower State Park clear around Navigation and Grandpappy points," he said. "You might hang into a really good largemouth or spotted bass in these same areas."
Also near the top of Hysmith's list is Lake Bridgeport. "Anglers catch some big largemouths and smallmouths in Bridgeport," he said. "The lake record largemouth is 11.2 pounds, smallmouth is 7.41 pounds, and spotted bass 3.03 pounds. Spring fishing on Bridgeport can be fantastic."
"Fantastic" works pretty well as a description for spring bass fishing anywhere you go in Texas!