And so is the bass action on this select group of lakes west of the Fort Worth/Dallas Metroplex! (April 2009)
Horace Greeley may not have been an avid angler, but he certainly ushered many Texans in the right direction with his advice to go west. And for some of the greatest bass-fishing action today, a stop at Hubbard Creek Lake at Breckenridge could surprise even many veteran anglers who have tabbed the lake a "has been."
Ronnie Poe of nearby Granbury nets a hefty Hubbard Creek largemouth. By producing regular catches like this, Hubbard Creek is attracting the attention of more and more bass anglers these days.
Photo by Bob Hood.
There are several other lakes west of the Fort Worth/Dallas Metroplex that provide great bass action during April, too, including Possum Kingdom. That lake has made a great rebound from the major golden-algae fish kill in 2001, and lakes Proctor, Brownwood, Sweetwater, O.H. Ivie, and Alan Henry also fit into the mix.
I was fortunate to have "discovered" Hubbard Creek Lake's great bass fishery in 1968. At that time, only a small number of avid bass anglers in Fort Worth had fished the lake. Those fishermen and a few others from Abilene and Wichita Falls provided the only so-called "fishing pressure" on its bass fishery.
I had just begun writing outdoors articles for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and was invited by a friend to go with him to Hubbard Creek to fish a lake he assured me "no one knows about." We were up and on the road at 5 a.m. the next morning.
In that summer of 1968, Hubbard Creek's level had risen high enough to flood acres of dead mesquites and willows in flats and along the edges of creek channels. Like many West Texas anglers, my friend had become proficient at fishing shallow water simply because their main fishing areas were stock tanks, small city-owned lakes and shallow reservoirs. Also, they called their style of fishing "doodlesocking," a term that modern-day bass anglers now call flippin' and pitchin'.
I am convinced that no one who was not at Hubbard Creek Lake in those early years from about 1968 to 1974 can realize just how great the action was. Catching a bass was a matter of elimination. Every bush you pitched a plastic worm into that did not produce a bass just put you one bush closer to one that did.
Occasionally, a bush next to the one you pitched a plastic worm into would shake as a bass left it to go for your worm in the bush next to it. The bass averaged between 3 and 4 pounds due to the high number of that age-class bass during the lake's initial stockings, with some in the early 1970s weighing 5 to 6 pounds.
Like many lakes, Hubbard Creek "peaked out" seven to eight years after it was impounded. Newer lakes came on the horizon and average anglers as well as the major West Texas bass club tournaments from Odessa-Midland, Wichita Falls and Fort Worth soon went elsewhere. By the 1990s, drought conditions resulted in a lake level of almost 18 feet below its conservation pool elevation. Its two major boat ramps were left high and dry but city officials and concerned anglers worked to have a new ramp built near the dam to accommodate those wanting to use the lake.
Then came the heavy rainwaters of late spring and early summer in 2007 that brought Hubbard Creek's level back to the full mark. Naturally, it has dropped some since then, but remains like a virtual "new lake" with lots of flooded vegetation and other new-growth habitat supporting both forage fish and game fish alike. Now, the word has gotten out about Hubbard Creek's comeback and many veteran anglers who fished Hubbard Creek in its heyday are re-discovering this West Texas jewel, either on their own or through talk generated from an increased number of bass tournaments held there in recent years.
April is a great time to catch big bass anywhere in Texas, and especially on a lake like Hubbard Creek. If you launch at the U.S. 180 bridge west of Breckenridge, you are close to some of the lake's best spawning areas. The boat docks in the first two coves just south of the bridge are good starting points. There are stickups, logs and weeds between many of them that can provide bass with good spawning cover.
Brushy Creek, farther to the south and on the same side of the lake, as well as long, winding Sandy Creek on the opposite side of that large arm of the lake, are two of my favorite bass-fishing spots. Just remember to fish slowly and cover all stumps, laydowns and brushpiles as thoroughly as possible with a plastic worm or jig, and to fish soft-plastic jerkbaits or spinnerbaits along the more open areas.
Other April hotspots include Hubbard Creek itself in the Peeler Park area, Lost Creek, Game Warden's Slough on the west side near the dam, and the old Enco Slough not far from Tanglewood Point. Texas-rigged plastic worms are my favorites, but double-bladed spinnerbaits, especially those with a Colorado/Willow-leaf combination in chartreuse and white work well over shallow laydowns and standing brush.
Around the boat docks and for the "in-between" areas between the docks, I prefer soft-plastic jerkbaits or semi-surface lures like those made by Sebile or Rapala -- or anything similar to those lures.
Hubbard Creek is just one of the many lakes that I have on my April list for bass. And right there close to the top is Possum Kingdom, a lake that many bass anglers virtually wrote off their list soon after the 2001 golden algae fish kill that wiped out a large number of game fish and baitfish.
Truth is, that major golden algae kill and few other very minor golden algae fish kills in subsequent years did not kill all of the fish in Possum Kingdom. In fact, it got rid of a lot of unwanted fish including large gizzard shad, carp, buffalo and gar. Sure, many game fish including striped bass, largemouth bass and crappie were lost, but many game fish survived and thrived with an abundance of threadfin shad, ghost minnows, fathead minnows and other food sources that were relieved due to lessened pressure from striped bass and other dominant predators.
The combination of a growing forage fish population with heavy stockings of Florida-strain largemouth bass fingerlings by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department since 2001 has resulted in a great comeback story for a great lake. Reports from anglers also show other species, including crappie, sand bass and striped bass, are being caught in large numbers once again.
Possum Kingdom isn't just one of my favorite lakes; it is my "hometown" lake because I live less than 100 yards from its shoreline. I fish it as often as possible and talk with locals to see how they are scoring on the various species -- and especially the largemouth bass.
Expect to find the bass spawning throughout the entire month of April, with the heaviest activity during the early days of the month on the upper reaches from about Willow Beach to Rock Creek. Stands of cattails, willows and logs along the shoreline, as well as the islands above Willow Beach, are excellent places to find spawning bass, as are the creeks and sloughs on both sides of Sky Camp and PK Lodge.
Venturing farther up the lake, try the boat docks at the mouth of Rock Creek, as well as the small pockets and sand and rock bars in the big creek itself.
The clear waters on the lower end of Possum Kingdom usually provide the best action during the latter part of April. Areas like Scenic Point, Governor's Slough, Neely's Slough and Bluff Creek all are good bets, especially when fished with Wacky Worms, soft-plastic jerkbaits and crankbaits.
Another lake less than 100 miles from Fort Worth that has remained a virtual sleeper, even though it has been around for more than 40 years, is Lake Proctor. Impounded in 1963 on the Leon River between Stephenville and Comanche, Proctor somehow has avoided the rush of bass-fishing crowds.
Proctor covers more than 4,500 acres with its predominant cover rocks, willows and buttonbrush. The lake's bottom is generally sandy, which helps make it an ideal choice for wade-fishermen. During April, I like to wade the shallows in the Leon River arm, fishing Texas-rigged worms or jigs around the bases of the willows, laydowns and logs. It is a great, relaxing way to catch bass that often are out of reach from a boat.
Proctor's main body has several narrow, rocky coves with willows in the backs of them that produce good catches of bass on Texas-rigged plastic worms and spinnerbaits. Try soft-plastic jerkbaits along the rocky banks and points in those coves, or switch to shad- or crawfish-colored Model A's or similar crankbaits.
Another often-overlooked West Texas lake is Lake Brownwood, one of the oldest reservoirs in southwest Texas. Brownwood covers 6,490 surface-acres and was impounded in 1933 by the damming of Pecan Bayou and Jim Ned Creek about 10 miles north of Brownwood.
Fish for April bass at Brownwood using the same tactics as you would on Proctor. Soft-plastic jerkbaits and crankbaits worked along the more open rocky waters produce bass, while Texas-rigged plastic worms, spinnerbaits and buzzbaits are good bets when fishing tight cover.
Also, like Proctor, Brownwood is subject to low water level conditions during drought periods, but when the lake is full or near full, there are good stands of willows that come into play during the April spawning season. Find willows in water 2 1/2 to 3 feet or more and you likely will find bass. One thing that Brownwood has that Proctor lacks is boat docks. Never pass up a boat dock during April. They provide excellent ambush points for feeding bass as well as sites for spawning grounds.
The timbered areas in Jim Ned Creek and Pecan Bayou and the willows in Sowell Creek also are good places to find bass action now.
Impounded in 1990 on the Colorado and Concho rivers about 55 miles east of San Angelo, O.H. Ivie is 19,149 acres of flipping and pitching structure for worm-and-jig anglers. During April, however, I prefer targeting the salt cedars that are in shallow water as well as hydrilla that's close to the creek channels or in the Concho River arm.
Texas-rigged plastic worms and jigs probably catch more Ivie bass year 'round than any other lures. They are especially effective for trophy bass in the shallows during April.
Anglers should remember that Ivie has special regulations for largemouth bass. There is no minimum length limit for largemouth bass, but anglers can keep only two per day that measure less than 18 inches. For smallmouth bass, there is an 18-inch minimum length limit. The daily bag limit for all black bass species combined is five, but only three of them can be smallmouth bass.
The rocky banks on the lower end of the lake typically produce the best smallmouth bass action, but there are several rock humps and ledges in the open waters near the dam that yield good smallmouth action.
If you really want a change of pace, the best way to achieve it is to visit a lake you and perhaps most of your fishing buddies have never heard of. Lake Sweetwater just may fill the bill for many of you.
Lake Sweetwater is not very big, covering only 640 acres, and has been around ever since the 1930 impoundment of Bitter and Cottonwood creeks in Nolan County, about 45 miles from Abilene. Old age doesn't mean much in a lake's trophy bass potential in these days of Florida bass stockings and that fish's influence on Texas fisheries. Lake Sweetwater has produced numerous trophy-sized bass in recent years including a 13.41-pounder caught by Spence Dumont in May 2001.
Finding bass at Sweetwater usually is not difficult. The lake refilled in 2007 after a long drought and is loaded with bulrushes, cattail-type aquatic vegetation that I love to fish in spring, summer and early fall. April seems to kick off the flipping and pitching season in the bulrushes at Sweetwater. Search for bulrushes near or off points, in small pockets that are slightly deeper from the other areas with bulrushes and you will have found prime places to catch bass this month.
Lake Sweetwater also has a lot of potato weeds, floating broad-leafed pondweeds that also attract a lot of bass. Cast buzzbaits, Texas-rigged plastic worms or floating soft-plastic frogs over the potato weeds and hold on. You just may be in for some of the most exciting action you've ever experienced.
I usually approach these weedbeds cautiously, fishing a Wacky Worm or soft-plastic jerkbait along the outside edges first. If I get little or no action, I switch to a soft-plastic frog or buzzbait to fish farther back into the cover. If that fails, I switch to a Texas-rigged plastic worm and work the holes very slowly and methodically.
One cannot think about West Texas bass waters without considering Alan Henry Reservoir, a lake built in 1993 on the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River south of Lubbock. To say Alan Henry has developed into a trophy bass lake would be an understatement. The lake has produced several 13-pound and larger bass that have been entered into the state's ShareLunker program.
Henry has 2,880 surface acres but can become crowded. Expect large numbers of anglers on the lake if you go there on weekends. It's just that popular, not only for largemouth bass but also for spotted bass. The Alabama spotted bass that were stocked in the reservoir grow much larger than most other spots, often reaching 4 pounds and larger.
Henry also has some special regulations for bass. There is no minimum length limit for largemouth bass; however, there is an 18-inch minimum length limit on spotted bass and smallmouth bass. The daily bag limit for all black bass is five, but only three can be spotted bass or smallmouth bass. Also, only two largemouth bass measuring le
ss than 18 inches may be retained per day.
Alan Henry is a rock and timber lake, although a few coves do have some aquatic vegetation. Jigs with pork or soft-plastic trailers fished around the stumps off the rocky points or off the ledges produce a lot of big bass. Deep-diving crankbaits also should be a part of your arsenal. Because it is such a narrow, deep, rocky lake, Henry's waters generally are clear. For that reason, the bass often spawn at deeper depths than do those on many West Texas lakes.
Once the water temperature climbs to the 55- to 60-degree mark on any of these West Texas lakes, expect the bass to begin their major moves to spawning grounds. April is when that usually takes place, and when it does, anglers in the Fort Worth-Dallas area and westward certainly do have some fine lakes to choose from.