D/FW Compass-Point Bass Fishing

Head anywhere north, south, east, or west of the Metroplex this month, and you still won't find better bass fishing than what these four hot lakes can yield.

By Bob Hood

The cold rush of air from a norther brought gray, fast-moving clouds over much of North Texas. It was the kind of February frontal system that keeps most bass anglers gathered around the breakfast tables of small-town cafes for longer than is usual.

Jason Ashtell was far ahead of the others, launching his bass rig in a chilly cove just as the morning's first light spread across the upper reaches of Lake Ray Roberts.

"It would be easy to sit around with the others, drinking coffee and talking about how bass don't bite good during a cold front," said Ashtell, a North Texas construction worker who has been fishing the popular reservoir ever since it opened, "but I've caught some of my biggest fish ever on days just like this.

"Look at this way: Big bass may not be as active when the water temperature already is in the 50s and suddenly is shocked harder by a cold front - but if you know where they hang out on days like this, your chances of catching them aren't really that bad.

"One thing's for sure: I've never caught a big fish while sipping coffee."

Ashtell's hopeful assessment of the kind of action the morning would bring was right on target. Within two hours, he had boated two bass over 6 pounds, and a whopper that barely missed pushing his portable hand scales past the 10-pound mark.

Now that's getting results!

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Ashtell didn't have to spin a roulette wheel to make his choice of lakes near the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to fish for big bass, either - but he did use a compass. He wanted to fish North Texas' top trophy-bass lake, and Ray Roberts certainly fills that bill.

Veteran Metroplex anglers like Ashtell - and Bill Wilcox, Ronnie Poe, Jerry Nichols and quite a few others - are fortunate, indeed, that they can head only a short distance from their residences, regardless of where the compass needle points, to find exceptional bass fishing. North, south, east or west, great winter and pre-spawn bass fishing awaits them.

South of the Metroplex lies Lake Whitney, a Brazos River impoundment that benefited rather than suffered from two golden algae fish kills in the past three years.

To the west there is another Brazos River jewel in Possum Kingdom Lake, and to the east the compass points to Cedar Creek Lake, which - with one of the highest and healthiest bass populations within a 100-mile radius of the Metroplex - is one of those fisheries that are always good.

And - to keep with the concept of many compass bearings leading to worthy bass action - several lakes that deserve much recognition for helping satisfy anglers' appetites for hot bass action in February and on into March lie within the circle Among those are Lake Texoma, farther north of Ray Roberts, Lake Tawakoni, just a short drive east of Dallas, Lake Granbury to the south, and Lake Weatherford to the west.

First, let's head back north to Jason Ashtell's favorite fishery at Ray Roberts. Sprawling across 29,350 acres, this U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir has had a notable fishery ever since it opened. Hydrilla certainly wasn't native to the lake when it was inundated, but now large areas of the aquatic vegetation - apparently introduced by anglers who'd found that hydrilla made for prime habitat for largemouth bass and forage fish on other lakes - spread across the mid to upper levels of the reservoir.

The best hydrilla beds can be found around Wolf Island and over to Buck Creek. That's also where you'll find a public launch ramp that has become increasingly popular with anglers because of its proximity to some of the best fishing waters.

Lots of standing timber will also be found in the Buck Creek and Wolf Island area, many of the trees following along the edges of former fields and the tops of underwater ridges, bordering narrow, winding creek channels and lining the banks of submerged stock tanks - all of it good bass habitat.

"All of those areas are great places to catch bass at this time of the year," said Ronnie Poe of Fort Worth, "but some of them get hit pretty hard, especially the stock tanks, because they are pretty easy to locate just by studying a lake map. Some of my favorite places are the hidden brushpiles they left in the water when they were building the lake."

Indeed, Roberts has plenty of underwater brushpiles. Or rather, piles of logs and brush: When the Corps was building the reservoir, it cleared brush and trees - post oak, willow, pecan, elm, cottonwood and bois d'arc - from the main body of the lake from the dam almost to Wolf Island and bulldozed the debris into piles (incorporating, in some cases, rocks). But instead of burning the piles, they left them alone. And when the level of the lake began to rise after the dam was closed, these jumbled masses were transformed into hidden underwater magnets for bass.

The whereabouts of some of these brushpiles can be found marked on lake maps, but others are there for the finding. Poe, a veteran bass tournament pro always looking for an edge over other anglers, took advantage of the lake's low level during a drought a few years ago to locate many brushpiles by motoring around and eyeballing their tops as they protruded above the lowered surface. He marked each brushpile on his GPS unit, which has enabled him to return to find these pockets of fish habitat that again lie hidden far below the surface.

During cold-weather periods in February prior to the spawning season, anglers like Wilcox, Poe and Ashtell make their best catches fishing Carolina-rigged soft plastics in the brushpiles at 15 to 25 feet and by working them along the tops of underwater stock tanks at about the same depths. As the beginning of the spawning season draws near in early March, targeted sites include the tops of ridges in waters ranging from 8 to 15 feet deep and areas along the underwater banks of the major creeks.

An unusually warm February weather pattern may see the major push of the spawning season arrive a week or two earlier. "If that happens," said Ashtell, "I'll concentrate on the hydrilla that's in the deeper water. I'll still fish the humps, ridges and brushpiles, but the bass will be moving in and out from deep to shallow and back to deep, and I've caught a lot of those roaming fish on chartreuse french fries, on a Carolina rig, and on chartreuse spinnerbaits anywhere you find a combination of grass (hydrilla) and wood (timber)."

Heading s

outh to Whitney, where Poe has caught perhaps more bass than 80 percent of Metroplex anglers, the main Brazos River arm - both above and below the Kimball Bridge - is his favorite stretch of water.

"There are a lot of brushpiles along the river above the bridge that hold bass just about any time of the year," Poe said. "And you don't have to look hard to find them. They aren't completely covered with water, and most of them are right on the edge of the channel."

Many bass spawn in the shallow flats and small guts along both sides of the river, but they'll often stage during pre-spawn in the darkened confines of the piles of brush and logs closest to deeper water.

Another promising late-winter area in which to find bass staging is on the lower end of the lake at the mouths of Whitney and Towash creeks. Once the water warms and the fish begin searching for spawning grounds, the long, flat points at the mouths of both of those creeks become spawning hotspots. But while the water is still cold, bass can be taken on Carolina rigs fished just off the edges of the channels in 14 to 20 feet of water.

Cedar Creek isn't your typical East Texas lake, but it's certainly one of the hottest places to catch bass east of the Metroplex. That's especially true if February blows in with mild rather than extremely cold temperatures.

Cedar Creek is loaded with private docks that provide excellent holding and feeding areas for bass. Many Texas anglers have the misconception that fishing docks is a summertime thing. Not so, says Brian Vicks of Dallas.

"Docks hold a lot of fish in the winter, too - only the fish aren't as active as they are during the summer. If you ever have seen bass on the nest in the shallows between docks during the spring, then you can see why fish will be around the docks during the pre-spawn.

"The deeper docks are the ones I target at this time of the year," Vicks continued. "Docks are just like any other type of structure bass prefer when the water temperatures still are cold and they aren't in a heavy feeding mood. Find the ones that are deep on the ends and close to deep water, such as a creek channel that's not far away, and you have a good chance of catching big female bass just waiting for things to get right to spawn. A jig or large double-bladed spinnerbait or anything else you can fish very slowly will draw a lot more strikes than a Texas-rigged worm or anything else that moves fast."

Vicks added that points such as those at the mouths of Clear and Caney creeks also produce a lot of big bass at this time of the year, mostly on Carolina rigs and even drop-shot rigs.

West of the Metroplex lies a long, winding reservoir that many favor as much for its scenery as for its great bass fishing: Possum Kingdom. Its lake-record largemouth weighed more than 16 pounds. Although hit hard by a golden algae fish kill in January 2001, the lake has since rebounded, thanks to generous stockings of Florida bass by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department during the past three summers.

The golden algae did claim lots of fish, including largemouth bass, in 2001 - but the toxic bloom didn't get them all. The subsequent stockings have helped considerably, too. A second golden algae outbreak earlier this year affected only a few small, shallow coves on the upper reaches of the lake and killed mostly gizzard shad, freshwater drum, carp and buffalo fish. Thus, it'd be reasonable to assert that this year's kill more likely helped rather than hurt the lake.

During February, the best action can be found on the lower end of the lake, where the water is deep and lots of rocky structure is available. At this point in the year, the rocky ledges off bluffs just below Scenic Point, Bluff Creek and in Neeley's Slough typically will produce more fish than will the shallower waters of the upper reaches.

However, if February brings warmer weather and water temperatures, the bass will begin to prowl in and out of shallow and deep water in areas such as in Rock Creek, Willow Creek, Little Elm and the main sloughs in Cedar Creek.

Jigs, Sassy Shads and Carolina-rigged soft plastics typically coax the better catches along the rocky bluffs in the clear waters on lower PK, while Texas-rigged worms, spinnerbaits and shallow-running crankbaits will work best on the lake's upper reaches.

"February has got to be one of the best months of the year to catch big bass on Possum Kingdom," said John Tulley of Fort Worth. "The fish are as fat as they are going to be prior to the spawn, they are beginning to stage close to their spawning grounds, and they will take a lure more readily than they might have a month earlier.

"One thing I like about PK is that the golden algae scared a lot of fishermen away. They think they can catch more bass somewhere else and have an odd attitude about fishing a lake that has had a fish kill. But the major fish kill happened three years ago, and it came during January, when most of the bass were in deep water and out of reach of the algae's toxins.

"Also, the first major stocking of Florida bass was made three years ago. That means there are a lot of healthy 3-year-old bass in PK, plus all those larger bass that the golden algae didn't kill. I just hope most of those who gave up don't come back, because the reduced fishing pressure along with the stockings are making PK look like a new lake."

Indeed, Metroplex anglers have four great lakes to challenge anywhere they look on the compass, each capable of producing largemouth bass ranging in size from 12 to 16 pounds or more. But don't forget: There are some other jewels within that circle - including lakes Weatherford, Tawakoni, Texoma, Granbury, and little Amon Carter - that just might yield you the bass of a lifetime at this time of the year.

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