Texas is home to some of the country's most outstanding bass fishing, and among our top fisheries, these may be the finest.
by Sugar Ferris
Turn to the sports page of any daily Texas newspaper when spring arrives, and chances are good that you'll see sportswriters making weekly forecasts as to which baseball teams they expect to win and lose games. Those who follow baseball know that a double play is sometimes critical to a team's success, and the triple play is one of the most rare accomplishments in the sport. In major league games, the double play, which might happen twice in one game, is usually guaranteed to make the highlight films.
Well, this article isn't about baseball - but there is a connection. We at Texas Sportsman are prepared to make our yearly bass-fishing forecasts. A double play is a chance for the catch of a lifetime on one or more of the 1.5 million surface-acres of water available to anglers across the Lone Star State. There are six lake regions within the state's borders, and all have large to small bodies of water that hold tremendous bass populations - and the potential for a record bass! From the large to the small in each region, here are the predictions for a bass-fishing double play in 2002.
PANHANDLE PLAINS Baylor Lake is located 12 miles west of Childress. This 600-acre impoundment just might be one of the best-kept secrets in the state. The lake has good shoreline access and one boat ramp. The lake-record largemouth bass, a 14.88-pounder, was caught in the spring. Though managed under the statewide 14-inch minimum-length limit, the lake consistently produces good numbers of bass over 8 pounds. Most structure in Baylor is created by flooded timber, with some areas of pondweed. The dam and points on the lake offer boulders and riprap, while the upper lake has many cutbanks and dropoffs. The best period for fishing for largemouth bass is in the spring when water temperatures reach 55 to 65 degrees. Carolina rigs, crankbaits and pig-and-jig baits are all good options. Focus on structure, especially where two or three habitat types meet.
O.H. Ivie, 55 miles east of San Angelo, has become a hotspot for catching both largemouth and smallmouth bass. Its 19,200 acres are normally clear in the main lake and the Concho River arm and turbid in the Colorado arm. The water, whose level fluctuates between 6 and 10 feet annually, abounds with aquatic vegetation.
Ivie's record largemouth, weighing 15.69 pounds, was caught in the fall of the year, but 7- to 10-pound bass are common. When water temperatures reach upwards of 55 degrees in the spring, asserts local expert Dave Caudle, the action's hot. "All you have to do to catch them is throw your hat over a limit," he said.
We think of Texoma as a striper lake, but it turns out some good catches of largemouths and smallmouths, too! Photo by Sugar Ferris
Statewide fishing regulations apply for all species with the exception of largemouth and smallmouth bass, which have an 18-inch minimum-size limit. Cover is predominantly standing timber. There are thousands of acres of flooded mesquite, oak and juniper trees in all parts of the lake, with native vegetation and hydrilla in the main part of the lake's upper river arms. Structure in the main reservoir is mostly rock. Mud flats are predominant off the river arms. Largemouth bass are caught on Carolina-rigged plastic motor oil- and strawberry-colored worms, shad-colored crankbaits, and crawfish-colored sinkers fished deep - 20 feet plus - off humps and dropoffs.
PRAIRIE REGION At Hubbard Creek, 20 miles east of Bryan/College Station, angling for largemouths is catch-and-release only. One bass 21 inches or larger may be retained for weighing at the lakeside station; the fish should then either be released immediately or, if of sufficient quality, donated to the ShareLunker Program. Water clarity on the 2,500-acre lake is slightly to moderately stained. Level fluctuation is low - 1 to 2 feet annually.
The impoundment has a history of producing numerous largemouth bass over 10 pounds; the current lake record, a 16.17-pounder, was caught in January. Shoreline areas of the reservoir contain a light to moderate cover of hydrilla; standing timber is quite thick along the creeks, with American lotus dense in the upper creeks. The opportunity to catch a trophy largemouth is greatest from mid-January through March.
Anglers are most successful fishing in the warmer areas of the lake near the heated discharge. Use a shad-colored crankbait and yellow-white spinner. During early-summer months, schooling bass can be found in deeper water over structure; the preferred bait then is a chartreuse/blue Carolina-rigged plastic worm.
Lake Texoma's 89,000 acres straddle the Texas-Oklahoma border just north of the Denison/Sherman area. Despite its being more than 50 years old, good catches of bass come from a variety of places on a variety of patterns with a variety of lures throughout much of the year. The record largemouth, taken in January 2000, weighed 11.82 pounds; the record smallmouth weighed 6.91 pounds. Weather, particularly the wind, is a great equalizer at Texoma. The two things really missing are abundant shoreline laydowns and weedbeds, although both are present in certain areas. Popular shoreline cover takes the form of boathouses; experienced anglers have learned to substitute rocks for grass. Cover being largely absent, the most productive springtime lures are those that cover a lot of water. That means spinnerbaits, topwater lures and crankbaits. This is not to say that bottom-crawlers like jigs, worms and grubs won't catch bass. Soldier Creek on the Oklahoma side has everything from boathouses and sandbars to the occasional laydown. Bass spawn off the rocky points of the midlake islands. Smallmouth bass have adapted well so that today that they're legitimate quarry. Bowman Point produces a good share of the bronzebacks there. You might also want to consider the steeper, rocky main-lake shoreline along the Texas side, where there's plenty of forage and habitat to keep the smallmouths proliferating.
PINEYWOODS All 560 acres of Lake Pinkston, a tiny clearwater lake 10 miles west of Center, serve as a haven for largemouth bass. It has a relatively high bass population and is an excellent fishery. The lake's 14- to 18-inch slot limit allows these waters to produce trophy-sized bass. The February lake record is 16.9 pounds. Habitat in Pinkston consists of submerged aquatic vegetation and standing timber. Hydrilla is the predominant plant, although native plants such as coontail, pondweed and lily pads are also present. The cooler water temperatures that make fish active for longer periods of the day in the spring are typically found in shallow water. A variety of baits and techniques will work during these times. When fish are active, crankbaits and spinnerbaits are usually the preferred meal. During summer months, the bite usually slows, and fish activity is n
ormally hottest during early morning, late evening and at night. Poppers, propeller baits, stick baits, and flukes are good topwater choices during low-light conditions. At sunrise, most bass are concentrated in or around vegetation edges or have sought refuge on deep creek-channel ledges. Plastic worms and jigs will be the ticket in these areas.
Toledo Bend, the largest inland lake in the state at 185,000 acres, is 24 miles northeast of Jasper. Straddling the Texas/Louisiana state line, its waters are clear in the middle and lower lake, to slightly turbid in the upper regions. Residents of Texas and Louisiana who are properly licensed in their state can fish in any portion of the lake and its rivers. On the Texas side of the reservoir, most fish are regulated under existing statewide regulations. Exceptions include a bag limit of eight for spotted and largemouth bass combined. An excellent year-round largemouth fishery exists at "The Bend" in that good habitat consists of a variety of aquatic vegetation, standing timber and flooded terrestrial vegetation. Hydrilla is the predominant plant species, and bass are normally found around vegetation edges, flats, humps and creek channels. Anglers will be most successful at catching bass during late-winter and early-spring months on a variety of baits and techniques. Cranks and spinnerbaits are the preferred choice for putting bass in the boat. The lake record of 15.32 pounds came last year. Spring and summer lures are good topwater choices during low-light conditions. Jigs and plastic worms in crawfish and shad colors fished in or around vegetation edges, deep ledges and creek channels should net anglers limits of bass.
SOUTH TEXAS PLAINS Casa Blanca is a mere five miles northeast of Laredo. The only problem with this 1,656-acre lake is its large fluctuation levels, which can range up to 25 feet at times. Contact the lake's park office at (956) 725-3826 for current levels. However, catch it right and the bass fishing will be better than good. Fishing is regulated under normal statewide regulations with one exception. An 18-inch minimum length limit for largemouth bass, and the daily bag limit for all four bass species - largemouth, smallmouth, spotted and Guadalupe - is five in any combination. The lake record on largemouths stands at 9.38 pounds, with fish in the 8-pound range common. The lake has rock and concrete riprap along the dam, cattails along the shoreline at normal lake level, and standing timber in the upper portion of the lake. Look for bass in the riprap along the dam and around flooded timber, reeds, bulrushes and underwater humps. Noisy topwaters work well around weedbeds. Try chartreuse/blue spinnerbaits and iridescent-colored worms later in the day, especially along the dam.
Falcon Reservoir (78,300 acres) is 40 miles east of Laredo. This mainstream body of water rests on the international boundary between Texas and Mexico. All species of fish in this lake on the U.S. side are managed under statewide regulations. It is essential for all anglers to check with park personnel or at bait and tackle shops in Zapata to determine current regulations for fishing Mexican waters. As with all South Plains region lakes, Falcon is highly susceptible to severe water level fluctuations, and this lake can sometimes vary by 40 to 50 feet or more. Falcon has long been regarded as one of the best largemouth bass lakes in the state. To win a bass tournament at this particular lake, it often takes a 5- to 6-pound average per fish for your stringer. It is a relatively shallow lake, with gradually slopping banks found in the majority of the reservoir. At low lake levels, rockpiles and standing timber provide the majority of fish-holding structure. At conservation pool level, strong growths of terrestrial vegetation provide excellent cover and structure. Bass anglers are normally more successful in the spring months when spinnerbaits, crankbaits, Texas- and Carolina-rigged worms are used around standing hardwoods, rock piles and outcroppings, as well as along the channel dropoff. The same lures may be used with some success during the early-summer months along with buzzbaits. The largemouth record weighed 15.12 pounds and came in late spring.
HILL COUNTRY Walter E. Long, just east of Austin, is also known as Decker Lake. Slightly stained waters stay at a near constant level with abundant amounts of aquatic vegetation that is prefect habitat for bass. Statewide regulations apply to all species with the exception of the largemouth. The current length limit for largemouths is a 14- to 21-inch slot, and all bass caught within that slot limit must be released immediately. Anglers can keep five bass less than 14 inches per day, and they are encouraged to keep those smaller fish in order to increase the effectiveness of the slot limit. Only one bass greater than 21 inches can be kept per day. This small reservoir is a high-quality largemouth lake and bass larger than 10 pounds are not rare. The lake record on largemouths is 12.21 pounds, caught during the winter months. Ample cover in the form of submerged hydrilla, pondweed and water-star grass is thick along shallow-water shorelines. And because most of the shoreline is owned by the city of Austin, no private boat docks/houses appear along the water's edge. Efforts should be concentrated in and around aquatic vegetation, or in and around shorelines, using a flipping/pitching jig-and-pork/plastic trailer combo and plastic worms during the spring months. Once the submerged vegetation begins to grow in late spring, casting lipless crankbaits and soft-plastic jerkbaits around and over the vegetation will work. Buzzbaits, poppers and Zara Spooks will catch bass early and late in the day.
Just a few miles northwest of Austin, Lake Travis is a clear to slightly off-colored lake noted for producing good numbers of bass, with trophies running in the 6- to 8-pound category. But to catch them, you'll have to work at it. The lake record weighing 14.21 pounds came during the month of January. The water fluctuation can run 10 to 20 feet. The lake has no aquatic vegetation to speak of, and all fish are currently regulated under statewide rules. Travis is dominated by rocky banks, steep cliffs and the water clarity typical of a highland reservoir. The water tends to become more stained as anglers move up the lake. Floating boat docks, rockpiles, ledges and steep dropoffs provide cover for game fish. When the water is high, largemouth bass concentrate on the flooded terrestrial vegetation that lines the banks. Numerous creeks enter the lake and hold game fish year 'round. Success for a bass angler will come mostly during the spring. Fishing from June through August can be difficult for even the most experienced angler. Topwater baits such as Zara Spooks, poppers, and suspended jerkbaits are the artificials of choice. Double willow-leaf spinnerbaits with metal-flake blades are also good. Look for suspended fish over points, along dropoffs, and around the major marinas. Often a topwater, jerkbait or spinnerbait pulled near the surface will call them to the top.
BIG BEND There are only three lakes open to public fishing in this part of the state. Balmorhea is a good one. A mere 573 acres, this spring-fed, clear-to-slightly muddy lake was impounded in 1917 and fluctuates from full in the winter down to 10 feet during the summer months. Off Interstate 10 between Abilene and El Paso two miles southeast of Balmorhea, the lake's shoreline access is good, boat-launching facilities are adequate, and bass fishing is excellent. If you're looking to establish a lake, state, line-class or any other type of record for bass, or any o
ther species in the region, this is the lake to fish. The only record established for this lake is for carp. Statewide regulations apply. This shallow-water reservoir has large rocks near the dam, cobble on the southwest side, and sage pondweed on the north and west sides. Some terrestrial vegetation grows on the shore as the water recedes in the summer. This vegetation is flooded during the winter months as the lake refills. Locals say fishing shad-colored crankbaits, spinnerbaits, plastic worms and topwater lures around areas with rocks, pond weed, cobble or flooded terrestrial vegetation usually will produce a good catch of bass. Look for slight underwater humps or ditches in the middle of the lake if you want a trophy.
At 67,000 acres, Amistad Reservoir, 12 miles northwest of Del Rio, is the big one! The lake's water is clear to slightly stained. Fluctuation is dependent on rainfall and downstream irrigation demands. Annual fluctuation can be 5 to 10 feet. The lake record came in March and weighed a whopping 15.58 pounds. The lake is managed under current statewide fishing regulations. Bass is the most popular and abundant sportfish in the reservoir. This lake is dominated by rocky structure, abounding in rock ledges, steep rocky dropoffs and rocky points and shorelines. Additional structure is provided by isolated flooded timber. Approximately 1,000 acres of aquatic vegetation, mainly hydrilla, can be found in creek channels and along shorelines. Anglers are most successful during winter and spring months using topwaters, buzzbaits and spinnerbaits, in early-morning and late-evening hours. Crankbaits are effective along rocky shorelines, points and dropoffs, along with Texas and Carolina rigs or grubs in the deeper waters near vegetation or rocky structures.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION For comprehensive, up-to-the-minute fishing reports and info on lodging, marinas or anything else relevant to Texas' 114 public fishing lakes, go to http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fish/ infish/regions/instate.htm, or call 1-800-792-1112.
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