February 18, 2011
There are an amazing number of fish and fishing locations around our state. Here are some sure-fire combination's that deserve your attention this year.
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The debate about the top fishing holes in Texas could fill hours of discussion around the coffee shop, but there's one thing everyone can agree on: It's tough to go wrong with almost any of these fantastic bodies of water in prime months.
Our state waters harbor some of the best angling for more species than you can shake a stick at, and that includes in both fresh and saltwater. But there are some that stand out above the rest for quantity, quality or both, and you should plan your fishing year based on hitting these honeyholes at peak times.
With that in mind, here's a look at 12 months of fishing across the Lone Star State that is sure to please even the most accomplished and seasoned anglers.
Largemouths - Lake Amistad
This 65,000-acre monster reservoir fed by the Rio Grande north of Del Rio is a big-bass factory, and January is a prime time to find lunkers deep. You'll have to work for them with a variety of offerings including deep-diving crankbaits and maybe even work your drop-shot rig, but the rewards could be the fish of a lifetime. Amistad's heaviest largemouth, a 15.68-pound bruiser, was caught by Tom Sutherland on a DD22 crankbait late in December, 2005. His catch illustrates that lethargic fish still will take a lure this time of year -- and big ones, too -- but you may just have to hit them on the head with it.
The lake is filled with rocky points, dropoffs and ledges that hold fish not just in the winter but also through the spring and summer. Angling along edges with a variety of Texas-rigged soft plastics also is a surefire way to find fish. The lake sports hydrilla mats that are extremely thick but also hold a lot of fish, and many seasoned bass anglers will use heavier baits and plow through the vegetation in hopes of finding fish. Expect a lot of hangups if you go that route and use braided line for extra sensitivity if fish are striking light and to avoid abrasion that could cost you a big fish.
Black Drum - Upper Laguna Madre
At this time of year, these feisty fish are schooled up. If you come across a swath of them you could find yourself limited out quickly with plenty of nice fillets to take home. A drum is about as good an eating fish as you will find up and down the Texas Coast. Anglers may keep five fish per day within a 14- to 30-inch slot limit, and the first place to look is deeper channels and cuts, especially areas near the Intracoastal Waterway.
Drum will take artificials, but the easiest way to haul fish in is by using live or dead shrimp, sea lice or crabs. Cracking the sea lice and crabs prior to sticking them on a circle or wide-gap hook is an easy way to attract a wad of hungry fish, and one way to use freshly dead shrimp is to thread it on 1/8- or 1/16-ounce jigheads. It's a perfect bait to fling from one of the many piers that dot the Intracoastal. The drum is an everyman's fish, and pier access near lots of fishy areas makes it your best bet this month across the state.
Largemouths - Lake Fork
The numbers don't lie: Of the 50 biggest largemouths caught in Texas, 34 came from Lake Fork, including the 18.18-pound state record caught in 1992 by Barry St. Clair.
The restrictive slot limit of 16 to 24 inches and phenomenal habitat have made Fork the trophy destination for anglers. As temperatures begin to rise, it's easy to see why. Big sow bass will start to move into the shallows to spawn and are at their most vulnerable for the whole year during time spent lurking near bedding areas cleared off by smaller males.
Among the baits that have been tried and true for catching Fork lunkers are jigs, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, plastic worms and lizards in a variety of colors. It can be tough to see darker baits, especially on cloudy days. One tip that seems to work for many veteran anglers is to pick a lighter- or brighter-colored bait that the fish can see when pitching the shallows in hopes of dragging an offering through a bed. (Continued)
Blue Catfish - Lake Buchanan
The Highland Chain of lakes long has been a weekend hotspot for anglers from all of Central Texas, and this blue cat hotspot west of Burnet is your best bet this month. While Buchanan also boasts good numbers of channel cats and flatheads, its blue cat population rivals that of Texoma, which some anglers boast is the best for that species in the state.
The lake offers a variety of cover conducive to sustaining healthy catfish numbers. The eastern portion and the area near the dam are rockier than other spots, boasting ledges and rockpiles, which normally hold fish as temperatures slowly rise during the spring. The western portion of the lake features more flats with brush and vegetation. Catfish in Buchanan are susceptible to any kind of stink bait and cut bait, including punch baits, which easily can be rigged up on a treble hook below a Carolina-rigged egg sinker.
White Bass - Richland-Chambers
This 40,000-acre reservoir southeast of Corsicana on U.S. Highway 287 also is a fantastic hybrid striper fishery, and fishing for white bass, or sand bass, heats up this month. Roving schools of surfacing shad get worked into a frenzy by the big fish from below and the gulls and herons from above. One of the best ways to find schools of sand bass is to watch for bird activity near the surface, but if you don't see any, the first place to target is the open-water area between the 287 bridge and the dam.
If the fish are working the surface, and where there's bait you'll often find hybrids along with the white bass, some of the most exciting fishing is done with small topwater plugs that mimic the baitfish. If the fish and surfacing activity aren't easily visible, one of the best items in your arsenal is a fishfinder. And if you find white bass deeper, you should break out slabs and jigging spoons to catch their fancy.
Stripers - Lake Texoma
This is the prime lake for striped bass in all of America, and the 75,000-acre body of water that lies on the Texas-Oklahoma border northwest of Denison features a spawning, self-sustaining population. Texoma stripers migrate up the Red and Washita River arms in February and March; after spawning they move to open-water areas. The best aspect of summer fishing for Texoma stripers is that they will take a wide variety of baits, including live gizzard shad, which is their preferred meal.
Among the best places to fish is along the river channel in the main-lake area. Anglers trolling crankbaits and other deep-running lures often can be as successful as those chunking live bait. Other lures that undoubtedly have caught untold numbers of fish are slabs and heavy jigs, which can be worked vertically when you're not able to locate schools of fish that are chasing shad.
One spectacular way to catch stripers during cool summer mornings is with topwater plugs fished near shorelines, which also could produce a hefty smallmouth bass. Other lures that can be fished near the surface are Sassy Shads and jerkbaits.
Speckled Trout - Upper Laguna Madre
The area from south of Corpus Christi to past Baffin Bay is an ecosystem suited to lots of speckled trout -- and big ones, too. If you had to pick one area to focus on during the middle of summer, whether you prefer to fish from a boat or wade, the top portion of the "Mother Lagoon" is your best bet.
The deeper channels of the Intracoastal Waterway often hold fish in many places, as they move deeper when temperatures warm and come up shallower onto the flats when it gets cooler. Live bait remains a staple of trout fishing this time of year. Catching your own can be done with a cast net, simply by patrolling shorelines early in the morning and searching for roving mullet or piggy perch.
You're also in luck if you prefer artificials, and spoons, paddletail soft plastics and a variety of flies flung from a long stick will work just as well, especially when you find schoolies. Don't forget to shuffle your feet to alert stingrays of your presence if you're wading, and it's never a bad idea to invest in stingray guards.
Channel Catfish - Lake Tawakoni
When it's hot, head to this 37,000-acre lake to take part in a catfish haul unlike anything you've ever seen. West Tawakoni was deemed the "Catfish Capital of Texas" by our state legislature in 2001 -- and for good reason. It sits on the banks of your best bet for catfish angling.
Tawakoni's massive channel catfish population continues to thrive, and anglers can use stink bait and cut bait, including shrimp and livers, to haul in easy limits of the good-eating fish. The real secret is to bring along soured grain of some kind and bait up a few holes you intend to fish.
The easiest channel cat rig is a treble hook below an egg sinker on a swivel, which can be used to hold punch baits or any other kind of offering you have. The daily bag limit on channel cats is 25 fish at least 12 inches long, and if you have a couple of friends or family along with you, it can make for plenty of fillets destined for the peanut oil later.
Hybrid Stripers - Lake Cooper
This sleeper lake remains a hotspot for hybrids, and they can be caught on a variety of lures this month, including topwaters, which can make for exciting action. You also can find hybrids by throwing slabs, crankbaits and other baitfish-type lures.
Many anglers will slow-roll baits near the bottom including Sassy Shads and spoons, and find success while vertically jigging bucktail offerings. Trolling or throwing crankbaits also are excellent ways to find lots of fish.
The lake record is more than 11 pounds and when you consider the hybrid, a cross between a striped bass and a white bass, fights harder than either, a fish of that size could be the catch of the year for any angler.
Redfish - Sabine Pass
The natural outlet from Sabine Lake into the Gulf of Mexico south of Port Arthur is one of the truly amazing ecosystems in our state. If you're looking to find bull reds, the beaches along the pass are at the top of the list of prime fishing grounds. Look for schools of baitfish and you'll find feeding reds not far behind. That holds true whether you're on the beachfront or working from a pier.
Live bait is a winner in most scenarios, including for the wading angler, but don't overlook the venerable gold spoon or soft plastics. And always be sure to use stout tackle and keep the drag looser than you would for other fish; these battlers can make a mockery of some of the best fishing tackle on the market.
If you're using live bait, circle and wide-gap hooks work best for increasing the chances of a solid hookup with a big fish and they don't require a big hook-set to connect.
Smallmouths - Lake Whitney
Eight of the Top 10 smallmouths in Texas came from Whitney. When you consider they fight harder pound-for-pound than largemouths, that makes this month a great time to head to North-central Texas. Look for rocky structure and you'll find fish not far from it, including along shorelines where creeks flow into this Brazos River impoundment.
Deep-diving crankbaits and Sassy Shads work as good as anything for finding smallmouths at that time of year, especially in patterns that imitate crawfish, one of the smallmouth's favorite meals. The fish also could be ganged up around main-lake points in pursuit of moving schools of baitfish. One hotspot to consider fishing is the rocky shoreline that's part of the lake's state park.
Other areas of the lake to look for smallies include the middle and lower portions where the water is clearer and there is a variety of rocky habitat that will hold fish almost all year.
Largemouths - Falcon Reservoir
This long has been one of Texas' top bass fisheries, but after the lake filled in due to heavy rains in the past few years it really has turned on even more. Falcon features great bass habitat that includes rockpiles, standing timber and inundated vegetation. It's a prime lake for flipping and pitching to vegetation, but fish also can be caught on crankbaits and spinnerbaits along dropoffs and underwater channels.
Another strategy is to fish a variety of soft plastics on a drop-shot rig in and around the aforementioned rockpiles and ledges where fish may be lethargic and you've got to really hit them on the head to induce a strike.
One tactic veteran anglers employ during the winter is to target fish in pre-spawn mode that are holding between the shallows and dropoffs. And don't be afraid to use bigger lures such as large swimbaits near brushlines around the backs of creeks. Fish will be looking to maximize their eating efforts ahead of the early spring spawn.
It's tough to beat Texas angling no matter where you are, and while these bodies of water are surefire locales to find the fish of the year or fish of a lifetime, there are plenty of other places not far away that likely are just as good. It's tough to go wrong in the Lone Star State in that regard!