October 04, 2010
Here's 12 months' worth of the finest fishing that Texas has to offer for 2006. Enjoy! (February 2006)
Texas is blessed with more surface-acres of impounded water than is any other state. It has 15 major river basins and thousands of miles of streams. Add several hundred miles of coastline on the Gulf of Mexico, and you have the closest thing to an angler's paradise that you're ever likely to find.
Without a doubt, Texas' waters offer some of the finest fishing available anywhere in the lower 48. Every month of the year offers myriad fishing opportunities; here are just a few of the very best.
East Texas Lakes
When white dogwood blossoms begin to appear among the pines of East Texas, it's crappie time. But the tasty panfish, which can be found in many East Texas lakes, can be caught earlier. And fishing for them sometimes brings a surprise bonus: The state record largemouth bass -- 18.18 pounds -- was caught by an angler fishing for crappie at Lake Fork on Jan. 24.
Tucked away in the pines about 100 miles east of Dallas, Lake O' The Pines doesn't get as much press as does its neighbor to the west, but its crappie fishing is well worth a trip, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist Tim Bister. "Anglers have good success fishing along the Big Cypress Creek channel in deep water near the dam," he said. "You'll catch mostly black crappie, but when you catch a white crappie, it will usually be a larger fish. Both jigs and live minnows work well."
As is normal in crappie fishing, you'll usually catch a bunch if you catch one. Crappie on Lake O' The Pines are managed under a special regulation from Dec. 1 through the end of February. Because of the depths at which fish are caught during winter, survival of culled fish would be low, so anglers are required to keep every crappie caught up to the daily bag limit of 25.
Blue catfish tend to gang up and suspend in deeper water during the winter months, making them hard to target -- unless you know how. TPWD biologist John Tibbs uses a special jug-fishing rig to catch good numbers of blues.
"The jug must be white to comply with TPWD regulations," he explained. "Use a 1-pound weight on the end of a line long enough to reach the bottom. Space two or three hooks about 3 feet apart on 1-foot stagings attached to the main line with swivels.
"The actual depth at which you will attach the hooks varies. I usually try to 'sample' the entire water column, so in 25 feet of water, I might set the hooks from 5 feet off the bottom to within 5 feet of the surface. Use a clip or rubber band to adjust the length of the main line so there is little slack; this will result in more hookups."
To avoid hangups, Tibbs advises, set jugs out on a flat near a creek channel with as few snags or stumps as possible in the area.
Given the widespread presence of white bass (also called "sand bass" or "sandies") throughout Texas, it's hard to believe that they once were native only to Caddo Lake. Biologists transplanted 13 fish into Lake Dallas (now within Lake Lewisville) in 1932, other such introductions followed, and now the small but feisty fighters are found virtually all over the state.
Probably nowhere in Texas do white bass consistently grow larger than in the Sabine River, and the section of river from below Longview to the Louisiana state line furnishes the best chance to fill a stringer. The fish will generally be 15 to 17 inches long. You may need help holding up a stringer for photos, as 3-pounders are commonplace there.
Sandies are schooling fish, and they feed aggressively. Like crappie, they tend to congregate in small areas, so you might catch a limit out of a spot no bigger than a bathtub. In March, look for spawning activity on sandbars and points, or at places in which clear creek water flows into the river. Fish also bunch up in eddies along the bank; prospect likely-looking sites until you find them. Remember that they're migrating upstream to spawn, so they may be in one spot for a while and then move on.
When river levels are low enough, fish stack up wherever their upstream progress is blocked. One such bottleneck lies downstream from the point at which state Highway 43 crosses the river southeast of Marshall. Put in at the boat ramp on F.M. 1794 east of U.S. 59 and run upstream. Because of rocks in the river, a jet boat or other craft equipped with a motor whose propulsive force is applied on or very near the surface is required. Trust me: You will ruin an outboard's lower unit!
Regardless of your location, you'll be catching when you're fishing. "Throw 1/4-ounce Road Runners with a red head and chartreuse or white body, or solid white or solid chartreuse," advised guide Jane Gallenbach, (903) 693-4441. "Tipping it with a crawfish tail will increase your number of bites."
Matagorda Bay doesn't enjoy a reputation for giant speckled trout like that of Baffin Bay or the Laguna Madre, but it can hold its own for numbers, and there's always the chance that you'll hang a reel-stripping redfish instead of a speck. Ah, the angler's life can be tough there!
Target trout over shell pads in the middle of the bay and the south shoreline around Cotton and Greens bayous. Team a 7-foot medium light rod with Norton sand eels in pumpkinseed, tequila gold, or margarita colors in clear water or red shad in muddy. Fish sand pockets on the shorelines; watch for slicks to indicate feeding fish on reefs. Don't leave fish to go find fish, because if the bait is there, the fish are, too.
Live-bait chunkers use croakers or shrimp under a popping cork; a 7 1/2-foot rod gives the extra casting distance you need to avoid spooking the fish. As the day warms and water temperatures rise, try areas around passes, where the water is usually cooler and current keeps the fish feeding longer.
This northern species is basically perch on steroids. Carnivorous and pugnacious, these fish furnish excellent sport on light tackle. Drift 1/16-ounce jigs baited with night crawlers very slowly in 10 to 15 feet of water near dropoffs.
"Your best bet is usually morning and evening," says TPWD biologist Charlie Munger. These fish are notoriously light-shy, so overcast days are excellent times to try for them.
The TPWD has stocked about 8 1/2 million walleyes in Lake Meredith since 1965; the fish also reproduce spontaneously in the lake's cold waters
. It's not uncommon to catch a 6- to 8-pounder during the spawn, which begins when the water in this Panhandle reservoir warms above 45 degrees.
In case you haven't heard, water levels in Amistad have rebounded to the point that the lake now covers tens of thousands of acres of ground more than it did at its nadir. During the nearly 10 years the lake was low, brush grew up in abundance on the bare shores, and this flooded habitat was just what largemouth bass needed to produce a tremendous spawn. As a result, largemouth bass fishing on Amistad is unbelievable, and promises to remain that way for several years to come.
Last June I fished the lake with guide Ray Hanselman, Jr. -- (830) 774-1857 -- and he showed me a whole new side of bass fishing. I was used to beating the banks, chunking and winding a plastic worm all day and maybe catching two or three fish. Drop-shotting plastic worms into hydrilla beds in 14 to 16 feet of water over humps out in the lake, we caught 10 to 20 fish an hour. Each! The fish were in the 1- to 1 1/2-pound range, but they were so eager to be caught that it made fishing fun.
On a cloudy day at midmorning, as we were dropping worms straight under the boat into hydrilla and catching fish on nearly every retrieve, the water got nervous nearby, drawing birds to feed on glass minnows popping up as bass pursued them from below. Ray encouraged me to throw a Chug Bug while he continued drop-shotting, and for the next half-hour, both of us often had a fish on at the same time. After catching and releasing more than 100 fish, we called it a day -- not because we were tired of catching fish, but because our thumbs were so raw and sore that we couldn't stand the thought of removing another hook.
South Concho River
Texas has so many lakes, and largemouth bass fishing is so prevalent, that we sometimes forget about the simple pleasures of catching panfish on light tackle, or with a cane pole, and then having a fish fry. Pugh Park in Christoval, about 20 miles south of San Angelo, is the perfect place to do both. Admission to the park and camping are free.
The park has a one-lane concrete boat ramp, but all you need for fishing is a canoe or kayak, or you can fish from the bank. To score on the South Concho's redbreasts -- which grow to weigh as much as a pound -- fish along the bank under overhanging branches with ultralight spinners, or with a fly rod tipped with poppers, hoppers or Woolly Buggers.
Calaveras And Braunig
Redfish are one of the most popular sportfishes along the Texas Coast, but you don't need to drive all the way to salt water to get into them. Redfish thrive in the warm waters of a number of power-plant lakes across the state, and while they don't reproduce, they do grow to heart-stopping size.
Calaveras and Braunig, both near San Antonio, are known for producing good numbers of reds. TPWD biologist John Dennis says that you can keep cool and catch some big reds as well by wade-fishing. "Wade out to water between waist- and chest-deep and cast live shad, tilapia, or crawfish, and then wade back to shore while free-spooling line," he suggested.
If you prefer to fish from a boat, Dennis advises that you troll deep-diving crankbaits at about 14 to 16 feet, downrig spoons and jigs with soft-plastic grubs, or freeline live baits.
Once you've whetted your appetite for these thick-shouldered, reel-smoking bolts of lightning, head for the Sabine Pass area to fish for the really big ones. During the fall, especially during stormy weather, large adult redfish move onto Gulf beaches, perhaps for spawning, and can be caught by wading or by fishing from piers or jetties.
Fishing from beach piers can be productive, since the structures allow access to the surf past the second and third sandbars, and that's where the big reds commonly roam. Lighted piers may also attract reds at night.
You can also do spot-and-stalk fishing. Locating schools of bull reds involves driving the beach and looking for "nervous" water. Gangs of reds roam the shore looking for schools of menhaden. When you spot a feeding frenzy going on, wade within casting range and throw gold spoons or soft plastics. (Be aware that feeding activity attracts sharks.)
Standard gear for the bull red run is a long surf rod with a steel leader to avoid getting cut off on the barnacles on pier pilings (or being bitten off by sharks). Rig the leader with a pronged surf weight and circle hook. The latter gives more hookups and helps avoid hooking fish in their throat. You can only keep one big red, so this is mostly catch-and-release fishing for the thrill of it. Use a rod holder and let the fish hook itself. After the rod bends over, give it a slight tug and start reeling in.
If you don't have a long surf rod or just want to punish yourself, use light tackle such as a popping rod. A light drag and lots of patience will let you bring bull reds to hand after an exciting battle.
Sometimes fishing is for the birds; at other times it's with the birds. October is one of the latter times. Schooling white bass on Richland-Chambers Reservoir push wads of baitfish to the surface, where the easy pickings attract herds of birds. Scan the lake with binoculars, find birds working the surface and go to them. Use the trolling motor to ease in the last 50 yards or so; then, throw topwaters, slabs or shad-imitating plastics into the fray and hold on.
Guide Bob Holmes -- (214) 728-3310 -- swears by Don's Minnow Slabs, a 1-ounce chrome and silver lure made in Temple. They're hard to find, but worth the effort. Sand bass can't resist them.
Sand bass kill more baitfish than they eat, and the easy groceries raining down the water column attracts other fish. If you can get your bait past the sandies, you stand a good chance of picking up a hybrid striped bass or even a blue catfish.
Although Lake Whitney has experienced fish kills owing to golden alga during the last few years, most of the fish lost were threadfin shad. Smallmouth bass favor the clear water and rocky habitat in the middle and lower portions of the reservoir. As temperatures fall, the fishing heats up. Fish main-lake points and rocky, windswept points and keep an eye out for baitfish activity.
"Red or brown crawfish-colored crankbaits that dive 5 to 15 feet deep should be the ticket to success," remarked TPWD biologist John Tibbs. "Keep in mind that smallmouth bass prefer rocky habitat. Try small sassy shad and tube baits on rocky points."
The TPWD has extensively stocked Lake Whitney with smallmouth bass for more than 20 years, about 3 million total. Known for putting up a tough battle, smallmouths are especially fun to catch on light tackle.
Community Fishing Lakes
While the Guadalupe River below Canyon Dam remains the trophy rainbow trout fishery in Texas, community fishing lakes across the state are the fishing holes for the rest of us. These put-and-take fisheries offer neighborhood fishing opportunity year-around that is specifically geared toward families and youth.
Community fishing lakes and urban fishing lakes are stocked with channel catfish and other species year 'round, and may be stocked with rainbow trout in the winter months. Trout stockings generally begin around the first of December and continue into March, depending on location.
Rainbow trout bite well on whole-kernel corn suspended under a bobber on a cane pole, though you can also catch them on small spinning lures like those made by Panther Martin.
The Texas Urban Fishing program aims to provide year-round, family-oriented fishing opportunities in each of the 25 metropolitan statistical areas of Texas.
"We will be partnering with cities to set up programs to stock rainbow trout in winter and 12-inch channel catfish the rest of the year," said program coordinator Bob Betsill, a research biologist at the TPWD's Heart of the Hills Fisheries Science Center near Kerrville. "We'll stock fish every other week for about 10 months out of the year." The TPWD is also working to expand loaner fishing tackle programs at the sites.
The TPWD needs partners to make this program a success; if you or an organization you belong to would like to get involved, call (830) 866-3356.