It's a good thing we have 12 months in a year. With this much great fishing, we'd never be able to squeeze it into any fewer months. (February 2008).
Anglers, start your outboards! The Lone Star State's 2008 fishing season is upon us again.
And what an angling year it promises to be, thanks to the return of life-giving rainfall that fell in buckets last spring and summer on Texas' previously parched landscape.
In fact, so plentiful was the rainfall that very few areas of the state escaped problems with flooding. That same surging run-off filled most water bodies across the state ranging from isolated small farm ponds to expansive reservoirs like the 89,000-acre Lake Texoma, which breached its spillway for only the third time since being impounded back in the 1940s.
All that water means good fishing ahead for Texas anglers, both in 2008 and for several years to come.
"It (the rain) came back in and flooded a lot of terrestrial vegetation last year," said Phil Durocher, the director of Inland Fisheries for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in Austin. "When that happened, it created a lot of new habitat as the waters flooded up over that vegetation. That means that most lakes are going to have an influx of new nutrients -- almost like a new lake situation -- and we know that fish do very well in new lakes.
"Texas anglers can expect really, really good recruitment over the next several years because of this. In fact, a good year like this can carry fishing for five or six years -- it will be good this year and better in the years to come because of all of the new fish that will be coming into our inland fisheries."
While the first month of the year most often means football and huddling around the fireplace across much of Texas, at least one species of fish makes an early "splash" on the annual calendar: big blue catfish, on the prowl this month at Lake Texoma. World-record accolades could await those willing to give these huge whiskerfish a try.
That's what happened to Howe's Cody Mullenix in January 2004, when he pulled the late, great former world-record "Splash," a 121.5-pound blue cat, from the waters of Texoma. Splash is gone now -- she died in December 2005 while on display in an aquarium at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens -- but the big blue's offspring live on at Texoma.
Want to catch a blue cat as big as or bigger than Splash?
Well, there's no better lake than Texoma and there's no better time than January, provided that you show up with some serious gear. That includes lengthy surf rods that can both lob 3-inch dead shad on an 8/0 circle hook out into the water, not to mention a rod-and-reel with enough backbone to land a big blue leviathan.
Last year, on a mild February day that came on the heels of a stretch of cold, wet, and at times icy weather across North Texas, I spent a day on the beautiful waters of Lake Daingerfield in East Texas with fly-fishing guides Rob Woodruff and Steve Hollensed.
Woodruff, an Orvis-endorsed fly-fishing guide who specializes in the lunker largemouths swimming the depths of world-renowned Lake Fork (www.flyfishingfork.com, 903-967-2665) had set up this outing.
Hollensed, a striped-bass fly guide who plies Lake Texoma
www.flywaterangling.com 903-546-6237), was joining Woodruff for a guide's day off as the pair traded fleece for sunscreen and their bass rigs for an oar-powered rubber drift boat.
The small lake's spawning chain pickerel were the perfect quarry to target as 8-weights were traded for Orvis Zero Gravity 5-weight fly rods with the water temperature slowly crawling into the mid-40s.
Interested in giving these toothy critters a try?
For conventional tackle, use lightweight spinning gear, small Beetle Spins, spinnerbaits, and small crankbaits. For fly-fishing, 5-weight rods throwing black crystal flash Wooly Buggers with orange coneheads or small, flashy streamers with gold, pearl, or chartreuse colorations are a good bet.
There's no question that March is a great time to visit just about any of the Lone Star State's bass-rich lakes ranging from Lake Alan Henry near Lubbock to Lake Amistad near Del Rio to Lake Fork near Quitman to Sam Rayburn Reservoir near Jasper.
After all, March Madness isn't all about basketball in
Texas; it's also about the crazy rush to catch a lunker largemouth tipping the scales into the double-digits.
But for the month's enticing lure for bass anglers, there is an equally powerful lure for saltwater anglers seeking a big gator-sized speckled trout at the end of their line in the salty haunt known as Baffin Bay.
Please understand that these aren't your daddy's specks, either. At least not the ones that my dad targeted as I was growing up, eager to help fillet the moderate-sized trout that came home in the cooler.
Instead of the cooler-sized fish, what we're talking about here are the double-digit, 30-inch-or-better, roe-laden females that like to roam the worm-rock infested Baffin Bay south of Corpus Christi.
And there are few better times to target such trophies than the weeks of March when the sows are prepping to spawn and complete the circle of life in the hyper-saline environment of Baffin Bay and the Laguna Madre.
The best advice I can give is to hire a guide unless you really know what you're doing. Baffin Bay isn't a place for novice boaters to take expensive rigs -- not unless you're best buddy runs a boat and motor repair shop that can fix dings, dents, holes, and sheared props.
Aside from that, bring plenty of topwater plugs, some soft-plastic baits and leadheads, and stout baitcasting gear -- you'll need it for this version of March Madness!
While March offers some of t
he best bass fishing across the state, the big bass action seems to really crank up on West Texas' 2,880-acre Lake Alan Henry about the time April Fool's Day rolls around.
And that's no joke either -- 14 of Alan Henry's 25 ShareLunkers, each weighing 13-pounds or better, have taken the bait during the month of April. Add in two more behemoths caught on the final two days of March and a full 16 of 25 fish have been caught between March 30 and April 30 on the small reservoir near Lubbock.
Why's that? Simple -- because of Alan Henry's location on the High Plains, cold winter water temperatures give way to the warmth of springtime a bit more grudgingly than lakes farther east.
I have to admit that I don't always get to enjoy some of springtime's best action for largemouth bass and crappie; something called spring turkey season usually gets in the way.
But when May rolls around on the angler's calendar, there's still plenty of good fishing left for post-spawn bass and for platter-sized bluegills found on many Lone Star State lakes and farm ponds.
Wherever you choose to chase 'gills, a 3- or 4-weight fly rod and flies like Bream Killers, Wilson's Bluegill Bullies, or Miss Prissy Poppers in white, chartreuse, or yellow are tough to beat. For more conventional angling, a lightweight spinning rod used to toss small Beetle Spins around the beds or a cane pole, bobber and cricket rig -- just like my dad started me with about 30 years ago -- is tough to beat.
Whatever method you choose, be sure to keep the fish fryer warmed up -- you'll need it with these plentiful and tasty fish!
"Bluegills are a great fish to eat," Rob Woodruff agreed, noting that on some lakes like Caddo -- one of the best bluegill lakes in the state -- anglers can catch almost "absurd numbers" of them.
Catfish may not be a glamour species, but they're sure fun to catch, especially at a site where they're plentiful -- as at Lake Tawakoni.
Take, for instance, an early-summer outing my family enjoyed last year on a North Texas lake along with several other couples from our church. Put kids around water in the summer, and it isn't long before fishing rods are out and lines are in the water, even if the bait isn't much more than a piece of a hot dog that didn't make it to the grill.
And when that hotdog is tossed near the shoreline where catfish are spawning and well, it isn't long before the bobber goes under, the line screams from a Zebco reel as a 5-pound channel cat takes off, and another child is hooked on fishing!
Where do you target spawning whiskerfish? I'll turn back to timely advice that TPWD inland fisheries biologist Bruce Hysmith has given, instructing me that once water temperatures warm into the mid-70s, look for areas that have some sort of moving water.
"During the spawn, they can be found along windy banks, but the best thing that they like is inflowing water on tributaries," Hysmith told me. "They'll really crowd into inflowing water where they'll move up in there and look for hollow logs, rock overhangs, and stuff like that."
The biologist noted that while traditional catfish stink baits will work at this time of the year, he prefers to use an unweighted crawfish that can roam around.
The key is to keep the hook covered with the bait -- if not, a spawning whiskerfish is liable to spit it out.
Unless it's a hot dog, of course!
Offshore Fishing & Tarpon
When it comes to saltwater angling, my expertise -- limited as it may be -- is confined to redfish, trout, and the occasional flounder.
That's something I hope to change this year as my family and I make another pilgrimage to the Texas Gulf Coast. There are many piscine treasures waiting in briny water found offshore rather than inshore.
For the angler willing to brave seasickness on a journey dozens of miles offshore, there is the thrill of blue water angling for species like marlin, sailfish, yellowfin tuna, dorado, and wahoo, to name but a few.
Closer to shore, there are the oilrigs that provide great fishing for red snapper, the hard-fighting kingfish, and other saltwater species.
And finally, there are increasing numbers of tarpon showing up each year from the deep-water tarpon near Galveston to the shallow-water silver kings that delight conventional and fly-fishing anglers from Port O'Connor to South Padre Island.
Most summers, you can find me somewhere on Lake Texoma targeting line-ripping striped bass.
Last year however, when a massive early-summer flood inundated the Red River Valley, Texoma was unfishable during the prime months of summer as floodwaters receded from submerged boat ramps and marinas.
By the time I got back on the water in September and fished with Steve Hollensed, it had been a few months since I had been on the lake.
What I found when I did get back was topwater feeding blitzes that would rival anything the Atlantic Seaboard can dish up -- minus the boat traffic, that is.
On a warm early-autumn day, we enjoyed several hours of run-and-gun fishing: casting to and catching stripers weighing between 3 and 5 pounds. And those were the ones we actually hooked -- on several occasions a linesider blew up on our poppers but somehow remained free.
For those interested in giving this angling game a try, Hollensed suggests 7-, 8-, or 9-weight fly rods rigged with either a floating line or at times, a shooting head ranging from 300 to 500 grains. To the floating line he suggests tying on a white foam popper, while to the sinking line he'll tie a chartreuse streamer or a Clouser minnow.
For conventional tackle enthusiasts, he recommends medium- to heavy-weight baitcasting or spinning gear coupled with a Pop-R in white or bone. Sassy Shads in chartreuse, pearl, and white are also good bets.
Whichever method of angling floats your boat, be sure to bring along nerves of steel. "It can get pretty darned crazy," Hollensed said. "The water is boiling everywhere and fly lines are whizzing in the air. I've often heard it said that fly-fishing is a quiet and contemplative sport. Well, this definitely isn't it on Texoma during a blitz. It's fast
and extreme -- if you get into one of these great blitzes once, you'll be hooked for life."
Show up at Lake Fork, Ray Roberts, Sam Rayburn, Toledo Bend, or Amistad in the spring months and get ready for a lengthy wait at the launching ramp. Show up at many of those same water bodies in the fall, however, and you'll typically be one of the few boats on the water.
In addition to the lack of crowds at this time of the year, the fall weather is drop-dead gorgeous, cool high-pressure systems coming and going, leaves turning brilliant autumn hues. Add in the fact that largemouth bass are feeding aggressively for the coming winter, and it would seem that fall bass fishing is as good as it gets.
How do you exploit such fishing? According to Steve Hollensed, it comes down to having a good map and good electronics, watching the birds, and finding the baitfish. Adjust your presentation to the conditions, and you should be in business.
"The fish are still pretty active because the water is still fairly warm," he said. "The bass are beginning to follow the shad back up into the old creek channels, so I use baits that move pretty fast such as tandem willow-leaf spinnerbaits in white and chartreuse colors, and plastic jerkbaits."
For fly rod enthusiasts, the guide recommends floating lines on a 7- or 8-weight fly rod with a Clouser minnow, a streamer, or a popper tied on.
What colors? "I almost always tie on something chartreuse or white because most bass are shad driven in Texas," he said. "On the upper portion of a lake, sometimes orange or black/blue will work, but the vast majority of the time, I'm sticking with chartreuse and white."
Rainbow trout in Texas?
For starters, anglers can find stocked rainbows in dozens of public waters each winter as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department supplements its annual put-and-take trout program.
For those wanting something a little more scenic, don't forget the stocked trout in the Guadalupe River tailrace below Canyon Lake or the Brazos River tailrace below Possum Kingdom Dam.
To catch these trout, try light spinning gear coupled with Roostertails or small crawfish and shad resembling crankbaits. Power Bait nibbles, small earthworms or even kernels of corn can also catch these trout.
For the fly rod experience, use 4-, 5-, or 6-weight fly rods rigged with weight-forward floating lines, 8- to 10-foot leaders with 4X to 7X tippets, and various dry flies, nymphs, streamers, and scud patterns ranging in sizes from 14 to 22.
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Well, there you have it -- from the calendar's start to its finish, a year of great fishing options.
So grab your rod, reel, and tackle box and get out there to sample some of this great fishing -- some of the best that North America has to offer -- all within the border of the great state of Texas!
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