If you think fishing was good in the Lone Star State last year, just wait until you try some of the 36 trips we've targeted for you this season! (February 2010)
Our state waters are the most diverse in the nation, featuring superb habitat for a variety of game fish in both fresh water and salt. While there's debate about the top places to fish throughout the year, this 12-month breakdown of outstanding fishing is sure to please any true Texas angler.
Bass fishing is always big in Texas! Ricky Bearden of Conroe caught the state's top ShareLunker of 2009, this 15.93-pounder, at Lake Conroe. –ª Photo courtesy of the TPWD.
Largemouths, Choke Canyon
This body of water located about 65 miles south of San Antonio down Interstate 37 is as hot a bass lake as there is in the state. Choke produced its highest number of entries (six) into the ShareLunker program last season, and those fish averaged 14.21 pounds! Included in that haul was the lake record, a 15.45-pound largemouth caught Jan. 21, 2009, by Brad Bookmyer of Leander while fishing a crankbait in about 10 feet of water.
The water during January might not be as warm at Choke as it is on Falcon or Amistad, but the chances of hooking a double-digit fish are just as high if not higher. Big fish will be holding close to vegetation, so you should consider using braided line or heavier monofilament or fluorocarbon to cut down on the chances of losing a hawg to abrasion.
Popular big-bass baits include lipless crankbaits, spinnerbaits, soft plastics and jerkbaits fished around staging areas, such as humps and points, which can be found easily using even a modest depthfinder. Texas-rigged worms, lizards and Senkos work well when flipping and pitching around vegetation that isn't kind to treble hooks.
Crappie, Toledo Bend
This massive 181,000-acre reservoir straddling the Texas-Louisiana border on the Sabine River features superb habitat and is a crappie angler's dream with a variety of fish-holding structure, including hydrilla.
You can keep an aggregate of 50 white and black crappie. All crappie caught this month at T-Bend must be kept as there are no length limits. And with a lake-record black crappie of 3.69 pounds and a record white crappie of 2.88 pounds, the chances to stock a freezer or plan for a fish fry are greater here than at possibly any other lake in the state.
The first places to look for crappie during February are in back cove areas in the many fingers that extend from the main portions of the reservoir. The fish won't be as shallow as when they begin their spring spawn as temperatures rise in coming months, but they still should be holding at intermediate depths in and around any type of consistent structure. You can never go wrong by tying up to a stump or even dropping an anchor while dabbling minnows around vegetation, but if you're looking to have some fun, try working small, dark-colored jigs on a lightweight spinning outfit.
Largemouths, Lake Fork
The numbers don't lie at this East Texas mecca. Of the 50 biggest largemouths caught in Texas, 34 came from 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 in the whole United States. As temperatures begin to rise this month, 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.
The one thing anglers should never forget to bring along is a good set of polarized glasses, which will help you spot not only bass but also their bedding areas. 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, and one tip that seems to work for many veteran anglers is to pick a lighter- or brighter-colored bait that they can see when pitching the shallows in hopes of dragging an offering through a bed.
The key to fishing shallow during March is simple but often hard to do: Don't spook fish that are on full alert. If possible, position your boat so that your profile isn't between the sun and the fish you're casting to, and try to cut down on any kind of movement other than that needed to fling a lure.
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 for whiskerfish 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.
However, if you're looking for relatively easy fishing and hoping to maximize your haul of good-eating fish while having a heck of a time, you can't go wrong with Buchanan. 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 thousands of aces of 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.
And when it comes to bait, catfish in Buchanan are susceptible to any kind of stink bait and cut bait, including punch baits, which can be easily rigged up on a treble hook below a Carolina-rigged egg sinker. A fishfinder doesn't hurt, but one of the easiest ways to find nice blue cats is to bump a bait on the bottom in rocky areas and on the edges of any vegetation that could hold fish.
White Bass, Richland-Chambers
This 40,000-acre reservoir southeast of Corsicana on U.S. Highway 287 also is a fantastic hybrid striper fishery, but for many anglers, especially at this time of year, it's all about schooling 'sandies.'
White bass fishing heats up this month as 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 any small topwater plugs that mimic the baitfish. If the fish and surfacing activity aren't easily visible, o
ne 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.
R-C also has superb catfish and crappie fisheries, and some fishing die-hards will set up juglines early for blue and channel cats before heading out to look for schooling white bass or crappie. If you're looking for options, this is the month to head to Richland-Chambers.
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 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 -- if you're lucky -- and possibly a real lunker! Other lures that can be fished near the surface are Sassy Shads and jerkbaits.
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 the 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; 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 sour 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!
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 late summer, whether you prefer to fish from a boat or wade, the top portion of the 'Mother Lagoon' would be your best bet.
The deeper channels of the Intracoastal Waterway often hold fish in many places, as the finny creatures move deeper when temperatures warm and come up shallower onto the flats when it gets cooler. Mostly, they are in search of baitfish.
Live bait remains a staple of trout fishing at this time of year. Catching your own can be done with a cast net, simply by patrolling shorelines early in the morning in search of roving mullet or piggy perch.
If you like to throw artificials, you're also in luck, as spoons, paddletail soft plastics and a variety of other creations work well, especially when you find a school of fish.
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.
The lake record is more than 11 pounds. 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 hooks work best for increasing the chances of a solid hookup with a big fish and they don't require a big hookset 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, it makes this month a great time to head to 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. 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.
Largemouths, Falcon Reservoir
This long has been one of Texas' top bass fisheries, but tournaments in recent years -- including the April 2008 Bassmaster Elite Series event that saw all 12 finalists easily surpass a four-day limit of 100 pounds -- have made the lake into a national hotspot. 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.
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.