February 02, 2016
Texas' state waters harbor outstanding angling for more species than you can shake a rod at — in fresh water or in salt. But there are some that stand out above the rest for quantity, quality, or for both, and you should plan your angling year based on hitting these honeyholes at peak times. Here's a look at 12 months of fishing across the Lone Star State that won't disappoint.
Speckled Trout, Baffin Bay
This remote bay system, an inlet of the Laguna Madre southeast of Kingsville, is known in most circles as the top place in Texas to catch a truly massive specimen — a speck measuring at least 30 inches — which is the trophy standard for most gator-trout aficionados. And while the bay gets most of its guide and weekend-angler pressure during the summer, the true diehards head out to these waters in the dead of winter in hopes of catching some of the biggest sow trout around all year.
The key to fishing this locale and other hotspots during the winter is in knowing the nature of the fish in cold weather, the impact the cold has on where they're found, and their activity levels. Trout react much more slowly in the winter, saving their energy and often looking for larger meals to maximize their efforts.
Slow down your presentation and target the depths differently than you might during early summer mornings when fish will be up super shallow looking for prey. Some of the tried-and-true baits that have helped lure untold numbers of big trout include the slow-sinking Corky and jigs and spoons fished vertically. Lures mimicking baitfish typically are the go-to staples for winter trout anglers.
Black Drum, Upper Laguna Madre
The state record is an 81-pound fish caught in summer 1988 from the Gulf of Mexico, but that doesn't mean there aren't still brutes skulking around in the winter. These fish will gang up before the spawn that occurs into the spring, and it's not uncommon to see scores of anglers frequenting beach areas near passes and other manmade flows targeting fish with a variety of natural baits.
Dead shrimp and cracked crabs are among the notable lures and cut baits that always produce for anglers looking to take home some great-eating filets. The best surf tactic is to pin the offering to the bottom using heavier weights than most inshore anglers will ever try. Even a "butterfly" drum, one that's within the slot, can peel drag with the best of the saltwater species, and having heavier tackle can be handy, especially if the bull drum are in.
Because of their strength, many anglers utilize a stout leader, which can aid in subduing especially large fish. Anglers may keep five fish per day in a slot limit between 14 and 30 inches, and drum that exceed that limit quickly become less desirable as their flesh gets increasingly coarse and less edible.
Largemouths, Sam Rayburn
This 100,000-acre monster of a lake near Jasper is among the best bass-fishing hotspots in the country right now. It topped the Bassmaster list of the best 100 fishing holes for good reason. It offers fantastic largemouth habitat including flooded timber and coves filled with submerged vegetation.
During spring, largemouths are active for longer periods of the day — especially during warmer spells — and typically are found in shallow water for spawning. A variety of baits and techniques work during those times, but crankbaits and spinnerbaits typically are the preferred choices. "Creature" baits such as crawfish and salamander imitations also will elicit big strikes from fish near beds.
Largemouths, Toledo Bend
This massive body of water on the border with Louisiana stretches into three counties and offers excellent angling for multiple species including crappie and catfish. However, it also is among the best bass lakes in the country and sports a lake record of more than 15 pounds.
Like Sam Rayburn, T-Bend offers superb habitat that gets inundated by heavy rains and holds fish all year long. The lake also has excellent forage sources, producing huge sunfish that big bass love to gorge themselves on. Bright baits are the ticket when targeting the shallows. Most Texas anglers after largemouths during the spawn are catch-and-release aficionados, which is a good thing for conservation.
The biggest thing to remember with any catch is to stress the fish as little as possible — which usually means handling them as little as possible. If you must handle a big bass, don't hold it by the lower jaw in a vertical position. This can dislocate or break the jaw, essentially putting a death sentence on the fish.
Stripers, Lake Texoma
This is the prime lake for striped bass in all of America, and the body of water on the Oklahoma border northwest of Denison features a self-sustaining population. 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 stripers is that they take a variety of baits, including live gizzard shad, 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 are 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 summer mornings is with topwater plugs fished near shorelines, which also could produce a hefty smallmouth and scores of white bass.
Red Snapper, Gulf Of Mexico
Red snapper fishing has become a contentious issue, with state and federal fisheries officials and recreational and commercial anglers squaring off over quotas and season dates, but one thing remains certain. The fish is among the most-sought species by everyone, and for good reason — it's among the best-eating fish out there.
The fishing season in federal waters in 2015 was limited to less than two weeks, which makes it tough to adequately target the species. However, if you play your cards right and take part in the Gulf Headboat Collaborative, a program that allows only 20 federally permitted headboat captains to fish for red snapper all year as long as they have not exhausted their allocations for the species, you can bring home some great-eating filets.
And while the Gulf season remains largely hit or miss, it should be noted that snapper options do exist in state waters. The bag limit in federal waters remains two fish that are at least 16 inches long, while the daily framework in Texas state waters — where fishing is allowed year 'round — is four fish, which must be at least 15 inches.
Hybrid Stripers, Cooper Lake
Just west of Birthright, nestled among the sprawling thickets of Texas' Post Oak Prairie, sits the best fishery you've never seen. It has only been two decades since Cooper Lake was impounded, but in that time the 19,000-acre reservoir on the Sulphur River arguably has become the best hybrid striped bass lake in the country.
However, because the body of water located 90 miles east of the heart of the Metroplex sits just north of well-known largemouth lair Lake Fork and striper fishing sanctuary Lake Tawakoni, it simply doesn't get the same kind of boat traffic.
Nearly 2 million hybrid fingerlings have been stocked in Cooper's depths by biologists since 1996. The hybrids, which can't reproduce, are created by mixing the eggs of a striped bass with the milt of a white bass. The result is offspring that easily can grow larger than 10 pounds in lakes with plenty of forage, and that run in large, aggressive schools.
The key to finding hybrids without lots of baitfish activity is targeting humps and rises in the main portion of the lake. Among the best lures are chartreuse Sassy Shads on 3/4-ounce jigheads, and spoons and other large baits that mimic shad, the hybrid's favorite meal.
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 seen. West Tawakoni was deemed the "Catfish Capital of Texas" by our state legislature in 2001, and for good reason.
Tawakoni's massive channel catfish population continues to thrive. Anglers can use stinkbait 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 filets destined for the peanut oil later.
A couple of flatfish are a welcome addition to a daily bag limit when you're wading during late summer and early fall, but this time of year they're a common sight in many areas if you know where to look.
Their mass migration later in the fall lowers the daily limit from five to two with a 14-inch minimum, and they may only be harvested by fishing pole during that two-month period. Flounder will skirt along edges where deeper channels meet shallower bars and will take a number of lures, especially of the freshly dead variety. One common approach is to fish jigs and other baits on the bottom tipped with a piece of shrimp.
Redfish, Jetties and Beaches
The redfish run is among the most amazing sights in saltwater angling, and the run is in full force along Gulf beaches this time of year. The state record was plucked from the Gulf in January 2000 and weighed 59 1/2 pounds.
As these fish mature, they move out into the Gulf where they spend most of their lives. That's a great thing for Texas' surf, jetty and pier anglers, and these brawny battlers will take a number of offerings, including cracked crabs, shrimp and baitfish of all sizes.
They'll readily slam live and dead bait, but anglers toting artificial lures should always remember to pack heavy spoons, swim baits and other variations that mimic mullet or croakers. Surf rods that are heavy and stiff are standard tackle for anglers who pitch out multiple baits as far as they can and drop them into a holder punched into the sand.
The daily bag on redfish is three fish in a slot limit of 20 to 28 inches, though you can keep one over 28 as long as it's affixed with the oversized red drum tag from your saltwater fishing license.
Pompano, Gulf Beaches
This specimen, also known as cobblerfish, is a common find along Gulf beaches and pass areas. They frequent sandy areas where they pick off critters that find themselves unlucky enough to be near the bottom. Pompano don't get large — the average fish is anywhere from 2 to 4 pounds — but the state record is 6.25 pounds. are superb on the dinner table. There is no size or bag limit on pompano.
Anglers targeting "pomps" typically use rigs fished near the bottom featuring small hooks baited with bits of shrimp, which are easier for them to take. Live bait also will produce when you've located a school of hungry pompano, and the fish also will hit small spoons, jigs and mullet-looking artificials.
Beginning south of Corpus Christi on the beaches of the Padre Island National Seashore, there are miles of suitable fishing locales for anglers targeting pompano, and the farther south you head toward South Padre Island the better the fishing typically gets when it's colder.
Redfish, Braunig & Calaveras
This pair of waters near San Antonio is known for harboring superb metro fishing for a number of species, but in the winter it becomes redfish time, which means anglers don't have to drive all the way down to the coast to catch what most consider solely a saltwater species.
Redfish have been stocked in the lakes for years, and although they can't reproduce, they adapt well to freshwater and grow quite large, feeding on a number of baitfish and other game fish species. Redfish are thought of more as a spring and summer species, but fish in excess of 15 pounds regularly are caught during the winter, notably near heated discharges that flow into the lake.
Among the best natural baits are crawfish and even tilapia and other larger fish, while spoons and diving lures such as crankbaits and even spinnerbaits will help you bring in these brutes when most folks along the Coast are focusing on other species such as black drum.