You may not find better Texas bass fishing opportunities than you'll find at these waters.
Talk about a month that will pump you up for bass fishing, this is it! March rules. Big bass will be spawning and there is no shortage of lakes to find them. This is akin to the bucks rutting in South Texas. It's the perfect time to be in the hunt for a career largemouth.
Some of the greatest Texas lakes in the mix include Fork, Rayburn, Toledo Bend, Houston County, Richland-Chambers and Lady Bird.
The newest trophy bass lake in Texas is Naconiche. Lake Naconiche is an impoundment of Naconiche and Telesco creeks, tributaries of the Attoyac Bayou in the Neches River Basin. This lake has a surface area of only 692 acres, a shoreline length of 13.1 miles, and an average depth of 13 feet. Access is available at a two-lane boat ramp.
Lake Naconiche was opened for fishing in September 2012. It has already produced a ShareLunker entry.
On Feb. 28, Larry Mosby of Garrison caught a 13.06-pounder. He caught that bass in 8 feet of water on a jig. That fish was the offspring of ShareLunker No. 446. Naconiche is located 14 miles northeast of Nacogdoches off U.S. Highway 59.
"Lake Naconiche was impounded in 2009, and since then we've used every tool in our toolbox to maximize the trophy potential in that reservoir," said Todd Driscoll, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries biologist. "Since 2009, the reservoir has been stocked with approximately 380,000 Florida largemouth bass, 100,000 ShareLunker offspring fingerlings, and more than 700 retired hatchery brood fish ranging from 3 to 7 pounds."
Texas Parks and Wildlife Inland Fisheries staff stock Florida largemouths in the reservoir every year to improve the genetic potential of fish to reach trophy size.
Chad Morgenthaler: Bass in the Grass
Bass pro Chad Morgenthaler offers tips for catching bass in the grass at Toledo Bend Reservoir.
In 2016 TPWD implemented a 16-inch maximum length limit for anglers to make sure the bass get old enough to reach trophy size.
Driscoll also credits the "new lake effect" for the impressive abundance and growth of bass in the relatively young reservoir.
"The 'new lake effect' results in very productive conditions in the reservoir — high forage abundance, ample aquatic vegetation, timber, and good habitat — which promotes increased reproduction of fish and fast growth rates," Driscoll said.
ShareLunker 567 is the first submission to the program from Lake Naconiche, but it's not the first noteworthy bass from the lake. A 12.54-pound bass caught from the lake in 2013 was found to be the offspring of ShareLunker 370, which was submitted from Lake Fork in 2000.
After she spawned at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, thousands of those offspring were stocked in Lake Naconiche.
ShareLunker 567 is now in that same "lunker bunker" at the TFFC to prepare for spawning. A fin clip will be sent to a lab at the A.E. Wood Laboratory in San Marcos, where biologists will use genetic analysis to determine whether she is a regular Florida largemouth bass or one of the ShareLunker fingerlings or retired hatchery brood fish stocked in the reservoir.
Fish stockings began in 2009. Since then, the lake has become very popular among bass anglers due to its trophy-bass potential. The most popular sportfish at Lake Naconiche is the largemouth. Bass 15 to 20 inches in length seem abundant, some exceeding 6 pounds. Growth rates of largemouth bass are fast, so the population will continue to improve with abundance of fish over 6 pounds increasing, according to TPWD.
Habitat in Lake Naconiche consists mainly of hydrilla and lily pads along with standing and submerged timber. Largemouth bass are typically found around vegetation edges, points, and creek channels.
Another excellent and very popular trophy-bass fishery is Lady Bird Lake, aka Town Lake and/or Austin Reservoir. This lake is a popular destination for kayakers and canoeists. Only trolling motors are allowed on boats there. If I had to pick a lake where I could most likely catch a 13-pound-plus largemouth from a kayak, this is it.
In a recent TPWD survey, largemouth bass were considered moderately abundant. Town Lake was once considered to be one of Texas' best trophy bass fisheries. Since 1994, anglers there have submitted 20 bass weighing 13 pounds or greater to the ShareLunker Program. The most recent entry was in February 2014. However, since then, the depletion of aquatic vegetation has impacted the catch of trophy-sized bass.
Lady Bird covers 1,589 acres. It's an impoundment of the Colorado River located in the middle of downtown Austin.
One of my favorite bass fishing lakes of all time is tiny when compared to places like T-Bend and Rayburn. It's called Lake Raven and relatively unknown among trophy bass anglers. It only covers 203 acres in Huntsville State Park.
Raven has a history of producing trophy bass. The population has been managed with a catch-and-release regulation since September 1996. The regulation allows the angler to retain largemouth bass measuring 24 inches for weighing on a personal scale in the boat with subsequent release, or, if weighing 13 pounds or more, donation into the ShareLunker Program. Raven has been included in Operation World Record, a program to compare growth of selectively bred ShareLunker largemouth bass fingerlings to that of resident bass fingerlings.
Lake Fork Love
Of course, we can't talk about Texas bass fishing without giving Lake Fork some recognition. The lake has produced 257 ShareLunker entries — the most of any lake in the state. This also is a lake that has produced two state-record bass.
Lake Fork fishing guide Mark Stevenson is one of the most famous fishermen in Texas due to his catch of Ethel, a 17.67-pound largemouth that broke the previous state record and became the first entry into the ShareLunker program. He caught that monster bass on Nov. 26, 1986. She was 27.5 inches long.
In the time since Stevenson caught Ethel, a new and heavier bass has replaced that record catch. She weighed 18.18 pounds, was 25.5 inches long, and was caught on a live minnow by crappie angler Barry St. Clair on Jan. 24, 1992.
When is the best time to fish Fork? Any time you can get there, but especially right now. Remember that Fork has produced 33 of the top 50 heaviest bass in Texas history. That's strong!
Houston County Lake is another spot you might want to try. It's been around since 1966 and since that time this lake has produced some huge bass. Houston County is located about 10 miles northwest of Crockett. It's not a giant lake like Rayburn or Fork, but does cover some 1,330 acres.
The lake record largemouth bass from Houston County weighed 15.19 pounds. She was caught by Terry Walling on March 3, 1988.
Phil Brannan is an avid angler who has been fishing on the lake for years.
"During March the spawn will be going strong here," he said. "That's when I'll be fishing on the upper end of the lake. Another good area to fish is the island in front of the marina. It covers several acres.
"Little Elk Heart Creek is good, too. That's where the water will go from 6 feet to 20 feet. It's a perfect area for spawning bass. The cove to the left of the marina is good throughout the entire spawn. It's got a lot of feeder creeks and wide-open flats. The pump station area is well known for giving up good numbers of big bass, too."
All the lakes mentioned here are sure to provide good bass fishing throughout the year, but especially during the spawn. All have great trophy potential.
Jigs as a Go-To Lure
One of the top lures for catching spawning bass is a jig. Pro bass angler and lure maker Lonnie Stanley has been producing jigs for decades that will catch big bass. In fact the lake record 15.19-pounder caught on Houston Country ate a Stanley jig. Two of the best color combinations are black/blue and pumpkin.
"A jig is a bait that can be fished just about anywhere, anytime and catch solid bass," says Stanley. "It looks a lot like a crawfish. In fact, when you add a plastic crawfish trailer to one of my jigs, it's a great imitation of a big ol' crawfish. During the spawn I'll fish them up shallow in the feeder creeks on Sam Rayburn. You can hop a jig along bottom and over the beds of spawning bass and get some pretty good hits. After the spawn and throughout the late spring and summer I'll fish them in the hydrilla that you can find on both Rayburn and Toledo Bend. It's a fun lure to fish any time of year."
Don't forget that TPWD is now accepting bass year 'round for the ShareLunker program. After more than 31 years of collecting and spawning 13-pound or larger largemouths, the TPWD Toyota ShareLunker program is announcing big changes and an expanded mission in an effort to better engage the public in the promotion and enhancement of lunker bass fishing in Texas' public waters.
The ShareLunker participation season will now run each year from Jan.1 through Dec. 31; a change from previous seasons. But similar to last year, only those entries collected between Jan. 1 and March 31 will be accepted as brood stock for spawning.
"This provides the greatest opportunity to obtain eligible fish for spawning while minimizing the risk of additional handling and possible mortality," said Kyle Brookshear, ShareLunker program coordinator.
Outside of the spawning window, the new year-round participation season will allow for anglers catching bass 8 pounds or larger to submit information about their catch through a Web application in four categories: 8 pounds or larger, 10 pounds or larger, 13 pounds or larger and 13 pounds or larger with a spawning donation.
The goal is to increase the number of participants in the Toyota ShareLunker program and expand large fish catch rate data for fisheries biologists, Brookshear said. As a bonus, the new size categories open up more ways for anglers to receive prizes and incentives for participating.
"This citizen scientist initiative will allow fisheries biologists to better monitor the impact of ShareLunker stockings across Texas and provide more incentives and opportunities for Texans to help us make our bass fishing bigger and better than ever," Brookshear said.
Other spawning program changes include converting the entire hatchery brood stock to pure-Florida ShareLunker offspring. Genetically pure offspring will be maintained on the hatchery, grown to adulthood, then distributed to production hatcheries and used as brood stock. Eventually, all hatchery-held Florida largemouth bass brood stock will be descendants of ShareLunkers, Brookshear said.
Additionally, attempts will be made to spawn all donated eligible ShareLunkers — regardless of the degree of genetic introgression. Offspring of female genetic intergrades will be combined and stocked back to the source locations for all ShareLunker entries for the year.
"People come to Texas from all over the country for our lunker bass fishing, and it's still very rare to catch a 13 pounder," said Mandy Scott, Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center director. "So that's why ShareLunker is special. We learned a long time ago that these fish were important and we wanted to try to capitalize on the big fish that we have in Texas already and make fishing even bigger and better."
Brookshear said the program will announce the full list of changes and the new prizes closer to the beginning of the season, but anglers can also look forward to a complete rebranding of the program to include a new logo, graphics, and eventually more ShareLunker Weigh Stations to aid in the weigh-in process. Additionally, education and outreach specialists at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center are developing ShareLunker science curriculum for Texas classrooms.
For complete information and rules of the ShareLunker program, tips on caring for big bass and a recap of last year's season, see tpwd.texas.gov/sharelunker/. The site also includes a searchable database of all fish entered into the program. Or follow the program on social media at facebook.com/sharelunkerprogram/.