Texas has two kinds of years for bass fishing: good years and great years. There are clear signs that 2016 is going to be a great year. In normal years really big bass don't start to show up until January as females start to develop eggs. By mid-September 2015 three anglers had already called the Toyota ShareLunker hotline to report catching a 13-pound-plus bass. Entries are not accepted until Oct. 1, but it is obvious the big fish are out there, and this could be your year to catch one.
The reason is no secret — rain. Rain starts a process that ends with you having sore thumbs from releasing so many bass.
"Rising water covers shorelines that had been dry for years," explains Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries biologist Jake Norman. "The influx of water floods an immense amount of vegetation, providing excellent habitat for young fish. It also washes in nitrogen and phosphorous, which results in a spike at the bottom of the food chain that works its way to the top. The flooded vegetation will immediately concentrate adult fish, and the boom of juvenile fish will result in very good fishing for several more years."
Here's what Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries biologists had to say about the best places and ways to put a bucket-mouthed bass in the boat this year.
Marcos De JesÃºs narrowed his choices for top bas waters in Central Texas down to LBJ, Lake Walter E. Long, and the Colorado River below Austin.
"Lake LBJ has experienced a significant expansion of aquatic vegetation habitat in the past four years," he says. "Extensive grass (Eurasian watermilfoil) beds in the lower half of the lake provide tons of cover for largemouth bass along the shallows. Besides native aquatic vegetation plantings, TPWD has been stocking Florida largemouth bass fingerlings to take advantage of this expanded habitat and improve growth potential."
Lake LBJ has become one of the hottest bass destinations in Central Texas. In spring, check for bedding bass inside grasslines in shallow water and in creek channels. Use soft-plastic weedless rigs to entice strikes. If the fish are buried in the grass, punch heavy jigs down into the grass pockets.
Just east of Austin, Lake Walter E. Long (Decker Lake) is a very productive power-plant lake, rimmed with aquatic vegetation habitat. Fishing has been good at this lake for many years but really picked up in 2015. Find openings in the bulrush that lead to open areas, with deeper water behind the wall of vegetation, and offer Texas-rigged and wacky-rigged soft plastics to the bedding fish you'll find there.
The Colorado River between Austin and Columbus offers amazing fishing for largemouth bass and Guadalupe bass. That stretch is home to the state-record Guadalupe bass, which was caught in spring 2014. Fly-anglers love the stretch of water for its fast action and hard-fighting giants.
"In Lake Conroe, many areas that were out of water during the drought are now fishable, such as boat docks and newly inundated vegetation," says Mike Gore. "Aquatic vegetation in the upper end of Lake Conroe is also expanding with over 1,000 acres of mostly shallow grass along the shoreline available to fish. You can catch fish under docks or in shallow water using weightless worms rigged wacky-style, or Texas-rigged plastics. Use shallow-running crankbaits to cover water and find fish."
Lake Raven in Huntsville State Park provides large areas of vegetation to fish, and there are plenty of bass in the 7- to 10-pound-class to catch. The point in front of the park's lodge holds some big bass that can be caught from the bank.
Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend can be thought of as the "old reliables" of southeast Texas. "Spring bass fishing has been consistently good on these large reservoirs over the years," says Todd Driscoll. "Focus on staging and spawning areas such as secondary points and coves in pockets protected from north winds. Use lipless crankbaits for staging, pre-spawn fish, with the key being submerged hydrilla. Crayfish and shad-colored crankbaits are productive. Umbrella rigs have produced very well in recent years, primarily during the pre-spawn period. As the spawn progresses, the best fishing will be in spawning pockets with finesse plastics."
A couple of relative newcomers to the southeast Texas fishing scene are lakes Nacogdoches and Naconiche. Lake Nacogdoches has abundant bass weighing 4 pounds or more. Lake Naconiche also has high numbers of large bass. Two other southeast Texas reservoirs on the rebound due to rains and increased vegetation are Lake Houston and Gibbons Creek Reservoir.
While much of West Texas missed out on the spring 2015 rains, Mandy Scott reports a couple of bright spots that most anglers probably don't know about. Oak Creek Reservoir near Blackwell (south of Sweetwater) came up 9 feet. "Expect plenty of plump 14- to 18-inch largemouths," Scott says. "Try slow-rolling a spinnerbait or swimbait through the flooded brush." The only downside is you may need four-wheel-drive to launch.
Scott also recommends the Winters-Elm Creek Reservoir near Winters. "This 330-acre lake is a gem, with lots of standing timber and two long riprap dams that provide good fishing, even when the lake is low," she says.
Fans of Falcon International Reservoir will be happy to know the lake has caught a lot of water, flooding tremendous areas of brush. The spring 2015 spawn produced huge numbers of fish that are growing fast. Biologist Randy Myers expects the peak to come in 2017 through 2019, bringing back the days when five-fish bags often exceeded 40 pounds. In the meantime, you will have to be content with 50-fish days of 3- to 5-pounders.
"The Dallas/Fort Worth area offers some of the best lakes in Texas to catch bass," says Stephanie George. "Grapevine Lake has quality largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass populations. This should be a good year for catching all these fish around rocky points and shorelines, submerged cliffs, inside coves, and anywhere there is flooded vegetation. Because of the abundance of rocky habitat, baits resembling crawfish or the abundant prey fish, gizzard and threadfin shad, should work the best."
Possum Kingdom is a deep, clearwater reservoir with primarily rocky shore, many docks and standing timber. It is rebounding from golden alga fish kills and turning into a quality bass fishery.
"Anglers can find bass throughout PK," says Robert Mauk. "Early spring and fall are the better times to fish, when the bass move to the backs of coves and hold near standing timber and laydowns. Summers provide good topwater action during low-light periods. Docks provide bass-holding spots year 'round. Popular areas to fish are Cedar Creek, Caddo Creek, Bluff Creek, and Neely's Slough."
"Essentially all reservoirs east of I-35 filled in spring 2015," says Jake Norman, "translating to promising fishing outlooks in the next few years. In the meantime a few reservoirs were less impacted by drought and are fishing well right now."
Norman points to Lake Athens as a virtual bass-fishing paradise. "The abundance and diversity of habitat present in Lake Athens facilitates multiple fishing styles and disperses angling pressure throughout the reservoir," he says. "Wild celery (eel grass), pondweed, coontail, and American lotus (lily pads) all occupy substantial acreage within the reservoir, offering anglers several areas and methods to fish, depending on daily conditions and the time of year."
If you find worm-fishing boring, Athens offers an alternative. "Topwater action can really become exciting in mid-May and continue to be reliable through mid- to late June," says Norman. "Even throughout the heat of summer, large schools of bass frequently will erupt in the middle of the lake at any time of day. Small baits will produce the most bites."
Lake Palestine is another reservoir that remained relatively stable despite drought conditions. The Kickapoo and Neches arms contain a healthy abundance of submersed vegetation, primarily coontail, pondweed, and lotus, providing excellent habitat for juvenile and adult bass alike.
Areas such as Saline Bay, Flat Creek, Highsaw/Ledbetter Bay and other small tributaries are prime locations to search out spawning bass. As spring comes to an end and the summer months and temperatures set in, target main-lake boat docks with 4 to 7 feet of water on the deep end. Skip a jig or soft plastic into the darkest shade, and be prepared for something big.
"In spring of 2015, Lake Fork reached full pool for the first time since 2010," says Dan Bennett. "That marked the end of the longest period that Lake Fork had not reached full capacity since the lake was impounded. This resulted in over 4,000 surface-acres of newly flooded grasses, shrubs, and black willow trees for fish to hide in and anglers to fish.
A recently conducted age and growth analysis of Lake Fork largemouth bass revealed that growth rates exceed the average in Texas. The bumper crop of young largemouth bass and baitfish produced in 2015 will begin moving into the 16- to 24-inch slot at two years of age. This is the time to schedule a trip to Lake Fork."
Lake O' the Pines is not on the radar screen for many anglers, but it should be. TPWD has stocked almost 2 million fingerling Florida largemouth bass in Lake O' the Pines since 2009. Three bass weighing more than 13 pounds have been donated to the Toyota ShareLunker Program since 2010, with the heaviest weighing in at over15 pounds."
"Lake O' the Pines definitely has the ability to grow big bass," says Tim Bister. "Water levels have returned to normal following years of low water. Spawning conditions have been good the last couple of years, and so I anticipate anglers will catch high numbers of fish."
The upper third of the reservoir has most of the submersed vegetation, primarily hydrilla. Alley Creek and Johnson Creek contain good grass and stumps to fish.