Bass fishing in Texas rules because of several things: big-time bass numbers, three of the nation’s best bass-fishing lakes and lakes and rivers within quick striking distance wherever you live.
East Texas has three of America’s top lakes — Fork, Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn. Each provides great bass-fishing prospects going into spring. But the unique thing about the Lone Star State is that we have lakes and rivers from one side of Texas to the other with major-league bass-fishing potential. Some of those are Coleto Creek and Choke Canyon in South Texas; Amistad in West Texas; Canyon Lake in the Hill Country and the Brazos River and Lake Waco in Central Texas. These are all primetime bass-fishing waters that are free to fish and open to the public. Bass fishing on all of them, and on other lakes, kicks into high gear about now.
TOLEDO BEND RESERVOIR
Toledo Bend is among the most versatile bass lakes we have in Texas. This lake has been one of the best places to fish since 1967. It’s huge, covering 181,600 acres, and has some of the best bass-fishing structure you’ll ever find on any bass lake on earth. It is covered with flooded timber from end to end. There are massive amounts of aquatic vegetation and miles upon miles of flats, rivers and creeks. One reason this lake was voted as best in the nation by BASS in 2016 is because it’s been the most consistent bass fishery year in and year out for decades.
“It’s easy to understand why Toledo Bend was ranked number one,” says Phil Brannan, who has been fishing this lake for years. “Even though it gets a lot of fishing pressure, it just keeps giving up huge numbers of bass. Some of my best fishing has been on the lower end of the lake. During spring, the bass will be on the beds. What I’ll do is just ease along the shoreline and look for bass on the beds. Catching them is a matter of flipping jigs to them and getting the big bite. A jig and trailer is very good. A Texas-rigged lizard in black or plum will catch spawning bass all day long for the next couple of months.”
SAM RAYBURN RESERVOIR
Another fantastic bass-fishing lake is about 30 miles west of Toledo Bend. That would be Sam Rayburn, voted the best bass-fishing lake in the nation by BASS in 2018. It’s located on the Angelina River, about 15 miles north of Jasper. Like its neighbor, Toledo Bend, it’s massive, covering 114,500 acres.
“I’ve been fishing on this lake for decades,” says bass-fishing pro Lonnie Stanley. “You can’t beat it, especially during the spawn when the bass are on the beds. Some of the best areas of the lake will be along shorelines with sand, stumps and laydowns. You definitely don’t want to pass up fishing the creeks and sloughs. I’ll be fishing the beds with our Stanley casting jigs and a stand-up football jig. Best colors will be black/blue, pumpkin/bluegill and crawfish magic. I’ll be fishing them with Da Bug trailers. The bass on this lake eat a lot of crawfish. That’s what these baits mimic. A jig and trailer is good just about year ’round on Rayburn. The Vibra-Shaft spinnerbaits are very good during post spawn and during the summer months when fished in and around hydrilla.”
Something impressive to note about Rayburn: 27, 13-pound-plus bass have been caught there and donated to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) ShareLunker Program.
None of Texas’ great bass lakes even come close to being as well known for trophy bass potential as Lake Fork. If you’re heading there this spring, make room reservations; otherwise, you’ll be sleeping in your vehicle. Every hotel for miles around will be full during the spring when Fork’s bass are spawning.
“It can get plumb crazy around here during the spawn,” says longtime guide Dennis Canada. “People come from all over the United States to fish the spawn. It’s without a doubt the best place to fish during the spring if you are looking to catch a trophy bass. My best on this lake weighed 15.54 pounds. I caught her on April 19, 1987, on a live shiner.”
Fork anglers have donated 260 bass to the ShareLunker program. Those are all 13-pound plus largemouths. The first entry into the ShareLunker Program weighed 17.67 pounds. She was caught on Nov. 26, 1986 by Mark Stevenson. That was also a new state record, and she was caught on a Stanley jig.
If that’s not enough to make a believer out of you, check this out. On Jan. 24, 1992, Barry St. Clair caught the current state-record largemouth bass on Fork. She weighed 18.18 pounds. He caught that monster while crappie fishing with a live minnow.
CHOKE CANYON RESERVOIR
Choke Canyon is a unique South Texas jewel located in the middle of nowhere in the brush country. You’ll find plenty of rattlesnakes and some of the biggest alligators in the state here. But, it also has some of the most distinctive bass fishing.
The spawn here occurs during January and February because it’s one of the hottest regions in Texas. So, by the time spring rolls around, bass are off beds and on a big feed. They can be caught on various lures, with a spinnerbait being among the best. That’s because there is a ton of aquatic vegetation, laydowns, brush and flooded timber all over this lake that covers 25,670 acres. The lake-record largemouth weighed 15.45 pounds. She was caught on Jan. 21, 2009 with a crankbait by Brad Bookmyer.
Choke Canyon is great for fishing a variety of lures, but two absolutely rule. The number one lure is a spinnerbait. Next up is a jig and crawfish trailer. Like Toledo Bend, Choke Canyon is covered with brush and flooded timber from end to end. There is lots of flooded timber, plenty of hydrilla and many coves offering miles of brush mixed with aquatic vegetation.
“I’ve been fishing this lake since it opened up back in 1982,” says Carlos Fernandez. “The only thing wrong with Choke is that it’s been low for a lot of years. This is South Texas, and we don’t get a whole lot of rain. But even when it’s low, you can catch plenty of bass on spinnerbaits all day long. One of my favorites is a double willow leaf silver-bladed spinner with a white and chartreuse skirt. It’s a big bait with lot of vibration and looks like a perch; that’s what big bass love to eat.”
One of the lake’s best boat ramps is in Choke Canyon State Park. Put in there and start fishing hydrilla and brush just around the corner from the ramp.
“It’s a fun lake to fish, especially during the spawn,” says Fernandez. “When the bass are up shallow, a spinnerbait or jig and craw will catch them. One thing you definitely want to watch for are the big alligators here. There are some that are around 12 to 14 feet long.”
One often-overlooked bass fishing hotspot is the section of the Brazos River that flows through Waco.
“It’s a good river that has a good population of bass, and they are a lot of fun to catch during the spawn,” says David Underwood, who has been fishing the river for decades. “This river doesn’t produce a whole lot of big bass. But we have caught them up to about 5 pounds. It’s a good spot to fish. It’s a quick-hit river that doesn’t get a lot of pressure during the week. On the weekends, we’ll see more fishermen, and lots of kayakers.”
The area of the Brazos that flows through Waco is about four miles long. It offers excellent fishing for largemouth bass and a variety of bream and catfish. It’s also a good option for fly-fishing, too. If you’re into kayaking, this little ribbon of water is perfect.
This stretch of the Brazos is scenic and contains heavily vegetated banks. There’s sufficient water for recreational use at all times, although during periods of dry weather, shallow areas are found. One dam, forming Lake Brazos in Waco, exists. Water releases are automatic, and when the lake goes above conservation pool, the spillway is opened to release water. A popular boat ramp is located at the horseshoe throwing park in Brazos Park East.
The heaviest largemouth on record from the Brazos weighed 11.71 pounds. She was caught on Jan. 28, 2016 by Mark Bohanan on a Rat-L-Trap.
“The bass on this river will hit just about any type of bass-fishing lure,” says Denny Copeland, who has fished here many years. “It’s just a matter of fishing the right lure in the right spot at the right time,” he says. “Spinnerbaits are good. So are swimbaits. Jigs are big-time producers during the spring when bass are up shallow on the beds. They can be worked tight to structure and little pockets of deep water along the shoreline.
“It’s usually best to target small patches of grass and small inlets along the shoreline,” he adds. “These bass will hold around laydowns and debris. One of the best tactics during the spring is to ease along the bank while flipping 1/4- and 3/8-ounce black and blue jigs. The topwater bite is good early and late as the water begins to warm in late spring. That’s when a Pop-R can be very good. Crankbaits will work all day long.”
One of the most unique lakes in East Texas is located at Huntsville State Park. It only covers 210 acres, but it’s a great place to be fishing during the spring. Raven was seemingly made for bass fishing, even though it’s got healthy catfish and bream populations. It’s small but has almost any type of structure you care to fish. As you’re driving into the park, you’ll see a big cove on your left with lily pads and a sandy bank. A number of big bass have been caught there during the spring spawn.
Continuing down the park entry road, you’ll see a boat ramp. It’s the only one on the lake. Directly across from that is the mouth of a small creek. But it opens up into a small cove that’s got a ton of stumps and brush. It too is an excellent place to fish jigs and lizards during the spring. On the northwest end of the lake is another section loaded with brush along the shoreline. It’s also got a huge area of lily pads.
Raven can get crowded on the weekends, especially during spring when big bass are on the move and up shallow. Fish during the middle of the week, and it will be mostly empty of boats. That’s when anglers can ease along the bank and sight-cast to spawning bass.
NORTHERN BASS IN THE SOUTH
Largemouths may be what most anglers envision when they hear the word “bass,” but smallies are also present in Texas. They don’t get nearly as large as their bigger-mouthed relatives, but they still offer some fun for Lone Star anglers, and there are even some bodies of water in the state where they can grow to fairly respectable sizes.
Smallmouth bass are more particular in their water preferences than largemouths. They like larger, clearwater lakes — usually more than 30 feet deep — and cool streams with clear water and gravel substrate, according to the TPWD. They also have a distinct preference for rocky structure.Some decent smallmouth lakes include Belton, Texoma, Grapevine, Bridgeport, Meredith, Canyon and Stillhouse Hollow. Some river options exist, but one of the hottest is Devils River about three hours west of San Antonio. Lake Whitney was once one of the undisputed top smallmouth waters, as seen by its repeated presence in the TPWD’s list of top 50 smallmouth bass caught in the state. In recent years, fishing has been poor compared to that available to anglers in the ’90s, when most record fish were caught. Many have blamed golden alga blooms for the lake’s smallmouth decline, though, according to the TPWD, recent stockings have been working to improve the fishery.
For smallies, fish rocky shorelines near large structure or dropoffs. Early spring, when water temps reach 55 to 65 degrees, is a great time to target smallmouth, as they move into rocky coves to spawn. Bait and lure options are many, ranging from live shad to soft plastics and crankbaits.