In reservoirs scattered throughout Texas, under the black skies of cool, fall nights, loud generators drone and bright lights beam from strange-looking boats built to transmit electrical current into the water to catch fish.
Crews from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Inland Fisheries district offices use these electrofishing boats to collect information on fish populations, including Texas’ most popular fish—largemouth bass.
Bass anglers are always searching for hot lakes, for bass populations that are primed for great fishing opportunities. With this in mind, TPWD’s Spencer Dumont used electrofishing information collected from over 4,800 adult bass (8 inches and longer) in 78 hours of electrofishing effort at 935 different shoreline sites from 62 reservoirs in Fall 2012 to rank the top ten bass populations in terms of small bass, keeper bass and quality bass.
What he found may simply confirm what you already knew. But more likely it will surprise you.
Top Ten Lakes for Small Bass
Small bass were defined as those from eight to 13 inches long. Sprawling Sam Rayburn Reservoir was ranked No. 1 for small bass at 161 bass collected per hour of electrofishing effort. Rounding out the top ten were:
Toledo Bend (90/hour)
Walter E. Long (86/hour)
Eagle Mountain (84.6/hour)
Ray Hubbard (81.5/hour)
Lake o’ the Pines and Lake Raven (75/hour)
The average number of small bass caught per reservoir in 2012 was 44/hour.
Top Ten Lakes for Keeper Bass
Keeper bass were defined as those from 14 to 17 inches long. Lake Raven took the top spot for keeper bass with a whopping 75 bass collected per hour of electrofishing. The rest of the top ten were:
Walter E. Long (62/hour)
Sam Rayburn (35.5/hour)
Amon Carter (25/hour)
Coleman, Gibbons Creek and Toledo Bend (21/hour).
The average number of keeper bass caught per reservoir in 2012 was 13 bass per hour of electrofishing.
Top Ten Lakes for Quality Bass
Quality bass were defined as those 18 inches or longer. Walter E. Long had the most quality bass with an impressive 18 bass collected per hour. The remainder of the top ten were:
Bastrop and Raven (10/hour)
Jacksonville, Houston County, Ray Hubbard, Sam Rayburn and Sweetwater (7/hour)
Mackenzie, Murvaul, Proctor and Stamford (6/hour)
The average catch of quality bass per reservoir in 2012 was 3 bass per hour of electrofishing.
Top Ten Overall
The best overall reservoir, based on a combination of small, keeper and quality bass caught during electrofishing samples in 2012, was a tie between Walter E. Long and Sam Rayburn. Raven was No. 3, followed by Sweetwater (No. 4), Bastrop (No. 5), Ray Hubbard (No. 6), Toledo Bend (No. 7), Lone Star (No. 8), Houston County (No. 9) and Amistad (No. 10).
Dumont cautioned that anglers should not expect to catch bass in the same numbers as the electrofishing boats. “Electrofishing gives an indication of how abundant bass of different sizes are in a reservoir,” he said. “Also, electrofishing does not generally collect very large fish. There may well be larger fish in a reservoir than show up in electrofishing surveys. Falcon would be a good example. We know that lake has lots of big bass, but it’s very hard to collect them with electrofishing.”
If your favorite lake is missing from the lists above, it may be due to the fact that not every reservoir is sampled every year. And, Dumont noted, electrofishing is not an exact science. “Lake Fork did not show up on any of the lists, but sometimes you don’t get a good sample. That happens with electrofishing.”
Dumont also pointed out that reservoirs are not all the same. “Electrofishing rates are not always directly comparable from lake to lake, so we typically monitor trends in the same lake from year to year.”
Lake Dunlap: A Quality Largemouth Bass Fishery
Lake Dunlap is a good example of a fishery that might surprise anglers with the quality of its bass fishing. (Toyota ShareLunker No. 539, a 13.34-pounder, was caught from the lake December 30.)
The lake was impounded in 1928 and encompasses 410 acres of the Guadalupe River near New Braunfels. Little more than a wide spot on the river, it is a popular destination for recreational boating and fishing. Boat access is limited to one two-lane boat ramp (under Interstate 35), and bank fishing is limited to the bridge easement.
The Inland Fisheries Division of TPWD has been managing the reservoir for many decades. Since the early 2000s, electrofishing surveys have been conducted every other year to monitor black bass populations and prey assemblages. Largemouth bass are the predominant black bass species in the reservoir, but smallmouth, spotted and Guadalupe bass are present.
Since 2001, largemouth bass catch rates have averaged 92 fish per hour of electrofishing, and bass exceeding 20 inches have been collected in almost all of the surveys. On the angling side, Lake Dunlap’s largemouth bass have been in the limelight over the past few years as fishing reports and pictures of double-digit bass have flooded the Internet angling forums. A tournament held in Spring 2012 showcased the potential of Lake Dunlap’s bass fishery when a five-fish limit topped the scales at 35-plus pounds. Lake Dunlap has become a destination for club-level tournaments.
The foundation of this quality fishery is genetic potential, abundant forage and diverse habitat. Florida largemouth bass genes are prevalent in the population despite just two stockings (1978 and 1988). The presence of Florida bass genetics allows for better growth potential and opportunity for production of trophy-size fish. Forage species, primarily sunfish and shad, are readily abundant and provide largemouth bass with the equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet. Largemouth bass relative weight indices (measure of plumpness) are above average, especially for the larger individuals.
Lake Dunlap’s habitat is diverse. The upper third is comprised of shallow, fast-flowing water with lots of large boulders, gravel bars and large, fallen timber. The reservoir begins to deepen in the middle third. The river flow slows and large boulders are traded for drop-offs, ledges and gravel shoals. Rooted stands of aquatic vegetation are scattered along the shoreline and piers and boat docks provide shade and habitat for larger fish. In the lower third, the reservoir continues to deepen, becomes wider and flows slow to a near halt. Drop-offs and ledges are generally limited to the river and creek channels; sand/mud flats replace the gravel shoals; and colonies of rooted aquatic vegetation are large and robust. Unlike other Guadalupe River lakes, Lake Dunlap has a large flooded timber field located in this lower section.
Preservation and enhancements of these important fish habitats has been a recent focus of TPWD’s fisheries management activities, in collaboration with the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority and local anglers.
The combination of a healthy, robust largemouth bass population and high prevalence of Florida largemouth bass genetics coupled with abundant forage and diverse habitat has been the recipe for success in creating a quality bass fishery in this relatively small water body.
Electrofishing collections and other management activities in Texas’ public waters are made possible by funds provided by the Sport Fish Restoration Program through purchase of fishing licenses and fishing equipment and motorboat fuels. –Larry Hodge, TPWD