The “best of anything” assignments make me nervous. Especially when the topic revolves around Texas bass lakes.
Texas enjoys a passel of great bass lakes. So many, in fact, that it is going to be next to impossible to whittle the list down to the Top Five winter fisheries without somebody feeling as though their sacred honey hole got left out.
Winter’s chilly weather has a history of making the fishing tough in some states, but Texas isn’t one of them. While Jack Frost will occasionally deliver a knockout punch to the fishing in these parts, the lulls are typically so short lived in parts of the state that you may not even notice them unless you have the luxury of being able to wet a hook every day.
Here are my Top Five picks to get your string yanked when it’s cold outside:
Best Lake For Busted Tackle: Lake Falcon
Size: 83,600 acres
Description: Located along the Texas/Mexico border, Falcon is divided by the Rio Grande River but also is heavily influenced by Mexico’s Salado River and numerous creeks and draws during periods of heavy rainfall. The lake was built in the 1950s, flooding old towns and numerous homesteads that now serve as primo offshore structure for anglers to drag their baits. That factor, along with an abundant Florida bass population, jungles of underwater cover created by extended periods of low water and plentiful forage have combined to create what many consider to be one of the very best trophy bass lakes in the world.
The Fishing: In most years, winter on Falcon is like spring on Sam Rayburn. It is located far enough south that temperatures rarely dip lower than 55 degrees. Several patterns will be at work in January with good numbers of fish actively spawning around thick stands of heavy cover in shallow water and armies of others staged along channel ledges. Falcon’s bass are big, mean and powerful. Bring along the heavy artillery or you’ll be sorry. Also, remember that Falcon can get nasty with any big wind, but it can very dangerous when it comes out of the north. Falcon has a dark history of drug smuggling, so always avoid any suspect activity when fishing the Mexico side.
Best Lake For a ShareLunker: Lake Fork
Size: 27,000 acres
Description: First there were bass lakes in Texas. And then came Lake Fork — 27,000 acres of sport fishing nirvana that continues to shock the imagination of discriminating anglers and fisheries scientists alike. Like a 34-year old Energizer Bunny, Fork just keeps going and going and going. When it will stop, nobody knows. But one thing is for certain. Plenty of folks have enjoyed the ride.
Located in Wood and Rains counties in northeast Texas, Fork is arguably the best known spot in America for largemouths built to stretch your string. Its fertile waters have grown bass to gorilla-like proportions, and produced some remarkable records along the way, including back-to-back state records (the current record is 18.18 pounds) and an astonishing 253 ShareLunkers.
The Fishing: After several years with very little emergent vegetation to speak of, hydrilla appears to be making a come back in numerous creeks and along several main lake shorelines. Anglers can use assorted moving baits to pluck big pre-spawn females off shallow grass beds in 2-6 feet of water or they can target deep or mid-range structure and wood with jigs, Carolina rigs, swim baits and deep diving cranks. Don’t forget about the bridge support pilings at the FM 515 East and West crossings, either. Big bass set up camp there to dine on roving schools of crappie.
Best Tournament Lake: Sam Rayburn
Description: There are a passel of great bass fisheries in America. But when it comes to producing rock-solid stringers of quality largemouths along with good numbers of trophy-size fish upwards of eight pounds on a year-round note, there’s not many that can hang with 114,000-acre Sam Rayburn Reservoir.
With a current lake record largemouth of more than 16 pounds, many believe Big Sam is a likely candidate to cough up the next state record largemouth. It also ranks among the nation’s most popular lakes for bass tournaments.
The Fishing: If this January is like most, there will be a strong Rat-L-Trap bite around shallow grass beds up and down the lake. Chatterbaits, swim baits, suspending Rogues also can be productive. Grassy flats near creek breaks and main lake and secondary points are ideal spots to snatch pre-spawn lunkers with moving baits, especially in the wake of a warming trend that heats the upper water column a few degrees.
Additionally, there should be good numbers of fish grouped around underwater ledges, humps and other structure as deep as 30-35 feet that can be caught using spoons, football jigs and Carolina rigs.
Best All-Around Lake: Toledo Bend
Size: 186,000 acres
Description: Toledo Bend has maintained a five-star bass rating ever since it was built on the Sabine River in the late 1960s and is showing no signs of slowing down.
Structure-wise, I think of it as a giant scrub board. The lake’s bottom is one stump-covered hump and ridge after another with a generous mix of points, creeks, a major river and hundreds of shallow flats and pockets where bass can find plenty of room to roam. Cover is abundant, too. In addition to thousands of acres of hydrilla, the lake supports a host of native aquatic plants, gobs of terrestrial vegetation and underwater jungles of brush that promote one of the highest survival rates among juvenile bass of any lake in the state.
The Fishing: It is such a massive water body that it is almost like three lakes in one — north, central and south. Anglers catch fish a variety of ways during winter but some lures and tactics are naturally more productive than others.
The shallow prospects shine brightest following a few days of sunshine, which beckons the fish closer to the surface to bask in the sun-baked upper water column. Lipless crank baits, spinnerbaits, square bills and suspending jerk baits are deadly in this situation, especially when tossed around lush hydrilla beds found in any number of well known bay systems. During periods of cold good numbers of bass of will be relating to deeper ridges where they can be caught on deep diving cranks, Carolina rigs and football jigs. Jigging spoons fished vertical around deep timberlines also can be good for big numbers of 2-3 pound fish when the weather turns nasty.
Best “Little” Lake: Lake Nacogdoches
Size: 2,200 acres
Description: If you like to fish smaller water bodies, you’ll love this one. Although it may not be the very best mini-lake for giants, it may be the state’s best for quantity and quality. It’s an excellent bet for fish in the 4-6 pound range and also kicks good numbers of fish in excess of 10 pounds.
Long and narrow, “Lake Nac” is fed by three primary creeks — Big Loco, Little Loco and Yellow Bank.
The impoundment contains a variety of emergent and terrestrial vegetation, but hydrilla beds and lily pad stubble always get the most play during the winter months. Both can found be in abundance up and down the lake, but some of the best stuff is located at the lake’s upper reaches where grass beds can be found growing in water as deep as 12 feet on flats that border Yellow Bank and Big Loco Creeks.
The Fishing: Lots of anglers abide by the “fish slow, fish deep” mantra during the winter months, but that’s not always the rule on grass lakes like this one. Some of winter’s best fishing occurs in relation to submerged grass beds and lily pad stubble in skinny water using an aggressive approach with a Rat-L-Trap, Chatterbait, swim bait, square bill crankbait and spinnerbait to trigger reaction strikes. The fish are apt to be just about anywhere, but you can refine the search by sticking fairly close to the creek channels and keying on the bends.
Deep water fishing can be productive for those who use their electronics to locate schools of fish holding tight to channel ledges and other main lake structures. Carolina rigs, spoons and jigs are orders of the day. Anglers are reminded of the lake’s restrictive 16 inch maximum length limit, which is designed to protect all fish bigger than 16 inches and allow more bass to reach trophy size.