The Lake Most Likely
I t’s hard to believe, but January 24 will mark the 25th anniversary of Texas’s current state record bass.
Weighing a whopping 18.18 pounds, the heavyweight fish was reeled in on a chilly Friday afternoon by Barry St. Clair, then of Klondike. St. Clair and some buddies were dunking shiners for crappie in 42 feet of water near the mouth of Little Caney Creek at Lake Fork when he hooked the fish.
It certainly didn’t come as much of a surprise to learn that Lake Fork had produced a pot-bellied lunker heavier than the former 17.67-pound state record caught from Fork in 1986 by fishing guide Mark Stevenson. Fork was in its hey-day in the late 80s/early 90s.
In fact, the 27,000-acre reservoir was cranking out double-digit bass like a gumball machine at the time, including four more 17 pounders and several in the 15-16 pound range that preceded St. Clair’s fish.
What has come as somewhat of a shock is the fact that no one has caught a bass in the last quarter century that comes remotely close to eclipsing the state record title.
Bryan Turner’s 16.89 pounder from Fork is the biggest Texas bass reported during the last 24 years, and Keith Burns’ 16.17 pounder from Caddo is the heaviest in the last decade. Tommy Shelton was the last angler to crack the Texas Top 10 list when he caught a 16.8 pounder from Sam Rayburn in May 1997. That fish currently ranks No. 9.
It’s anybody’s guess as to if or when Texas might see another state record largemouth from public waters. My guess is it will more than likely happen amid a perfect storm that might come sooner than many bass junkies might think.
So, which lakes have the best shot at such a fish in the near future?
In my book, there are only a handful. Here they are in descending order.
1. NACONICHE: Located in northeastern Nacogdoches County, Naconiche is Texas’s newest bass lake. The 700-acre reservoir was impounded in 2009 and has been salted with Florida bass from the get-go. This includes hundreds of adult ShareLunker offspring and retired hatchery brood fish that are now protected by a 16-inch “maximum” length limit. The rule prohibits anglers from retaining bass longer than 16 inches, unless the fish is a potential candidate for the ShareLunker program.
Good genetics and restrictive limits aren’t the only things Naconiche has going for it. It’s a constant level reservoir fueled by spring-fed creeks. The water here is extremely fertile, and the lake’s forage bases of threadfin shad and bluegill are thriving as a result.
Those factors, coupled with great habitat comprised of hydrillla and jungles of timber and dense brush left intact prior to filling, have set the stage for a perfect storm that already appears to be brewing.
Naconiche produced a 14.12 pounder last July, yet it has been open for fishing for only four years.
2. TOLEDO BEND: This Texas/Louisiana border lake has always been a big bass hotspot, but it has been on fire with lunkers the last couple of years. This is reflected by the impressive numbers of 10-plus pounders caught and released as part of the Toledo Bend Lunker Program.
From May 2015 to May 2016, Toledo Bend anglers turned in 139 fish to the Louisiana-based program, including a pair of 13 pounders and one fish weighing 14.16 pounds.
Texas fisheries scientists credit excellent water quality, an exceptional forage base, great habitat and a banner spawn in 2007 with the sudden upswing in number of trophy-class largemouths. The fishing has been so good that the lake has ranked No. 1 among Bassmaster Magazine’s Top 100 Bass Lakes in America the last two years.
Another thing you have to consider is the sheer size of the massive reservoir, which spans more than 181,000 surface acres at full pool. Many anglers believe some bass in the lake have never seen an artificial lure.
3. FORK: Only a fool would compose a list of lakes like this one and exclude Texas’ most famous big bass lake of all-time. There is way too much big bass history there. The lake has produced 257 of the 565 entries for TPWD’s Toyota ShareLunker program, including two state records and seven of the state’s Top 10 bass.
The reason I didn’t rank it closer to the top is because the lake has been in something of a big fish funk the last couple of years. Fork hasn’t produced a ShareLunker entry since 2014, but it did kick out a 16.04 pounder in 2013 and a 15.02 pounder in 2012—rock-solid evidence that some melons are finning around out there.
What is really encouraging about Fork is the huge numbers of fish under the 16-24 inch slot limit that are currently being caught by lake regulars, some reporting daily catches 40-60 fish per day. The rash of “unders” are the direct result of banner spawns that recently occurred after the lake refilled following several years of low water.
The young fish are sure to get bigger with age, and some are certain to have what it takes to reach double digits. Only time will tell whether or not one of them is able to grow beyond 18.18 pounds—and be willing to bite a hook.
4. AMISTAD: Built along the Texas/Mexico border, Amistad is a deep, clear, fertile impoundment nurtured primarily by the Rio Grande and Devil’s Rivers. The bass fishing there has a history of seesaw cycles resulting from ebb and flow water levels, and it appears to on the upswing as the result of good rainfall the last couple of years across parts of the Big Bend country.
Habitat-wise, Amistad is flourishing and the bass fishing is steadily improving as a result. In addition to fields of flooded mesquites, huisache, cactus and other forms of terrestrial vegetation, the lake’s hydrilla has returned with a vengeance after all but disappearing after severe drought caused the lake to reach historic lows a few years ago. Local fishing guides tell me the grass can found in water as deep as 30 feet these days.
Amistad hasn’t produced a Top 50 fish since 2005, when Tom Sutherland reeled in a 15.68 pounder on crankbait. It’s due to produce another giant.
Email Matt Williams at ContactUs@fishgame.com