There are a number of hard and fast rules to keep in mind if you want to boost the odds of catching a big bass in Texas. Choosing to soak your baits in big waters over small, isn’t one of them.
Some of Texas’s smallest lakes are steeped in big bass history, and a number of others routinely produce outsize fish that are kept quiet by tight-lipped locals who reel them in.
Several lakes naturally popped up on the radar when this assignment first crossed my desk. Some of them span fewer surface acres than the Harvey Creek arm at Sam Rayburn or Salinas Creek at Lake Falcon.
Below is a rundown on some of the “Best Little Big-Bass Lakes” in Texas. To gain insight on each fishery, we asked for input from the fisheries experts who oversee them:
History: Located in northern Nacogdoches County, Naconiche opened for fishing in 2012. It’s considered by many fisheries biologists to be a top-shelf pick to produce the next state record largemouth. The little lake has been heavily stocked since 2009 with Florida strain largemouths, ShareLunker offspring and dozens of adult females retired from Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Florida bass program.
The little lake has already produced a lake record upwards of 14 pounds and several others topping 12 pounds. TPWD fisheries biologist Todd Driscoll is predicting a big bass explosion at Naconiche within the next five years as more and more year classes of fish come of age and reach trophy size.
What to Expect: The lake is extremely fertile, with scads of flooded timber and plenty of hydrilla that provide forage and great cover. Steep banks and flooded timber make it difficult to get around, while the inclination of the bass to suspend can make them difficult to pattern. Naconiche is governed by a five fish, 16-inch maximum length limit.
History: Located in Coleman County, Hords Creek may be the best little lake some readers have never heard of. It’s one the state’s oldest little lakes and also among the most productive for lunkers in the five- to ten-pound range, according to Spencer Dumont, TPWD Region 2 Inland Fisheries Director.
“It’s never produced a ShareLunker, but the number of five- to ten-pound bass swimming around in that lake has always been remarkable,” he said. “There are so many big bass in there that even I have managed to catch three over 10 pounds. I think it’s always maintained that quality population because of its small size, but also because of the frequent “resets” where water level drops for a couple to a few years, promoting lots of terrestrial plant growth, followed by a year or two of stable water levels. It’s very productive and deep enough to weather the drought periods and provide that deep-water habitat those larger fish often desire.”
What To Expect: The lake harbors a variety of cover and structure including aquatic vegetation, submerged brush, black willow trees, rocky ledges and points. It’s worth nothing that TPWD and the Still Water Bass Club combined efforts to place several fish structures in the lake. GPS coordinates for these structures are available at tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/hords_creek/structure.phtml.
History: Kurth was originally built by a local paper mill in the 1950s before being purchased by the City of Lufkin in Angelina County in 2009. There is no lake record on file with TPWD, but several double-digit fish have been caught there during the last decade. These have gone unreported, probably in hopes of keeping the lake’s big fish potential a secret.
What To Expect: The lake is extremely clear. It’s one of the few places in Texas where anglers will find hydrilla growing at depths beyond 20 feet. Dumont says this offers premium sight fishing opportunities during spring and excellent deep flipping options from summer through fall. The lake is governed by a 16-inch maximum length limit and is accessible only by permit purchased through the City of Lufkin.
History: Located near Tyler, Bellwood is one of TPWD’s selective breeding program research lakes using ShareLunker offspring. Dumont says reports of six- to eight-pounders being caught circulate pretty frequently, but even bigger ones are out there. The lake record stands at 12 pounds, 14 ounces.
“Although it’s too early to know anything about how the research bass are doing there, even without selectively-bred bass, this lake always amazes our biologists when they sample it,” Dumont said. “It’s typically rare for us to collect five-pound-plus bass by electrofishing in most lakes, but that’s not the case on Bellwood.”
What to Expect: Dumont pointed out that Bellwood is a shallow lake that has an abundance of vegetation, mostly lily pads and “billions of shad.” This provides the fish with plenty to eat over the course of the year. The bass are currently protected by an 18-inch minimum length limit, but the lake is being considered for a 16-inch maximum.
History: At 65 acres, this pond is proof that big things can come in little packages. The lake has produced two Sharelunkers, including a lake record 14.5 pounder caught in March 2008. Dumont says the lake doesn’t maintain an overly abundant bass population, but it obviously has what it takes to grow some big ones. Several other fish just shy of 13 pounds have been reported from the little Smith County impoundment.
“Bass abundance is low, but forage is such that some of these bass get to very large sizes,” Dumont said.
What To Expect: Dumont says big fish potential isn’t the only thing the little lake has going for it. He thinks it is one of the prettiest lakes in the region, as well.
“Outside of being one of the most scenic lakes I’ve ever seen, it reminds me of some of those California lakes—deep and clear,” he said. “If you’re a kayaker, you can’t go wrong on this lake.”
History: Located in Shelby County, Pinkston was among the first Texas lakes stocked with Florida bass in the 1970s. It has since become a premier destination for anglers looking to crack the double digits. Pinkston produced a former state record of 16.9 pounds in 1986. It currently maintains a quality bass population that is arguably one of the most abundant in the state.
What to Expect: You can dump a big boat in at either of two ramps. However, the lake is perfectly suited for jon boats, kayaks and other shallow draft rigs. “Pinkston has lots of offshore timber and creek channels, is very dendritic (lots of coves and creek arms), and is often ringed with hydrilla,” Dumont said. “You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful lake in Texas.”
Pinkston bass are protected by a five fish, 14- to 21-inch slot limit. Both ramps are remote and reachable by rural county roads off State Highway 7.
History: Known locally as “Perky,” Brandy Branch is a power plant reservoir in Harrison County that is well known for producing lots of bites and big fish, particularly during the dead of winter through early spring when spawning occurs. It has kicked out numerous fish upwards of 10 pounds, including a 13.97 lake record in 1994 and several other fatties that have gone unreported by locals in hopes of keeping the lake off the radar.
TPWD fisheries biologist Tim Bister of Marshall says the lake maintains a consistently high population of Florida bass with purity levels as high as 90 percent. He believes the fish attain faster growth rates because of the thermal enrichment factor associated with the lakeside power plant.
What to Expect: It’s a little lake, so getting around and finding good stuff to fish isn’t a problem. The lake has an abundance of hydrilla and other vegetation that cover as much as 50-60 percent of the surface area as well as submerged timber and brush. TPWD also has worked with managing authorities to create additional habitat using recycled Christmas trees. The GPS locations are available at tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/brandy_branch/structure.phtml.
History: Welsh is steeped in big bass history dating back more than three decades to December 1983 when the 15.23-pound lake record was reeled in by fishing guide Bill Ockerhausen. The power plant lake has produced several fish in double digits since then, but surprisingly, no ShareLunkers. Bister thinks the lack of 13 pounders may be attributed to their extremely fast growth rates.
“One result of this is that bass longevity is lower than other lakes,” he said. “Many fish just don’t live long enough to get to 13 pounds; the same thing happens at Brandy Branch. However, there are plenty of fish that achieve “big bass” size. The 18-inch minimum length limit at Lake Welsh does a good job protecting fish from harvest until they can reach these larger sizes. As a matter of fact, if I had to pick the best bass lake in my district right now, it would be Lake Welsh.”
What To Expect: Welsh contains an abundance of hydrilla and other cover/structure such as brush, stump fields and well-defined creek channels. Additionally, a half dozen Christmas tree piles on the lake’s bottom were placed to create additional habitat. The GPS coordinates of the brush piles are available at tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/welsh/structure.phtml.
—by Matt Williams