TEXAS FRESHWATER by Matt Williams – November 2019

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October 24, 2019
BANK NOTES – November 2019
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New Texas Fisheries

THESE ARE EXCITING times for lots of folks in Fannin County. State fisheries managers are reeling over the possibilities at Texas’s newest bass fishery.

Heavy equipment operators are steadily pushing dirt and clearing brush as Texas’s newest fishing lake and water supply reservoir — Bois d’Arc Lake — slowly takes shape.

The new lake is named for the bois d’arc trees native to northeast Texas. This 16,600-acre reservoir is the first “major” impoundment built in Texas in nearly three decades. The last was 19,000-acre O.H. Ivie, which opened in 1990.

Plenty of progress has been made since construction crews broke ground last year. The North Texas Municipal Water District project began in May 2018. However, opening day is still a few years down the road.

In the meantime, Dan Bennett and his staff are dipping deep into their bag of tricks to make sure fishermen find something really special once that happens.

Bennett is the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Region 1 inland fisheries district supervisor and is based in Pottsboro. Bois d’Arc will bring the total number of lakes under his watch to 13, and he’s hoping it’s the Lucky 13 that becomes a gem of a bass fishery.

“Most of our biologists who hired on back in the 1980s have never had a chance like this,” Bennett said. “I am excited about this particular project, indeed.

“The only thing that might be more exciting is if they would turn me loose on a bulldozer for a few months to make all sorts of humps and channels in the basin. We are certainly trying to brainstorm and do all we can to improve fish habitat in the lake before construction is complete.”

Built on Bois d’Arc Creek northeast of Bonham, the long, narrow basin extends roughly 13 miles from the upper tip to a two-mile-long earthen dam northwest of Honey Grove. Sandwiched in between are about two dozen major and secondary creeks that feed coves, cuts and fingers along the lake’s jagged shorelines.

Bennett says the creeks are well defined by drop offs and distinctive bends that will help position fish. This will provide anglers with plenty of good spots to soak their baits. To provide critical habitat for fish, most of the timber and brush is left in coves and the lake’s upper half.

The lake also will inundate a complex of county roads, bridges, culverts and close to 250 stock tanks ranging from 1/4 acre to 10 acres. Bennett says the reservoir depth will be about 70 feet at its deepest point with an average depth of 20 to 25 feet at full pool.

“It’s got a pretty complex shoreline of about 67 miles, too,” he said. “I suspect the lake will fish pretty big for a 16,000-acre lake. Fishermen should be able to spread out pretty good.”

Another underwater feature of interest to anglers is a unique man-made channel that was cut through the Bois d’Arc creek bottom decades ago. Bennett said farmers cut the channel in a straight line to carry water faster than the winding creek channel. The idea was to curtail flooding.

“Initially the channel was narrow, probably about the width of a track hoe,” he said. “It has since eroded to about 40 to 50 feet wide. The main creek channel is still there, too. It carries water during periods of wet weather.”

In addition to the previous structures, Bennett says fish will benefit from several large brush piles that will be anchored to the bottom at the lower end. The piles will be 15 feet tall and 60 to 80 feet long. Construction crews also are working to consolidate scrap concrete barriers and rubble to create more valuable habitat.

“We’ve been working closely with the NTMWD regarding the habitat and they have been really cooperative about following our recommendations,” Bennett said. “They seem really interested in making the fishing good.”

The only bridge crossing the lake (1.3 miles) will be along FM 897 connecting US 82 to FM 1396. There will be three boat public ramps and a single boat lane about 100 yards wide. Bennett said the boat lane will run about two miles west of the bridge and stop about three miles short of the lake’s upper tip.

Only a handful of Texas reservoirs have been built since a storied bass lake called Lake Fork was impounded in 1980. Despite TPWD’s best efforts, none have come remotely close to becoming the fairy tale trophy bass fishery that Fork was during its heyday.

Will scientists finally discover the magical formula in Bois d’Arc Lake?

Bennett agrees that Fork was a really special place that might never be matched. Even so, he has high hopes for Bois d’Arc and says the department is using all the tools in the toolbox to make it the best it can possibly be.

“I think it’ll be a really good fishery, at least for the first 15 years or so,” Bennett said. “The lake is going to be used for water supply from the start, so the water level fluctuations we see there on a routine basis will ultimately determine how good the lake will be and for how long. The good thing is, it’s got a really big watershed. It may not be prone to fluctuate as much as some of our other lakes are.”

Bennett and his staff have been staying busy trying to get ahead of the game. For starters, they gained access to four, 2- to 10-acre stock tanks within the lakebed to use as rearing ponds for fish while construction is underway. Existing fish populations were removed from the ponds before they were restocked with bluegills, fathead minnows and threadfin shad last spring.

Bennett says about 2,000 advanced growth (six to eight inches ) Toyota ShareLunker offspring will be stocked in the ponds this fall with more Florida bass stockings to follow. TPWD also plans to stock blue and channel catfish along with adult crappie.

Bass can utilize these ponds once the lake begins to fill. The biologist also has secured funding for several man-made fish attractors that will be strategically placed around the lake.

“The GPS coordinates of the fish attractors and gravel spawning beds will be listed on the TPWD website,” Bennett said.

 

Email Matt Williams at [email protected]

 

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