TEXAS IS A HEARALDED hotspot for reeling in heavyweight bass, but you needn’t always look to big waters and fabled fisheries like Sam Rayburn, Fork, Amistad, Toledo Bend or Falcon to find the whoppers. Several Lone Star “mini lakes” have developed rich reputations for kicking out career bass, and some produce the big bite way more often than you might think.
Living in eastern Texas, I’m fortunate have some the state’s best little bass lakes within an hour’s drive of my home. It’s a big part of the reason I chose to put down roots here in the mid-1980s…and an equally good excuse never to leave.
There is plenty to love about fishing on small waters. For starters, you don’t need a $70,000 boat and all the goodies to get around safely. A flat-bottom, paddle boat even a belly boat will get you where big ones live with no problem on lakes spanning 1,000 acres or less, often with less trouble and way more stealth.
Another advantage is pressure, or a lack thereof. Alhough some mini lakes see their share of fishing traffic, others lie so far off the beaten path and fly far enough beneath the radar that it’s not uncommon to launch at daylight and encounter very little company over the course of a beautiful spring day.
Finally, many little lakes are governed by restrictive limits tailored to allow the fish to achieve maximum growth and boost angler odds of hooking up with a big one.
Here’s a random list of five good little bass lakes you might want to check out in the near future. Keep in mind, the month’s issue of Texas Fish and Game falls during the heart of a spawn. It’s a bewitching window of time when some of biggest fish in any lake nudge towards the shallows, where they are more vulnerable to being caught than at any other time of the year.
Size: 523 acres
Lake Record: 16.9 pounds
About the Lake: Pinkston produced the former state record in February 1986, but was kicking out double-digit bass long before that, thanks to early stockings of Florida strain bass dating back to 1976. Amazingly, the mini lake continues to rank as the most productive bass fishery in much of the region at 44 years of age.
“Our electrofishing surveys at Pinkston always show higher catch rates per hour than any lake my district,” said Texas Parks and Wildlife Department fisheries biologist Todd Driscoll of Brookeland. “Some years the catch rates are even double some of my lakes, including Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend. It’s a pretty amazing little lake with a lot of fish upwards of eight pounds.”
It’s pretty, too. Flanked by rolling hills cluttered with tall pines and hardwoods, Pinkston is a clear water reservoir with excellent habitat comprised of hydrilla and a variety of native aquatic vegetation. There’s no shortage of wood cover, either. Both arms are full of large stumps that make high-speed navigation hazardous.
Two one-lane boat ramps are available. Both are remote and not very well-maintained. One is located off CR 1510, the other off CR
1211. Both roads intersect State Highway 7 near the small community of Aiken, between Nacogdoches and Center. Bass are protected by a five fish, 14- to 21-inch slot limit; only one fish greater than 21 inches may be retained per day.
Lake: Davy Crockett
Size: 355 acres
Lake Record: 12.59 pounds
About the Lake: Here’s a little northeast Texas honey hole packing lots of big fish potential that a lot Texas bassers may not even know exists. Tucked away in the Caddo National Grasslands Wildlife Management Area in Fannin County, Davy Crockett is a well-kept secret among locals who reel in plenty of fish in the four- to ten-pound range.
“It’s a fun little lake to fish, especially during the spring time,” says TPWD fisheries biologist Dan Bennett of Pottsboro. “It’s ringed with cut grass and cattails, plus it’s got quite a bit of pond weed and coontail. It has some of the best fish habitat of any lake in North Texas.”
Bennett says a couple of fish in the 12-pound range have been caught and mounted by anglers recent times, so he knows the potential is there to crack the 13-pound threshold. To help get them there, TPWD in 2018 changed the limit on Davy Crockett a five-fish, 16-inch maximum to protect big fish.
The lake has one ramp at the east end of the of dam off FM 409.
Size: 693 acres
Lake Record: 14.12 pounds
About the Lake: Lake Naconiche opened for fishing in 2012. It’s Texas’s newest public reservoir, and has been quick to show its trophy bass potential. With a lake record of 14.12 pounds and a 13.06-pound Toyota ShareLunker already to its credit, some experts believe this little Nacogdoches County impoundment is the best bet for producing the next state record.
“We used every tool in toolbox to make it the best lake it can possibly be,” said Driscoll.
Naconiche has been heavily stocked since 2009 with Florida strain largemouths and ShareLunker offspring as well as hundreds of adult females retired from Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Florida bass program. It’s probable that the 14.12 lake record caught in July 2016 and the 2017 ShareLunker were among the retired brooders, some of which weighed close to seven pounds when they were released.
Naconiche also has Mother Nature working in its favor. The lake is spring-fed with outstanding habitat, extremely good water quality rich in nutrients, and a tremendous forage base.
Driscoll predicts a big bass explosion at Naconiche as more year classes of fish come of age and reach trophy size. “We’re at a point now where we should start seeing a big uptick of eight- to nine-pounders and eventually, good numbers of teeners from some of the first Florida fingerling stockings,” he said.
“It should continue to get better for the at least the next ten years, maybe 15. We’re expecting to see the same type of boom period at Naconiche that was seen at Fork during its heyday, just on a smaller scale.”
Naconiche lays out a lot like Pinkston with two timber-filled arms, very steep banks and not much flat water. The lake proper was cleared of timber during the construction process.
There is one public ramp at the Nacogdoches County Park off CR 137, about 14 miles northeast of Nacogoches. It costs $5 per day to launch or you can buy an annual permit for $120 through the county.
Bass are protected by a five-fish, 16 inch maximum length limit; all fish longer than 16 inches must be immediately released, unless it is a Toyota ShareLunker to be donated during the program’s spawning phase, January 1 to March 31.
Size: 726 acres
Lake Record: 13.34 pounds
About the Lake: Lake Kurth was built in the 1950s to supply water to a local paper mill before it was purchased by the City of Lufkin in Angelina County in 2009. It’s one of those hidden gems where the bass continue to grow fat and sassy despite its senior citizen status.
Tight-lipped locals managed to keep the great fishing mostly to themselves until the last five to ten years, when outdoor television crews helped create a wave of national publicity and increased fishing pressure.
Water clarity is gin-clear and aquatic vegetation is abundant with reeds and other native plants lining the shores and lush hydrilla beds growing throughout much of the lake proper at depths beyond 20 feet. Kurth is regarded as one of the state’s top lakes for sight fishing, because of its extremely clear water that allows spotting beds in water as deep as 8-12 feet in good conditions.
Bass in the four- to eight-pound range are fairly common, but a 13.34-pound lake record caught there in March 2018 is solid evidence bigger ones are finning around out there.
“The lake has great trophy potential, but the downside is the fish are well educated due to high fishing pressure,” Driscoll said.
Kurth is located off of Rivercrest Road between Lufkin and Nacogdoches on U.S. 59. Access requires the purchase of a three-day or annual permit from the City of Lufkin, (936) 634-8881. Large numbers of alligators are present.
Size: 1,010 acres
Lake Record: 14 pounds
About the Lake: Located four miles east of Gilmer, Lake Gilmer is a pretty little lake that was impounded in 2001. TPWD has salted the lake with close to one million Florida-strain bass over the years, including more than 30,000 ShareLunker progeny in 2011.
The fish have done well in this Uphur County reservoir. So well, in fact, that TPWD fisheries spokesman, Tim Bister of Marshall ranks it as the best “little bass lake” in his district, which also includes Lake Lone Star in Morris County.
Bister says both are great bass lakes, but pointed to Gilmer when asked to choose one with the most potential for giving up big fish.
“During our last electrofishing survey for each lake (fall 2018) we caught more bass in Gilmer than we did at Lone Star,” he said. “One of the reasons is an 18-inch minimum length limit on largemouth bass at Gilmer, while Lone Star is managed with a 14-inch minimum length limit. The potential for Gilmer to produce big bass is high. We stock Florida largemouth bass every other year to maintain the genetics necessary to continue this big bass potential.”
Lying east to west, Gilmer is a long, narrow reservoir fed by Kelsey Creek and a number of secondary feeders. The water quality is good and hydrilla can be found in as much as 30 percent of the lake, providing excellent habitat for bass and forage species such as bream, thread fin shad and gizzard shad.
Free launching is available at a two-lane ramp maintained by the city off FM 852. To learn more, call (903) 843-8209.
Lake: Marine Creek
Size: 250 acres
Lake Record: 14.57 pounds
Location: Tarrant County, northwest of Fort Worth
Lake: Hords Creek
Size: 510 acres
Lake Record: 12.56
Where: West of Coleman, Coleman County
Size: 170 acres
Lake Record: 12.14 pounds
Where: Near Tyler, Smith County
Lake: Tyler State Park
Size: 65 acres
Lake Record: 14.5 pounds
Where: Near Tyler, Smith County
Size: 230 acres
Lake Record: 13.48 pounds
Where: Huntsville State Park, Walker County
—story by MATT WILLIAMS