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Texas Sportsman
Summer Ivie
That's O.H. Ivie, the great West Texas bass lake, we're talking about. What makes right now such a great time to fish this lake? Here are some answers.

By Bud McDonald

Like a lot of other West Texas bodies of water, O.H. Ivie Reservoir continues to wrestle water loss to keep its bottom from becoming her top.

Although the lake was 20 feet below conservation pool level last spring, the situation proved nothing new to those who fish our western lakes. Just another aggravation to be contended with as a cotton-burning, hayfield-leveling, well-drying, thirst-provoking drought settles into its 10th year. When it will end is anybody's guess, that it will end is a near-certainty.

In the meantime, West Texas bass anglers simply shorten their lines and keep on catching fish. To these dyed-in-the-wool fishermen, less water just means the largemouths are squeezed into a smaller space.

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Completed in 1990, O.H. Ivie Reservoir dams the Colorado and Concho rivers near Ballinger. Engineers originally guessed that it would take about 8 years of normal rainfall to fill the lake. Compliments of El NiƱo, however, a frog-strangling rain in December 1992 filled the 19,000-acre lake nearly to conservation pool in just a few days. Although all the locals are hoping for a return visit of the phenomenon, it hasn't happened yet.

Constructed by and for the Colorado River Municipal Water District, which sells drinking water to several West Texas municipalities, O.H. Ivie was one of only a few Texas impoundments in which most of the trees, brush and rolling terrain were left intact. Hence, there are thousands of acres of flooded mesquite, oak and juniper trees in all parts of the reservoir for bass to use. Hydrilla grows in the main part of the lake and is spreading up both river arms. Structure in the main lake is mostly rock, while the river bottoms are mostly mud flats.

O.H. Ivie bass-fishing guide Alan Yaw lips a nice summertime largemouth he caught from standing brush exposed by low water. Now, while the lake is down, is a good time to learn the location of cover that will later be hidden by high water. Photo by Bud McDonald

Lynn "Big O" Owens, who turns out appetite-pleasing barbecue and steaks in his restaurant in Valera, fishes the lake whenever he can turn down his grill for a few hours. He acknowledges the drought's effects with the same stoicism of most West Texans who live their lives with a lack of water.

"Besides all the bad stuff associated with a low water level, there are a couple of good things," he said. "One is that there is a lot less area to fish, plus the lake is easier to fish on windy days as it isn't so rough."

Lynn said that even with the low surface level, the lake is still about 100 feet deep near the dam; also, it has retained quite a few other deep holes. In fact, he advises anglers to get on the lake while the water is slow to map the structure before it's covered again.

"Big bass are still being caught from about the same areas and with about the same methodology as when the water was higher, just a little farther away than before," he said. For example, he said that fishing the area near the old Leaday Crossing where the water used to be about 8 feet deep requires some planning, as it is now a major island. For bass action nowadays, he advises staying pretty close to the channel in the Colorado River and probing the old creek mouths and bends with worms and Carolina rigs.

One husband-and-wife team, Bobbie and Butch Gayle of Plains, will probably persist in calling O.H. Ivie their "Lucky Lake," even if the dropping water levels get to the point where they have to pole their bass boat along from hole to hole.

The Gayles did their share to put Ivie on the map in February 2000, when Bobbie landed a monster bass weighing 13.05 pounds. However, that wasn't her only big fish - she set the lake record the year before with a 12.79-pounder, which was subsequently topped by another bigmouth weighing 13.72 pounds. Just six days later, Butch brought the record back to the family with a catch of 14.58 pounds. That fish had not been toppled as of this writing.

But that's not the end of the big-bass catches for this bass-fishing team and their friends. A few days later, a friend fishing with the Gayles, Barbara Sparks, got a 13.43-pounder. And Bobbie didn't rest on her laurels. The day after her husband set the new lake record, she caught a 13.69-pounder.

According to those who fish the lake on a regular basis, there certainly isn't a lack of good bass at Ivie, but where to put your boat in and how to navigate without running aground or getting the prop tangled in a slightly submerged barbed-wire fence could be a problem. Owens said that both river arms of the lake had been navigable as far as their bridges, although the deep water runs out pretty soon beyond those points.

There are two full-facility marinas at Ivie: Concho Park, (915) 357-4466, located on the southwest side of the lake, and Kennedy Park/Elm Creek Village, (915) 357-4776, on the southeast bank. Both marinas offer guide services, restaurants, convenience stores, bait, tackle, campgrounds and motel rooms. Charles Finley, owner of Concho Park Marina, said at least one of the marina's four ramps would remain in enough water to launch, even if the lake reaches near bottom.

"When the Water District built the lake, a few of the ramps were lengthened completely to the riverbed," he said. "That will assure us of always having at least a few of the several ramps open, no matter what the water level." The ramps at Kennedy Park/Elm Creek Village Marina on the southeast side are also usable.

Where to go and what to use for bass this month is mainly dependent upon whether O.H. Ivie caught any water recently. A significant rise would put water back over growth that had a chance go spread while the lake was down. That, of course, would add a new and very fertile source of cover, which would almost certainly serve to scatter fish out over a bigger area. Conversely, if the Great Rain God chooses not to smile on us, the lake will continue to drop and the bass will remain bunched up in their deeper surroundings.

Since fish are cold-blooded creatures, they are completely dependent upon their surroundings to maintain adequate body temperatures. And, since water temperature changes somewhat at different depths (except in very shallow water), fish spend a great deal of their time seeking a depth that will provide comfortable habitat. However, in water deeper than 20 feet, the temperatures stratify, or maintain different temperatures at different depths. For instance, in about 30 feet of water the temperature might change 10 or more degrees from top to bottom.

This might indicate that a bass would simply head for the bottom on a hot summer day and await better times, right? Wrong!

Along with the drop in temperature, there's a tradeoff of available oxygen levels. The highest amount of oxygen occurs in the topmost level of water, continues down for a few feet and eventually becomes nearly non-existent at bottom levels. Since bass require greater oxygen concentrations than some of the bottom-feeders, they tend to seek midwater levels during periods of extreme high or low temperatures. These areas provide the highest levels of oxygen while also providing a livable temperature range. A fisherman's best friend this month will be his depthfinder, both for locating stratified fish and for finding the humps, river and creek channels and dropoffs where bass congregate.

In the early morning and late afternoon hours, before or just after sunrise and sunset, the shallow water around the banks normally is a good place to start fishing. To find roaming bass, throw chuggers, topwaters and spinnerbaits against the bank and retrieve them quickly.

During the heat of the day, switch to deep-diving plugs, jigs and jigging spoons to probe the deeper holes and channels. The idea here is to keep moving, through either drifting or the use of an electric trolling motor. Although bass fishermen generally abhor the method, trolling at slow speeds with a medium- or deep-diving plug or spoon is an excellent way to find schools of fish.

Since fishing fortunes change from minute to minute, the best way to find up-to-date fishing information is to check in with local fishermen or marina operators and find out what's working at that particular time. Talk with other fishermen at the launching ramps or call Lynn "Big O" Owens at (915) 636-4542. Who knows? On a slow day at his restaurant he might even climb into the boat with you.

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