Texas' 2004 Fishing Calendar
Here are 36 great fishing trips you can enjoy this year without ever having to leave the Lone Star State!
By Lee Leschper
Ever since the first bass boat hit water, Texas anglers have pondered the challenge of how many Texas lakes and streams an angler really could fish in a lifetime.
Dozens, certainly; hundreds, probably. Thousands? They're out there, if you have the time and energy.
But most of us are creatures of habit and convenience. We fish the lake or creek or bay down the road because it's - well ... handy. And yet Texas anglers are dedicated to traveling as far as it takes for them to find fishing success. My Amarillo home has more bass clubs than any place I've lived in Texas - even though most good bass water is three hours or more drive time away!
It's 2004: a new year and a great time to try some new favorite fishing spots this year. Here are our picks for great fishing destinations you should consider this year.
JANUARY Sure, sure, we know: Fork's huge largemouth bass don't usually head for the shallows until February.
But if you do a little research, you'll remember that our 18-pound-plus state-record largemouth came from Fork in 42 feet of water - in January. And reigning as the state record before that fish was the Fork monster that Mark Stevenson caught on a deep jig - in November.
Darren Mooneyham, whose Mad Man line of plastic crawfish baits has become a standard for tournament anglers, recommends downsizing.
"Use lighter line, and slow down quite a bit," he said. "The fish are less active and won't chase a bait like they normally would. Fish very slowly, methodically and thoroughly. I switch to spinning tackle and lighter line. I'll go as light as 10- to 8-pound-test line.
"I like to use small tubes, small jigs or jerkbaits that I can fish with a slow, methodical retrieve. Another good winter bait is really slow-rolling spinnerbaits with Indiana blades.
"I've done two TV shows in January using 10-pound test, spinning gear and that 3-inch craw. Sometime we'd throw 'em out and let 'em sit, barely drag it - then might let it sit a couple of minutes. And then a bass would pick it up.
"If you're trying to find fish, first turn the graph on, and then start in the creek channels. If you don't see any bait, start in the middle of the creek channels and start throwing a jig or a deep Carolina rig or a jigging spoon."
FEBRUARY With the first warm pre-spring days, says guide Bill Nelson, Lake Whitney's big striped bass go on a feeding binge.
"We rig an Assassin behind half-ounce jigs," he said, "and drag it behind the boat with a trolling motor - we call it 'strolling.' Some days they hit so lightly that all you feel is a little bit of a tug; other days, they just hammer that thing."
This tactic works for schools of stripers holding over the lake's river channel, from 40 to 60 feet. There may be some surface action on cloudy days, but the lake has to reach 60 degrees to kick that into gear.
"We fish from midlake down, near the river channels," Nelson noted. "Once in a while you'll find fish up the channel, but only on a cloudy day. Most of the time they'll be hanging on the dropoffs. The birds are the key, even if they are not working. If you see birds hanging in an area, there are fish in the area."
Whitney did suffer a fish kill from golden algae in 2003, but guides and biologists are optimistic that most of the lake's big stripers survived. Whitney's average striper runs larger than that found at any other Texas lake.
To arrange a trip with guide Bill Nelson, call (254) 694-3686.
MARCH Most Texans have never made the trip north to this sprawling lake filled with lunker fish, and that's too bad. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recently stocked a larger subspecies of walleye in the big deep lake north of Amarillo. That fish has the potential to dramatically exceed the current state-record 11.88-pounder from Meredith.
Depending on weather, you've got two options. Deep jigging with 2-ounce slabs or live minnows is popular through the winter and until the lake begins to warm, which can happen as early as March or as late as May. But when the Panhandle winter does break, those big glass-eyes move shallow to spawn and can be caught both from shore and from boats working the shoreline. The riprap along the lake dam is always a hotspot. Soft-plastic minnow imitations and slow-sinker plugs are both effective here.
As a nice bonus, Meredith also holds many of the state's biggest smallmouth bass. It produced the state-record smallmouth, which came in at just less than 8 pounds.
Not enough? There are also huge numbers of 20-pound-plus flathead catfish just begging for some angling attention.
APRIL Most speckled trout anglers heading south from Corpus Christi have Baffin Bay in mind. But the Land Cut, the deep channel connecting the two Lagunas Madres, is just a few miles farther south. As might be expected, it offers phenomenal action for spring trout.
The Land Cut
By working up and down the many miles of shoreline along the Cut, anglers can usually find roaming schools of substantial trout. Use a trolling motor if you have one to work just off the drop from shoreline flats into the channel.
Live croakers are deadly when available, but at this time of year you'll likely need to rely on Bass Assassins, or live piggy perch or shrimp.
Redfish and flounder also cruise the edges of The Cut. My last trip there, with guide Don Hand - (361) 993-2024 - yielded limits of specks to 28 inches, plus bonus reds and flounder, in a half-day trip.
MAY This is a repeat favorite from 2003 - and for good reason: There may be no place in Texas this spring where you can catch more hefty bass, with a real opportunity for a double-digit lunker.
Lake Alan Henry
Alan Henry, the long, snaking 2,800-acre lake southeast of Lubbock, has already surpassed many older lakes, producing a half-dozen Texas ShareLunker bass of more than 13 pounds. It had a phenomenal 2003 spring, with some tournament anglers finishing out of the money unless they hauled in at least one bass over 10 pounds!
Fish early and late, and during the week, because spring weekends will get crowded. Try topwaters or lizards in the shallows first, as you should still be finding spawning bass there in May. That's a point that Texas bass anglers will want to take note of: Alan Henry is in prime spawning condition when most other lakes have already kicked over into the post-spawn.
As the day warms, move out to the lake's brushy creek channels. Jig-and-pig combos or worms in red and black are great choices for drawing the lunkers out of the brush, as long as you fish them on stout mono or braided line.
JUNE Early-summer striper fishing on Lake Texoma is almost too good, says Bill Carey, who has operated Striper Express - (903) 786-4477 - on Texoma since 1984. "We honestly can limit out too fast!" he declared.
During and after the spring spawn is the time for the hottest action. "By late May they're heading back into the lake," Carey observed. "They headed upriver hungry, and they come back hungrier!"
Because it has a natural striper spawn and a huge population of fish, 88,000-acre Lake Texoma enjoys a larger bag limit - 10 stripers per day, with two over 20 inches - than is in force at most other Texas lakes. Biologists are finding that Texoma stripers are growing bigger: More fish now approach 20 pounds, and many are in the 5- to 10-pound range.
"Our fish will average about 3 1/2 pounds," Carey said, "but you might get one 2-pound fish, then a 10-pound fish. A good typical box will be a limit of 19 7/8-inch fish that weigh 5 pounds-plus."
The catch numbers on Texoma stripers are nothing short of mind-boggling. "The record on our big boat was 260 fish in one hour and 15 minutes!" Carey recalled with a laugh.
Although Carey will use live bait when it's required, early summer usually means artificials; start with topwaters at dawn, then go to deep slabbing when the schools sound. Anglers focusing on the largest stripers can use larger baits off shallow points.