Playing Angles

A beautiful bass caught in the San Marcos River. Photo by Kevin (K.T.) Townsend.

 

 

 


From the Gulf to Lone Star Rivers and Lakes, Texas Is Teeming with Fishing Hot Spots

 

 

 

By Kevin (K.T.) Townsend

        A jon boat motors slowly into the darkness. One brother mans the tiller while the other pierces the night with the beam of his spotlight. The target appears in the light. A brightly painted old milk jug marks the spot. As one brother steadies the boat, the other grabs the nylon line connected to the homemade buoy.

They begin their last trot-line run before sunup. They both smile as they feel a weighty resistance down the line. Soon they are ankle deep in catfish flopping noisily in the bottom of the boat — mostly channel cats and the occasional blue.

As the first light of day appears on the horizon, they check the last hooks. Their smiles break into hoops of excited happiness at the sight of the 60-pound appaloosa, or yellow cat, at the end of the line. Fish is definitely on the menu for this family tonight.

To the south in Galveston Bay, as the sun is just peeking over the horizon, a father and son are docking their airboat, concluding a successful night of gigging flounder, black drum, and a couple of sheepshead. As the flounder boat is docking, other boats are heading out. All across Texas, anglers are up and on the move, heading to the incredible number of diverse and great fishing destinations in the Lone Star State.

As the sun continues to rise, several boats, some small, some bigger, head into the chop of Matagorda Bay. Some will try the deeper water with artificial lures or bait, such as shrimp, crabs, and croakers, hoping to put some redfish, trout, or maybe a flounder on the stringer.

Across the bay, other fishermen and fisherwomen are accessing the water by car, baiting their lines with cut-bait from the comfort of a lawn chair parked on the bank, hoping to put a few gafftopsail catfish in the cooler.

Southward near the Coastal Bend, two old riends pole a skiff through the clear waters of East Bay, sight fishing with flyrods for redfish and trophy trout, which they will then release, conserving the gamefish for another day.

The more adventurous don a pair of wading boots and wade fish the seemingly endless flats and shallows for a true “one on one with the fish” experience.

Further west, larger craft navigate the Port Aransas Jetty into the near-shore Gulf waters, where big migratory tarpon are the target, and take advantage of opportunities for ling, tripletail, jacks, and kingfish along the way.

If the seas are reasonably calm, you can venture out a little further to one of the many offshore oil platforms or one of Texas Parks & Wildlife’s new artificial reefs for a limit of delicious snapper or grouper. Even larger oceangoing sport fishing yachts head toward the continental shelf, trolling the deep blue water for tuna, wahoo, dorado, sailfish, and marlin.

Deep to the south near the Mexican border, other saltwater enthusiasts motor up the Brownsville Ship Channel in pursuit of a surprisingly healthy population of snook and juvenile tarpon.

HEADING LAND

Back on the mainland, up the Rio Grande above Lake Amistad, a father is organizing gear for his daughter and son in preparation for their first kayaking trip down the crystalline limestone waters of Devils River. The dramatic scenery is reminiscent of a Rocky Mountain trout stream. Here, the ambitious fisherman and woman can wet a line for both largemouth and smallmouth bass. The kayakers may be surprised to hook into a spotted gar, or a tilapia, or even the only Texas cichlid, the beautifully colored little Rio Grande perch.

Other paddlers to the north launch inflatable rafts below Canyon Lake Dam into the cool waters of the Guadalupe River. Fly fishermen try to “match the hatch” in an attempt to trick stocked rainbow and brown trout into eating their flies. Above Canyon Lake, upstream into the Hill Country, determined anglers wade the upper Guadalupe seeking a truly unique species of bass found only in Texas, the handsome little Guadalupe bass.

Further north in the Panhandle, a family from Borger, hoping to have a fish fry tonight, drifts the clean waters of Lake Meredith in search of a non-native species, the famously delicious walleye.

Back down the Red River to the southeast, along the Oklahoma border, a full-blown striped bass blitz is in progress on Lake Texoma. These transplanted saltwater brutes school up and explode on shoals of shad for some of the hottest freshwater action in Texas.

To the southeast, two old fishing buddies share a boat on peaceful Lake Hawkins, trying to land a fish most people don't realize we have in Texas: the chain pickerel. In contrast, the roar of outboard motors a bit to the south signals that the nation’s top tournament bass anglers are heading onto Lake Fork in search of a prize-winning Florida strain: largemouth bass.

Finally, to the north and east along the Louisiana border, a family of three casts crickets and shiners under corks for sunfish and crappie in one of the few natural lakes in the state: cypress-covered Caddo Lake.

Although Caddo is the state’s only large natural lake, there are more than 6,000 impoundments within the Texas, most of which have accessible fishing.

For both the novice and the expert, there are endless fishing destinations and opportunities in this diverse state.

Playing Angles

A beautiful bass caught in the San Marcos River. Photo by Kevin (K.T.) Townsend.

GETTING STARTED

The thing I love most about the great sport of fishing is that anyone can do it. There is no better place to learn than the Lone Star State. Thanks to programs sponsored by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD), all that is needed to begin is a desire to learn.

A beginner doesn’t need equipment or a fishing license to start fishing. “Free Fishing in State Parks” is a year-round program that encourages beginners to spend time enjoying this great pastime. No fishing license or stamps are required at more than 70 state parks and wildlife management areas across the state. Just pay the park entry fee. No equipment? No problem. Many of these parks loan fishing equipment for use within the park.

Free fishing applies to fishing in rivers and creeks, from the bank or pier of lakes within the park’s boundaries, and often from a boat on lakes or ponds that are fully enclosed in a state park. Anglers can wade fish in the surf along the shore of our coastal state parks. Bag and length limits, along with other regulations, still apply.

Some state parks offer learn-to-fish events, one of the many “Free Fishing in State Parks” activities listed on the online events calendar.

The “Neighborhood Fishin’” program is a great way to get kids started. There are 18 clean, well-lit sites in city and county parks near picnic tables and restrooms. Kids under age 16 are not required to have a license and can fish for free. The state stocks catfish and rainbow trout big enough to catch and keep, except in August. Stocking takes place every two to four weeks during summer and winter seasons. Catfish are stocked in most lakes from late April through early November.

Rainbow trout prefer cold water, and they survive only during the winter in most parts of Texas. Trout stockings begin in late November or early December through March. For a complete list of participating locations go to “Neighborhood Fishin’ ” at www.tpwd.gov.

AQUARIUMS & FISHERIES

Texas is gifted with three fisheries education centers that will interest any angler with a desire to learn more about aquatic environments, marine biology, and conservation of our wetlands, lakes, rivers, and oceans.

The Edwin L. Cox, Jr., Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center near Athens combines visita-tion and outdoor education with a production fish hatchery. Its mission is to provide visitors with an educational and entertaining experience that promotes freshwater sport fishing and the enhancement, conservation, and stewardship of aquatic resources in Texas.

The center contains a 300,000-gallon aquarium for the study of native Texas fish in a natural environment. It also includes a state-of-the-art production hatchery that stocks superior fish in Texas public waters.

Another helpful feature is a wheelchair accessible “Interpretive Wetlands Trail” that emphasizes the interrelationships among aquatic habitats. This is the location of “The Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame,” where visitors can learn the traditions and heritage of freshwater fishing: tpwd.texas.gov/spdest/visitorcenters/tffc/

Sea Center Texas, located in Lake Jackson, offers saltwater touch tanks, five aquariums, a hatchery, and outdoor wetlands with a boardwalk trail. Separate aquariums represent different marine environments, including the salt marsh, coastal bays, jetties, offshore Gulf of Mexico, and artificial reefs. Youth fishing programs and public fishing events are also offered: tpwd.texas.gov/fishing/sea-center-texas/

The Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi is founded on the belief that “education leads to conservation.” They deliver programs that both entertain and educate, allowing visitors to learn, bond, and discover together. The aquarium has live touch exhibits, such as stingray lagoon, living shores, and saving sharks.

The Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi is founded on the belief that “education leads to conservation.” They deliver programs that both entertain and educate, allowing visitors to learn, bond, and discover together. The aquarium has live touch exhibits, such as stingray lagoon, living shores, and saving sharks.

It also features a 4-D theater that uses state-of-the-art technology and unique special effects to entertain and inform guests and make them feel like they are swimming right alongside the ocean’s most amazing marine life.

Other exhibits include the new 400,000-gallon Caribbean Sea Shark Aquarium that combines a thrilling lookout of the ocean’s most infamous predators with the experience of diving a real-life Caribbean shipwreck, all without having to get wet. For more information: www.texasstateaquarium.org

Fishing is in the blood of most Texans, and state fishing traditions are legendary. Get on the water and become a part of this rich tradition.

Texas Spring

The spring-fed Guadalupe River is a prime place to fly fish for trout. Photo by Kevin (K.T.) Townsend.

 

 

 


AQUARIUMS & FISHERIES

 

 

 

By Kevin Stubbs

There are 14 major rivers and 3,700 smaller, named streams that course through the Lone Star State. Many of these waterways flow wild and unimpeded as they meander through scenic mountain canyons, rich farm and ranchlands, coastal plains, and even dense forests. Wild Texas rivers continue to nourish sensitive riparian areas that harbor abundant wildlife and endangered species alike.

The waterways and related “gallery” forests provide pathways for migratory species traveling from as far north as the Arctic to Central and South America. These river systems also provide numerous recreational opportunities, including fishing, paddling, hunting, birding, and eco-tourism.

The spring-fed rivers of the Texas Hill Country are the “crown jewels” of the state, and many owe their dependable flows to the ground-water system of the Edwards Aquifer. The Edwards extends almost 200 miles along an arch-shaped curve from Brackettville to Austin and is from 300–700 feet thick. It’s the most prolific artesian aquifer known to exist and two million people call it their sole water source. The aquifer’s cold, clean, crystal-clear waters are discharged in several major groups of springs, notably Barton Springs, and the San Marcos and Comal systems.

ABUNDANT SPRINGS

Comal Springs in New Braunfels are the largest system of springs in the Southwest United States, gushing forth over 200 million gallons a day. The San Marcos Springs are impressive as well, bubbling out of the earth at Spring Lake on the campus of Texas State University. The springs at the headwaters of the San Marcos River are strewn with ancient artifacts, and it’s believed to be the most continually inhabited spot in North America, dating back more than 10,000 years. Endangered species are found here that exist nowhere else on earth. Likewise, the Barton Springs system in Austin also supports many rare and endangered species.

The Edwards Aquifer isn’t an underground river or lake; it’s a water-bearing layer of porous, honeycombed, limestone rock. The aquifer has natural “divides” that separate the San Antonio segment from the Barton Springs segment around Austin. The Comal Springs are in the San Antonio segment and get some of their recharge from an area near Uvalde, more than 100 miles away.

The water enters the earth through cracks, caves, fissures, and a semi-porous limestone surface in the recharge zone. Heavy downpours are known to raise the aquifer level rapidly, but the 100-mile underground journey from Uvalde to Comal Springs at New Braunfels may take as long as 20 years.

Over-pumping of the aquifer for human use during droughts can affect populations of endangered species in the springs, and these delicate relationships are monitored by state and federal scientists. The Edwards Aquifer Authority is the regulatory body that oversees the health of one of the greatest natural resources on earth.

The Guadalupe, San Marcos, Blanco, Llano, and Medina rivers are fed by springs above the Edwards and Trinity aquifers. Because their flows are sustained and dependable, they provide numerous fishing opportunities for both fly fishermen and conventional anglers.

The lower Guadalupe River is a tail water emerging from the bottom of Canyon Lake with a cold-water discharge that provides habitat for the southernmost trout fishery in the United States. The Guadalupe River Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department stock full-sized rainbow and brown trout in the “trophy trout section” of the river during winter months. This is a prime fly fishing opportunity, and people travel from across the country and abroad to experience the beautiful Guadalupe.

The San Marcos and Blanco rivers are prime smallmouth and largemouth bass fisheries, and there’s great canoeing and kayaking opportunities, as well. The Llano River is a little farther west and emerges out of the ground in numerous springs at the headwaters near Telegraph in Kimble County. It trends south and east on its journey to the confluence with the Colorado River’s Highland Lakes chain. There is good fishing access at Llano River State Park and at the City Park in Junction.

Lake Travis, Canyon Lake, Choke Canyon, and Braunig and Calavaras lakes hold many prospects for bagging limits of white bass, stripers, largemouth and smallmouth bass, along with catfish. Fly fishing and conventional gear are equally successful at any of these waters.

Preferred flies are the chartreuse clouser minnow, cypert’s minnow, black or purple woolly buggers, and spoon flies. Some “go-to” conventional lures are the lucky 13, jitter bug, hula popper, crawfish crank baits, mister twisters, and other curly-tailed jigs.

 

 

 

 


NORTHEAST TEXAS LAKES

 

 

 

By Rob Woodruff

Most first-time visitors to the northeast corner of Texas are surprised by the rolling terrain, forests, and abundance of lakes. The area east of a line 100 miles from Dallas and north of Interstate 20 has more than 50 public-access lakes, including many of the state’s top recreational fisheries. Some of the best angling locations are:

Lake Fork. Any list of Texas lakes has to start here. Shortly after it opened in 1982, Lake Fork has been one of the top largemouth bass fisheries in the nation. The current Texas State Record Bass, 18.18 pounds, was caught here, along with 33 of the 50 largest bass ever recorded in the Lone Star State. In addition to bass, Fork is a top-notch crappie, catfish, and bream lake. The last few years have seen a dramatic rise of the sand bass population.

Wood County Lakes. Built in the 1950s when oil and money were flowing freely, Lakes Quitman, Winnsboro, Hawkins, and Holbrook each offer unique opportunities for bass, crappie, catfish, and chain pickerel.

BIG CYPRESS BAYOU LAKES

Cypress Springs. Located near Mount Vernon, the first in the Big Cypress Bayou Chain of Lakes is ringed with vacation homes. In addition to largemouth bass, the lake offers the best fishery for spotted, or “Kentucky,” bass in East Texas.

Bob Sandlin. Unique among East Texas lakes, “Lake Bob” runs almost directly along an east-west axis and provides sheltered fishing when strong winds blow from the north or south. It is a top destination for largemouth bass fishing, and the extreme western end of the lake offers great sand bass fishing when water is being released from Lake Cypress Springs.

Monticello. Located against the north side of Bob Sandlin, the waters of Monticello are kept warm by a large coal-fired power plant. It offers quality winter action for largemouth bass.

Lake O’ the Pines. This long, fairly narrow lake is heavily timbered with plenty of aquatic vegetation. It is a diverse fishery and highly ranked for largemouth bass, spotted bass, sunfish, sand bass, yellow bass, blue catfish, channel catfish, flathead catfish, and chain pickerel.

Caddo. This is one of the few natural lakes in Texas and spills over into Louisiana. Caddo’s cypress-filled and Spanish moss–draped waters offer unique scenery and great fishing for large-mouth bass, sand bass, crappie, chain pickerel, and catfish. In fact, Caddo boasts of the most species of fish of any lake in Texas.

 

 

 

— Kevin (K.T.) Townsend is a fishing and hunting guide who is seasoned in fly fishing and upland bird hunting..