Region’s lakes in better shape than you might think

The bass fishing club that I belong to is not looking too good. A few days ago I went out to check on the water level and had to blink a couple of times to believe my eyes. The boat shed was almost high and dry, and there was nothing under the hull but dried mud. On one of the nearby trees, there were several buzzards surveying the scene and feeding on dead carp. An alligator was laid up in the reeds with only its toothy snout showing. Fishing on that particular lake has been sucked dry by the continuing drought.

Normally the landowner will pay to have water pumped in on the lakes at the club. But based on what I’ve been hearing from farmers, they’re lucky to get enough water for their rice fields. A rice crop will always win out over growing more bass.

This week I gave guide Bill Fondren a call to see how things are on Sam Rayburn. He reports that the lake is about 9-1/2 feet low.

“Rayburn is as low as most folks have ever seen it,” said Fondren. “It was lower in 1996, but not by much. It’s a big lake and we’ve still got plenty of water. And the fishing is better than you might believe. But getting to those fish is the problem. We’ve had a lot of boats running up on mud flats that used to be covered with water. I don’t know of anybody that’s been seriously hurt so far. But a whole lot of fiberglass is being crunched on stumps and logs.”

Fondren says that he boxed 39 crappie Monday morning. He’s one of the best crappie fishing guides on the lake. And during the summer months, he’ll spend 100 percent of his crappie fishing trips over sunken brush piles. He’s got dozens of them scattered all over the lake.

“This week we found most of the crappie holding about 4 to 5 feet over brush in 14 to 15 feet of water,” says Fondren. “That brush used to be in 25 feet of water. We’re just moving from one brush pile to another until we find the fish. All of them are being caught on live minnows.”

Fondren says bass fishing is hit and miss.

“They’re here today and gone tomorrow,” he said. “The best pattern has been to fish soft plastics and cranks in 8 to 10 feet of water in the creek channels. The topwater bite has been good early and late. And the night bite has been excellent on buzzbaits. The problem with fishing at night is navigating your way around all the shallow stumps and logs.”

On Toledo Bend, David Reader at Fox’s Lodge reports that the lake is around 9 feet low and very clear.

“We’ve got a lot of stumps showing that a lot of us have never seen before,” says Reader. “And up on the shallow flats, we’ve got lots of thick weeds. Those flats are normally good to fish on but not now. The boat lanes are still in good shape. But there are a few stumps beginning to show in them.”

Reader says the hot days are slowing bass fishing down except for the early and late bite on soft plastics.

“The best catches of bass are coming from the creeks in 9 to 11 feet of water,” he says. “White spinnerbaits are good early and late. But the best pattern has been to use soft plastics. Fishermen on the south end of the lake seem to be catching more bass than on the upper lake areas.”

Catches of catfish and crappie are good on the lower end of T-Bend, as well. Crappie are best at night over baited holes with live minnows. Crappie fishing during the day is probably good, but it’s been too hot for most anglers. Blue and channel catfish are excellent over humps along the river channel and in the creeks on trotlines baited with live and fresh cut perch.

If you’re looking to catch a box of fish, you might want to head over to Lake Livingston. That’s where lots of white bass and stripers are being caught just about every day. The guides I’ve talked to on the lake are jigging white and chartreuse slab spoons over humps and points. Another option is to troll deep diving cranks trailing 1/4-ounce Pet spoons.

If you head out on East Texas lakes don’t forget to take along plenty of sunscreen and water. You’ll need lots of both. And definitely wear your life jacket and keep a close eye out for stumps, logs and shallow flats.