The cold weather of late has not exactly set the stage for fishing of any kind, but the pursuit of big bass on East Texas lakes is always on the top burner about this time of year. I was talking to bass fishing pro Lonnie Stanley a few days ago and he said that Sam Rayburn is in great shape thanks to recent rains.
“Once the water settles out, the fishing for numbers of bass will be great,” said Stanley. “The high water now will set the stage for excellent trophy bass fishing this spring. Also, the rivers are up, and that means the white bass run on the Angelina above Rayburn and the Sabine River above Toledo Bend should be very good. The crappie bite on the upper end of Rayburn should turn on along the Angelina River channel as soon as the water clears up. All in all, I’d say the rains we’ve had over the past week or so will set the stage for some of the best fishing we’ve seen in years on both Rayburn and Toledo Bend.”
Just how good is the bass fishing on Sam Rayburn? Put it this way, it’s ranked as the best in Texas, according to studies conducted by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Actually, it’s a tie between Rayburn and Walter E. Long. These two lakes are the best overall bass fishing lakes based on a combination of small, keeper and quality bass caught during electrofishing samples in 2012.
TPWD ranked Lake Raven as No. 3, followed by Sweetwater (No. 4), Bastrop (No. 5), Ray Hubbard (No. 6), Toledo Bend (No. 7), Lone Star (No. 8), Houston County (No. 9) and Amistad (No. 10).
In reservoirs scattered throughout Texas, generators drone and bright lights beam from strange-looking boats built to transmit electrical current into the water to catch fish. Crews from TPWD’s Inland Fisheries district offices use these electrofishing boats to collect information on fish populations, including Texas’ most popular fish — largemouth bass.
Bass anglers are always searching for hot lakes, and for bass populations that are primed for great fishing opportunities. With this in mind, TPWD’s Spencer Dumont used electrofishing information collected from over 4,800 adult bass (8 inches and longer) in 78 hours of electrofishing effort at 935 different shoreline sites from 62 reservoirs in the fall of 2012 to rank the top 10 bass populations in terms of small bass, keeper bass and quality bass.
“Anglers should not expect to catch bass in the same numbers as the electrofishing boats,” advises Dumont. “Electrofishing gives an indication of how abundant bass of different sizes are in a reservoir. Also, electrofishing does not generally collect very large fish. There may well be larger fish in a reservoir than show up in electrofishing surveys. Falcon would be a good example. We know that lake has lots of big bass, but it’s very hard to collect them with electrofishing.”
Dumont pointed out that Lake Fork did not show up on any of the lists.
The following is what Dumont’s electrofishing studies documented.
Top 10 Lakes for Small Bass
“Small bass were defined as those from 8 to 13 inches long,” said Dumont. “Sprawling Sam Rayburn Reservoir was ranked No. 1 for small bass at 161 bass collected per hour of electrofishing effort.”
Rounding out the Top 10 were:
• Sweetwater (143/hour)
• Proctor (120/hour)
• Toledo Bend (90/hour)
• Walter E. Long (86/hour)
• Eagle Mountain (84.6/hour)
• Ray Hubbard (81.5/hour)
• Leon (77/hour)
• Lake o’ the Pines and Lake Raven (75/hour)
Top 10 Lakes for Keeper Bass
Keeper bass were defined as those from 14 to 17 inches long. Lake Raven took the top spot for keeper bass with a whopping 75 bass collected per hour of electrofishing. The rest of the top 10 were:
• Bastrop (64/hour)
• Walter E. Long (62/hour)
• Sam Rayburn (35.5/hour)
• Amistad (29.5/hour)
• Sweetwater (26/hour)
• Amon Carter (25/hour)
• Coleman, Gibbons Creek and Toledo Bend (21/hour).
The average number of keeper bass caught per reservoir in 2012 was 13 bass per hour of electrofishing.
Top 10 Lakes for Quality Bass
Quality bass were defined as those 18 inches or longer. Walter E. Long had the most quality bass with an impressive 18 bass collected per hour. The remainder of the top ten were:
• Bastrop and Raven (10/hour)
• Jacksonville, Houston County, Ray Hubbard, Sam Rayburn and Sweetwater (7/hour)
• Mackenzie, Murvaul, Proctor and Stamford (6/hour)
“Lake Dunlap is a good example of a fishery that might surprise anglers with the quality of its bass fishing,” said Dumont. “ Toyota ShareLunker No. 539, a 13.34-pounder, was caught from the lake Dec. 30.”
The lake was impounded in 1928 and covers 410 acres of the Guadalupe River near New Braunfels. Little more than a wide spot on the river, it’s a popular destination for recreational boating and fishing. Boat access is limited to one two-lane boat ramp, and bank fishing is limited to the bridge easement.
“The Inland Fisheries Division of TPWD has been managing the reservoir for many decades,” said Dumont. “Since the early 2000s, electrofishing surveys have been conducted every other year to monitor black bass populations and prey assemblages. Largemouth bass are the predominant black bass species in the reservoir, but smallmouth, spotted and Guadalupe bass are present.
“Since 2001, largemouth bass catch rates have averaged 92 fish per hour of electrofishing, and bass exceeding 20 inches have been collected in almost all of the surveys. On the angling side, Lake Dunlap’s largemouth bass have been in the limelight over the past few years as fishing reports and pictures of double-digit bass have flooded the Internet angling forums. A tournament held in spring 2012 showcased the potential of Lake Dunlap’s bass fishery when a five-fish limit topped the scales at 35-plus pounds. Lake Dunlap has become a destination for club-level tournaments.”
Dumont says that the combination of a healthy, robust largemouth bass population and high prevalence of Florida largemouth bass genetics coupled with abundant forage and diverse habitat has been the recipe for success in creating a quality bass fishery in Dunlap’s relatively small water body.
Robert Sloan can be reached by e-mail at sloan288 [at] aol [dot] com.