Summer officially begins later this June.
That means it’s time for your family to map out the next two months of outdoor adventures before the flickering Friday night lights click back on and high school football becomes the focus of almost every Texas hamlet near and far. There’s always too much to do and not enough time to fit it all in, but you should make a list of things you’ve always wanted to check out or would like to do again and carve out some days.
Here are some things to consider adding to your tally during the glorious days that are summer in Texas.
Night crappie fishing
This time of year is papermouth paradise, and you can catch these fish with a host of artificials or wiggling minnows across Texas. As it gets hotter crappie get sluggish and move deeper, which makes angling after dusk no ordinary shot in the dark, especially if you tote along halogen help to a pier or fish house or simply illuminate a brushy area with a lantern or two. The light will entice guests from the bottom of the food chain that gluttonous crappie love to feast on, and it’s possible you could fish all night if the action picks up.
Wade for trout
The dawning of the day on the bay is a sight without equal, and if you’re waist-deep strolling the stingray shuffle while gazing at the glowing horizon, it doesn’t get much better – unless you’re hoisting a hefty speck or stocky redfish. You can wade wet during the heat of the day or throw on waders, and your tackle box can be condensed to a few topwater plugs, some gold spoons and a handful of soft plastics imitating baitfish or shrimp for any skinny water areas spanning the coast. Haul along a bait bucket if you want and fill it with the real thing to catch a variety of species.
Find a rainbow
You could head to Colorado or New Mexico to find mountain streams or tailraces bustling with chunky trout, but in Texas there’s a consistent fishery for rainbows in the Guadalupe River below the Canyon Lake dam. There were about 23,000 rainbows stocked in the tailrace last year and most survive all year thanks to the crisp water spilling from the lake. You won’t find any giants – some of the ’bows reach 18 to 20 inches – but these fish put up a fight and trout bums compare the scenery and ambiance to bubbling brooks in the West.
Take a barbecue trip
Ribs. Chicken. Brisket. Sausage. Pork chops. Regardless of what tickles your fancy, the Hill Country has got it, always smoked to perfection and ready to be dipped in a vinegar-based bath after it’s plucked from a colossal iron pit. Highway 29 is the barbecue main drag of Texas, and there are a handful of cook shacks dripping with mesquite flavor and tourists every day during the summer for lunch and dinner. You can’t go wrong at any of them but the crème de la crème of mouth-watering succulence is Cooper’s in Llano and Junction. Trust me. You’ll be back.
Fight a hybrid
Pound for pound, no fish packs as much punch as the cross between a striper and a white bass, and some of the best hybrid lakes are closer than you think. Brownwood, Proctor, Coleman and Fort Phantom Hill are your best bets in Central and West Texas, while Benbrook, Cooper, Ray Hubbard and Somerville are hard to beat to the east. The prime tactic is to find schoolies herding shad, and once you do, a variety of baits mimicking baitfish will work, including topwaters, which can make for intense angling. The state record came in at just under 20 pounds, but even a 5-pound fish will wear you out.
Catch a catfish
Drifting. Wading. Sitting. Sleeping (if you have a trotline). Noodling (if you dare stick a hand where a snapping turtle could be hiding or don’t mind coming eye to eye with a cottonmouth). It doesn’t matter how you do it, hauling in a channel, blue or flathead catfish is pure excitement. A simple fish-finding setup is a slip sinker rigged a couple of feet above a hook baited with cutbait, nightcrawlers or another smelly brew. You can drift it behind or to the side of a boat or kayak or simply chunk it out and let it relax. The method doesn’t matter so much as the time spent enjoying the pursuit. It’s also wonderful to bring home some good eats.
Take a kid to a pier or pond
Whether you’re using a cane pole and worms to entice feisty bluegills or a lightweight spinning rod and dead shrimp to lure a host of saltwater dwellers, the impetus of this pursuit is catching. Attach a float or bobber and you’ve got all the makings for an exciting trip, especially if you’re introducing a youngster to pastime. Keep it simple and be ready to unhook the bounty that even the smallest body of water can produce in the next couple of months. You may not bring anything home for dinner, but that’s not the only reason to fish.
Perhaps you’ve never seen or tasted this wild delicacy, but it’s well worth the effort of finding the dark, sweet berries that grow on thorny vines. Wet years are great for production of the soft fruit though in many areas the vines have been pruned back where they once flourished. As a kid, our family went on a number of dewberry excursions, finding the tasty treat along fence lines and other edge areas in Brazos County. And if you do find them, don’t wait – pick the dark purple berries before someone else gets to them. I can still taste the fresh dewberries and homemade vanilla ice cream like it was yesterday. Greatest dessert in this lifetime.
Pitch a tent, find a state park
Texas is dotted with state parks ripe for a weekend outing, and more than a dozen offer fishing access that’s not half bad. There is drive-up access to day areas and also camping sites to suit whatever you’re aiming for at most parks, and with a little planning you can bring the whole family for an outdoor outing they won’t soon forget. Our family trekked to Colorado Bend many summers back and timed the white bass just right, providing my most memorable time spent at our state areas open to the public. You should do the same this year, and no matter where you are there is a place nearby to get away from it all and spend a few nights gazing up at the night sky in hopes of catching a glimpse of a shooting star.