Our state waters harbor some of the best angling for more species than you can shake a rod at in freshwater and saltwater, but there are some that stand out above the rest for quantity, quality or even both, and you should plan your 2015 based on hitting these honey holes at peak times.
Here’s a look at half a year of fishing across the Lone Star State that won’t disappoint.
Speckled Trout, Baffin Bay
This remote bay system, an inlet of the Laguna Madre southeast of Kingsville, is known in most circles as the top place in Texas to catch a truly massive specimen – a speck measuring at least 30 inches – which is the trophy standard for most gator-trout aficionados. And while the bay gets most of its guide and weekend angler pressure during the summer, the true die-hards head out to these waters in the dead of winter in hopes of catching some of the biggest sow trout around all year.
The keys to fishing this locale and other hot spots during the winter are knowing the nature of specks in cold weather and the impact it has on where they’re found and their activity levels. Trout react much more slowly in the winter, saving their energy and often looking for larger meals to maximize their efforts. They also will be found deeper, since the water in 4, 5 or 6 feet isn’t as prone to major fluctuations as it is in the shallows.
Slow down your presentation and target the depths differently than you might during early summer mornings when fish will be up super shallow looking for prey. Some of the tried and true baits that have helped lure untold numbers of big trout include the slow-sinking Corky and jigs and spoons fished vertically. Lures mimicking bait fish typically are the go-to staple for winter trout anglers, but that doesn’t mean other offerings won’t work, too.
Black Drum, Upper Laguna Madre
These cousins of the redfish are equal-opportunity vacuum cleaners with a penchant for inhaling shrimp. They don’t get the same notoriety as the other species but they fight hard and the fillets are as good as it gets in many recipes.
Drum are the calling card for many guides in the winter as they seek to put clients on fish. They don’t typically hit artificial baits like reds, specks and flounder do, but I’ve seen and heard plenty of tales of anglers catching their daily limits on smelly lure offerings such as Berkley’s Gulp! The daily bag for drum is five fish and like redfish there’s a slot limit, this one spanning 14 to 30 inches. You also can keep one black drum longer than 52 inches as part of the daily bag, but those fish’s flesh is coarse and can contain parasitic worms, so it’s not advised.
The places to focus your angling efforts are deeper channels and cuts, especially areas near the Intracoastal Waterway. The easiest way to haul fish in is using live or dead shrimp, sea lice or crabs, and one way to fish freshly dead shrimp is to thread it on 1/8- or 1/16-ounce jigheads, which is a perfect bait to fling from one of the many piers that dot the Intracoastal.
Largemouth Bass, Lake Fork
The numbers don’t lie: Of the 50 heaviest largemouth weights in Texas, 33 came from Fork, including the 18.18-pound state record caught in 1992 by Barry St. Clair, who was fishing for crappie with minnows in the dead of winter.
The restrictive slot limit of 16 to 24 inches and phenomenal habitat have made Fork the trophy destination for anglers. As temperatures begin to rise, it’s easy to see why. Big sow bass will start to move into the shallows to spawn and are at their most vulnerable for the whole year during time spent lurking near bedding areas cleared off by smaller males.
The annual Toyota Texas Bass Classic event in 2014 showed just how phenomenal the bass fishing can be, with Keith Combs, of Huntington, hauling in a three-day, 15-fish limit of 110 pounds. The previous record for that limit was set in 2000 at Clear Lake, California, by Byron Velvick with 83 pounds, 5 ounces. Combs also wasn’t the only angler to surpass the 100-pound mark, showing that the lake is chock full of big bass, and his one-day bag of 42 pounds is a staggering average of more than 8 pounds per fish.
Largemouths, Lake Austin
This relatively small lake – about 1,600 acres of the Colorado River in Austin – has caught fire in recent years, producing numerous big bass for weekend warriors and tournament anglers, including a number of ShareLunkers exceeding 13 pounds. The lake can get rather crowded with its proximity to our state capitol, but during the cooler months – including during the spring spawn – the pleasure-boating crowd isn’t as heavy, though there will still be many anglers attempting to land double-digit fish.
One angler’s fish tale highlights the possibilities awaiting others hoping to have a big day on the water. Donnie O’Neal, an avid bass angler from Pflugerville, was fishing at the lake April 28, 2013, hoping to find a 13-pound bass to enter into the ShareLunker program. On a single cast he managed 19 pounds of fish, which ended up actually being two huge bass. O’Neal’s catches on a YUM Flash Mob Jr. consisted of one bass weighing 7.8 pounds and a second weighing 11.8. Both fish were released.
Among the best fishing locales are weed beds and lines along the shoreline, which will harbor fish during the spring and into the summer. The water clarity often is excellent, which also can make fish more wary, especially if they’re sitting on nests. Many anglers also have documented their success in catching at night, thanks also in large part to water clarity, and have caught big bass on large spinner baits and worms.
Striped Bass, Lake Texoma
This is the prime lake for striped bass in all of America, and the 75,000-acre body of water on the Oklahoma border northwest of Denison features a self-sustaining population. Stripers migrate up the Red and Washita River arms in February and March; after spawning they move to open-water areas. The best aspect of summer fishing for stripers is that they will take a variety of baits, including live gizzard shad, their preferred meal.
Among the best places to fish is along the river channel in the main-lake area. Anglers trolling crankbaits and other deep-running lures often can be as successful as those chunking live bait. Other lures that undoubtedly have caught untold numbers of fish are slabs and heavy jigs, which can be worked vertically when you’re not able to locate schools of fish chasing shad.
One spectacular way to catch stripers during summer mornings is with topwater plugs fished near shorelines, which also could produce a hefty smallmouth bass and scores of white bass.
Red Snapper, Gulf of Mexico
Red snapper fishing has become a contentious issue, with state and federal fisheries officials and recreational and commercial anglers squaring off over quotas and season dates, but one thing remains certain: the fish is among the most-sought species by everyone, and for good reason – it’s among the best-eating fish out there.
The fishing season in federal waters in 2014 was limited to just nine days, which makes it tough to adequately target the species. However, if you play your cards right and take part in the Gulf Headboat Collaborative, a program that allows only 20 federally permitted headboat captains to fish for red snapper all year as long as they have not exhausted their allocations for the species, you can bring home some great-eating fillets.
And while the Gulf season remains largely hit or miss, it should be noted that snapper options do exist in state waters. The bag limit in federal waters remains two fish that are at least 16 inches long, while the daily framework in Texas state waters — where fishing is allowed year-round — is four fish which must be at least 15 inches. However, more than 95 percent of the red snapper landed in Texas come from federal waters, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department figures. Most of that catch – about 80 percent – comes from headboats which take out numerous paying clients offshore. In Texas federal waters begin 9 nautical miles from the coast and extend 200 nautical miles.