School’s out for summer, but for freshwater anglers across Texas, there are plenty of fish still swimming around in large groups, making now the best time to be on the water for a variety of species.
Temperatures are scorching – and they’re only going to get worse – but if you’re looking for some of the best angling you’ll see all year, you’ve got plenty of options, no matter where you’re willing to drive.
With that in mind, here’s a freshwater summer fishing guide, with a little insight into what makes these bodies of water stand out above the rest.
Lake Fork (largemouth bass): The numbers don’t lie: Of the 50 biggest largemouths caught in Texas, 34 came from Fork, including the 18.18-pound state record caught in 1992 by Barry St. Clair, who actually was targeting crappie with minnows.
A restrictive slot limit and phenomenal habitat have made Fork the trophy destination for anglers, and tournaments on the lake tend to produce ridiculous results. Numerous pros also live in the area in East Texas, making Fork their home waters, which isn’t a bad gig to have.
Among the baits that have been tried and true for catching Fork lunkers are jigs, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, plastic worms and lizards in a variety of colors. It can be tough to see darker baits, especially on cloudy days, and one tip that seems to work for many veteran anglers is to pick a lighter- or brighter-colored bait that they can see when flipping and pitching.
Lake Tawakoni (channel catfish): When it’s hot, head to this 37,000-acre lake to take part in a catfish haul unlike anything you’ve ever seen. West Tawakoni was deemed the “Catfish Capital of Texas” by the state legislatureand for good reason. It sits on the banks of your best bet for great catfish angling.
Tawakoni’s massive channel catfish population continues to thrive, and anglers can use stink bait and cut bait, including shrimp and livers, to haul in easy limits of the good-eating fish. The real secret is to bring along sour grain of some kind and bait up a few holes you intend to fish.
The easiest channel cat rig is a treble hook below an egg sinker on a swivel, which can be used to hold punch baits or any other kind of offering you have. The daily bag limit on channel cats is 25 fish at least 12 inches long, and if you have a couple of friends or family along with you, it can make for plenty of fillets destined for the peanut oil later.
Cooper Lake (hybrid striped bass): This sleeper lake northeast of the Metroplex remains a hotspot for hybrids, and they can be caught on a variety of lures this month, including topwaters, which can make for exciting action. You also can find hybrids by throwing slabs, crankbaits and other baitfish-type lures.
Many anglers will slow roll baits near the bottom including Sassy Shads and spoons and find success while vertically jigging bucktail offerings and trolling or throwing crankbaits also are excellent ways to find lots of fish.
The lake record is more than 11 pounds and when you consider the hybrid, a cross between a striped bass and a white bass, fights harder than either, a fish of that size could be the catch of the year for any angler.
Lake Texoma (striped bass): This is the prime lake for striped bass in all of America, and the 75,000-acre body of water that rests on the Texas-Oklahoma border northwest of Denison features a spawning, self-sustaining population. Texoma 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 Texoma stripers is that they will take a variety of baits, including live gizzard shad, which is 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 cool summer mornings is with topwater plugs fished near shorelines, which also could produce a hefty smallmouth bass. Other lures that can be fished near the surface are Sassy Shads and jerkbaits.
Lake Buchanan (blue catfish): The Highland Chain of lakes long has been a weekend hotspot for anglers from all of Central Texas, and this blue cat hotspot west of Burnet is your best bet. While Buchanan also boasts good numbers of channel cats and flatheads, its blue cat population rivals that of Texoma, which some anglers boast is the best for that species in the state.
The lake offers a variety of cover conducive to sustaining healthy catfish numbers. The eastern portion and the area near the dam are rockier than other spots, boasting ledges and rockpiles, which normally hold fish as temperatures rise. The western portion of the lake features more flats with brush and vegetation. Catfish in Buchanan are susceptible to any kind of stink bait and cut bait, including punch baits, which easily can be rigged up on a treble hook below a Carolina-rigged egg sinker.
Richland-Chambers (white bass): This 40,000-acre reservoir southeast of Corsicana on U.S. Highway 287 also is a fantastic hybrid striper fishery, and “sandie” fishing heats up as roving schools of surfacing shad get worked into a frenzy by the big fish from below and the gulls and herons from above. One of the best ways to find schools of sand bass is to watch for bird activity near the surface.
If the fish are working the surface, and where there’s bait you’ll often find hybrids along with the white bass, some of the most exciting fishing is done with any small topwater plugs that mimic the baitfish. If the fish and surfacing activity aren’t easily visible, one of the best items in your arsenal is a fishfinder, and if you find white bass deeper, you should break out slabs and jigging spoons to catch their fancy.
Lake Whitney (smallmouth bass): Eight of the top 10 smallmouths in Texas came from Whitney. When you consider they fight harder pound-for-pound than largemouths, it makes this month a great time to head to Central Texas. Look for rocky structure and you’ll find fish not far from it, including along shorelines where creeks flow into this Brazos River impoundment.
Deep-diving crankbaits and Sassy Shads work as good as anything for finding smallmouths, especially in patterns that imitate crawfish, one of the smallmouth’s favorite meals. The fish also could be ganged up around main-lake points in pursuit of moving schools of baitfish. One hotspot to consider fishing is the rocky shoreline that’s part of the lake’s state park.
Other areas of the lake to look for smallies include the middle and lower portions where the water is clearer and there is a variety of rocky habitat that will hold fish almost all year.
It’s tough to beat Texas angling no matter where you are, and while these bodies of water are surefire locales to find the fish of the year or fish of a lifetime, there are plenty of other places not far away that likely are just as good.
It’s tough to go wrong in the Lone Star State.