Riddled with lakes and strewn with rivers, East Texas is an angler’s paradise. Man-made reservoirs and dogged preservation efforts have made many gilled species handsomely available. We plumbed the Piney Woods’ freshwater in hopes of snagging a Texas-size catch.
“We found a location near the shoreline with a lone fallen tree and, figuring an isolated laydown would attract more bass per capita than an area full of them, we set up our crankbaits and cast our lines. And, voilà! Within minutes we were vindicated, each of us feeling a gratifying tug.”
“The maximum depth is 70 feet, the water is moderately clear, and its V-shaped geography has hiding places galore. With ample vegetation and 80 percent of its timber left intact, Lake Fork is a perfect storm of ideal angling conditions.”
The 150-plus lakes of Texas teem with more than 46 common species of freshwater fish, including bass, catfish, minnows, and sunfish. The Piney Woods, its landscape laced with waterways, pulls in a fair share of that catch—and bass outnumber the rest. We floated to the region’s most happening spots, expecting a tug on the line and the camaraderie of the wait.
Spanning a massive 181,600 acres, Toledo Bend Reservoir runs north-south on the Texas-Louisiana border and is lined with dozens of private business and boating ramps, which supports a lively fishing and boating industry all year long.
The reservoir, formed by a dam, is part of a wave of man-made lakes created in East Texas in the 1950s and 1960s for recreational, agricultural, and industrial purposes. Fed by the Sabine River and dozens of creeks, it’s a hot spot for largemouth bass, which are plentiful and huge. The record for the largest largemouth ever caught in Toledo Bend is a 15.32-pound, 28-inch specimen caught in 2000.
Itching for something even half as big, we embarked from the Texas side and motored to the upper half of the lake, where creek channels, timber, and laydowns make for dense fish populations. A guide we bumped into on the shore advised us that fallen trees provide great shade and ambush points for bass, and staying close to laydowns would increase our chances of getting bites.
We found a location near the shoreline with a lone fallen tree and, figuring an isolated laydown would attract more bass per capita than an area full of them, we set up our crankbaits and cast our lines. And voilà! Within minutes we were vindicated, each of us feeling a gratifying tug.
After an hour of success in the same location, we decided to move down the lake with the same tactic. It worked nearly every time. The day’s haul included largemouth bass, crappie, catfish, and white and striped bass. We released the last five, as our cooler was at capacity, before heading back to shore at the end of our fruitful day.
Thirty-four of the top 50 largemouth bass fish caught in Texas have come from the same place: Lake Fork. The record for the largest caught by rod and reel is a 2007 specimen weighing in at 18.18 pounds and measuring 25.5 inches. But that pales in comparison to a 75-pound flathead catfish caught there, also in 2007.
So it’s no surprise that the 27,264-acre reservoir, located 65 miles east of Dallas on a tributary of the Sabine River, is recognized as a trophy fishing haven. The maximum depth is 70 feet, the water is moderately clear, and its V-shaped geography has hiding places galore. With 80 percent of its timber left intact and ample vegetation, Lake Fork creates a perfect storm of ideal angling conditions.
Our experience was no different. Over the course of a long, active afternoon, we found the best luck around docks and areas choked with hydrilla, milfoil, and duckweed, where the bass apparently like to hide. We hit the lake’s five-fish bag limit in the first two hours, and the rest of the day was spent catching and releasing.
Lake Sam Rayburn, a 115,000-acre man-made reservoir that bisects Angelina National Forest, is another angling destination. Its waters thrum with bass, catfish, and crappie year-round, and a healthy population of bluegill and redear sunfish make it good for children and inexperienced anglers.
Lake O’ the Pines, a 16,919-acre reservoir on Big Cypress Bayou, has the typical year-round largemouth selection and smallmouth bass during spring and summer. Bass spawning grounds form here as a result of the shallow water and ample cover.
For a glimpse of the other end of the process, take an excursion to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens and learn all about the fisheries that keep 1.8 million Texas anglers happy each year.
You know the phrase “shooting fish in a barrel”? Well, that’s what you get when you fish at Caddo Lake. With an average depth of 10 feet, the bayou-filled lake is like one big barrel—one sprawling, transcendently beautiful, swampy barrel filled with captive bass and crappies with nowhere to go but into your cooler.