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Fishing Hot Spots in State Parks

It’s fun, it’s free, and you don’t need a fishing license.

By Larry D. Hodge

If Texas state parks don’t rank high on your list of favorite fishing spots, think again.

No matter what species of freshwater fish you seek, state parks offer some of the best fishing in Texas. And through August 31, 2006, you don’t even need a license to fish within the boundaries of a state park.

More than 70 state parks participate in the Family Fishing Celebration. See The Family Fishing web site for details, including information on which parks loan fishing tackle or host special fishing events. Check with park personnel on the locations of park boundaries; if you are age 17 or older and were not born before September 1, 1930, you need a license to fish outside the park. (June 3 is this year’s annual Free Fishing Day and no one needs a license to fish on that day anywhere in the state.) Park admission fees do apply, however.

The next best thing to a good fishing hole is inside information on how to fish it. TPWD park managers and freshwater fisheries biologists gave me their top picks for state park fishing and shared some tips for success. I’ll profile some hotspots and give brief information on others. For more detailed information, including fishing tips, visit Recreational Fishing on the TPWD web site.

Dallas/Fort Worth Metro Area

Ray Roberts Lake State Park.

Near Pilot Point. (940) 686-2148, (940) 637-2294.

The 30,000-acre Lake Ray Roberts is a big state park with three units — Isle du Bois, Johnson Branch and Jordan — and six satellite units around the lake. The Jordan Unit offers guest rooms and a restaurant.

“Largemouth bass fishing is good all year,” says TPWD Inland Fisheries biologist Bruce Hysmith. “There are about 40 sunken brush piles which are shown on lake maps. Texas-rigged plastic worms are good bait in the summer, as are topwater baits early and late in the day. In fall and winter, try slow-fishing crankbaits or heavy jigs. Fish the bottoms of standing timber, even in deep water. The fishing pier on the Isle du Bois unit is good for largemouth bass as well as for crappie, white bass and sunfish. The Johnson Branch unit has great shoreline access.”

Ray Roberts has good white bass fishing in spring and summer; look for schools of sandies surfacing near the dam and drop heavy jigs or slabs into the schools. Channel catfish are plentiful in the lake. They will take live shad, cut shad, blood bait or shrimp drifted along the bottom in 12 to 15 feet of water.

Eisenhower State Park

Near Denison. (903) 465-1956.

Eisenhower State Park is only 423 acres, but it offers some of the most scenic campsites in the state. The park is perched on the shore of 89,000-acre Lake Texoma. “The lake boasts excellent populations of striped bass, blue catfish and smallmouth, spotted and largemouth bass,” says Bruce Hysmith. The state record blue catfish — 121.5 pounds — was caught from the lake in 2004. Striped bass fishing peaks in May and June and again from October through December.

“Night fishing off the ADA-accessible, lighted fishing pier for panfish, bass and catfish is good,” says Park Superintend-ent Paul Kisel. Hysmith rates striped bass fishing off the lighted pier as “awesome” from fall to spring and recommends the point below Armadillo Hill for striped bass when northwest winds blow.

Cooper Lake State Park

Near Cooper. (903) 945-5256.

Cooper Lake is a 19,000-acre impoundment with excellent fishing for largemouth bass, catfish, white and hybrid striped bass and crappie. Standing timber, brush piles, islands and fencerows provide structure for largemouth bass and crappie. White bass school in summer around main-lake points and humps. Fish for crappie within the park along “the wall” at the Heron Harbor day use area in the South Sulphur Unit.

If the fish aren’t biting, make an ice cream run into Cooper. Miller’s Pharmacy on the town square (903-395-2161) has been making ice cream at their soda fountain for more than 50 years. One bite and you’ll be hooked.

Houston Metro Area

Brazos Bend State Park

Near Needville. (979) 553-5102.

“We have three small lakes and a medium-sized creek that provide good fishing for largemouth bass, crappie, channel and blue catfish and sunfish,” says park manager Steve Killian. Fishing piers are located at 40-acre, Elm and Hale lakes. Fishing from the piers is a good idea: Alligators are abundant in the park.

Austin Metro Area

Inks Lake State Park

Near Burnet. (512) 793-2223.

“Inks Lake has very little fishing pressure, and the constant lake level ensures that fishing is always available,” says park manager Rick Meyers. “Fishing is great, especially for striped bass, white bass, sunfish and catfish, although crappie and black bass are abundant. Almost anyone with a pole and bait can catch a mess of fish throughout the year.”

Rangers offer free fishing programs for families every Saturday from spring through fall, and loaner tackle is available. The park has two lighted fishing piers, but bank fishing is good anywhere in the park. The park store rents canoes and kayaks and sells tackle and bait.

“Fly fishing for sunfish commonly produces sunfish the size of your hand,” Meyers says. White bass are excellent during the spring and fall and will hit just about anything that shines.”

Perhaps the best thing about Inks Lake is what surrounds the water: Some of the prettiest scenery in the entire Hill Country. Live oaks cover pink granite hills, and wildlife is abundant.

San Antonio Metro Area

Choke Canyon State Park

Near Three Rivers. (361) 786-3538 or (361) 786-3868.

Three words: Largemouth bass, hydrilla. Find the grass and you will find the bass. “The morning top-water bite is good around hydrilla until the sun gets high,” says park manager Rhett Kruse. “Then switch to Texas-rigged soft plastic floating worms — the best color is watermelon with red flake. Small white spinner baits will also work during mid-morning.”

Guide Debra Hengst of San Antonio reports good success with crayfish-imitating lures Texas-rigged and fished in hydrilla in 16 to 18 feet of water. “Fish go crazy over it,” she says. Fishing with her last June, I caught several bass in hydrilla along the shoreline adjacent to the South Shore unit campground.

I also visited with bank fishers Roy Ochoa and Gregory Zambrano of Three Rivers, and they amused themselves while waiting for channel catfish to bite by reeling in one largemouth after the other on spinner baits. Ochoa and Zambrano fish from the bank using dead shrimp with a 1-ounce weight on a drop line, but many catfish anglers on Choke Canyon go after blue and channel cats in shallow water among flooded vegetation using cheese baits. Local guides target catfish under cormorant roosts.

“Some of the better catfishing is in 20 to 40 feet of water,” Kruse says. “The Calliham Unit has a jetty near the boat ramp that gives access to deeper water. There’s also a 75-acre lake within the park that is for bank fishing only; it’s stocked with catfish, bass and sunfish.”

West Texas/Panhandle Area

Lake Arrowhead State Park

Near Wichita Falls. (940) 528-2211.

“Lake Arrowhead is known primarily for its superb spring and fall crappie fishing, but the lake produces very nice limits of white bass, black bass and catfish year-around,” says assistant park manager James Harden. “People flock to the park’s fishing pier and floating docks during the spring and fall to fish for crappie. We also have tackle for loan.”

For crappie, Inland Fisheries biologist Mark Howell suggests using a 1/16th-ounce chartreuse jig with in-line spinners off any of the rip-rap areas. “Try drift fishing for blue catfish with shrimp or use punch bait near standing timber where cormorants roost,” he advises. White bass school near flats early and late in the day and bite silver spoons or shad-imitating crankbaits like they do everywhere else.

Abilene State Park

Near Tuscola. (325) 572-3204.

Buffalo Wallow is only a 1-acre pond, but it has been developed especially with children in mind. “We’ve stocked it with sunfish, bass and channel catfish,” says ranger Paul Seals, “and all a kid needs is a cane pole, a red-and-white bobber and a can of night crawlers to have a ball.”

Lake Brownwood State Park

Near Brownwood. (325) 784-5223.

White bass and hybrid striped bass are the big deal from early May through October. “Slabbing” along creek and river channels produces lots of fish. When sandies school in the main lake, follow the birds to get in on the action. When days are hot, night fish for white bass around lighted boat docks.

East Texas

Martin Creek Lake State Park.

Near Tatum. (903) 836-4336.

“The catfishing at Martin Creek Lake is exceptional,” says Inland Fisheries biologist Todd Driscoll. Both blue and channel catfish have been stocked into the lake. The preferred method of catching them is with stink bait over holes baited with soured grain.

The lake also has a healthy population of sunfish and crappie. Catch crappie with jigs and minnows fished over brush piles and around bends in creeks. Sunfish bite aggressively during the late spring and early summer spawn. Small jigs or spinners, earthworms and crickets will all produce lots of action.

Lake Bob Sandlin State Park

Near Pittsburg. (903) 572-5531.

Park ranger Paul Harris says the lighted fishing pier at the park offers anyone an excellent opportunity to catch fish. “The lake record largemouth bass — 14 pounds, 5 ounces — was caught from the pier by a crappie angler,” he says. Crappie, catfish and sunfish can also be caught from the pier. White bass are abundant.

Lake Livingston State Park

Near Livingston. (936) 365-2201.

Lake Livingston was lowered several feet due to damage to the dam during Hurricane Rita, and that may help the catfish and white bass fishing, which were already excellent, says Inland Fisheries biologist Mark Webb. “The lower water level may cause a more concentrated white bass run, and the blue cats may be even easier to locate,” he says. TPWD fisheries biologists have noted large schools of blue catfish suspended in the lake.

South Texas

Falcon State Park

Near Falcon Heights. (956) 848-5327.

Falcon International Reservoir has bounced back from a decade of low water levels and is regaining its reputation as one of the hottest largemouth bass lakes in the nation. Flooded vegetation and submerged buildings hold lots of big bass, but summer temperatures of 100 degrees or more can be brutal.

Don’t overlook the channel catfish — they bite any time of year. Because of its southern location, Falcon offers winter fishing in spring-like temperatures while the rest of the state shivers.

Gulf Coast Area

Lake Corpus Christi State Park

Near Mathis. (361) 547-2635.

Many anglers on their way to fish the bays around Corpus Christi overlook the fishing in Lake Corpus Christi. Catfishing is rated excellent; fishing for largemouth bass, crappie, white bass and sunfish is good.

Channel, blue and flathead catfish are all present. Try for blue and channel cats with cheese bait in flooded brush in shallow water. Big blues and flatheads prefer live bait and can be caught on trotlines or jug lines in the main Nueces River channel.

Fish for crappie off the park’s lighted fishing pier. Small jigs may catch more fish than minnows under the lights. White bass running in the river also like a variety of small minnow-imitating baits as well as the real thing.

Lake Texana State Park

Near Edna. (361) 782-5718.

Like Lake Corpus Christi, Lake Texana is often overshadowed by the nearby coast. However, blue and channel catfish are abundant, and crappie fishing is excellent. Dabble small white, pink or chartreuse crappie jigs around the edges of floating vegetation or submerged brush.

White bass gang up in the Navidad River and Sandy Creek channels prior to the December-January spawning run. Try for hybrid striped bass near the dam with live shad or minnows or shad-imitating rattling baits.

Remember that boat ramps are sometimes inaccessible if water levels are low, so call ahead to check. And finally, park personnel are there to help you have a safe, enjoyable outdoor experience and will be happy to advise you on where and how to fish.

Family Fishing Events

By Ann Miller

Parks around the state hold special family-oriented fishing events that are fun and easy to join. At many of these events, the celebration includes the opportunity to win prizes and come away with fishing equipment. Drawings for bigger prizes sponsored by local businesses often add to the excitement.

There are five basic types of events: 1) Junior Angler Fishing Clinics geared for kids to help them learn basic fishing skills; 2) Youth Fishing Derbies for those who have the basic skills and enjoy a little competition; 3) Fly Fishing Clinics for ages 13 and up; 4) Advanced Fishing Clinics (check with the park for specific topics); and 5) Fishing with the Ranger or Fishing with an Expert.

So get your family outdoors this summer, enjoy these special Family Fishing Celebration events at your state parks and create memories to last a lifetime. For more information about events at parks in your area, visit the TPWD calendar.

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