Lakes and streams across Central Texas are starting to get back to normal levels, but just because your eyes tell you things are ready doesn’t mean parks and ramps will be opening up for recreation.

Lake officials from the local to the district levels have gotten calls reminding them that from May through mid-June, boaters, campers, anglers, and others have been shut out of many areas that are normally teeming with folks this time of year, but the approach to reopening these areas is based on caution.

Corps of Engineers officials from the Fort Worth district office have directed site managers to begin assessing damages from flooding and wind – including electrical and road inspections, structural damage to facilities, piles of debris, and other issues. Only after those matters are settled will parks and ramps start reopening.

One official said the reason roads have to remain closed for so long is to allow the base materials to dry. Typically, that means we’ll need about 3 weeks of dry weather to allow the roads to stabilize in areas that had prolonged inundated roads and ramps.

But late last week, some good news came out: Barring any unusually heavy rainfall, Lake Waco’s Speegleville Park should reopen this week (Thursday) and Airport Beach shelter and boat ramp is slated for reopening on July 1. Airport campground’s projected reopening is Aug. 1, and there’s no word on when other parks and ramps will open.

All those dates are, of course, tentative, and could change depending on weather, degree of damage, and other factors. If you’re too itchy to wait for those spots to open up, Aquilla’s ramps are all open for business.

There are still plenty of folks out there fishing, both from boats and shorelines, and Lake Waco angler Keith Rodriguez (Fish On Texas!) says the bite is strong early in the mornings and evenings, right before dark.

“Shad and ghost minnows have been along the banks really heavy right around sunrise,” he said. “You can catch decent-sized pan-frying channel and blue cats before it gets too hot.” He added that hybrids are biting well. “If you can get your bait out deep enough, you might land a good-sized hybrid or two. With the weather being hot, they’ll tend to stay deep where the water is colder unless they’re chasing bait fish with the whites,” he said.

Catfishing legend Danny King (dannykingbait.com) says the catfish spawn is on, and fish are catchable if you can find the beds. “They’re holding in tight places like rocks, brush piles, and mud bank holes, and you’ve got to almost hit them in the head with your bait to get a bite.”

King says plenty of undersized cats are feeding strong. “The 8 to 10 inchers are everywhere and they’ll eat up your bait fast,” he said, “but getting a bigger one is trickier. The spawning fish are staying put, but they’ll protect their nest of eggs aggressively if you can find them. Most of the nests are in roughly 6 to 10 feet of water.”

King doesn’t fish during the spawn to help ensure more fish in the future, but after the spawn, he’ll start chumming and hauling them in again.

Casting a wide net

If you consider the cost of fishing gear, live bait, fuel, and other fishing-related expenses, a skillet of “free” fish that you caught earlier in the day might actually have cost more money than if you had bought it from the store.

But of course the satisfaction of catching your own, teamed with the excellent quality of freshly-caught fish, makes it worth the expense. One way you can offset some of your fishing expenses is by catching your own live bait.

There are a number of options out there, and the advantage of catching your own bait isn’t just a matter of economics. In addition to saving money, you’re also netting the bait fish that game fish feed on daily. In other words, you’re giving them what they’re used to eating.

For me, a cast net is the go-to for loading up a bucket with bait. These are circular nets attached to a hand line with weights along the circle’s outer edge. When the net is thrown, it opens up, hits the water and sinks, and then is cinched up by the weights when the hand line is pulled, trapping fish inside. These nets vary in diameter, and some of the bigger sizes take more energy to throw.

It takes practice to throw one correctly, but there are enough instructional videos online that it shouldn’t take the average person long to develop the skills needed. One of the drawbacks with cast nets is that any underwater debris can hang in the netting, and even though I’ve never lost a net to a rock or submerged timber, I have had to get into the water to extract my net a few times – not to mention doing repairs afterward.

Seines are another effective device for catching bait. These are long nets with weighted bottoms and floats on top. Usually, a stick or pole is attached at each end for better control. The net is taken into the water and drug through vertically, with weights being pulled along the bottom. Trapped fish are then corralled to shore.

These typically require two people to operate, although I once saw a guy hammer one end into the ground and sweep the other end around to shore. He did get back to shore with some bait. Another thing about a seine is that they require you get into the water, so chest waders are a good idea to have handy unless you don’t mind being wet.

There are other bait-catchers on the market, like traps, but for my money, the cast net and seine are the quickest and most effective ways to fill your bait box.

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