Central Texas is about the ideal place for an outdoorsman to live. It’s covered with lakes and streams full of fish, offers fields and woods full of wild game, has a golf course within about a 15 minute drive from anywhere, and features plenty of places to hike, bike, camp, and enjoy other pursuits.
And with just a handful of days each year when the weather shuts things down – tornados, severe thunderstorms, ice storms, etc. – outdoor sports are a year-round recreation option.
Forecasts for the next few days have afternoon high temperatures kissing the 70 degree mark, and with area waters above normal levels and holding, it’s a prime time to go catch some fish.
Floodwaters bring their own set of challenges to anglers, though, and the last blast of rainfall has caused the Lake Waco Corps of Engineers to close most areas of the lake because of high water and debris.
As of Friday, the only spots open at Lake Waco were the Speegleville and Midway campgrounds, and the hike and bike trail at the dam. All the ramps are closed, and although the flooding isn’t as bad as it was a couple of months ago, a Corps spokesperson said there was no way they could estimate when ramps and parks would reopen – or which ones would open first.
After the last floods, a number of groups and individuals, including Fish On Texas! and Group W Bench Litter Patrol, volunteered to clean up parks and boat ramps around the lake to speed up the reopening dates.
The Lake Waco COE had been releasing water, but shut the gates on Thursday, which is how they’ll remain until reopen orders come down from the Fort Worth district office. As of Saturday around noon, the lake was nearly 9 feet above normal level and rising.
On the bright side, if you have a favorite spot to bank fish at the lake, then as long as you can get there, you can fish there. Plus, high and muddy water typically translates to good catfishing on rivers and creeks. Kayak anglers should do pretty well on the water this weekend and on into next week.
King of Lake Fork
One place the ramps are open is Lake Fork, and catfishing legend Danny King says it’s a great time to be on the lake. I fished with King on Fork a handful of years ago, and knowing its reputation as a trophy bass lake, I felt strange chasing catfish there.
But within a few minutes of anchoring on a timbered flat, we were catching fish that could’ve made a meal of a big bass. We ended up with a nice mix of blues, yellows, and channel cats, and King made me a believer in his famous punch bait.
I reconnected with him a couple of weeks back, and he said that Fork is full of channel cats and big flatheads. “Right now is a great time to go after them,” he said. “The parks and ramps are open, and the fish can be found from 4 feet of water on down.”
He told me most of the usual baits are working, but he prefers his patented and proven stink baits, with his favorite being the Danny King Suki Gizzard Catfish Bait. “Put out a little chum, such as soured grain or cattle cubes, wait a couple of hours, and go get ‘em,” King said. “I like fishing the edges of weed lines or small brush lines around the bank.”
Lake Whitney striper guide Clay Yadon (Reel Deal Striper Guide Service on Facebook) says the lake is on the rise again, and nobody’s sure how much it will come up or when it will normalize, but the fishing has still been strong when the weather allows.
“We’ve been catching easy limits on most days,” he said. “Some days, though, we’re having to search for them a little using bird activity or locating fish chasing a school of shad to the surface.”
There’s not much more adrenalizing than seeing a flock of birds swirling, squawking, and smashing into the water. It means there’s a big school of big stripers chasing a ball of shad toward the surface from below to catch a mouthful to eat.
And as that adrenaline surges while you scream across the water toward the action, remember that coming in too fast and too close with your big motor will scatter bird, bait, and bass alike. Stealth is key when the water is cold and carries sound more effectively, and shutting the motor down and drifting into the school will yield better results.
Yadon says he’s been having good luck dead-sticking chartreuse and pearl flukes and Bass Assassins on 1 ounce jig heads, with fish being suspended at 20-25 feet in 40-45 feet of water.
The weather outlook is bright for the next stretch of days, and Yadon has dates available. Stripers are the closest thing to seafood that you can catch around here. They blacken as well as red snapper and don’t require a drive to the coast.
Let me tell you about the birds and the deer
Never fear, sports fans – there’s still more football to be played, and there’s still more hunting to be done. Dove season’s second split runs through Jan. 14, duck season continues through the 27th, quail (if you can find any) can be hunted through Feb. 24, and Rio Grande Turkey season ends today along with the white-tailed deer general season.
However, a number of Central Texas counties have a Special Late Season for white-tails that runs from Jan. 7-20, including McLennan, Bell, Coryell, and others. During this season, harvest is restricted to antlerless and unbranched antlered deer (a buck with at least one antler that has no more than one point). A point is a projection that extends at least one inch from the edge of a main beam or another tine. The tip of the main beam is also a point. Check the TPWD website for a listing of counties with the Special Late Season.
Also still in season are woodcock through Jan. 31 and snipe through Feb. 10.