Dan Bennett claims he has never been one to get excited about very much. That’s interesting, because these days the 38-year-old fisheries scientist is feeling the nervous energy of a guy about to become a father for the very first time.
Bennett is the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Region 1 inland fisheries district supervisor based in Pottsboro. He rides shotgun over a dozen North Texas lakes, including a couple of heavy hitters in Lake Texoma and Ray Roberts.
Ray Roberts is the youngest lake under Bennett’s watch. Not for long, though.
Heavy equipment operators are steadily pushing dirt and clearing brush in northeastern Fannin County as Texas’ newest reservoir — Bois d’ Arc Lake — slowly takes shape one scoop of dirt at a time.
Fittingly named for the rock-solid trees native to the area, the 16,600-acre reservoir is the first “major” impoundment built in Texas in nearly three decades. The last was 19,000-acre O.H. Ivie, which opened in 1990. Reservoirs with normal capacity of 5,000 acre-feet or larger classify as major.
Plenty of progress has been made since construction crews broke ground on the $1.6 billion reservoir in May 2018. Once complete, the North Texas Municipal Water District will utilize the lake to deliver water to Dallas-area suburbs.
Anglers across Texas and beyond are likely pondering other ideas and making plans to pay the new lake a visit when it opens to the public in a few years, possibly as early as 2022. In the meantime, Bennett and his staff are pooling resources and dipping deep into their bag of tricks to make sure fishermen find something really special once they get there.
It’s a huge responsibility being charged with developing and overseeing a brand new fishery from the ground floor. For guys like Bennett, meeting the challenge is a dream come true. To hear him tell it, most fisheries biologists will work their entire career and never get such a golden opportunity.
“Most of our biologists who were hired on back in the 1980s have never had a chance like this,” Bennett said. “I am excited about this particular project, indeed. The only thing that might be more exciting is if they would turn me loose on a bulldozer for a few months to make all sorts of humps and channels in the basin! We are certainly trying to brainstorm and do all we can to improve fish habitat in the lake before construction is complete.”
A Look at Bois d’Arc Lake
Built on Bois d’ Arc Creek northeast of Bonham, the lake lies at a slight angle southwest to the northeast. Bennett says the long, narrow basin extends roughly 13 miles from the upper tip to a two-mile long earthen dam at the lower end, northwest of Honey Grove.
Sandwiched in between are about two dozen major and secondary creeks that feed coves, cuts and fingers along the lake’s jagged shorelines. The biologist says the creeks are well defined with drop offs and distinctive bends that will help position fish and provide anglers with plenty of good spots to soak their baits. Most of the timber and brush is being left in coves and the lake’s upper half to provide critical habitat for fish.
The lake also will inundate a complex of county roads, bridges, culverts and close to 250 stock tanks ranging from 1/4 acre to 10 acres. Bennett says the reservoir will be about 70 feet at its deepest point with an average depth of 20-25 feet at full pool.
“It’s got a pretty complex shoreline of about 67 miles, too,” he said. “I suspect the lake will fish pretty big for a 16,000-acre lake. Fishermen should be able to spread out pretty good.”
Another underwater feature of interest to anglers is a unique man-made channel that was cut through the Bois d’Arc creek bottom decades ago. Bennett said farmers cut the channel in a straight line to carry water faster than the winding creek channel. The idea was to help curtail flooding.
“Initially the channel was narrow, probably about the width of a track hoe,” he said. “It has since eroded to about 40-50 feet wide. The main creek channel is still there, too. It carries water during periods of wet weather.”
In addition to the previous structures, Bennett says fish will benefit from several large brush piles that will be anchored to bottom at the lower end. The piles will be 15 feet tall and 60-80 feet long. Additionally, construction crews are working to consolidate scrap concrete barriers and rubble to create more valuable habitat.
“We’ve been working closely with the NTMWD regarding the habitat and they have been really cooperative about following our recommendations,” Bennett said. “They seem really interested in making the fishing good.”
The only bridge traversing the lake (1.3 miles) will be along FM 897 connecting US 82 to FM 1396. There will be three boat public ramps and a single boat lane about 100 yards wide. Bennett said the boat lane will run about two miles west of the bridge and stop about three miles short of the lake’s upper tip.
Fishing For the Future
Only a handful of Texas reservoirs have been built since a storied bass lake called Lake Fork was impounded in 1980. Despite TPWD’s best efforts to duplicate the lake’s management blueprint on each one, none have come remotely close to becoming the fairy tale trophy bass fishery Fork was during its heyday.
Will scientists finally discover the magical formula in Bois d’Arc Lake?
Bennett says Fork was a really special place that may never be matched. Even so, he has high hopes for Bois d’Arc and says the department is using all the tools in the toolbox to make it the best it can possibly be.
“I think it’ll be a really good fishery, at least for the first 15 years or so,” Bennett said. “The lake is going to be used for water supply from the start, so the water level fluctuations we see on a routine basis will ultimately determine how good the lake will be and for how long. The good thing is it’s got really big watershed. It may not be prone to fluctuate as much as some of our other lakes are.”
Bennett and his staff have been working hard to get ahead of the game. For starters, they gained access to four, 2-10 acre stock tanks within the lakebed to utilize as rearing ponds for fish while construction is underway. Biologists removed existing fish populations from the ponds and restocked them with bluegills, fathead minnows and threadfin shad last spring.
Bennett says about 2,000 advanced growth (6-8 inches ) Toyota ShareLunker offspring will be stocked in the rearing ponds this fall. More Florida bass stockings will follow when the lake undergoes partial filling next year. TPWD also plans to stock blue and channel catfish along with adult crappie.
Additionally, Bennett appropriated about $4,000 from bass conservation license plate funds to purchase several truckloads of pea gravel to build spawning areas around the rearing ponds that bass can utilize once the lake catches some water.
The biologist also has secured funding for several man-made fish attractors that will be strategically placed around the lake.
“The GPS coordinates of the fish attractors and gravel spawning beds will be listed on the TPWD website,” Bennett said.
Testing the Limits
While no daily limits have been officially proposed at this point, Bennett says he anticipates statewide blanket regulations will apply on crappie and catfish. For bass, a more restrictive limit will likely be in order.
“We typically go with an 18-inch minimum length limit for bass on new lakes, but there should be some pretty big fish in lake by the time it opens,” Bennett said. “We’re talking about potentially doing something different to protect those larger fish from harvest, but it’s up in the air at this point. It will have to go through the public hearing process, possibly in spring 2021, before anything is proposed.
“My guess is we’ll give it every chance we can give it to be a trophy fishery. If it doesn’t work out we can always come back and change the limit 5-6 years down the road.”
At any rate, Bennett says he is up for the challenge and stoked about the future.
“It’s sort of like waiting on a new child,” he said. “I don’t really know what to expect at this point, but our hopes are pretty high. We are doing everything we can beforehand to turn the lake into the best fishery it can be.”
Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, email@example.com.