School is out, summer is here and the fun fishing action is firing up on lakes across Texas. I’ve never met a fish that wasn’t fun to catch, but some are way more cooperative this time of year than others.
If you don’t mind getting up early to beat the heat, there are plenty of good times to be had chasing white bass and hybrid stripers on any number of area impoundments. Places like Richland Chambers, Cooper, Cedar Creek, Tawakoni, Conroe, Livingston, Palestine and Somerville come to mind.
White bass and hybrids are temperate species with pelagic tendencies. White bass, also called sand bass, are native to the Red River drainage but have become established in large number in reservoirs across the state.
Hybrids are test tube babies reared in state hatcheries by fertilizing eggs from female striped bass with milt from male white bass. They don’t produce naturally. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department hatcheries raise about 2-3 million hybrid fingerlings for stocking in public lakes annually.
Both are hard fighters that roam open water in massive wolf packs that can easily number into the hundreds. Throw in a ravenous appetite and a breakfast buffet of threadfin shad to feed it and the table is set for some violent schooling action that can be fast and furious at times.
“When you have a lake with a big shad population and the predators build up behind it, to me it almost forces schooling to happen,” said TPWD fisheries biologist Jake Norman of Tyler. “You’ll see schooling activity pretty often in that situation, especially during the summer months when the thermocline is more defined. Plus, the metabolism of these fish is extremely high. They are constantly eating in hot weather. It’s a really fun time to fish if you can bear the heat.”
Royce Simmons of Streetman knows the scenario well. He and his son, Adam, run a full-time guide service (www.gonefishin.biz) on Richland Chambers Reservoir near Corsicana.
Early on, experts had hopes that the 41,000-acre lake might one day rival Lake Fork as a black bass fishery, but it hasn’t panned out. Instead, ‘Chambers has evolved into one of the state’s best lakes for catching white bass, hybrids, catfish and crappie in significant numbers.
The father/son team specializes in fishing for whatever happens be biting best at time. The sandies and hybrids have been on a tear for the last few weeks. Their customers have been having a ball reeling them in.
The statewide daily limit on hybrids is five fish, 18 inches. White bass limits are more liberal, 25 fish, 10 inches.
“Most of the hybrids were catching are undersize, about 15–16 inches, but they are really fun to catch,” Simmons said. “Boxing a limit of 14-inch white bass hasn’t been a problem. It usually happens pretty quick.”
Whites and hybrids can be a caught a variety of ways. None are more fun than fooling fish on a surface feeding binge.
Simmons witnessed some stellar topwater action in early July. The fish were most active during the early morning hours. He said it wasn’t uncommon to have multiple schools herding hapless pods of shad to the surface in areas as big as 5-10 acres over 50 feet of water.
“We would just go out on the main lake, wait and watch for them show up,” Simmons said. “We found them from the dam to Fisherman’s Point and sometimes all the way to Ferguson Point. It was some of the best topwater action we've seen in years.”
The surface action has since slowed somewhat, but Simmons expects it to crank back up intermittently through Labor Day.
“That’s the way it is in July and August,” he said. “You never know from one day to the next.”
Rat-L-Traps and topwater plugs like a Pop-R or Tiny Torpedo are deadly on schooling fish, but things can get dicey with several inexperienced clients slinging the double treble hook lures in rapid succession. Simmons prefers baits with a single treble hook for that reason. A Mepps spinner, spoon or a small, in-line spinner are good choices.
The guide says the surface action is typically the most reliable on weekdays with limited boat traffic. Weekends can get crowded with pleasure boaters and the fish are prone to spook from the constant drone of outboard engines.
Simmons avoids the weekend traffic by heading up major creeks to target fish on points or humps in water ranging 15-20 feet deep. Slabs or spoons weighing as much as 1-ounce are ideal for getting at bottom-hugging fish he marks with his electronics. It’s not uncommon to fill a 25 fish white bass limit in just about as many casts.
Similar stories are playing out at other fun fishing arenas around the region.
Cedar Creek guide Jason Barber has been catching mixed bags white bass, hybrids and blue catfish using fresh cut bait while anchored around main lake humps in water ranging 12-20 feet. He says
whites and hybrids will occasionally drive shad to the surface, where they can be easily fooled with Rat-L-Traps, spoons or topwaters.
At Palestine, fishing guide Ricky Vandergriff says white bass have been busting shad periodically at first light around points in the vicinity of dam, but those relating to bottom around the old Highway 155 roadbed and bridge crossing have been more consistent on slabs or trolling deep crankbaits.
Vandergriff says another fun fish — channel cat — have been much more reliable lately. He lures the cats to isolated sweet spots using range cubes soured maize, then tempts them with live worms. Vandergriff said he had a grandfather/grandson on a trip last week. The youth angler had never caught a fish. By the day’s end the youngster had close to 100 channel cat under his belt and a full limit in the cooler.
“His grandfather told me his dream for his grandson had been fulfilled,” Vandergriff said. “It was pretty neat. They caught fish non-stop all day long.”
That’s what fun fishing is all about.
Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.