TPWD stocking Florida Bass

In coming weeks, Texas Parks and Wildlife inland fisheries crews will be stocking numerous lakes with Florida bass fingerlings produced by state hatcheries this spring. Local volunteer and fishing guide Brian Branum recently assisted TPWD crews in a stocking effort at Sam Rayburn. Around 350,000 Floridas were released into the rain-swollen reservoir in early June.

We’re coming off a waterlogged May in parts of Texas and early June is forecast to be pretty soggy, as well. Likewise, rising water and above normal lake levels are hot topics across much of state these days.

While some watersheds have missed out on the moisture, others have been hit hard with near record amounts of rainfall over the last 30-45 days. With more water coming in than controlling authorities can safely release, water levels on some reservoirs are excessive.

Sam Rayburn in East Texas is among them. As of June 4, the water level on the big impoundment was 10.68 feet high or 175.08, just shy of the record high of 175.15 set in 1992.

Other Texas lakes with abnormally high water levels for early June are Lake O’ the Pines, 7.30 feet high; Grapevine, 9.68 feet high; Lavon, 7.51 feet high; Grapevine, 9.68 feet high; Somerville, 4.74 feet high; Tawakoni, 2.33 feet high; Texoma, 3.79 feet high; and Wright Patman, 15.80 feet high.

The list goes on and on. At Lake Ray Roberts, site of the 2021 Bassmaster Classic on June 11-13, the water level was about 3.41 feet high and still rising when official practice got underway on June 4. Downstream at Lake Lewisville the water was 5.51 feet above full pool.

Cats on the Move

All the chatter about high water spurred some fond memories of some great fishing trips. One of the best was spent running trotlines at Bill's Landing on the Texas-side of Toledo Bend Reservoir back in the 1990s.

It was early spring and the water level on the 181,000-acre reservoir was on a steady rise following a nasty storm system that dumped nearly eight inches of rain across the Sabine River watershed in short order.

The onslaught of the fresh water rolling down the river had turned lake's upper reaches into a frothy mix. The water was stained the color of chocolate and the surface was littered with floating logs, limbs and other debris flushed from the landscape for more than 100 miles upstream.

Knowing what I already knew about catfish, I felt certain the fishing was going to be pretty good. Charlie Shivley of Huxley confirmed the notion.

"Hope you boys came ready to work," said Shivley, owner the lakeside fishing camp. “The current is rolling and the blues and channels are on a tear."

Anxious to try our luck, a friend and I unpacked our gear and headed north to make a few line sets. We staged six, short sets with 15-20 hooks each, then headed back to camp to empty our bream traps to bait up for the night.

Interestingly, the fun started before we even had time to bait the hooks. We discovered a pair of three-pound blue cats dangling from the first set, obviously fooled by the flash of the stainless steel circle hooks dancing in the current.

I don't recall how many pounds of catfish fillets we brought home that weekend, but it was a bunch. And rising water levels were a big part of the reason why.

A sudden change in water level does more than change the appearance of a water body. It also can affect the mood of the fish and alter their feeding habits. High, rising water can be a boon for some fishing prospects.

Shivley learned years ago that rising water rings the dinner bell for catfish.

He thinks the feeding frenzy is sparked by the steady influx of food that washes into a lake via creek and river channels.

"Anytime you get a sudden rise, the catfish go on the move," he said. "All the new water and current rouses the fish out of their deep holes and it puts them in a feeding mood.”

Rod and reel fishing can be outstanding at times. Trotlines, jug lines, noodle lines and limb lines also can be deadly.

Shively says it is often best to think shallow — six feet deep or less — when fishing for catfish in high or rising water. For best results, try to locate a flat, ridge or flooded field adjacent to some sort of channel that creates some current.

Highs and Lows of Bass

Bass fishing can be equally good in rising water, but it also can hinder success by making it more difficult to find fish. High water enlarges the size of the playing field. In some cases, that creates an abundance of flooded cover in which the fish can hide.

Sam Rayburn is a good example.

Folks call it “Big Sam” for a reason.

The lake covers about 114,500 surface acres at normal conservation pool. At 10.68 feet above full pool, the coverage area jumps to about 150,000 surface acres, according to the US Army Corps of Engineers office in Brookeland.

The additional 26,000 acres — much it comprised of jungles of willows, buck brush, timber and other terrestrial vegetation — is nearly equivalent in size to Lake Fork. Finding fish in all that newly flooded cover can at times be like finding a needle in a haystack.

It will be interesting to see how the Bassmaster pros cope with the high water situation at Lake Ray Roberts. Though not near as high as ‘Rayburn, the water level at ‘Roberts has risen significantly enough in recent weeks that it could spur some changes in fishing patterns.

Some local experts originally believed the tournament might be won by the guy who cracked the code with post-spawn bass found hunkered down around deep, offshore structure or suspended in timber.

It still could.

However, the thousands of acres of shore cover now flooded by several feet of water, combined with cooler-than-average water temperatures, could toss a monkey wrench into those plans. It’s seems likely the high water could bring some shallow water tactics into the mix that may not have been very effective otherwise.

The winner of the ‘Classic earns $300,000. Only time will tell whether someone finds the golden needle in the haystack or not.

A Boon for Hatchery Stockings

From a fisheries biology standpoint, the timing of the high water events currently impacting some lakes couldn’t have been any better.

It’s the height of the Florida bass stocking season for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department inland fisheries staff. Between now and mid-July, crews will distribute around 5 million Florida bass fingerlings and Toyota ShareLunker offspring produced in state fisheries hatcheries to dozens of public reservoirs, according to Todd Engeling, who heads up TPWD’s freshwater hatchery program.

Stocking those fish in or around a wealth of flooded cover is certain to improve survival and recruitment of the offspring, because it will provide plenty of places for the little fish to hide from bigger ones. The same holds true for juvenile bass and sunfish resulting from spring spawns that occurred naturally in those lakes.

Sam Rayburn is one of several high profile bass lakes around the state where annual stockings have already been in completed. Others are on the list to be carried out between now and mid-July. Around 350,000 Florida bass were stocked in the lake in early June.

“It’s like a jungle out there,” said fisheries biologist Todd Driscoll.

Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail,

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