Ray Sasser's 10 Favorite Fishing Spots12:47 AM CDT on Sunday, July 9, 2006
By RAY SASSER / The Dallas Morning News
Summer is a good time to pack up the family and make a fishing pilgrimage. Here's one man's must-do list of 10 great Texas fishing places:
1. Padre Island National Seashore
Padre Island is the United States' longest barrier island. It stretches 67.5 miles, from Corpus Christi to Boca Chica. The white dunes are home to rattlesnakes, coyotes and white-tailed deer. Endangered sea turtles lay their eggs in the sand, peregrine falcons soar overhead. A lure cast into the surf may attract anything from a 10-inch speckled trout to a 10-foot tiger shark. The best way to fish on Padre Island is with veteran guide Billy Sandifer of Corpus Christi. Sandifer is a self-taught historian, botanist and biologist so closely tied to the historic stretch of shifting sand that he says he sometimes hears the whispers of long-departed Karankawa Indians.
2. Lake Fork
This 27,000-acre Sabine River Authority Lake about 90 miles east of Dallas is a shrine for big bass anglers throughout the world. It's a once-in-a-lifetime vacation destination for Japanese bass fishing enthusiasts. Fork's lofty status is a combination of terrific bass habitat, Florida bass genetics and restrictive fishing limits. The mix created a bass lake that has produced the six biggest largemouth bass reported in Texas and 35 of the 50 biggest. Texas Parks and Wildlife's Budweiser ShareLunker hatchery program has accepted 423 entries (bass 13 pounds or larger) since 1986. Fork has produced 228 of them, more than all other Texas lakes combined.
3. Sam Rayburn Lake
At 114,000 acres, this East Texas icon is the largest lake totally within Texas boundaries. It spills across five counties, with its upper end near Lufkin and the dam near Jasper. In the mid-1960s, Rayburn was the lake that put Texas on the national fishing map, a status cemented in succession by Lakes Livingston and Toledo Bend. Though 41 years old, Big Sam continues as one of the most productive fishing lakes in the southern U.S.
4. Caddo Lake
The only large natural lake in Texas. There are two theories on how Caddo was formed. Take your pick between a logjam across the Red River or an earthquake as the reason for a shallow, swampy lake on what is now the Texas-Louisiana border. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers liked what Mother Nature did at Caddo and built a dam that expanded the natural lake to nearly 27,000 acres. Huge rafts of lily pads and moss-draped cypress give Caddo an otherworldly feel, as do the quaint names of lakeside communities such as Uncertain, Texas.
5. Laguna Madre
This Mother Lagoon is a big one, a vast, shallow-water estuary on the back side of Padre Island. The Laguna stretches from Corpus Christi to Brownsville. It is the Texas version of Florida's Keys, no bones about it. Substitute Texas reds and sea trout for Florida bonefish and tarpon and you have a visual paradise where a wader or angler in a shallow-draft boat can wade or pole for miles, casting to fish feeding in water so shallow they bulge the surface when they swim. The Laguna Madre is a fly fisher's dream: plenty of targets to cast to and nothing to foul the backcast.
6. Lake Amistad
On the Texas-Mexico border near Del Rio, Amistad is 70,000 acres of unlikely water in a stark world dominated by cactus and rock. The steep, flooded canyons hide ancient petroglyphs that have decorated sheer rock faces for 10,000 years. Amistad bass fishing hit the big time in February when ESPN televised the highlights of a bass tournament that yielded staggering catches. The fishing was so good, it prompted several bass pros to shop for real estate near the lake. What they may not realize is that Lake Amistad goes through periods of low water that influences the fishing. The lake is at the top of its cycle.
7. Devil's River
This is an aquamarine ribbon of heaven that undulates through a hellish West Texas landscape, eventually feeding into Lake Amistad. The Devil's River may be the most pristine, least-fished stream in Texas. That's because of the daunting landscape and nearly impossible access. The Devil's River cuts through vast ranches in a part of the state outsiders are not welcome. Access points are rare. Any fishing effort that does more than scratch the surface requires an overnight canoe float and camping trip. The fishing is great, particularly for smallmouth bass, but the main attraction is a solitude extremely rare on public water.
8. Gulf of Mexico
California has the West Coast and New York anchors the East Coast, but Texas lays claim to the South Coast. The Gulf of Mexico is fertile water loaded with huge fish, some migrant, others residents. The beaches are not pristine, but good fishing starts at the beachfront and continues far offshore, where a lucky angler might do battle with a mighty marlin or giant shark. Offshore access is available at eight ports, from Sabine Pass on the Louisiana border to Port Isabel on the Mexico border. Even with space-age navigation systems and fairly reliable weather forecasts, the ocean remains the last wild frontier for American anglers.
9. Lake Texoma
Texas shares this boundary lake with Oklahoma, but there's plenty of water to go around. Texoma backs up 88,000 acres of water flowing down the Red and Washita rivers north of Dallas. It's a summer playground for landlocked yachts, but Texoma is also the most productive freshwater striped bass lake in the nation. Probably because of long river runs and slightly saline water, the stripers reproduce naturally here.
10. Llano River
The Llano (pronounced Lan-oh) near Mason, Texas, is the quintessential Hill Country stream: clear, cool, spring-fed water gurgling over a limestone stream bed, long, lazy deep pools accented by gentle rapids. Unlike the other hot spots, you won't have much chance to catch a big fish on the Llano, but it's one of the best places to catch the state fish: a Guadalupe bass. Use ultralight spinning tackle or a light fly rod and you'll be entertained by a variety of sunfish while awaiting a Guadalupe or largemouth bass. Keep a watch under the surrounding live oaks for deer, turkey and other wildlife.