ET Fishing

Brandon Cobb caught a double on the last day of the 2019 Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest at Lake Fork on the way to a winning total of 114 pounds. Fork, along with Sam Rayburn, Falcon and Toledo Bend, is consistently among Texas’ best bass lakes.

B.A.S.S. has put out its list of top bass fishing lakes in the U.S. again, but this time it has taken it a step further by making it a list of the top lakes of the decade.

Usually the organization makes four regional lists using information like tournament results, stocking information, catch rates and angler success. This year it decided to look at the rankings from the past eight years to come up with the decades top 25 nationwide and four regional best-of-the-rest listings.

Texas showed well with four lakes, Toledo Bend, Sam Rayburn, Falcon and Lake Fork, making the top 25, with Ray Roberts and Caddo Lake making the Central region’s listing.

Something of a sleeper, California’s Clear Lake ranked No. 1 overall even though it has never been ranked No. 1 in any of the B.A.S.S. lists. The 44,000-acre lake is considered a big bass fishery and produced a 16-pounder in 2019. The lake record is 17.52.

A less-surprising Lake Guntersville in Alabama ranked No. 2. Rounding out the top 10 are 3. Lake Erie; 4. Lake St. Clair, Mich.; 5. Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta, Calif.; 6. Toledo Bend (which Texas shares with Louisiana); 7. Sam Rayburn; 8. Falcon; 9. Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; and 10. Lake Okeechobee, Florida. Lake Fork came in at 16th.

Normally I have trouble with most comparison lists when things are not comparable. Sure you can compare fishing reels or rods, but I am not sure how you compare a southern largemouth bass lake to a northern smallmouth fishery, or a lake where bass populations are determined by stocking rates compared to one where it is stocked solely for genetic purposes.

With that in mind I reached out for help from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Inland Fisheries to see what they thought.The department manages hundreds of major public reservoirs, but for comparison this list does not include park lakes, urban fisheries, rivers and others.

Through the years, 70 major lakes have produced ShareLunkers weighing 13 pounds or more, indicating no matter what lakes make the top 10, there are at 60 others out there with potential.

The TPWD top 10 is the list and explanations they provided B.A.S.S. this year. The top four are pretty much written in stone, just subject to change in order depending on conditions. The remainder are more year-to year.

■ Sam Rayburn – Despite unrelenting tournament pressure, Big Sam is a tremendous numbers lake, as well as a known trophy bass producer. It typically takes at least 25 pounds or more to win a team tournament and a 10-pound fish to win big bass. Thirty-pound limits are possible any time of the year. The reservoir is an absolute fish factory due to favorable habitat conditions year after year that produce consistently strong year classes.

■ Lake Fork – Since impoundment in 1986, restrictive length limits and annual Florida largemouth bass stockings have been key to maximizing trophy fish abundance given high fishing effort. The reservoir has accounted for 261 Legacy Class ShareLunkers. Overall weights at the 2019 Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest were outstanding, with eight anglers exceeding 90 pounds and two anglers exceeding 100for the 4-day event.

■ Lake Falcon – Fishing quality cycles with water levels and related habitat. Compared to the Falcon of 10 years ago, low water for an extended period had the bass population trending downward, but the reservoir was still a perennial top 5 Texas lake. Falcon experiences lower annual fishing effort than most other popular bass fisheries in Texas and is always a top destination for bass 8 pounds and greater. Currently, fishing seems to be on the upswing.

■ Toledo Bend – Fishing effort has been intense since the overall back-to-back Bassmaster number 1 rankings in 2015 and 2016. Fishing quality is down since then, but Toledo Bend is still one of the best bass fisheries in the state. In 2019, there were 42 bass over 10 pounds entered into the Toledo Bend Lunker Bass Program. This massive reservoir is home to diverse bass habitat and handles the high fishing effort well.

■ Athens – Bass recruitment and year class strength are consistently high at this reservoir. Add the protection of the existing 14- to 21-inch slot-length limit, and the end result is a lake absolutely full of bass in the 3- to 6-pound range. In 2019, a total of 48 fish over 8 pounds were entered into the ShareLunker program. Although a high-quality year-round fishery exists, the summer bite here is better than most lakes and schooling activity is common.

■ Choke Canyon – Similar to Lake Falcon, this South Texas fishery fluctuates with water levels. Long periods of low water had resulted in poor fishing conditions. However, water has been rising the last few years, resulting in vast amounts of flooded cover and the resurgence of aquatic vegetation. High numbers of bass 3 to 5 pounds are present, and fishing will only improve over time. Expect this lake to climb into the Top 3 over the next several years.

■ Conroe — The reservoir is a consistent top 10 Texas fishery and home to a high number of bass over 4 pounds. Anglers need at least 20 pounds to win any tournament at Conroe, and weights of 25 to 30 pounds are possible, particularly during the winter and spring. Since 2018, a total of 50 fish over 8 pounds were entered into the ShareLunker program, with 18 fish over 10 lbs.

■ Lake Texoma – Although historically known as one of the best striped bass fisheries in the South, the black bass fishery has been steadily improving. Largemouth and smallmouth over 4 pounds are now common, and tournaments can be won with either species. Unquestionably, Texoma is the best destination in the state to catch a quality mixed bag.

■ Lake O’ the Pines — Water levels have been higher and relatively stable in recent years, resulting in excellent shallow water habitat, consistent year classes, and high bass numbers. This reservoir is the sleeper on the top 10 list and hasn’t received the national attention like Sam Rayburn and Lake Fork have. As such, overall fishing effort has been lower, and the lake is producing a growing number of fish over 4 pounds. Local tournaments produce frequent weights over 20 pounds.

■ O. H. Ivie – Conditions at this reservoir are similar to those at Choke Canyon. After years of being low, water levels are now rising and have inundated all the terrestrial vegetation that grew on the exposed lakebed. This lake is experiencing the new lake effect due to all the newly flooded cover, and will really be one to watch over the next few years. Ivie has always produced a great fishery when water levels rise, and this cycle will be no different.