A “Reel” Good Time

Growing up deep in the piney woods of East Texas, fishing was just a way of life. I remember the evenings Mom and Dad would load us up in the truck and head down to the pond to sit on the dock and fish for a while. I had my pink Barbie fishing pole and my sister had her blue Snoopy fishing pole. Daddy would patiently teach us how to bait our hook and help us cast our lines into the water. Then, we would sit as quietly as we could in hopes of not disturbing the fish, so they would grab our bait. Oh, the excitement when that bait went under and we felt the pull of a fish on the line! It did not matter that the fish was four inches long. You would have thought we won the lottery we were so excited and proud of anything we caught! Whether it was an early morning trip with my dad, an evening trip with the whole family or a trek to the initiation pond on Fishing Night at the summer camp I attended, the serenity of the water, the memories made and that unbeatable feeling when you actually catch a fish are all sacred parts of the cherished and still-loved pastime that is fishing.

Here in North Texas, we are blessed with so many opportunities to try new activities and be part of a booming economy that will continually bring exciting attractions to our area. Not many residents of other cities can hop in the car and experience the thrill of sky diving indoors, wakeboarding around a pond using an advanced cable system or mountain biking and hiking on brand new, thrilling trails. Adventure and excitement is never-ending around here! Your family should also add fishing to the long list of bonding activities you can easily take part in.

Regardless of whether you are fishing as a hobby, to snag some great catfish for a big fish fry or for sport, North Texas lakes have a variety of things to offer anglers, regardless of your level of expertise. There are many important details that play into this beloved pastime, all of which can notably impact your success when fishing. So, bait that hook, cast your line and let’s catch some fish!

Local Fishin’ Holes

Matt Herren, a professional angler and former Bassmaster All Star, states that just about every lake in the metroplex offers excellent opportunities for anyone to catch fish. Some of our area lakes include Lake Lewisville, Lake Texoma, Lake Fork, Richland Chambers, Lake Ray Roberts, Lake Ray Hubbard, Cedar Creek Lake, White Rock Lake and Lake Lavon, just to name a few. Mr. Herren commends Texas Parks and Wildlife for doing an “unbelievable job” in managing lakes around the metroplex. He even says trophy fish can be caught in most of these area lakes. “My favorite lake is Lake Fork. It is unique in that it is strictly managed for trophy bass. It gives anglers a better-than-average chance to catch the fish of a lifetime,” he says.

Professional angler and radio and television personality Steve Graf agrees that Lake Fork is a great place to fish. He explains, “Lake Fork continues to dominate this region and the state as well. It is still putting out big bass in the 8 to 10-pound range, despite the high level of fishing pressure this lake gets. It still holds the title of “Big Bass Capital of Texas!” For me, it is at the top of my list of lakes I get excited about fishing. It is the only lake where I still get that funny feeling in my stomach and it gets my adrenaline flowing. Fork is a place that, on any one cast, you just might catch the fish of a lifetime. Even if you just want to go out and catch a lot of fish, you can do that. But, if you want to target the big fish and are only looking to get five or six bites, you can do that as well. The accommodations and marinas all over the lake are top-notch. Most offer RV sites, cabins and restaurants. Fork also offers a host of guides that are first-class individuals who will go out of their way to not only catch fish, but also educate you as an angler and make you a better fisherman.” Mr. Graf admits that if you are looking for a variety of bass including largemouth, stripers and smallmouth, then Lake Texoma is the place to go! He continues, “Texoma just recently hosted the top professional anglers from both the B.A.S.S. and Fishing League Worldwide Tours with the Bassfest, and shine it did! Even with all of the high water, Texoma showed just how good the fishing really is right now.”

If you do not mind a little drive east, another lake that is one of East Texas’ legendary bodies of water is none other than Lake Monticello. This is where the big bass craze all started, back in the mid 1970s, when Monticello first opened. Record bass were caught, including the state record, during this time. Folks from all over Texas made their way to Monticello and many are still venturing to this small impoundment today. You can still catch and average more than six pounds at this lake, at all times of the year. The mid-summer frog fishing bite is nothing short of exhilarating and will make even the most experienced angler skip a heartbeat with great top water action.”

Lake Lewisville premier fishing guide Chad Cole notes that while Lake Lewisville is a popular fishing destination, where you fish really depends on the type of fish you prefer to catch. Mr. Cole explains, “Lake Lewisville and Lake Ray Roberts offer a high catch percentage when targeting white bass (or sand bass, as they are commonly called). Avid bass fishermen tend to gravitate toward Lake Fork and Ray Roberts, as these lakes offer more structure and have proven to hold larger numbers of largemouth bass.” He continues, “My personal favorite is Lake Lewisville because it offers the opportunity to catch hybrid striped bass, which, in my opinion, is one of the hardest fighting freshwater fish in Texas. These fish are crossbred between a female striped bass and a male sand bass. Lake Tawakoni, Cedar Creek, Lake Ray Hubbard and Richland Chambers are also good places to find hybrids!”

Regardless of which lake you decide to fish, Mr. Herren, Mr. Graf and Mr. Cole all agree that Texas Parks and Wildlife does an incredible job managing all of the area lakes and fisheries. Every one of these lakes offers visitors great sport and facilities. “Texas Parks and Wildlife makes sure boat lanes are marked along with under water hazards, which makes navigation both safe and easy,” Mr. Graff says. “The lakes, public areas and parks are always clean and maintained, without exception. Boat ramps and parking areas are in great shape, making it much easier for anglers to get their boats in and out of the water.”

Oftentimes, fishing becomes a family affair, and it is important to remember that many area lakes have great amenities for families to take advantage of while on the quest for big fish! Many facilities in the area have playgrounds, campsites, hiking and biking trails, marina restaurants, beaches and much more! Joe Schneider owns property (that you can rent) on the Oklahoma side of Texoma. He says the lake is great for any and all types of activity. “The whole family can enjoy a fishing trip to Lake Texoma.” There are miles of shoreline with something for everyone, as the lake offers everything from hunting to water sports of all types. Mr. Schneider continues, “The Texas side offers Eisenhower State Park on the east and awesome hiking at Cross Timbers Trail. The west side of Texoma, in Oklahoma, is home to a state land site called ‘Fobb Bottom’ that allows folks with a four-wheel drive vehicle to venture to the water’s edge and camp. There are countless marinas, and the land around Texoma is naturally and beautifully populated with post oaks, blackjack oaks, hickory and cedars.” Wherever you decide to take your fishing endeavors, be sure to check out surrounding areas for additional ways to have a memorable time.

Tips, Tricks and Expertise

If you are new to the sport of fishing, you will need the right equipment, gear and legal documents to make your fishing trip one for the books! Basic equipment and gear can include anything from rods and reels to bait, water depth readers and more! Mr. Herren recommends you start small. He explains, “Fishing is a hobby that can be done effectively on a small budget or as lavishly as a person would like. I recommend starting in smaller lakes. It is easier to get a few bites in ponds and smaller lakes. Once an angler becomes capable of basic casting and lure presentation, it is time to move up to larger impoundments or lakes.” Mr. Herren’s best suggestion is to learn fish habits and tendencies. Think about how you are presenting the bait to the fish. Does it look believable? Are you using a bait that will attract fish commonly seen in those waters? There are unlimited resources available online to help you become skilled in this area.

Mr. Graf offers advice when it comes to selecting the right reel for beginning anglers. “A closed-face reel from Zebco or a spinning reel are the best to teach a youngster to fish. With both of these reels, you avoid the frustrations of backlashes and both are easy to learn how to cast.” In regards to which bait to use, there are many options for beginners. Mr. Graf continues, “When it comes to bait selection, try and start young anglers off with live bait like worms or shiners. With live bait, they will catch more fish on a consistent basis. The worst thing for young anglers is to go out and not catch fish. As they become more skilled, gradually switch them over to artificial baits.” He stresses that a vitally important aspect of beginner fishing is learning how to cast and put the bait where you want it, especially when it comes to bass fishing. “Accuracy is so important, and knowing how to cast just might be the most important aspect of fishing in general,” he clarifies.

Mr. Cole suggests deciding on what species of fish is most interesting to you as you begin your fishing endeavors. “Catfish, crappie, largemouth bass and hybrid/stripers are probably the top four species fished in Texas. After deciding, hire a guide who specializes in that type of fishing,” he advises. “Being specific when communicating expectations is one of the best things you can do, as most guides not only want their clients to catch fish, but they also want them to leave the trip having acquired knowledge about the sought after species!” Mr. Cole attributes helping a client achieve something they might not be able to on their own as his favorite part of guiding fishing trips. “Whether it is reeling in their first hybrid or helping bag a limit of hybrids, the thrills a customer experiences on a guided fishing trip are well worth the time and investment!” he shares.

Mr. Schneider cautions readers to make sure they try it all out before they go in head first and buy all kinds of fishing gear. He also agrees that a guide is the way to go for beginners. “The best way to really get started, if you have no experience, would be to use a guide,” he states. “Save money finding out if you like the sport before getting a boat and all the gear. Once you have an idea of what you are looking for, you will know if you want to rent or buy a boat, and you will have an idea of where you want to be on the lake. You will also have some experience with gear.”

Mr. Graf agrees that a guide is a great way to get started. “Guides have a tremendous amount of knowledge and fish for a living. The price you pay to hire a guide for a day is well worth it due to the amount of information and knowledge you will gain in order to make yourself a better angler,” he says. “Additionally, I suggest grabbing a subscription to Bassmaster Magazine or B.A.S.S. Times Magazine. Probably one of best bass fishing books ever written is ‘Spoonplugging … For Fresh Water Bass and All Game Fish …’ by Buck Perry. This book is a must have for beginners and covers all the scenarios an angler will ever encounter. Keep in mind that when you are introducing a youngster to fishing, the key to really getting them hooked is to make sure they catch fish! Start out by catching bream or catfish and progress over to bass fishing, since bass can be a much tougher challenge.” For parents looking to take little ones fishing for the first time, remember that kids have short attention spans, so do your best to take them to a well-stocked pond or popular area to ensure their success! In Frisco, the annual Trick-A-Trout Kid Fish event at Frisco Commons provides a unique arena for first-time anglers to enjoy the sport. Participants can even keep the trout they catch!

Angler Randy Nolen says one of the most important things you can take with you on a fishing trip is patience. He explains, “Patience is key, as you are not going to catch fish all of the time. You will need to accept that you have bad days, but with those bad days come successes. There is nothing like setting a hook on a good fish. You can have a bad day on the water and still catch that one good fish to make you feel like the trip was worth it. You can compare it to golfers who make a birdie on a tough hole when they have otherwise had a really bad round. It makes you want to keep going back. My father took us fishing from an early age and it has stuck with me ever since.”

If you are not new to the sport of fishing, but looking to better yourself or even to start climbing the ranks to a professional level angler, Mr. Graf says to first and foremost learn how to really catch fish, perfect your techniques and learn how to locate fish. “If you are a great angler, and finishing around the top of the leaderboard consistently, sponsors will come to you! Also, the most overlooked aspect of being a great professional angler is your ability to communicate and present yourself publicly. Companies are not just looking for anglers who can catch fish and win tournaments. They want people who can help their company sell a product. Someone who they can count on to help with expo and boat shows — someone who can meet and greet the public and represent their company in a professional manner. That is what makes a true professional angler,” Mr. Graf explains.

The Bait Game

One of the more elusive parts of the sport is knowing which lure or what bait to use. To put it simply, Mr. Nolen explains, “It really just depends on the time of day, the time of year, the water temperature, the current, the depth you may find fish, whether the sun is out or it is overcast, bottom structure and whether you are fishing in grass, rocks or a smooth, sandy bottom. In the spring or fall, fish are going to be shallow for spawning purposes. During the summer, fish are going to be deeper to find cooler water temperatures,” he clarifies.

Mr. Graf says the best way to choose a lure is by breaking down the water levels into surface (or topwater), middle and bottom. “The most exciting way to fish is at the topwater level! The visual of watching a bass explode on a surface lure is nothing short of exhilarating and probably the most fun way to catch fish,” he says. Topwater baits include walking baits, which quite literally “walk” from side to side, across the surface, popper baits that make a popping sound when jerked on the surface, as well as buzz baits that mimic baitfish scurrying across the water.

When it comes to the middle level, or the column of the water (two to six feet below the surface of the water, depending on the depth of the lake you fish), Mr. Graf suggests the use of a spinnerbait or shallow or mid-range crankbait, as these types of baits usually mimic baitfish as well.

Then, there is the bottom level, where dragging or hopping soft plastic worms or crawfish imitation type baits are best utilized. Mr. Graf says, “Knowing which approach is best helps create several variables that make bass fishing sometimes tough to figure out. In the spring (February-April), fish move into the shallow waters to spawn and lay their eggs, so this is where you should focus most of your fishing time. During summer (May-August), fish head for deeper, cooler water, so you may have to move out, away from the bank, and look for humps or ridges (known as ‘structure’) out in the open lake.” It is important to remember that, as fall approaches, baitfish tend to move into the back of creeks and bass will follow. Because of this, Mr. Graf’s general rule of thumb is that bass are always around baitfish. Find the baitfish and you will find the bass!

Keeping it Legal

Much like hunting, fishing requires a license. It is vitally important that all who partake follow the laws. Mr. Cole stresses that fishing laws are very important to know and follow, as each lake has its own set of rules. “Make sure you pick up an Outdoor Annual at your local bait store or sporting goods store, as this information, offered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, has everything you need to know about the lake you are fishing!” he explains. To obtain a hunting license, individuals must take a hunter safety course, but with fishing, no course is required, unless you are driving a boat, then you must take a boater safety course. Fishing licenses are not required for children under the age of 17, Texas residents born before January 1, 1931, anyone fishing within a Texas State Park, mentally disabled persons who are engaged in recreational fishing under supervision as part of medically approved therapy and mentally disabled persons fishing under the direct supervision of a licensed angler who is a family member or has permission from the family to take the mentally disabled person fishing. Texas Parks and Wildlife offers many different licenses and packages that include freshwater packages, saltwater packages, a combination hunting and fishing package, as well as packages for seniors, active military, disabled veterans, lifetime licenses and even one-day all water licenses.  

To purchase your license, you can go to most sporting goods stores (Walmart, Academy Sports + Outdoors, Dick’s Sporting Goods), or you can purchase a license at your local tackle shop, marina or online.

Whether you have never held a fishing pole in your life, have not fished since you were 5 or you are able to get out on the lake multiple times a week, fishing is a sport friendly to all levels of participants. We are right in the middle of many premier fishing lakes in the state of Texas! The best part about partaking in the sport is that it can be as no-fuss or as involved as you want it to be. You are almost sure to find success at many of the lakes in our immediate and surrounding area. Mr. Graf encourages anglers and those interested in the sport to engage kids any way they can, so as to keep the tradition, history and memories from the past alive. He concludes, “As the co-host of my radio and television show ‘Hook’N Up and Track’N Down,’ we are always encouraging the older generation to take a kid fishing. It is our duty as anglers and outdoorsmen to introduce and pass along our wisdom and knowledge of God’s great outdoors. If we do not do this, we will lose a whole generation of anglers and hunters to carry on the traditions of what makes our country a great place to live.”

Allie Spletter
Allie Spletter is a wannabe foodie and lover of all things pink and crafty.