At one of my favorite events each year — the annual Denison ISD hamburger cookout at Loy Lake Park for teachers and their families — I happened to bump into a familiar face the other day.
That being Dan Bennett, the head biologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Inland Fisheries Station on Lake Texoma.
As we exchanged pleasantries, he asked how I was doing. With a mischievous grin, I told him that I wanted to file a complaint…about the lack of fish being caught on the local lakes that his district manages.
He laughed and said that he totally understood. Because if there’s anything that can slow springtime fishing — and strike fear in a local angler’s heart — it’s the weatherman’s forecast phrases of “April cold front,” “strong northerly winds,” and “low temperatures in the 30s.”
If you’re keeping track at home, we’ve had a run of that kind of weather since April 1st, including low temperature readings of 33 and 34 degrees earlier this week.
That might be ridiculously chilly weather for mid-April in Texomaland, but even so, Bennett believes that good times are coming soon for local anglers.
“Yeah, I think so,” he said. “I think the water temps in local lakes have been a little bit slow to warm up into that kind of sweet spot that we look for at this time of year. For instance, Texoma is sitting at 59 to 60 degrees right now. Typically, we’d expect it to be a little warmer, at least by a few degrees at this stage of the spring.”
That has slowed things down a bit for local anglers and biologists alike.
“We’ve had some difficulties in sampling fish the past few weeks because they aren’t as shallow as we might expect,” said Bennett. “I think some of these cold fronts and cold rains that we’ve had (recently) have delayed things a week or two this year.”
But as April continues to run its course, the unusual stretch of chilly springtime air will eventually give way to the warmth of May.
And that could mean a nice window of angling action in late April and early May for bass anglers waiting for a strong wave of spawning fish to move to the bank. Combine that with the coming of the yearly shad spawn next month — one of Bennett’s favorite times of the year to fish — and the promise is there for better angling in the weeks ahead.
For that matter, that same promise — for better angling — appears to be true in coming months and years too.
“Our stripers, of course, they are Texoma’s most well known fish species,” said Bennett. “The striper population is just really at a peak right now. There are good numbers and a lot of big fish out there being caught this year.
“Of course, we’re kind of entering that tough time of the year when the fish are staging and looking to make a run up the rivers to spawn,” he added. “So with that in mind, the high number catch days may not return until sometime in May.
“But I think that the forecast, as far as fishing for stripers is concerned this summer, is going to be (good to) spectacular. We’re going to really see the results of the banner year classes of the past few years.”
The same holds true for the bronzeback bass that roam the rocky waters in the eastern half of Texoma.
“Smallmouth, they are doing particularly well,” said Bennett. “We were out last fall doing a survey and it gave us our first glimpse into how the 2015 flood impacted those fish. What we found was the highest abundance that we’ve ever documented of young smallmouths in that eight to 12-inch size range. Those are still kind of small for catching on a rod-and-reel, but it also shows us that in the next year or two, it’s going to be pretty awesome around here for smallmouth.”
Truth be told, things are already pretty good on Texoma for smallmouths. If you need proof, consider that the winning team in the recent YETI FLW College Fishing tournament held on Texoma weighed five smallmouth bass tipping the scales to 19-pounds, 4-ounces.
How about Texoma’s largemouth bass?
“Largemouths, they are almost the same way as the smallmouths,” said Bennett. “The last time we looked at them — the fall before last — we had good sampling catches up the lake.
“I’m not sure why they do better up there, but we seem to see more bigger fish up there than we do towards the east. It could be reduced competition from smallmouths and stripers back east, but that’s just speculation on my part.”
If the three glamour game fish species on Texoma are doing very well this spring, what about the baitfish, particularly the threadfin shad that help drive the lake’s sparkling ecosystem?
“For the most part, we fared well this past winter in terms of shad loss,” said Bennett. “We did see some isolated occurrences of shad kills in some of the coves where they really stack up in the wintertime. But as far as lake wide, we didn’t see any significant die-offs.”
Barring anything unforeseen over the next few months, Bennett is very excited about the rest of spring and the summer fishing season that lies ahead on Texoma.
“Yeah, we should be in good shape,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll get another relatively mild summer and won’t be seeing a lot of big fish stressing out.”
Even if the local anglers — yours truly included — happen to be stressing out just a little bit right now about an Old Man Winter that doesn’t seem to want to go away.
He can’t stay around here forever and eventually, full blown spring will be sprung, and with it, the good fishing that Texoma is well known for.