Lynn Burkhead — As rain floods Bois d’Arc, hopes rise for trophy bass

Herald Democrat

Listening to the rain fall heavily upon the roof the other evening, it was hard not to smile.

Why? Because as April rainfall flows down creeks and rivers here in the Red River Valley, the water is beginning to gather and fill Bois d’Arc Lake, the 16,641-acre water body in northeastern Fannin County that marks the first major reservoir build in Texas in nearly 30 years.

With most of the dam now closed at Bois d’Arc — some additional work remains, but the lake northeast of Bonham is now filling — hopes are rising that it’s only a matter of time before Texas anglers are catching trophy sized largemouths from Texomaland’s newest fishing hole.

With any luck, several years of prior planning and hard work will also add to the mix, perhaps turning Bois d’Arc into the Lone Star State’s rising star in the trophy bass fishing game.

“Expectations are kind of hard to nail down for any new lake,” admits Dan Bennett, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department inland fisheries biologist who heads up the Lake Texoma Fisheries Station and is responsible for fisheries management in this part of the state.

“The hopes are certainly high for Bois d’Arc Lake,” he continued. “But I’ve compared it in the past to having a child, someone that you hope might one day pitch for the Texas Rangers or play quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Until they get to be old enough, you just never know what might happen.”

Like a parent who takes a child to summer camps, specialized coaches, and elite travel squads in an effort to maximize their athletic talent, Bennett and his staff have been hard at work for several years now, trying to stack the fishing odds in the favor of Bois d’Arc becoming a bucketmouth destination spot.

While obviously smaller than 27,264-acre Lake Fork some 90 miles to the south, Bennett is hopeful that the new Fannin County lake can become a superb bass fishery in its own right, one even capable of producing numerous trophy size largemouths in the 7-10 pound range and beyond.

And with any luck, he’s even hopeful that there will be some ShareLunker magic from Bois d’Arc one day, and maybe even a push for the longstanding largemouth bass state record mark of 18.18-pounds, a benchmark set at Fork in January 1992 by crappie angler Barry St. Clair.

Can Bois d’Arc achieve such lofty heights? Bennett — who grew up fishing at Fork and has worked for TPWD at field offices across bass rich East Texas — says that is certainly his hope and dream as a fisheries biologist.

“Yeah, I’ll admit growing up that I did kind of dream of being the mad scientist in charge of a big fish laboratory,” laughed Bennett, who graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University in 2007 with an aquatic biology degree. “I grew up around Fork and fished there in the early 1990s when it was at its peak. Initially, I dreamed of working on that particular lake and I was able to do that out of the Tyler office before this opportunity here became available.”

When Bennett took over the TPWD station north of Pottsboro following the retirement of Bruce Hysmith, his arrival in Texomaland came about the same time that the North Texas Municipal Water District began to put some real steam behind plans for Bois d’Arc Lake and its construction.

“They reached out to us in about 2015 if my memory serves correct, about the time I first got up here,” said Bennett. “It wasn’t long before we were meeting with them, touring existing ponds, and looking at the footprint of what would become the lake.”

As all of this began to unfold, the wheels were turning in Bennett’s head — along with those of other inland fisheries biologists at TPWD — about putting the Lake Fork recipe into motion a few miles south of the Red River.

For starters, Bennett and his staff have been very purposeful in how they have tried to stock Bois d’Arc — see the companion story today for more details on that aspect of this new lake.

Equally important in helping Bois d’Arc achieve big bass glory is that the lake’s habitat looks quite suitable for those stocked fish.

While Bennett acknowledges that it will be some time before water clarity and the amount of native aquatic vegetation in a filled up Bois d’Arc lake is fully known, glancing at nearby Bonham City Lake, Coffee Mill Lake, and Davy Crockett Lake, he is hopeful in those regards.

“In terms of vegetation, I suspect that Bois d’Arc will have plenty of it from looking at local ponds and the other lakes in the area,” said Bennett. “They are chock full of coontail, pond weed, and there’s lots of lotus as well.”

Bennett said that if necessary, TPWD might see about a few planned introductions of native vegetation, species like Illinois pond weed.

“But the success of planned introductions of vegetation is usually on the low side, so we don’t want to put all of our eggs into the idea of introducing and propagating plants,” he said. “What will have the best chance will be what’s already there and naturally expanding.”

While submerged aquatic vegetation was a key component at Lake Fork — including the invasive hydrilla that anglers love and biologists and homeowners often dislike — so too was the lunker factory’s vast acreage of flooded timber, something that that will also be prominent at Bois d’Arc.

While the eastern end of the new Fannin County reservoir will be mostly open, there was a big amount of timber left in the western end. While lunker bass fishing nuts like yours truly will always want more timber left in a new lake, Bennett smiled and said it’s not always that easy.

“They (North Texas Municipal Water District planners) are trying to balance out competing interests on both sides of the recreational front,” he said. “For sure, anglers certainly care about the fishing aspects of the lake. But there will also be plenty of boaters and property owners that don’t desire the same type of lake construction and habitat as the fishermen do.”

Bennett said that the bulk of the timber was left in approximately 40-percent of the new lake, mostly in the western end and in the backs of smaller arms and coves.

“Visually, it will look a lot like Fork or Ray Roberts, to the west of the new bridge (FM 897) that is,” said Bennett. “There are going to be lots of visible trees and it will be quite difficult to navigate through it all, at least at first. There is a 200-yard wide boat lane that has been cut through the middle to allow for access on the upper end of the lake.

“And what they did clear, they took the largest timber from that and consolidated it into 42 massive brush piles in the lower end of the lake,” he added. “Those are up to 60-feet in length and are cabled and weighed down and will be on the bottom in various depths ranging from 20- to 40-feet.”

Another major component here is the new lake’s ample structure, contour features that will be seen on a good paper map or on a bass rig’s high dollar electronics.

“There are lots of structural components lying on the bottom of this lake,” said Bennett. “There are tons and tons of creek channels, points, etc. One thing that really gets me excited is the complex shoreline at Bois d’Arc. There are lots of coves and miles and miles of shoreline that I suspect will provide a lot of good bass and crappie habitat.”

Some of that will be ditches and creeks leading into prime springtime spawning habitat on flats and in the back end of coves. Other structure will be offshore, the kind of humps, ledges, and drop-offs that should delight summertime anglers tossing jigs, crankbaits, and flutter spoons.

Bennett said that while there is ample natural structure in the new lake, there is also plenty of manmade features that will be lying on the bottom too.

“There are lots of old roadbeds, bridges, old building foundations, tank dams, etc.,” he said. “I think there’s something like 240-plus ponds in the footprint that will be inundated. And they took a lot of the old concrete and concrete culverts and consolidated that into (attractor) piles, so to speak, like we requested.”

While it will be a number of months before Bois d’Arc’s habitat is filled and officially open to fishing, hopes will rise with every rainfall that it’s only a matter of time before monster bass start getting reeled in by anglers.

With any luck, those bucketmouths will reach double digit weights and attract plenty of fishing headlines. Just like a young angler — and future mad fisheries scientist — named Dan dreamt of many years ago.