Unlike years past I cannot complain about BASS’ 100 Best Bass Lakes list for 2015.
There are three East Texas lakes in the top 15. I am a homer. I am not greedy.
OK, the top 15 is still dominated by northern lakes better known for smallmouth which seems odd. Bass boats were invented in the South for a reason, and that is to fish for the real bass, largemouths.
So it is with regional pride that Toledo Bend sits atop the list followed by last year’s No. 1, Sturgeon Bay in Wisconsin, Lake St.Clair in Michigan and the California Delta.
Then comes Sam Rayburn at No. 5. Lake Fork rounds out the top 15, which is a debatably low ranking, but again, let’s not be greedy. A year ago Toledo Bend was 15th and Rayburn 26th.
Todd Driscoll, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Fisheries biologist who oversees TB and Rayburn, said he is not surprised the two are highly ranked because of their productivity the last five years. He also agrees that Toledo, co-managed with Louisiana, currently has a slight edge over Rayburn.
“If you are talking about today, over the last three years I would give the edge to Toledo Bend for both numbers and fish over 7 pounds. Both are in great shape, but if you pinned me down I would have to give the edge to Toledo Bend,” Driscoll said. And that came Monday, a day after he fished a tournament on Rayburn, caught 18.46 pounds and finished 30th, one place out of the money.
The biologist gives the nod to TB because it is producing more big bass. He said that springtime tournament winning weights on Toledo Bend typically range three to four pounds heavier than Rayburn.
“You have to come back and talk about both lakes. They are in really good shape. The key aspect is consistent littoral habitat year after year after year,” he noted.
High water and low, the lakes continually have vegetation that results in spawning success. In the case of Toledo Bend there is the added luxury of almost annual Florida bass stockings by both Texas and Louisiana.
“The lakes are more rural. The overall (visitors who) visits the lakes, they fish. We don’t have groups that complain about vegetation. If there is one complaint we get it, it’s we don’t have enough vegetation,” Driscoll explained.
Impounded in 1967, the 182,000-acre Toledo Bend has been able to avoid the dreaded effects of lake aging because of its vegetation and its size. It is the same story for Rayburn, a 114,500-acre reservoir impounded in 1965.
Driscoll said that because of its size fishing pressure on Toledo is scattered out much more compared to much smaller Lake Fork, but even compared to Rayburn, which is 2 ﾽ Lake Forks smaller than Toledo Bend.
“The sheer size of it spreads out fishing pressure. There are a lot of fish out there, and that reduces what we call exploitation, the number removed by fishing mortality,” he said.
Its size means there are probably a lot of nave fish on the lake.
“I have talked to folks who have fished Toledo Bend their whole life. Harold Allen (professional angler and guide) believes there are populations of fish that have never been fished before,” Driscoll noted.
Toledo Bend has only produced seven Toyota ShareLunkers, but a local program that provides mounts for bass 10 pounds and larger recorded 81 10-pounders between May 2014 and this May.
“The lake is just full of 5-pound fish now,” Driscoll said.
In comparison Driscoll said Rayburn gets more fishing pressure per acre than Toledo Bend, especially in the form of tournaments, which puts more pressure on the fish.
“The uptick in fishing pressure makes it harder to catch. I think the fish are here. The (survey) numbers are almost identical year in and year out,” Driscoll said.
Rayburn has 25 ShareLunkers.
Because of the quality of habitat at both lakes, he added neither should drop out of the BASS list’s top 10 in the next few years.
Oddly, Lake Fork was 10th on the 2014 list. All it did to drop five spots was produce the largest three-day pro tournament stringer in history at 110 pounds during the 2014 Toyota Texas Bass Classic. With a winning weight of 89-12 this year the lake may fall from the top 25 in 2016.
A total of nine Texas lakes made the 2015 list. Lake Ray Roberts was the next best at 31st. Falcon, which was 12th in 2014, free-fell to 42nd, a direct correlation to a lack of water.
Also on the list were Conroe (50), Fayette County (62), border lake Texoma (73), and as a head-scratcher, Squaw Creek (86).
Have a comment or opinion on this story? Contact outdoor writer Steve Knight by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Steve Knight on Facebook at TylerPaper Outdoors and on Twitter @tyleroutdoor.