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March 2013

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Hot on Fishing

‘Electric’ lakes generate warm water for great cold-weather outings.

By Larry D. Hodge

Texas has about 20 lakes used to supply cooling water for electric generating plants that also furnish good public opportunities for fishing. These lakes offer anglers a cure for the midwinter crazies that can strike as a result of too-short days, too much televised sports and too much couch time.

Admit it: After a couple of wintry months spent not fishing, seeing Bill Dance pull a big old bass or catfish out of the water and wave it in front of the TV camera makes you want to just snatch it out of his hand and smack him in the kisser with it.

When you reach that point, it’s time to head for a warm power plant lake to catch some fish yourself. Not just any lake will do, though. Those that mainly supply power during peak demand periods may not operate enough during winter to heat the water. Here’s a sampling of lakes you might want to try.

Fayette

At Fayette County Reservoir near La Grange, the power plant elevates the water temperature and keeps bass active in winter.

Coleto Creek Reservoir near Victoria supports some great fisheries, especially for largemouth bass and white crappie. It has complex and diverse habitat consisting of both native and exotic vegetation favored by fish.

“The beauty of the fishery is you can target and catch bass in a variety of ways,” says TPWD Inland Fisheries biologist Greg Binion. “Early in the morning, target main lake points and vegetation with top-waters, buzzbaits, lipless crankbaits and spinner baits. Fish pockets of vegetation in timber flats with Texas-rigged lizards and other creature baits. In deep-water habitats, use Carolina rigs and deep-diving crankbaits. Keep an eye on the sonar for balls of shad. Locate the shad and you will find the bass.”

For crappie, Binion suggests fishing the outside edge of timber flats adjacent to creek and river channels and the Coletoville Road bridge. Live minnows seem to work best.

Near San Antonio, biologist John Dennis recommends Lakes Calaveras and Braunig for winter catfishing. “Catfishing is good all year long all over Calaveras,” he says. “On Braunig, the hot-water discharges next to the jetty and under the bridge at the end of the west end of the reservoir are good spots.”

Arlington

The weather is cold but the fishing is hot at Lake Arlington.

I can personally attest to the quality of catfishing on both Calaveras and Braunig. On one trip to Calaveras, we tied up along the rock riprap lining the intake canal and baited up with cheese bait.

If you’ve never tried cheese bait, you’re in for an experience. Basically it is rotted cheese mixed with some sort of binder to help it stay on the hook, such as cattails, and perhaps additional flavoring like garlic, blood or ground-up fish parts. It’s also commonly called stink bait, and you’ll quickly know why. Another name is punch bait, because the easiest way to get it on the hook — and not on your hands — is to punch the hook into the bait using a tool such as a stick or screwdriver with a notch in the end. It’s nasty, but catfish love it.

We were fishing our baits under bobbers set four or five feet deep, and it didn’t take long for the action to start. One of the neat things about catfish is that if you catch one, you’ll probably catch a bunch in the same spot. The smell of the stink bait in the water draws them in, and the more times you rebait, the more scent you add to the water.

You can also increase the odds of attracting fish by chumming the area with soured wheat or corn. Just fill a plastic bucket with tight-fitting lid about half-full of grain, finish filling it with water, snap on the lid and let it sit in the sun for about a week. (Note from experience: Do NOT let the bucket tip over and spill inside your vehicle, unless you like traveling alone with the windows down.) Experienced catfishers often bait several “holes” in an area before returning to the first to fish, then going on to the others in rotation when the bite slows.

Braunig furnished what remains one of my all-time best catfishing trips. We anchored up as close as permitted to the dam and fished cheese bait with a sinker and no bobber along the wing-wall leading to the gates. Big channel cats were stacked along the wall and were only too happy to bite. The four of us finished the day with 28 fish that overfilled a 100-quart ice chest.

Can you say tartar sauce, hush puppies and French fries?

Calaveras

Lake Calaveras, where some anglers fish from the Crappie Wall, is a prime spot for catfish and red drum.

Both Braunig and Calaveras are also known for their red drum fisheries, which tend to be most productive in the heat of summer. However, fish can be caught any time of year trolling crankbaits, rattletraps, spoons or grubs under downriggers. On Calaveras, the structure across the intake channel known as the Crappie Wall is a favorite spot with anglers. You can tie up to the wall and stand on it while fishing, but be sure to wear your PFD when out of the boat. The wall is just wide enough to stand on and scootch past another person, and when a 30-inch-plus redfish slams a tiny gold spoon, you’d better have your feet firmly planted.

Hybrid striped bass are also present in both reservoirs. Fishing for them tends to be better in the warmer months, but in winter concentrate on the hot-water discharge areas. You may also find them holding at the base of the dam. Tie up to the floating boom blocking the approach to the dam and cast a slab as close to the concrete wall as possible. The trick is to wait to reel until after you’ve counted to 15. The slab has to sink down to them. Then it’s reel, set the hook and hang on.

Squaw Creek

Squaw Creek Reservoir, a power plant lake southwest of Fort Worth, has a good population of channel catfish.

South of Dallas-Fort Worth, Squaw Creek Reservoir is a catfishing dream in winter.

“The channel catfish population is one of the best in Central Texas,” says fisheries biologist Michael Baird. “It boasts the highest catch rate of any of the surrounding reservoirs and has a balanced population, with good numbers of larger fish in good-to-excellent body condition. Fish up to 28 inches are not uncommon.”

Angler access at Squaw Creek is limited. It is open to bank fishing within Squaw Creek Park from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday; boaters are allowed on the lake during those hours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“Typical catfish rigs and baits work well in this reservoir, and fish can be found in normal haunts such as submerged outcroppings, mouths of creeks, submerged boulders, laydowns and flooded timber,” Baird says.

In general, anglers experienced in fishing power plant lakes look for warm water, current and baitfish. Many recommend seeking places where water temperatures are in the 60s. And the worse the weather, the better the fishing, some say.

Besides, any day spent catching fish yourself is better than watching someone else do it on television.

Take that, Bill Dance.



Not Your Grandfather’s Lakes

Just as today’s fishing boats are a far cry from the aluminum percussion instruments your grandfather used, power plant lakes are a breed apart from the typical cold-water reservoir. And I’m not talking about the fishing.

The water in power plant lakes remains warm in winter. That has some unintended consequences you need to think about.

Warm water means good winter fishing, so many power plant lakes will be hosting tournaments on weekends during winter. Most power plant lakes are fairly small. If you don’t fish tournaments and don’t want to be where one is going on, fish during the week.

Warm water plus cold air temperatures equals fog. Navigating a boat through heavy fog is like trying to walk inside a giant marshmallow, but far more dangerous. Since you don’t want to spend time breaking ice off your rod guides anyway, wait until the sun has time to burn the fog off and warm up the air a bit.

Wind blowing across warm water may be warmer than wind blowing across cold water, but this wind will still be cold. Layer warm, waterproof clothing and wear a ski-type mask to protect your ears and nose.

Water temperatures will be highest at the outfall from the power plant and drop the farther away you get. Fish can be picky about where they hang out — after all, they can go just about anywhere they want to in a lake, so why would they be where they are not most comfortable? You may need to prospect around a bit to find the places where the fish are located on a particular day. Pay attention to the water temperature and depth information on your fish finder and get in the fishes’ comfort zone.

Not all power plants generate all the time, which is why most of the power plant lakes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are not on the list of power plant lakes to fish. These plants are used mainly to supply power during times of peak demand, which in Texas generally means during the summer. They may not operate enough during winter to warm the water to any appreciable degree.

When a plant is operating, the intake and discharge of water creates current, and current can be a key to success in fishing, especially if you are targeting bass. Fish tend to prefer to lie in wait on the edge of a current and let it bring food to them. Find the current and fish the “seam” where moving and still water meet, or fish around rocks, walls, laydowns or other structure that water is moving past. Again, fish tend to hang out on the downstream side of structure and wait for food to drift by. Present your bait so that it moves with the flow and at the same speed as the flow.

Finally, warm water year-round means aquatic vegetation flourishes just as fish do, and you don’t want to transport invasive species from one lake to another. Help protect the waters you fish by thoroughly cleaning your boat, trailer and vehicle. Dispose of any vegetation in a dumpster before leaving the ramp area. If you need help identifying invasive plant or animal species, visit www.texasinvasives.org.


Where to go

Power plant lakes offer good fishing in colder weather months. The best time to fish theses lakes is when they are generating power. Power generation warms the water and provides current, which makes the fish be more active. Links to more popular power plant lakes:

Martin Creek Lake

Lake Fairfield

Lake Welsh

Lake Bastrop

Lake Monticello

Fayette County

Lake Calaveras

Braunig Lake

Coleto Creek

Decker (Walter E. Long)

Gibbons Creek

Graham

Brandy Branch

Squaw Creek

 

 


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