Fish & Game
The aggressive nature and widespread distribution of the largemouth bass make it the most sought-after freshwater fish species in Texas. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has worked to provide Texans with flourishing bass fisheries by stocking 6 million to 8 million Florida largemouth bass fingerlings each year.
I’ve fished for as long as I can remember, and nothing excites me more than waking up at 4 a.m. in preparation for a day on the water. As a high school student, I’ve been fishing in tournaments with the Texas High School Bass Association. I also worked as an intern with TPWD’s Inland Fisheries Division.
Through those experiences, I wanted to help the fishing community make the most of their time on the water by identifying the best public lakes and seasons for bass fishing. This month I’ll look at the best seasons, and next month I’ll look at the best lakes.
Every angler has anecdotes about when and where they’ve had the best luck, but for this project I wanted objective answers powered by statistics. Luckily, there are hundreds of open fishing tournaments in Texas every year where countless two-angler teams head out before sunrise to catch the heaviest five-fish bag. By analyzing data from hundreds of these tournaments from 2014 to 2022, I was able to find trends that may be useful to anglers hoping for a productive season.
What season is the most productive for catching keeper-size bass? Data shows that as spring approaches and the water temperature increases, bass fishing gets better.
As an indicator, I looked at the percentage of tournament teams that caught the typical bag of five fish (only fish over 14 inches in length can be kept). A higher percentage means more teams were having good success on the water.
The best month overall is May, which typically means post-spawn fishing. Fish are scattered between shallow and medium depths. During May, warmer water temperatures boost fish metabolism, making them hungrier, yet the water temperature is not yet hot enough to stress the fish. Starting in June, the warm days of summer make fishing more difficult until the temperature begins to cool again in September.
Interestingly, in contrast to September and November, October proves to be a more difficult month for fishing, perhaps because cold fronts start to come through Texas in October. Post-front fishing is difficult for even the most experienced angler. During periods of stable weather in October, the success rate should be similar to rates found in September and November.
To identify the ideal time of the year to chase big bass, I focused on Sam Rayburn Reservoir, one of the most popular tournament lakes. I calculated the average weight of the winning tournament bags by month, and discovered that in this lake, February is the best month of the year to land giants.
February is the pinnacle of pre-spawn fishing. During this month, big female bass, typically loaded with eggs, start gorging on bait. These fish are heavier during the pre-spawn period than at any other time of year. (To target these fish, I recommend an Alabama rig with 3- to 4-inch swimbaits. This is the rig used to catch many of the Legend Class ShareLunkers — largemouth bass over 13 pounds — in past years.)
From late March to early April, the egg-laden bass emerge from their deep winter haunts and move to the shallows to spawn. The fish are more accessible to anglers during this time, although once the spawning is over they are lighter than they might have been in February.
Make sure to follow the harvest regulations at Texas lakes. The statewide regulation for largemouth bass is a 14-inch minimum length limit, with a five-fish daily bag limit. However, numerous lakes have specialized regulations (slot limits or 16-inch maximum lengths).
Clemente Guzman | TPWD
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