Saturday, January 24, 2015

Tour Of Texas; Lake Welsh Largemouth

Texas has about a dozen lakes used to supply cooling water for electric generating plants that in turn heat up the water and make for some great winter fishing. Cool water is pumped from the lake and as it runs through the coal plant it is heated then returned to the lake. Lake Welsh is one of these lakes that was built for the sole purpose of supplying cooling water to the coal plant. Welsh is a medium sized lake of roughly 1300 acres located in East Texas. During the spring, summer and fall this is not one of Texas' more popular lakes. But come winter time bass clubs, guides and fisherman flock to the warm waters of Lake Welsh. When the water temperature in most lakes are in the 40s and 50s. Being a power plant lake, Welsh will have water temps upwards of 80 degrees during the winter months. This equates to largemouth bass being up to 2 months ahead of non power plant lakes. You can find bass on beds in December, January and February for you bed fishing fanatics. The warm waters have bass active and crushing topwater poppers in the middle of winter.

My buddy Landon and I booked a day with Orvis endorsed fly fishing guide Rob Woodruff to go chase some Lake Welsh largemouth. Landon and I arrived at Lake Welsh early this morning as the lake was completely fogged in. After getting the boat launched and getting our gear situated we had bass chasing bait into the bank not 20 feet from the beached boat. A promising sign to a morning that started off a little slow. A cold front passed through a few days ago and we were dealing with high pressure and a clear blue bird sky. Defiantly not the best of conditions but we knew we would stick some fish. It was probably late morning before we brought our first fish to the boat. A nice chunky bass with great colors that ate a dumbbell crystal bugger. Through out the day the fish catching remained sporadic. We picked up probably 6-8 fish throughout the day. As the sun began to set and most the other anglers on the lake had already called it a day Rob took us to some of his favorite spots on the lake. As the evening shadows began to elongate on the the water I switched flies to a Dahlberg diver. Casting to the edges of cattails it wasn't long before a nice bass inhales the fly simultaneously the classic sound of your flyline getting zipped off the water and tight to a fish. For the next hour of daylight that scene replayed itself at least half a dozen times.

January bass on a Dahlberg Diver. 

Landon working some cattails.

Clear water enables you to see most strikes.

So the next time the winter time blues start setting in as a result of short days,  too much couch time while watching televised sports. The below lakes offer anglers a cure for the winter doldrums. ***Some of the coal plants on these lakes run year round, some are turned on and shut down depending on power demand. So make sure to research the below lakes as some of these lakes are not going to produce warm water all winter long***

-Martin Creek Lake
-Lake Fairfield
-Lake Bastrop
-Lake Monticello
-Fayette County
-Lake Calaveras
-Braunig Lake
-Coleto Creek
-Decker (Walter E. Long)
-Gibbons Creek
-Brandy Branch
-Squaw Creek

Rods, Flies and Leaders
- Rods should be in the 6-8wt range. You standard 9' rod will work but my all time favorite bass fly rod is TFO's Mini Mag series rod.
-Flies....What wont a largemouth eat? Generally speaking flies should consist of varies poppers, Dahlberg divers and other topwater patterns that push water and make noise. Subsurface patterns should be various streamers with weed guards or ride hook point up. There are so many innovative streamers on the market right now to choose from its mind boggling. I don't think you can go wrong with any of them. Suggested colors will be the standard chartreuse/white, all white, white tan, perch and fire tiger combinations. One fly I have always had good luck with is a dumbbell cyrstal woolly bugger in olive.
-Leaders are pretty standard. I just use 3-4 feet of 20lb flouro attached to 3-4 feet of 12lb flouro. I use loop knots to connect the 2 sections of flouro and your good to go.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Tour of Texas; Lake Daingerfield Esox

Chain Pickerel are the only Esox sub species found in Texas. The fish can be found naturally in the Cypress River drainage of Texas and popular lakes including Pat Mayse, Caddo, Lake O’ the Pines and Dangerfield. During the Texas winter, when very few warmwater species are in shallow water, the chain pickerel can be found cruising the quiet backwaters. 
(Correction, so there is another Esox in Texas. The Redfin Pickerel. They don't get very big and their not really a species you can go out and specifically target. The state record came from Toledo Bend and weighed less then 3/4 of a lb.)   

The largest chain pickerel on record was caught in Homerville, Georgia in 1961. It was 29.5 inches long, with a weight of 9 pounds 6 ounces. Although the national record is over nine pounds, the Texas state record is 4.75 pounds (23.75 inches). Like its close relatives, northern pike and muskellunge, the chain pickerel is equipped with a large mouth, well adapted for piscivory. The lower jaw, which extends further forward than the upper jaw, is equipped with four sensory pores on the underside. The dorsal and anal fins are set well back on the body. There is a distinctive pattern of interlocking dark bands on the back and sides that is reminiscent of a chain-link fence. During their first year they may reach 12-14 inches in length. Growth slows somewhat during the second year when they may attain lengths of 1.5 feet. In Texas they typically reach sizes of 3-4 pounds and about 2 feet in length.

Leaving Dallas at 6am for the 2 hour drive to Daingerfield State Park I was greeted with air temps in the mid 30s and light rain. It felt more like a morning to be heading out to hunt ducks instead of fishing. The predicted high for the day wasn't much more than the current temperature. I was a little hesitant about how the fishing would be, I was afraid the cold rain/weather may have dropped the water temps to fast and the fish would have lock jaw. 

Lake Daingerfield is relatively small and is perfect for kayaks and small watercraft's. The park has a 5mph speed limit if you do decide to put a gas powered boat in the lake. The state recently put $5 million into this park renovating cabins, swim beach and nature trails. There is a $4 per person entry fee to enter the park and the cabin rates and availability can be found on the Daingerfield State Park website

Once arriving at the parks' boat ramp; getting the kayak unloaded and getting my rods rigged up I was ready to hit the water. The lake is surrounded by 50-60' tall pine trees making this lake beautiful. With light winds out of the North-North/East I made a short paddle to a protective cove full of lily pads. Chain pickerel and weeds go together. Masters of the art of ambush, pickerel lie in or just above aquatic vegetation such as milfoil, cabbage, and lily pads, often facing outward toward open water, watching for unsuspecting prey. I started tossing a deer head zonker fly around the floating lily pads and submerged vegetation. It wasn't long before a fish quickly swirled and engulfed the fly. As you can see from the picture below there is flash hanging out of the gills along with fur and hair all wrapped up around the fishes jaws. 

Pickerel are not afraid of attacking large baits as you can see from the below picture. This fly was producing really well until it was bite off. Its crazy how easily 20lb fluorocarbon will cut if it gets caught just right in one of the many needle sharp teeth these fish have. A nickname Chain Pickerel have is jack fish, I think little guys like the below fish is a perfect description of said nickname.  

The fishing continued to be great all morning. After the 3rd or 4th fish I got bite off and lost my only surface fly. I switched to a red and yellow seaducer and immediately began catching fish again. There where a lot of sunken lily pads 12 to 18" below the surface of the water. I found that if I let the fly sink to just below the level of those sunken lily pads the pickerel would blitz out from underneath one to eat the fly. The water was very clear and even though there was cloud cover and light rain I still saw many of the fish strike.

I was surprised to also pick up 2 decent bass, they weren't all that long but man they were fat and healthy and had great colors. Even though the water was cold they fought good for their size. My lens got some water on it as you can tell from the picture. 

All and all it was a great day of fishing. I caught probably a dozen pickerel and a couple of healthy largemouths. The hot fishing kept the cold weather unnoticeable all morning. In my opinion the most exciting aspect of pickerel fishing is watching these fish hit a fly, They are not all that big and even on a 3wt the fight is moderate. Their kinda the big dog stuck in a little dogs body of fish. They attack flies with an onslaught but often time bite off more than they can chew.

Flyrods, Flies and leaders
- A 3-4 weight flyrod is perfect. If the wind is bad a 5-6wt is the most you want to go to keep it somewhat sporting for the fish. You don't have to make long cast, you will typically be making 15-25' cast into pockets and holes in the lily pads and vegetation.
- For leaders 20lb fluorocarbon will  work 90% of the time. You will get bite off from time to time, if you are targeting larger fish you may want to step up to 25-30lb. Wire is absolutely not needed.
- Flies need to be 3-4 inch baitfish patterns. I believe dark days - dark flies but that isn't always the case as I caught fish on black/dark red today along with yellow/red and yellow/orange. I don't think color matters but every day is different so have some flies in a variety of colors. You'll want some surface flies and some slow sinking subsurface patterns as well. Weed guards will keep you from hanging up on lily pad stems and vegetation but aren't a necessity because with 20lb fluorocarbon you can just strip the fly out of any vegetation you get hung up in.