2012 Fishing Forecast

Drought Brings a Mixed Bag of Effects This Year

By: Steve Lightfoot

Heads I win, tails you win.

If I lose, I have to take you fishing, but if I win, you have to go fishing with me. Deal? Take it or leave it.

Going fishing is never a losing bet, particularly when you're taking kids. Trust me, I have yet to lose that coin toss, and I've made a bunch of them! Catching fish, on the other hand, is a game of chance, and the more you know, the better your odds.

A professional angler, a guy who makes his living catching fish, once told me he increases his odds at every tournament just by eliminating what he calls "dead water"—the areas on a lake where fish aren't likely to be because of a lack of habitat. Guess what? This year, Mother Nature has done that for us. The entire state is mired in a historic drought that may or may not break anytime soon, so a lot of water has been eliminated from the landscape.

It's no secret that fish populations, like all natural resources, are being affected by the drought. West Texas and Panhandle lakes have been hit hard. Lakes Baylor Creek (near Childress) and O.C. Fisher (San Angelo) have dried up completely, and many other water bodies are at critically low levels. That's good news and bad news for anglers.

The good news, say Texas Parks and Wildlife Department fisheries biologists, is that less water means less dead water. The adage about shooting fish in a barrel comes to mind, as fish will congregate and concentrate in remaining available habitat, making them more susceptible to angling. Because Texas fisheries came into the drought in good shape, the added pressure on the resource is not expected to hurt fish populations.

"With low water levels there will be some impact to recruitment and reproduction, but a weaker year class doesn't mean fishing will be a bust," says Brian Van Zee, TPWD regional fisheries director in Waco. "Drought conditions likely will not impact angler catches because most of our fisheries can miss a year class and still be OK."

So, there's no reason not to dust off the tackle box, spool up fresh monofilament line and go fishing. Just be prepared, because less water also means less access with many boat ramps high and dry, making it tough for anglers to get on the water in some areas. Until water levels increase, do some homework ahead of time by checking with marinas or water authorities to find a suitable launch site. A good starting point is TPWD's Texas lake finder Web page.

Actually, everything you'd want to know about fishing—from how-to videos and where-to-go locators to weekly fishing reports—can be found on TPWD's website. You can even buy your license online.

Although most fisheries are expected to weather the drought, one popular species may not be so fortunate—the venerable white bass. From late winter through early spring, these feisty fighters migrate en masse from reservoirs throughout Central and East Texas upstream into rivers and creeks for their annual spawning run. Voracious appetites and sheer numbers make white bass easy targets for novice anglers, requiring little more than basic tackle and persistence for success.

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