When it comes to good bass fishing lakes in East Texas, not all of them are 20,000 acres and larger.
For the same reason East Texas’ large lakes produce quality bass fishing -- consistent water levels that produce good habitat that leads to good bass production and survival -- its smaller lakes can be just as good.
East Texas has a number of smaller lakes ideal for fishermen who want a chance at catching quality fish, but don’t have big boats or just want to get away from the crowds.
The difference between big and small is that the smaller lakes can be impacted more by pressure, causing them to be up for a while then down for a while.
Using the same criteria as with the area’s largest lakes -- scientific data, tournament results and fishermen reports -- Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries district biologists Tim Bister of Marshall, Todd Driscoll of Jasper and Jake Norman of Tyler identified the six hottest small lakes at this time.
1. Lake Nacogdoches – At 2,200 acres, Nacogdoches is a mini-Sam Rayburn.
“It is just a productive lake. It has a productive watershed and we have been managing it since 2008 with a 16-inch maximum length limit,” Driscoll said.
The lake was first stocked with a quarter-million Florida-strain bass in 1977, but was not stocked with the fish again until 2000. It has been stocked regularly since and currently has a good population of 4- to 8-pound bass.
The lakes habitat consists of timber and some hydrilla.
“It is small enough fishing pressure adds up per acre, but with no harvest of bass above 16 inches it reduces tournaments,” Driscoll said.
He said that while the 16-inch minimum can be restrictive to some tournaments, he said the length limit had strong support from fishermen when it was first proposed.
The lake has a 15.34-pound bass record.
2. Lake Fairfield – Just over a decade ago Fairfield was almost given up for as dead. Annual dieoffs caused by the hot water discharge from the adjacent power plant and a lack of freshwater inflow had killed millions of fish in the 1,460-acre lake. TPWD suspended stocking efforts until the problem was resolved.
It was when TXU, which owns the lake and plant, ceased operation at the facility. Surprisingly the lake has bounced back.
“Truthfully that lake is in excellent shape right now. I could have ranked it higher,” Norman said.
The fishery began to show life again in 2016 and word has spread in fishing circles.
“It has plenty of hydrilla because there is no power plant so they are not cooking it,” Norman explained. The lake has a 13.01-pound lake record.
However, the lake’s future is again in question. The lake and surrounding property, including the state park, is currently up for sale. The asking price is $110 million.
“We are still not stocking it. It recovered on its own. Because it could sell any day, there is no reason to stock it,” Norman added.
3. Lake Gilmer – Gilmer is one of the newest lakes in Texas, impounded in 2001, but it already has a 14-pound lake record.
“The bass population at Gilmer has been outstanding due to the reservoir's fairly young age. The prey base and quality habitat has resulted in bass that are in great physical condition,” Bister said.
Because of its age, the lake still has a lot of its original habitat. Like Lake Fork, it received a jumpstart with Florida-strain bass being stocked five years before the lake was impounded.
“The 18-inch minimum length limit helps to keep a good number of quality fish in the population,” Bister said.
4. Lake Pinkston – Located between Nacogdoches and Center, Pinkston is the smallest of the top 6 at 447 acres. It is also the only one that has held a state record.
Pinkston first became famous in 1986 when Earl Crawford caught a 16.9-pound fish. It was the first bass caught in the state weighing more than 16 pounds and remains the eighth largest all-time.
“It is the same story as Lake Nacogdoches. The watershed is very fertile and the biomass in bass is higher than anywhere else in our district,” Driscoll said.
The lake has a 14- to 21-inch slot limit, but while it does regularly produce 10-pound-plus bass it is not necessarily considered a trophy fishery. Driscoll said it has a lot of 4- to 8-pound bass.
Hydrilla creates a lot of the habitat on the lake that was impounded in 1976.
“It is really small at 447 acres and the fishing pressure adds up quickly,” Driscoll said.
5. Lake Athens – Located adjacent to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, the 1,800-acre lake has become a popular spring bass fishery.
While the pressure can be high, the lake’s habitat is so good it maintains a strong bass population.
“We haven’t requested fish to be stocked there since before 2018,” Norman said. “The numbers are robust, but the weights are not as good because there are so many fish in there.”
Norman added that the fishing pressure has probably hurt the lake some. Along with individual fishermen, Athens hosts a lot of tournaments.
The lake’s 14.19-pound lake record has stood since 1988.
6. Lake Murvaul – Murvaul is one of the larger small lakes at 3,400. The lake impounded in 1958 has had a storied reputation.
It was stocked with Florida-stain bass in 1972, making it one of the first in Texas to receive the fish. It was not until 2008 it was stocked consistently.
“The slot-length limit and Florida largemouth bass stocking at Lake Murvaul continues to produce quality fish,” Bister said.
The lake record is a 14.87.
Because of its age habitat, quality has declined. Bister said TPWD has been working with Panola Fresh Water District to improve habitat by installing artificial structures and planting native aquatic plants.
Of course this is a short list, and on any given day there are dozens of other smaller lakes that could be added.