High water on lakes

Facing high water this spring, East Texas fishermen might forget what they are running over on area lakes. In 2015, it was quite a different story on Lake Fork and others.

It is hard to think of all the fishing weekends wiped out by rain this spring and think there might be a silver lining.

Lakes around East Texas have all filled up heading toward summer. Most went up just a foot or so, but some like Lake O’the Pines were way up. Pines went as much as 13 feet above pool level. Caddo and Sam Rayburn were up as much as 5 feet.

While excessive high water can make fishing difficult, all the rainfall will only mean it is going to get better down the road a few years.

“Just like the last three or four years, the high water is only going to help in the long run,” said Jake Norman, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries biologist. “Sure, it may translate into tougher fishing over the short term, but the high water and abundant shallow habitat will promote yet another strong year class from this year’s spawn.”

It is a simple case that the more flooded vegetation there is, the more cover there is for fry to hide from predators. The problem is that on any given Saturday or Sunday that fishing has been washed out this spring, it is hard to be consoled by the fact that in five years it will have been worth it.

“I think people always expect instant results, but that’s usually not possible in the fishing world. For example, the prolonged drought on Fork around 2010-2013 likely resulted in weak year classes from the lack of shallow water habitat that’s critical for juvenile bass survival and recruitment. But people weren’t complaining about tough fishing conditions then because the population was still sustained from previous year classes of fish,” Norman said.

Using Fork as an example, the biologist said bass typically reach 16 inches in three years. This means strong or weak years classes will not be noticed for three or more years. With several high water years in a row in East Texas, that should mean an extended period of good numbers not only on Fork, but on most lakes in the region. Sam Rayburn, for one, has always had a reputation for great bass fishing following up high water years.

An avid fisherman himself, Norman said the biggest issue for fishermen when lakes are way up is dealing with the rapid drops that occur when dam gates are opened or the water falls across spillways. Why this occurs is the question.

“In general, dropping water levels in reservoirs can produce tougher fishing conditions. This is often attributed to fish becoming less aggressive and suspending until conditions stabilize. It is a very common belief that when the gates of the dam on Fork are open creating current throughout much of the reservoir, the fishing gets much tougher. The belief follows the same basic concepts as dropping water levels, the fish suspend and become much less aggressive,” Norman said.

However, he has something of a contrarian view as to why the phenomenon occurs and uses the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest as an example.

“I’ll go against the grain of many here and say I do not attribute the tough bite to the gates open or dropping water levels. The bite was definitely off, especially on days one and two, but I believe the open gates are often a by-product of what can actually shut the fish down, or at least slow the bite down. The fish in Fork thrive on stability. Stable weather, stable water levels and stable habitat are the best conditions an angler can ask for on Fork. When any of these rapidly change, the fish do seem to respond by becoming less aggressive, often resulting in a tougher bite,” Norman explained.

He said following Friday’s weigh in, he thought after Saturday’s off day he expected the fishing to become more consistent for the final two days and it did. The same situation should play out on other constant level lakes like Palestine and Tyler, but not on Pines, Rayburn and Toledo Bend where water rises and falls are the norm.

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