Lake Tyler bass fishermen have been singing the blues this year and rightfully so. Fishermen have been struggling with the lack of grass and an abundance of water.
"It is terrible," said local fisherman Sunny Tipton. "Everyone is saying if you catch 12 pounds you can win a tournament."
In fact that is pretty close to being right. It took just 13-pound stringers to win both the Bud Light Trails and JC Outdoors tournaments on the lake this year.
"I was overwhelmed at how you couldn't catch fish," said Tipton.
Noticed that overwhelmed was in the past tense because earlier this week Tipton boated a bass that weigh 10.5. It wasn't a lake record nor was it part of a giant stringer, but it was a start.
Tipton admits catching the big bass was part luck. He said he could have pitched his lure out five feet either side and landed a 2-pounder, but in this case his cast just happened to land in front of a big, hungry sow.
Looking at a water surface temp of 70 degrees, Tipton said the fish showed signs of having been fanning a nest, but not having spawned.
He added he made the catch by not following the leader — the other fishermen on the lake.
"I was watching everyone doing the same thing, throwing into the flooded grass. The fish are not going to be up in six inches of water because the lake is going down," Tipton said.
Instead he backed away and started pitching a Brush Hog into the zone that would normally be shallow water if the lake had been full.
"I was throwing into a foot and a half to two and a quarter feet of water. I was throwing into the cane grass. It has holes in it. That is where they are," Tipton said.
He said the water was muddy and that neither he nor his wife, his fishing partner Monday when he caught the big fish, ever felt a fish hit the line.
"I would just see my line move. You have to just stare at your line all the time," he said.
Tipton said he believes once the spawn kicks in that fishermen will find them spawning on points where they always have.
"If the water was clear you could see them, but right now you can't see but about four or six inches," he said.
Tipton added that not all of them will be bedding in the shallowest water.
"Back when the lake was clear and it had grass, my wife and I caught them in 5 feet of water. They don't have to spawn in six inches of water," he said.
Tipton's catch was still just one fish. The concerns about Tyler's bass fishing quality continues.
"Lake Tyler, when it wants to be good, it can be as good as there is. When it wants to be bad it can be as bad as there is," Tipton said.
And lately fishing has been bad.
When it comes to slow fishing on Lake Tyler the discussion immediately goes to vegetation. If fishing is bad, it is the lack of hydrilla, and in recent years the lake hasn't had any.
There has not been a treatment on Lake Tyler East since 2011, and as always the last one was primarily along shorelines of homes on the southern end, and to create access from the Texas 64 ramp on the north end.
Even though there are other forms of vegetation such as chara, nitella and pond weed, fishermen still tie the lack of fish to the lack of hydrilla.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists point to Lake Athens, which has seen and upswing in bass fishing quality as a comparison. Athens has only had hydrilla treated twice in a small area around the boat ramp in 2005 and 2006 with the same chemical used at Lake Tyler, but it has also lost its hydrilla.
Possibly making a difference is that other vegetation has taken hold on Athens, replacing the lost hydrilla.
TPWD Fisheries biologist Richard Ott said when looking at fishing this spring that fishermen need to take into account conditions in previous years when the region was mired in a drought.
"When you catch a 5-pound bass it is not the conditions now that produced it. It was conditions three years ago. You have to look at the past. We have been in a drought and droughts are tough on fish," Ott explained.
He added another non-eviromental factor at Lake Tyler is fishing pressure, which has been recorded as three or four times heavier than at Lake Palestine.
There is potentially recourse for fishermen opposed to the spraying of hydrilla every time it appears on the lake. That is to show up at Tyler city council meetings as an opposing voice to the homeowners pushing for the treatment. Talking about it with other fishermen won't accomplish anything.
As Tipton said, "I am a fisherman and I think like a fisherman. I don't think like a jet skier and homeowners don't think like bass fishermen."
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