Fish America: Lake Amistad

Pictured here is what, at one point, was "Club Rain," in Del Rio, Texas. I can tell from the signs on the doors that during what I can only imagine was its short-lived existence, it had a dress code and opened at 7 p.m. Sadly for some I'm sure, Club Rain has closed its doors. But when you are bumming your way around the country, there's no sweeter sight than an empty parking lot with a little bit of shade, not too far from a main highway, but removed enough to keep you from getting hassled by cops. Fortunately I didn't come to Del Rio to find a thriving club scene, but to fish one of Texas' best bass lakes, Lake Amistad.
Lake Amistad is approximately 64,500 acres of largemouth paradise. The reservoir sits on the Texas/Mexico border, and has produced some enormous bass over the past few decades. The lake is known for it's rocky structure, and holds healthy populations of white bass, catfish and striped bass as well.
On a calm evening, the metal-blue sheet of water is something to behold. It looks promising, but there's so much of it. It inspires optimism and doubt in the same glance. You need a Mexico fishing license to fish on the Mexican side. There is a buoy line that marks the border.
On my way for an evening visit to Amistad two deer crossed my path. Would it be good luck or bad?
To find fish on Amistad, I'd need help. James Burkeen has been fishing the lake on and off since he was 10 years old, when his family lived on its shores. He's fished Lake Fork while living in Dallas, and several other famous Texas bass lakes, but now guides on Amistad. Burkeen had a good job in the cell phone industry but said he couldn't let his dream of making a living doing what he loved go. So, five years ago, he took to the lake he knew best, and set about finding fish for people on Amistad, and he hasn't looked back.
We fished Amistad in the afternoon-to-late evening, and started out throwing creature baits. Warm water temperatures meant these fish still weren't in their all-out fall blitz mode, so we offered a more subtle presentation. Burkeen said that when cooler weather patterns set in in the fall, the bass would be more aggressively targeting shad on top.
Burkeen used 7-foot, 6-inch casting rods, produced by a local tackle company, Power Tackle. The rods had suggestions for specific lure uses on the blanks. This model handled weighted creature bait well.
We Texas-rigged the creature baits, with a 3/16th-ounce bullet weight to get them down. Amistad is more than 200 feet deep in some points, and many fisherman successfully target bass in as much as 50 feet of water. But Burkeen and I would be targeting shorelines, sunken trees, drop-offs and brushpiles in 5 to 15 feet of water.
Burkeen knows his strategy paid off. This is my first Amistad bass.
It was a "summertime" hit, as the fish weren't crushing the soft-plastic, but rather just inhaling it on the drop. There was only a subtle double-tap to let you know a hookset was needed. I missed a few wary bass, but not this one.
Good numbers of smaller fish were around as well. Burkeen said that finding larger, double-digit fish was easier a few years ago, with lower water levels. He said that when the water came up, the larger fish dispersed and were more difficult to target on the lake. It had just begun to get good again before recent storms and hurricanes raised water levels once again.
As Texas bass lakes go, it's tough to top Lake Fork, where I fished the week prior for a shot at an enormous bass. But for sheer numbers of fish in the 2- to 5-pound range, Amistad might be a better bet. Burkeen said that 60- and 70 -fish days are not uncommon.
We had some cloud cover when we fished on Monday, and it made for a little bit better topwater bite. The direct sunlight can make the fish more skittish, but with a little cloud cover they're more likely to feed on the surface.
We could see the bass hitting blue dragonflies on top, so James matched the hatch with a blue-and-white Zara Spook. He had some hits and "kisses," on the lure, but the bass were so keyed in on the dragonflies, it was tough to sell them on something larger. Burkeen said in the summer and early fall these fish will be feeding on dragonflies regularly and the topwater bite can be outstanding if your timing is right. October and November are peak months on Amistad, he said.
You'll never see as many Turkey Vultures as you will in Del Rio. These things were constantly circling overhead or perched nearby. I spooked this trio from their fence.
While fishing, Burkeen told me about the local rod company, Power Tackle, that was coming out with a supposed unbelievable soft-plastic bass lure that had been in production for a few years. I decided to check it out.
On Route 90 in Del Rio, there are two unassuming aluminum buildings that, if you didn't know better, you'd never guess housed a rod manufacturing and a lure-making outfit.
Tim and Judy Reneau started out making Power Tackle rods four years ago, and their line of rods has grown to include 28 models, including two spinning rods. They're constantly busy and are having trouble keeping rods stocked.
The rods are made right in Del Rio, and there is a variety of different models to pitch anything from swimbaits to Senkos.
The lure in the works was the "Lateral Perch," pictured here. The lure is actually a jig, with a replaceable soft-plastic body, and is set to go on sale in February.
Tim, Judy and their pro staff have been testing it all over Texas with good results. Pro angler Keith Combs recently turned heads when he won a tournament using the bait. Judy said that increased demand for the lure, which they are scrambling to produce enough of before it hits the market.
The baits, pictured here, come in different weights but are all the same size. Tim said that they were almost like a spoon/jig combination, because when they fell through the water column, they fell laterally instead of horizontally, giving them a spoon-like fluttering action. He said it took a lot of trial and error to get the baits to fall just right without spinning or creating line twist. The weedguard makes it possible to flip them into thick hydrilla.
Tim was busy in back pouring baits and churning out as many as he could. I didn't get a chance to fish one of these things, but they might be worth checking out. Tim has worked in lure production for much of his life, and says they are different than anything out there.
If You go: Lake Amistad: James Burkeen, www.amistadbassin.com Lateral Perch: www.powertackle.com