Fish America: Welcome to Texas

This week on the road, in my quest to fish all, or most the country anyway, brought me to what has got to be considered one of America's best states for angling. You can chalk it up to sheer land mass if you want, but there are few places where you can find as much fishing variety, or fish as large, as you can in the Lone Star State.
That jar of authentic Texas Jalapenos belonged to Mickey Delamar, a part-time guide and full-fledged largemouth expert who lives right on the shores of one of Texas's, and the country's most storied largemouth lakes: Lake Fork. A shoulder injury kept Mickey off the water during my visit, but it didn't keep him from extending every possible kindness to a traveling fisherman.
Yeah, you could say Mickey's done his share of bass fishing. These replicas on his fishing room wall, the largest of which is 11-plus pounds, are just a few of the bass that Mickey's totaled in his years on the water. Mickey used to make the hour-plus drive from Dallas to fish Fork, until he finally gave in and decided to call the place home.
Lake Fork is Bethpage Black for bass fisherman. This is truly hallowed ground if you're a largemouth lunatic. Texas is a state known for big bass, and has no shortage of well-known largemouth lakes. But 34 of the largest 50 bass caught in Texas, including the current state-record bass, came out of Fork. While there might be other places where you've got a better chance at landing a world record, there might not be a lake in the country where you're more likely to encounter a 10-plus pound bass than you are on Lake Fork on any given cast.
Bass like this 14.44-pound largemouth are what keep anglers on the lake all day and night year-round. The late winter and early spring offer the best shots at enormous fish like this one, but the chances at bass up to 13 pounds are pretty good year-round.
That particular fish was caught and kept at the Minnow Bucket Bait Shop in Yantis, Texas, where it continues to eat goldfish and increase its girth.That particular fish was caught and kept at the Minnow Bucket Bait Shop in Yantis, Texas, where it continues to eat goldfish and increase its girth.
There was only one way to prepare for my day on Fork, and that was with some authentic Mexican cuisine. I was fortunate enough to be treated to dinner with Mickey, his wife Beth, and their neighbors, Richard and Penny.
What exactly is in a Fajita Quesadilla, other than grilled chicken? I don't know, but it's delicious.
Mickey was kind enough to rig me up for the next day with two G. Loomis casting rods outfitted with Shimano reels. With the size of the bass on Fork, you've got to be prepared for a trophy with some serious tackle.
I was fortunate enough to fish with one the best and most experienced guides on Lake Fork, Randy Oldfield. For more that 25 years, Randy has been guiding both whitetail hunts and largemouth trips in East Texas. This guy is as serious a bass fisherman as you'll find anywhere. He's guided clients to three 15-plus pound bass. His bullet bass boat had us topping out at nearly 90 miles per hour, ripping across the lake. He knows every inch of Fork's 27,000 acres. He targets big fish.
Much of Fork is riddled with stumps, as you can see here. The water was incredibly low while I was there, but we had a beautiful morning. A dollar was up for grabs for the first bass caught. I was fishing a weightless Senko while Randy threw a custom jig.
Against all odds, I grabbed the first bass and the buck. It certainly wasn't not one that will be immortalized in Lake Fork lore, but it was my first Fork bass nevertheless.
Randy didn't take long to respond. He just barely topped my 2-pound bass with this 8.25-pound largemouth later that afternoon. The bass hit a jig on an open flat in the lake. Randy knew it was a decent fish as soon as he drove the hook home.
Fish of this caliber are what make Fork famous. There are few places in the nation where you're as likely to encounter as many big bass as Lake Fork. Randy clearly knew what he was doing and how to find them.
Randy was trying out G. Loomis's new line of NRX rods, and I pitched a few baits with these things as well. The lightweight rods are incredibly sensitive. He put the one in the photo to the test on this bass.
Yes, I was the underdog. Yes, Randy has caught more big bass than I likely ever will. But on this day I'd have the last laugh. This "Kicker" fish didn't officially get weighed, but I'm calling it the big bass on the day. The "bullet" hairstyle, as Randy referred to it, can only be achieved with an 88-mph run to the fishing grounds.
We finished off the day with lunch at the Bass Tavern. Once you visit enough places similarly themed, you realize that Lake Fork, and its inhabitants, are all about bass. What Montauk is to stripers, and Boca Grande is to tarpon, Lake Fork is to bass fisherman. If you're a largemouth lunatic, you owe it to yourself to fish Fork.
Like me, you might not go home with the lunker of a lifetime, but the history and significance of this body of water as one of the nation's best black bass fisheries makes it a worthwhile visit.
After fishing Fork, it was time to hit the coast. There aren't many places where you can find some of the best fresh and saltwater fishing in the country without even crossing a border.
My first destination was Corpus Christie. Pictured here is the moon hanging over the beach in Port Aransas, just outside the city. The beach makes for a cool place to spend a night.
The next morning, after some scattered showers subsided, I took a stroll out on the jetty at the end of the beach at Aransas.
About halfway out, I encountered David (pictured here) and Mitch, who were bailing monster redfish one after another.
Because these guys were pulling these fish out of a shipping channel that was up to 50 feet deep, they were using a small pipe to empty the air bladder before releasing them.
David and Mitch were rigging live finger mullet on a pyramid rig, heaving it off the jetty, and it wasn't taking long before the drags were singing.
Here, Mitch puts the breaks on another 40-plus-inch redfish. These fish were on the move, migrating to spawn as they do every fall and when a low-pressure front is approaching, they can often be found especially close to Gulf beaches and jetties.
These male drum were all about the same size, in the low 40-inch range. They were tiring these guys out on light tackle.
The fall can be a great time of year for Texas redfish. September, David and Mitch tell me, is typically a little early for action this good. Usually October is a better month. But no one seems to be complaining.
After deflating the air bladders, Mitch and David are releasing these fish so that they can spawn.
I had plans for redfish of my own, but there was one problem. The remnants of Hurricane Karl were dumping massive amounts of rain up and down the Texas coast. It's hard to tell, but I'm in a parking lot here that's completely submerged. By the time I left Corpus Christie on Sunday, there were several roadways closed from flooding. The rain was hard and didn't stop.
But, along with Kevin Shaw, a Corpus Christie trout and redfish guide, I zipped up tight and hit the water anyway. We waited for a break in the weather, but we wouldn't get much of one. Here, Kevin holds a sea trout that didn't mind the torrential rains too much to be feeding. Kevin designs fiberglass boats and is the inventor of Stiffy Push Poles. I've seen these used by guides all the way up the coast to Cape Cod, where they're used to propel guides across striper flats. Check them out at www.stiffypushpoles.com
These beautiful and delicious fish are the prized game fish in inshore Texas waters. Gator sea trout roam the flats of Port Aransas.
We were live-lining "piggy perch," pictured here, along a flat for sea trout and reds in the pouring rain.
The first official catch of the day, here displayed by Kevin Sahadi who was along for the soaked fishing, was a blue crab. We threw it back.
Despite the rain, we found some fish that put a more serious bend in the rod than the blue crab. We tracked down a school of reds hanging on the backside of a sandbar, and with the drags sizzling, it was hard to notice the pouring rain…almost.
This fat Texas red didn't mind the rain and still came out to play, and was one of the largest I've caught on the trip thus far.
It was pouring so hard, I'm not sure if these fish noticed a difference when they were taken out of the water, but we put them back anyway.
I rounded out the trip with a sea trout that grabbed a piggy perch right before the rainstorm got too intense and pushed us off the water.
If it gets really wet, which it does in Texas, you might as well visit the state aquarium in Corpus Christie. It was interesting to get a close-up look at the species I was out on the water chasing.
You can come face-to-face with jacks, redfish, sea trout, sharks and rays, not to mention tropical birds and poison dart frogs. Check it out if you're in Corpus, it's worth the visit.
If You Go… Lake Fork Bass or Whitetail hunts: Randy Oldfield Corpus Christie Trout and Reds: Kevin Shaw