Let me put the bottom line up front: Lake Bastrop has an incredible largemouth bass fishery, is about a 90-minute drive from Killeen and you owe it to yourself to give it a try at least once while you are here in the Central Texas area.
Year after year this lake’s reputation for giving up numbers of honest 2-to-5-pound class Florida-strain largemouth bass has been untarnished.
For my maiden voyage to Lake Bastrop I called on longtime bass tournament pro and black bass fishing guide Capt. Bruce Shuler to show me the ropes. Shuler is the retired owner of Getaway Adventures Lodge, Port Mansfield’s nicest fishing lodge operation, so he’s at home on both freshwater and salt. Shuler now lives just outside of Harker Heights on the south shore of Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir, guiding clients on numerous Texas reservoirs.
From the vicinity of my home overlooking Stillhouse Hollow, we met up this past Thursday to head to Lake Bastrop, and launched the boat just 90 minutes after our departure, following an easy drive primarily on Toll Road 130 which runs parallel to and east of I-35.
Lake Bastrop is a Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) impoundment built in 1964 and covers just over 900 acres when at full pool. The lake has two other notable features.
First, it is a “power plant” lake, thus water is drawn out of the lake, used to cool a coal-burning power plant, and then is discharged back into the lake at a temperature higher than that at which it was drawn out. This means the lake’s temperature should be higher than that of non-power plant lakes in this region in all seasons.
Also, this lake is a “slot” lake, and, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) website, “For largemouth bass, (the) length limit is a 14-21 slot. Bass 14-inches and less or 21-inches or greater in length may be retained. Only one largemouth bass 21-inches or greater may be retained each day.” The daily bag limit is five black bass meeting these limits.
We went to Bastrop armed with classic bass tackle — one set of rods rigged with topwater baits (a clear Heddon Spook Jr. and a Rebel Pop-R), a set of rods rigged with a Carolina rig and a set of rods rigged with soft plastic worms rigged Texas-style.
I let Shuler know that my preference was for numbers of fish on topwater as I personally enjoy watching the fish strike surface baits (even when they miss!) regardless of their size.
Shuler acknowledged my preference and tried to keep us on the topwater bite as long as the conditions allowed. Had I expressed a desire to do more soft plastic fishing on grass or structure, Shuler would have worked equally hard to put me on that bite, as well.
We began our day before sunrise fishing topwater baits over submerged vegetation with some wood cover mixed in. We then transitioned to using Texas-rigged soft plastics in deeper (13-15 feet) water with a cleaner bottom. When it erupted, we took a shot at about an acre of aggressively feeding, schooled, topwater largemouth bass. These fish proved very selective and boat pressure added to their finicky attitudes.
We discovered the key to success was using a weighted popping cork (to allow long-distance casts) rigged with a long leader and, on the business end, a one-eighth ounce jighead tipped with a small, soft plastic bait resembling the young of the year shad these fish were primarily feeding on.
The “locals” tended to lean on the Tiny Shad by Bass Assassin in the “Black Shad” color pattern. A long, accurate cast into the feeding fish followed by a moderate, plain retrieve did the trick.
When the topwater action waned, we again picked up our soft plastic rods and continued to enjoy success on worms rigged Texas-style. We enjoyed steady action all morning and, as expected, all of our fish were right in the 2.75-to-3.75-pound range.
The boat ramp facility here was clean and well-kept as were the surrounding grounds and restroom facilities. The two-lane boat ramp had more than adequate parking. We chose to launch at the “North Shore Park”.
Over the past 22 years I’ve fished Belton, Stillhouse, LBJ, Decker, Waco, Georgetown, Granger, Buchanan, Travis and now Bastrop. Within a 90-minute drive of Killeen, Bastrop takes top honors for numbers of solid, willing largemouth bass, and in a classic largemouth environment.