After area-wide flooding spanning multiple watersheds took place beginning Oct. 16, boat access to Belton Lake began in earnest the day before Thanksgiving with the opening of Belton Lake Park’s boat ramp near Frank’s Marina.
This week, a host of additional ramps came online, including the Temple Lake Park north ramp, the Rogers Park ramp, the Arrowhead Park ramp, the Leona Park ramp, the Cedar Ridge Park ramp, and the Westcliff Park ramp.
After successfully chasing white bass on Stillhouse Hollow Lake since the post-flood conditions allowed for success beginning around Nov. 10, I conducted my first guided trip on Belton Lake on Friday.
There are a few noteworthy characteristics of the lake anglers should be aware of.
First, the lake has turned over and the thermocline no longer exists. I measured the water temperature of the water column from the surface down to 60 feet in 5-foot increments and found the temperature ranged from 58.2 degrees at the surface to 57.6 degrees at 60 feet.
Next, there is a great amount of flow moving through the lake as the Corps of Engineers continues to release water in an attempt to return to the reservoir to its full-pool elevation. With a release of 3,814 cubic feet per second going on ’round the clock, the lake is falling at just over a half-foot per day now.
Further, the reservoir as of Friday was still 4.24 feet high. Although floating debris is not really a danger to navigation, those fixed objects in and around the boat ramps certainly are. Objects like signs, dock mooring cables, the wooden posts the Corps of Engineers uses to delineate its property boundaries and other man-made and natural hazards exist. (Tip: For Humminbird sonar owners, using the water level offset feature on modern units will cause the maps to adjust contour lines to show the additional landmass now covered by water.)
Additionally, many migratory, fish-eating birds such as loons, cormorants, ospreys, gulls and terns have returned to Belton Lake as they escape the ice-up taking place on lakes further north. These birds are always on the lookout for an opportunity to eat forage fish. Many times game fish will drive forage fish to or near the surface, thus energizing these fish-eating birds, causing them to take flight and dive down into the water for a quick meal of fish.
Finally, despite the lack of significant rainfall for over two weeks now, the lake is still a bit turbid, displaying a greenish-brown tint.
As I observed on Stillhouse and wrote about in this column over the past two weeks, fish near, over or in the river channels (of the Leon River and Cowhouse Creek) seem to be much more likely to suspend. I observed most of this suspending behavior at the 20-foot level where both shad and game fish were holding. Those fish I found with sonar which were located some distance away from the river channel were more likely to be bottom-oriented.
Whenever I can target bottom-oriented fish versus those which are suspended, I will do so, as suspended fish are among the toughest to hold over top of and to tempt.
On Friday, I guided retirees Mike and Tammy Thompson of the Belton area on a multispecies fishing trip.
We met at 7 a.m. and were fishing by 7:15. The first fish we located were on bottom in about 28 feet of water. I saw a few birds tentatively searching in this area and suspected that bait, if not game fish, were present. We started off with an aggressive vertical tactic which I call “smoking.”
This was too aggressive as I noted the fish stayed put on bottom and did not respond well to this retrieve. We scaled back and slowed down and instead used a snap-jigging tactic. This got results, but we could see that there were many more fish present than were willing to feed, so we left this area to return to it later and moved on.
The second stop we made was under aggressively working birds — a mix of gulls and terns. About 30 birds fed on shad forced to the top of the water by white bass and hybrid striped bass beneath them.
These fish were obviously aggressive and did fall for the smoking tactic as we presented larger, ¾-ounce slabs to them.
Once the birds settled down and rested on the water, we once again downshifted and used smaller baits with a snap-jigging tactic close to the bottom. Once the fish turned off to this, we moved.
We returned to the first area we had fished and found those fish now more cooperative, although there was no more helpful bird activity observed the remainder of the morning.
We continued using the snap-jigging tactic with lighter, 3/8-ounce slabs through the conclusion of our trip at around 11:45 a.m.
By that time, we had amassed a catch of 80 fish, including hybrid striped bass, white bass, largemouth bass and freshwater drum. Our largest fish was a 4-pound hybrid striper which fell for a ¾-ounce slab as we fished under the birds.
On the largemouth bass front, Ronnie Trower, representing both Triton Boats and Texas Boat World, was kind enough to share his observations based on his experiences during last weekend’s jackpot tournament held out of Belton Lake Park.
Trower and his partner, Danny Langley, took third place in this tournament with 13.98 pounds of bass.
This team caught their fish throwing spinnerbaits in under 10 feet of water in and around flooded terrestrial vegetation. They noted the fish were few and far between and that putting together a pattern was difficult.
The top two teams finished within 2 pounds of Trower and Langley’s weight and, as the participants compared notes, the one term that kept popping up was “scattered.” Teams found a fish or two at one location, then had to run to another area to find one or two more, and so on.
Belton is definitely bouncing back, and it is great to have more complete access to both of our area lakes now. I suspect that we will not get fully back to normal until the flow of water running through these typically still reservoirs subsides.