There comes a time in May of most years where a combination of factors comes together to produce phenomenal fishing.
Judging from my recent creel counts and what I am observing daily on the water at Belton Lake, that time has come for the 2020 spring season.
The factors I speak of are primarily water clarity, stable reservoir elevation and steadily rising water temperatures.
The clearer the water, the better the fishing will be. The more stable the lake’s elevation and the more steady the flow of water released from the dam, the better the fishing will be. And, the fewer temperature fluctuations, the better the fishing will be.
All of these factors are close to ideal right now with no extremes in the weather currently in the extended forecast.
Fish are cold-blooded creatures, and so their metabolism increases as the temperature of their surroundings increases.
As I wrapped up this past week’s worth of trips, the surface temperature hovered right at 70 degrees. I have kept detailed records of every fishing trip I have taken (roughly 200 trips per year) for the past 27 years on Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes.
In those notes I have very consistently noted that when the water temperature gets into and beyond the high 60s, the fishes’ increasing metabolism pushes them to feed when, in cooler conditions, they otherwise would not.
For example, I caught fish this week under calm, bright conditions. Most times of year these conditions would severely limit success, but not so right now. Additionally, I caught fish this week during and immediately after the arrival of a cold front. Again, most times of year these conditions would severely limit success, but not so right now.
Although the majority of my efforts are focused on white bass and hybrid striped bass, as I have searched for spawning threadfin shad to collect for bait using a cast net, I have also observed abundant largemouth and smallmouth bass cashing in on the abundant shallow baitfish.
There are at least three fairly straightforward approaches which will work for anglers on Belton Lake this upcoming week.
EARLY BIRD SPECIAL
If you do not mind rising early, making your first cast around 5:50 a.m. and staying up shallow until around 7:30 a.m., you can cash in on multiple species gorging themselves on spawning threadfin shad in shallow water all over the lake right now. Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, blue catfish, channel catfish, gar, drum, white bass and hybrid stripers all hang from 0 to 8 feet deep just offshore from where shad are spawning.
Occasionally, aggressive individuals will dart into the shallows, nearly beaching themselves to grab shad.
Between the commotion the shad make and the commotion the gamefish make, an observant angler can look and listen his or her way to the fish.
Shad-imitating lures like the size 7 or 8 Rattlin’ Rapala or the FishSense Binsky bladebait are ideal for horizontal casting.
WINDS AND WHITE BASS
Wind and white bass go together like a hand in a glove. Wind-blown banks, underwater humps, channel breaklines and the ends of main channel points all hold an abundance of post-spawn white bass right now. Just make sure the feature you are fishing has wind blowing into it or onto it. Avoid calm, protected areas.
Because the thermocline has not yet set up, fish are found from 0 to over 50 feet right now. Using sonar to look for tightly congregated, bottom-hugging schools will typically yield instant success.
My go-to lures this week while we pursued white bass were my own 3/8- and ¾-ounce Hazy Eye Slabs in white color with a stinger hook attached.
Texas Boat World’s Cliff Brown brought three of his grandkids out fishing on Wednesday afternoon. Those children, aged 5, 12, and 13, landed 132 fish in under four hours. The following morning, an adult party of two landed another 133 fish in right at four hours. If you can find them, they will bite.
LIVE BAIT FOR HYBRIDS
The final sure-bet going on at Belton right now is the hybrid striped bass bite. The best combination of quality and quantity typically comes from the middle of April through the first week in June.
Fishing lively, freshly-caught and well-cared for threadfin shad is the ticket. I am not a fan of the typically larger, more lethargic gizzard shad which will attract hybrid better through the summer months. Rather, threadfin shad caught in a cast net less than an hour before my clients arrive have served me well for many seasons.
With a 2½-foot long fluorocarbon leader, I fish with my weight about 5 feet off bottom. A lively shad can swim 2½ feet below the weight to as much as 2½ feet above the weight. Under ideal conditions (southerly winds, gray cloud cover) I will use larger baits (3½ to 5½ inches), whereas under tougher conditions (north winds, clear skies) I will use both smaller baits and cut bait (still using freshly caught shad).
All of this good fishing will quickly dissipate as the thermocline develops with summer’s approach. Take advantage of the enjoyable outdoor temperatures and excellent fishing Belton Lake traditionally offers in the month of May.