Amistad: A Bass Fishery as Big as Texas
by Lynn Burkhead
It has been said that everything is bigger, and, in some cases better, deep in the heart of Texas.
While that might seem like a lot of hot air and bravado in some corners of the U.S., it is indeed true when the subject turns to bass fishing in the Lone Star State.
Especially when one is wetting a line in the stunningly beautiful and big bass filled 64,900-acre Amistad Reservoir near Del Rio.
Impounded in 1969, Amistad (Spanish for "friendship") was built primarily to provide water for irrigation and hydroelectric power generation for the high desert region of Northern Mexico and Southwestern Texas.
But as the waters of the reservoir's main tributaries (the Rio Grande River, the Devil's River, the Pecos River, and the Conchos River in Northern Mexico) began to spill into the vast lake bed (along with the 89 million gallons of water that daily flows from Good Enough Springs), one of the state's best, and least visited, bass fisheries was born.
That reputation, boosted by the regular appearance of the nation's top bass pros from angling circuits like Major League Fishing, is due in part to the abundance of piscatorial habitat found at Amistad.
|Lake Amistad Licenses, Boat Requirements, Bag Limits |
On the Texas side of the lake, a Texas resident or non-resident fishing license is required. These Texas Parks and Wildlife Department licenses can be purchased at a variety of outdoor sports retail locations in the Del Rio area or online.
On the Mexico side of the lake, recreational anglers fishing in Mexican waters are required to have a Mexico fishing license as is everyone in the boat whether fishing or not. For information on Mexico's fishing regulations, anglers can visit the National Aquaculture and Fishing Commission (CONAPESCA) web site.
On the U.S. side of the reservoir, Mexico licenses may be purchased in Del Rio at Amistad Marine (Highway 90 West; (830) 775-0878; or Fisherman's Headquarters (Chevron location at the intersection of Highways 90 and 277 N; (830) 774-5670).
As of 2008, according to the CONAPESCA Web site, Mexico boat permits are no longer required for boats fishing in Mexican waters.
In Texas waters, boats must conform to Texas state law. A digest of the Texas Water Safety Act, which contains a summary of boating laws, can be found on the TPWD web site.
According to the CONAPESCA Web site, the limit on inland bodies of water (rivers, lakes, dams, etc.) is five fish per day, whether of a single species or in combination. There is no limit to the practice of catch and release according to the Web site as long as the fish that exceed the bag limit be returned to their environment in good survival condition.
On the Texas side, all species of freshwater fish in Amistad are managed under current Texas statewide regulations.
For additional information on fishing on the Mexican side, visit the CONAPESCA web site or call the San Diego, CA office at (619) 233-4324.
For additional information on fishing the Texas side, visit the TPWD web site or call 1-800-792-1112.
Dominated by deep water (the lake's greatest depth is 217 feet) humps, rocky ledges, drop offs, points, graveled shorelines, and even a few sandy flats, an endless supply of bass habitat stretches literally from one end of the lake to the other (the main lake body alone stretches 30 miles from the dam to the lake's confluence with the Pecos River; it stretches nearly 100 miles from its upper Northern reaches to its Western edge).
While rock structure is a big part of the lake's habitat, flooded mesquite trees, cedar trees, and thorny brush gives Amistad a surprisingly large amount of submerged timber for a desert lake. That rock and timber is further augmented by an acre after acre of flooded vegetation including thick stands of hydrilla and duckweed.
Add in submerged roadbeds, bridges, and tank dams, rip-rap areas, and more than a few submerged buildings and you've got a veritable smorgasbord of shoreline and offshore habitat that makes the lake fish even bigger than its vast acreage might suggest.
But habitat is only one part of Amistad's successful bass fishing equation.
Also in the mix is the lake's huge numbers of largemouth bass. With the lake bed containing native strain largemouths at its impoundment (not to mention the stocking of more than one million bass in Amistad's infancy), the bass fishing took off in the 1970s as those fish became established and adapted to the cool, clear, deep waters of the water body.
Add in supplemental largemouth stockings by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department every few years, including Florida bass genetics in recent years, and the lake has constantly sparkled as an oasis of desert bass angling. (Note: For the record, the most recent stocking was 252,283 fingerlings in 2011 and 2,081 ShareLunker fingerlings in 2010.)
What kind of quantity are we talking about here? Catches of 50 to 100 bass per angler per day are not uncommon at certain times of the year on Amistad. Even in the slowest times of the year, anglers can often expect to catch one to two dozen bass per day.
How about the quality found on the two-nation reservoir?
Well, the lake record is a Texas-size big bass thanks to Tom Sutherland's 15.58-pound catch on Dec. 28, 2005, as the angler fished a DD-22 crankbait. The lake's runner-up largemouth was no slouch either, tipping the scales at 15.25 pounds. Lyndall Pervatt of Del Rio landed that bruiser bass on March 3, 1990.
In recent years, nine other ShareLunker bass (a TPWD program that accepts bass weighing 13 pounds or greater for spawning purposes) have been pulled from Amistad since 2005.
That run of double-digit bass has been spurred on by the "new lake" effect brought on when a decade long drought on Amistad dropped the lake level by more than 50 feet during the 1990s.
That drop was seriously dented by heavy rains in 2003 and early 2004, leading to the inundation of countless acres of habitat covered with new vegetation growth upon it. The "new lake" effect was further augmented by copious rainfall in the Del Rio area in July 2010 as the remnants of Hurricane Alex stalled in the region, causing Amistad to suddenly rise 16 feet (to within 14 feet of its full capacity level).
Behemoth bass are only a part of Amistad's reputation as a hawg factory however. Add in the thousands of 7- to 10-pound largemouths that are caught every year - bass that grow fat on the lake's ample forage base of bluegills, red-eared sunfish, threadfin shad, gizzard shad, and tilapia - and the lake's status as a must visit lake is well founded.
Keep in mind that while largemouth bass dominate catches on the reservoir, Amistad also features a decent smallmouth bass fishery, particularly on the lake's Northern end in the Devil's River arm.
Finding their way into the reservoir thanks to TPWD stockings in the 1970s and early 1980s, most smallmouths caught are in the 2- to 3-pound class. But they do occasionally grow larger as evidenced by John Jones' lake record catch, a 5.37-pound bronzeback caught on a Skitter Pop on Nov. 7, 2004.
Due to the reservoir's location, fishing pressure is light as compared to other lakes in Texas and across the U.S. While weekends feature a number of anglers from Del Rio, Midland/Odessa, and San Antonio, even then the lake is never crowded. And during the week, a fishing trip to Amistad is a somewhat solitary endeavor with other anglers encountered only a few times during the course of a day.
As you might expect, due to its location, groceries, lodging, services, and launching facilities are somewhat limited on Amistad. If you don't have what you need when you leave the Del Rio area, and you can't find it in one of the tackle shops or convenience stores that dot the Southern U.S. shoreline, then you're probably out of luck.
Launch facilities are available on the Texas side of Amistad and include National Parks Service sites at Diablo East and at Rough Canyon Marina. Other launch sites include Southwinds/Air Force Marina; Blackbrush Point/Box Canyon; Rough Canyon/Spur 454; and Rough Canyon High Water/Spur 406.
Finally, keep in mind, that cellular service is limited in the region. The best service occurs along the Southern and Eastern portions of the lake not far from Del Rio (12 miles away). Also, keep in mind that when you are near the well-marked International Boundary in the middle of the lake or on the Mexican side of Amistad, foreign rates and data charges will apply.