Fishing & Boating News

Can Spring Be Far Away?

by: Michael Banks, DDS, Friends of the Neches River

Neches River and Kickapoo Creek.
Photo by Michael Banks, DDS
(Feb. 27, 2013 - Chandler, TX -Neches River)

Can spring be far away if we are talking about putting in for spawning Sand Bass and planning a turkey hunt?

You may remember last year I told you about putting in to fish Kickapoo Creek and catching a large number of sand bass and catching four different species on the same bait from the same hole. That put in was on February 27, 2012.

Well, I couldn't wait to get back. So, last week I put in on the Neches River on Thursday afternoon and in Kickapoo Creek on Friday.

Chandler, Texas is located 12 miles west of Tyler, Texas, on Highway 31. Just east of Chandler is the treasured Neches River flowing south to furnish water to Lake Palestine. Just west of Chandler is Kickapoo Creek also flowing south into Lake Palestine, but the Kickapoo is historically a tributary of the Neches River.

With the extension of Toll Road 49 this year, it is a straight shot west from Hwy. 69 to Hwy. 31 just east of Chandler. From my home in Jacksonville, it now takes only about 35 minutes to be putting in on the Neches.

This time of year great numbers of male sand bass migrate up these waters in anticipation of the egg-laden female sand bass arriving for the spawn breeding. These males are very aggressive and will strike almost anything presented to them.

The trigger of the spawn could be a combination of several factors - length of days, amount of rainfall thus water current, water temperature. Whatever, the spawn happens over several weeks sometimes between the middle of February till the middle of April. The spawn is a natural phenomenon not to be missed by an adamant fisher.

I guess because of easier access, more people fish the Neches River than fish Kickapoo Creek. Above Hwy. 31, I paddled up the Neches a couple of miles and never failed to see folks along the banks. I would estimate +40 people during a weekday. On the Kickapoo above Hwy. 31, I saw one bank fisher and two boats, a total of 5 people.

A landmark on Kickapoo Creek is the railroad bridge about 3/4 a mile up the Creek from Hwy. 31. That's where I start fishing and then move up the creek.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife bag limit for sand (white) bass is 25 per day over 10 inches in length. You would think it was sustenance fishing as I saw many stringers full of fish. Thousands of fish are harvested from these two locations each year but there has to be many hundreds of thousands more participating in the spawn.

Most people use some sort of jig. Here's my technique. I use the Arkie Shineee Hineee, 1/16 oz. jig. A picture is attached and there are several colors. These can be purchased at WalMart for about $1.50 each. I use a spinner rig with 6 lb. test line. My favorite rod is 6 ft. and flexible. I always carry a back up rig just in case something happens to one rod I don't have to stop fishing.

Since the River and Creek are narrow you don't have to cast very far. Usually a cast is 20 feet or less. I throw upstream into an apparent hole. I keep the jig deep and bounce it along. If I get hung up and that happens, I paddle up above the hang up and the release is better. There are many overhanging trees that are decorated with fishing line, some of it mine.

Sometimes the bass take the bait hard, but sometimes it is just a bump and you have to set the hook. If I get a bump and miss the set, you can bet on a hook up on the next cast into the same location. The first cast into a hole is important as it usually results with a hook up. On three occasions I had three consecutive hook ups on the first casts into a hole. Then the catching seems to slow down, not stopping but slowing.

It is important to have the drag set correctly on the reel. The drag should be tight enough to allow the set of the hook but loose enough with the 6 lb. line for the fish to take a little drag. Sometimes the head shake and pull will move my kayak around. That makes it fun!

What effects catching? I think putting in a couple of days after a weather front is better than fishing with a front. The color of the jig could make a difference; there is personal preference. If they are just not biting I will change colors. If others are catching and I am not, I will change color. My preference is a chartreuse tail but the color of the head doesn't seem to matter. There is a certain fishing skill set to catching river fish, but it is easy to learn with a little experience.

On Thursday afternoon on the Neches I caught 7 fish but this was an experimental paddle, and I was dodging casting lanes of those on the bank. On Friday on the Kickapoo I stopped counting at 40 fish. I kept none and shared my catch with any other fisher who wanted them.

On the Kickapoo when I was paddling to the take out, I noticed two Texas PWD Game Wardens waiting on the bank. I was legal - license, life jacket, whistle and with no fish. It is just not worth it to break game laws on purpose. So I was looking forward to a visit with the Wardens. When I was just about to the take out they got a call, jumped into their trucks and were gone.

On Sunday I had the privilege to put in on the Upper Neches River below Lake Palestine with whom I consider the best and most experienced paddlers on the Upper Neches - Kim Zemer, Steve Watson and the Parker brothers, Charles and Marvin. What a treat to take a seven mile paddle with these folks! These are all experienced river racers. This was an informational expedition for a magazine writer. I enjoyed trading stories with these paddlers who also have a passion for the Neches River.

Note: The Upper Neches River is considered from Lake Palestine down to around Lufkin. So the 10 or so miles of the Neches River above Lake Palestine to its headwaters have to be considered the Upper Upper Neches River.

Note: My experiences on Kickapoo Creek were made easier and better by information passed to me by fellow kayaker, Paul Bitter; thanks, Paul.

Last week I paddled three of four days, caught some fish, got some exercise and saw some beautiful parts of East Texas few get to see; life's good... no, better than good!

Till we put in again,
Michael --

Michael Banks, DDS
Friends of the Neches River
606 Brookside Drive
Jacksonville, Texas 75766
903-586-1551