Three super lakes for big, late-winter bass

Many bass anglers are champing at the bit to get after their favorite species, but not too many of them enjoy doing it while bundled up like the Michelin Man.

The good news is that there are a few places where you can go now without freezing — well, usually — and where you don't need a passport.

Here's a brief profile of three American bass waters that produce big fish in February and March:

Lake Fork, Texas

For the past decade or more, Lake Fork has been the best lake in bass-crazed Texas for producing specimens of more than 10 pounds.

It claims the 18.18-pound state record and attracts anglers from afar, even from Japan.

As appealing as this seems, it should be noted that Lake Fork also gets a ton of fishing pressure; even some regulars who have fished the lake for many years have only caught a few bass of 10 pounds or greater. Still, that's a "few" more than most people.

Built by the Sabine River Authority, this 27,690-acre impoundment has 315 miles of shoreline, is full of timber and opened in 1980 under the state's first restrictive bag limit. A strong catch-and-release ethic exists among regular anglers.

Lake Fork has an average depth of 12 to 15 feet, and constant water levels. The best fishing for large bass is generally in late winter and in summer.

Although the February and March period is when there are many changing-weather fronts, which can make fishing spotty, this is pre-spawn or spawning time, so bass are heavy and many 13-plus-pound fish are caught then, especially on jigs.

Easily reached by auto, Lake Fork is an hour east of Dallas, and south of Sulphur Springs.

For area information, contact the Lake Fork Chamber of Commerce via their Web site. You also may wish to visit this informative Web site. Guides and fishing tackle are widely available in the area.

Lake Sam Rayburn, Texas

The largest lake totally within Texas boundaries, Lake Sam Rayburn covers 114,000 acres, stretches for more than 40 miles and encompasses about 560 miles of shoreline.

Replete with flooded timber and enormous beds of aquatic vegetation, it hosts a tremendous population of largemouth bass, many in the highly sought 8- to 10-pound class.

Although this east-Texas impoundment has gone through a boom-bust cycle of fish populations and recent droughts, it has lately been in a boom phase.

There are plenty of 3- and 4-pound largemouths here, a good number of 5- to 8-pounders and always a chance of catching a 10-pounder. A 16.8-pounder is the lake record.

The stocking of large-growing, Florida-strain bass — in addition to restrictive bag limits and periodic water drawdowns that created new, near-shore cover — has helped in the recent resurgence.

Bass normally spawn here in March and April, sometimes in stages, with shallower coves and southerly creeks warming up faster than other locations.

Some of the lake's best fishing is experienced in late February and early March, when bass move into staging areas to spawn.

Lake Sam Rayburn is east of Lufkin and north-northwest of Jasper.

For general information contact the Jasper Chamber of Commerce at 409-384-2762 or click on its Web pages. Guides and fishing tackle are widely available in the area.

Lake Okeechobee, Florida

One of the most-storied bass waters in the world, Lake Okeechobee's fishing has experienced cyclical periods due to fluctuating water levels.

Nonetheless, with 200,000 surface acres and 730 square miles of shallow water, it remains one of the premier places to catch largemouth bass of all sizes.

The 10-plus-pounders for which Okeechobee was once prominent are harder to come by today, as is generally true throughout the state of Florida.

But there still are loads of bass here, with plenty of 3- to 6-pound fish, and enough in the 8- to 10-pound range to keep you on your toes. The largest bass are generally caught on live shiners.

The lake can offer excellent fishing in late winter and early spring, particularly when the weather is stable for a while.

Normally, Okeechobee's needlegrass and peppergrass flats concentrate largemouths during the spawning period from February into April. Recent hurricanes have changed the dynamics of the bass fishery, however.

Lake Okeechobee is in south-central Florida, north of the Everglades. The southern city of Clewiston is a major jump-off point for angling activities.

For information about lodging, marinas, guides and access, contact the Clewiston Chamber of Commerce by calling 863-983-7979 or visiting its Web site. There are many guides at local marinas, and tackle is widely available.

For more information on angling, see Ken Schultz's Fishing Encyclopedia, available through www.kenschultz.com.