Two months after Lake Brownwood was forced into closure for the second time this year due to excessive rainfall, water is plentiful and fishing conditions are near ideal. And barring an unforeseen lack of assistance from Mother Nature, the number of fish that will be biting should continue to increase for years — thanks to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
In late June, the TPWD Inland Fisheries added nearly half a million 2-inch fingerings to Lake Brownwood — 465,971 to be exact. Of those, 324,616 are blue catfish and 141,355 are Florida largemouth bass.
“This is something we do if we see a need for supplemental stocking in the population,” said Michael Homer, a fisheries biologist with the TPWD Abilene District. “West Texas reservoirs have a lot of fluctuation in water level. When that happens with a lot of really important habitat, you have a fish bowl effect. If that happens for too long, you have basically a whole lot of opportunities for the big fish to eat the little fish, and very poor reproduction. We typically see this with largemouth bass populations as well as sunfish and in some cases even catfish. If catfish can’t get access to the cavities to allow for them to able to spawn and protect their young, just like anything else their babies will be eaten up just like the largemouth babies will get eaten up.
“In situations like this year where we got a whole bunch of water, even though we may have had some individuals that were adult size and able to reproduce, we would still see a pretty big deficient number. That’s where our hatcheries and stocking plants come into play — giving those fisheries a boost. We put in what we consider a year class that may eventually recruit to the population that will eventually be the ones that will reproduce in the future. That’s the intention of these stockings.”
There isn’t a set time table for the stocking of a lake, and making that goal a reality is often difficult.
“A lot of things come into play when determining whether a lake gets stocked,” Homer said. “Do we want to stock? Is the population doing well on its own? Not to mention hatchery reproduction and demand.
“In our state, we have so many reservoirs and only five active hatcheries. We generally don’t go and purchase a lot of fish from out of state, we reproduce our own fish in state. We often have more demand than we have fish to accommodate. Each reservoir is set up on a priority list, so even though I may put in a request for a stocking, it may not necessarily get filled each year.”
This summer, fishing is the No. 1 activity at Lake Brownwood according to State Park Superintendent John Holland.
“We’ve seen a lot of people out fishing,” Holland said. “With the flooding, when the lake was actually up, it was slow because the water was murky. Once it cleared up it’s picked up. It’s getting better and it’s got nowhere else to go at this point. But it has slowed a little the last week or two because the temperatures of 100-plus in the afternoon are just getting to everybody.
“But we’ve got a lot more cover, a lot more forage, so it’s going to get better than it is. The past few weeks, from the docks and along the shoreline we’ve had a lot of people do real good. I’m getting some good reports on folks catching blues, not from here in the park but up the Jim Ned Creek on the other side of the (Byrds) bridge they’re really doing good on them.”
In November 2014, the Lake Brownwood water level dipped to an alarmingly low 1,411.68 feet and water restrictions were in full force. After peaking at near 1,430 feet in May, the lake’s water level was resting at 1,424 feet earlier this week.
“A couple of years ago we were fielding mostly phone calls saying we heard the lake was closed and all the fish were dead and things like that,” Holland said. “Basically we heard there was not a real reason to come to Lake Brownwood because of the drought, but that’s pretty well over now.
“Now sometimes we get the opposite affect because it’s rained a lot, and we get a few phone calls about being flooded. As a whole, the rain’s been a real positive. A lot more people are coming out, attitudes are better, and business is picking up for everybody.”
The drought even forced the TPWD to take extreme measures, as an artificial fish habitat was created at the lake.
“We collaborated with the Brown County Water Improvement District last fall to do an artificial habitat project where we basically put out artificial structures at various locations throughout the reservoir to help aggregate fish as well as provide some refuge for fish during periods of low water level,” Homer said. “Hopefully those will start materializing and producing some good catches for people.”
While the heavy rainfall this spring has revitalized fishing at the lake, even better days are yet to come.
“Any time you catch water the lakes go crazy, especially in West Texas,” Homer said. “As far as what we’ve been seeing, baitfish production is doing real well. Now there’s a lot flooded terrestrial vegetation that’s providing crucial habitat. The fishing reports haven’t been fantastic because the fisheries are trying to reestablish themselves. You’ve had a low water level for so long and those big fish, and a reduced number of fish, now they have this area to go for dispersal, so trying to find those fish and catching them is very difficult.
“Now that we’ve been stocking, give it another year or two and catch rates should start doing really well once these fish have been able to recruit to the population and those adults produce classes of their own instead of just us stocking. Usually these fish we stock take about three years to get to legally catchable size. ”
The only thing that could prevent Lake Brownwood from being loaded with fish in the coming years, according to Homer, is another severe drought.
“As far as the outlook, fishing is going to be very good at Lake Brownwood provided Mother Nature cooperates and has that reservoir retain some water,” Homer said.