So You Want To Fish Falcon Lake
The ¾-ounce black/blue jig and crawfish trailer slid quietly into the slightly murky water, bounced once off the limb of an old hardwood, and then fell down toward the lake bottom. It never made it. The strike was nothing more than a light “thunk”, but when the hook was set all heck broke loose. The heavy braid line was strained to the limit and it was touch and go as to who was winning the battle – fish or fisherman. With much straining the huge bass’ head soon surfaced and in a gill-rattling jump it threw water all over my partner, made a lunge back to the bottom, and then the line snapped.
It was pretty quiet in the boat as my partner and I looked at the ripples on the surface of the water where the bass disappeared. How big was the fish? Probably in the 10-pound plus class, however, these type of fish stories are what makes Falcon Lake famous – and also keeps fisherman returning for more and more.
We would have probably never heard of the small town of Zapata if it were not for Falcon Lake. The 2010 population census was listed at 1,036, but when the fishing is hot the small town’s population seems to double and the area is a beehive of activity. Anglers come from all over the world to test these waters and in many cases they catch the biggest bass of their life.
Falcon Lake is located on the Rio Grande River, about 40 miles east of Laredo on Highway 83. Surface area of the reservoir is 83,654 acres and its maximum depth is listed as 110 feet at the dam. Falcon Lake was impounded in 1954 and its conservation pool elevation is 301.2 ft. msl. Water level on the lake can fluctuate severely and at the time of this writing current pool is at 277.8 msl. – which puts it about 23-feet low. The water clarity can range from murky in the upper end to slightly stained in the south.
Anglers will find the lake to be relatively shallow with gradual sloping banks. Flooded brush, hardwoods, mesquite, old fence-lines, rock piles, inundated buildings and road beds make up the bulk of the fishing structure.
If you are fishing the lake in the summertime you need to be tough, because it is not uncommon to have temperatures during the day in the 100- 110 degree range. At this time of the year many anglers fish early, come in for a siesta and then resume fishing later in the afternoon. And before all of these drought conditions, hydrilla provided good fishing cover along the shoreline.
If you think Falcon Lake is not something special allow me to tell you about a couple of past tournaments. In 2008, Professional angler Paul Elias set a new B.A.S.S. record when he won the Elite Series “Lone Star Shootout” with a 4-day weight of 132.8 pounds. His bass were caught on deep diving Mann’s crankbaits and C- rig’d 12-inch jelly worms.
Now let’s jump forward to October 8, 2011 when the Bass Champs “South Championship 2011” tournament was held. There were a total of 163 teams entered and some of the biggest weights we’ve ever seen in bass fishing competition anywhere took place. The winning team of Robert Ballard, of Del Rio, and Clarence Vaughn of Amarillo, Texas had an unbelievable tournament fishing with football jigs and the Power Tackle Lateral Perch. Their winning catch of 10 bass for two days weighed an amazing 86.18 pounds. That’s more than an 8 1/2 pound average per bass. There were 13 bass caught weighing more than 10 pounds including three weighing more than 11 pounds. Now get this – 86 of the 163 teams averaged 20 pounds or more a day while 22 teams caught more than 30 pound limits a day. The team of Scott Barnett and Brandon Baker caught the biggest bass of the tournament, an 11.57 pound bass, on a 1/2-ounce Jewel Football jig with a Zoom Super Speed Craw trailer in 7 feet of water. WOW!
When fishing Falcon Lake you need to be sure you have a valid Texas fishing license and it is recommended that you get a Mexican fishing license if you are going to wet a hook in Mexican waters. Mexico licenses can be purchased in Zapata at Robert’s Fish N’ Tackle (2425 S. Highway 83, 956/765-1442) or from
Falcon Lake Tackle (2195 S. Highway 83, 956/765-4866.)
Falcon Lakes record black bass weighed a whopping 15.63 pounds and was caught 1/7/2011 on a Zoom Mag Fluke by local guide Tommy Law. That is the size we were after as we launched our boat in mid-November. My fishing partner for this trip was Butch Hudkins from Llano, Texas. Hudkins is a factory representative for many bait companies and a veteran angler that knows his way around Falcon Lake. Once we arrived at the lake we had about three hours to fish before sunset and were rewarded with a fat six pounder and a few bass in the four and five pound range. These fish hit jigs, Netbait Paca Craws and Mad Paca’s flipped into the center of flooded brush. Flipping the bushes is an exciting way to fish and you can definitely get your tackle tested.
Even at 20+ feet low, Falcon Lake is spread out and offers an abundance of water to fish. Just be careful that you don’t spend all your time running and not fishing. And remember, when looking for productive fishing spots in the upcoming months – rocks are the key.
We launched at Beacon Lodge which is owned by my good friend and super angler/guide Speedy Collette. The Beacon Lodge facility has a nice ramp available and there is no problem launching here during these low water conditions. As you leave the launch and head right you will go north up the lake and into the river section. Here you can fish great spots such as Arroyo Veleno, Del Burro, Salado and Chapote. Head south and known areas for great fishing include Arroyo Del Tiger, Little Tiger, the State Park area, Salinillas and Coyotes.
There are many other fine cuts, coves, points and humps available on both the U.S.A and Mexican side of the lake. During our trip the river areas were pretty murky, so with those conditions and the falling water we spent most of our fishing time in the mid-lake to southern section.
One thing you can usually plan on when fishing Falcon Lake is the wind. If it is blowing more than 15mph from the north, navigation in the southern part of the open water can get very tricky. Large swells can build and I assure you that it’s easy to take a wave or two over the bow or get some spray from the waves. Good raingear is essential for weather changes and also for staying dry when making those long boat runs in rough water.
But unlike our neighbors to the far north, there will be times when the lake is perfectly calm and even during the month of November and December you will have days where you can wear shorts and T-shirts and feel very comfortable.
During this trip I also had the pleasure of meeting one of the premier guides on the lake – Jim Behnken. As we shared a meal I quizzed him about the fishing during the upcoming months and here were some of his responses:
*Q- What are the best baits to be using by season –
*A- Summer – Flipping a jig and chunking football jigs Winter – I prefer a 3/4 Jo Baby spinnerbait in green shad and a football jig
Spring – Texas-rig with a 7-inch Yum Dinger or Magnum Fluke
Fall – Strike King Series 6XD crankbait
*Q– How about the best colors –
*A– For jigs when fishing up-lake I stay with the black/blue or camo. When fishing down-lake I stay with the watermelon/red and peanut butter jelly colors. If I am fishing plastics up-lake I like the green pumpkin and down-lake I use the watermelon/red.
Q- In the next three months, what is the best time to be on the water and depth to fish -.
A- I prefer the evening fishing better than morning for the most part, and like to keep my bait in from 10- to 15-feet of water.
*Q– What is the most important tip you would give to a fisherman coming to Falcon for the first time –
*A– Be sure you’re casting to a hard bottom, rock, and gravel or shell beds
Those are good words – Thanks Jim!
Hudkins and I fished hard, looked at lots of different water and averaged about 20+ bass per day. It was a good trip even though we experienced one of those cold fronts
and blue-bird skies that shut the fishing down for a short period of time. We had bass over 7-pounds each day, with our biggest going 8-13. And like all bass fishermen, we had bigger fish on and some even up to the boat, however, they are now just another Falcon Lake fish story about the big one that got away.
For those of you planning a trip to Falcon Lake in the upcoming months, here is a list of items that I would certainly recommend:
Cell phone – Make sure you get an emergency number to call in case of a break-down.
Raingear – Quality raingear can be invaluable
Rods – Heavy action
Hooks – Heavy duty 4/0 – to 6/0 (take lots of them)
Sinkers – Use ½ – to 1-ounce size (take lots of them)
Jigs – Quality ¾ – to 1 ½-ounce sizes that have strong hooks. A couple that I prefer are Stanley’s “Flip Max” and Strike Kings “Hack Attack”.
I am also trying a couple of new baits that I think will be dynamite. The “Wedge Head Punch Jig” was recently introduced by Stanley and it will be great for flipping into the trees and grass.
The other bait is produced by Buckeye Lures and is called the “2-Part Jig”. It is a football jig that has a removable head that slides up the line when a fish is hooked to minimize lost fish.
The ability of the jig to let the weight slide up the line will greatly increase your catch ratio when fishing heavy weight in deep water. The bait comes with one skirt/hook combo and two different size heads. I really like it.
Swim Jigs – ½ ounce and heavier with a flapping legs trailer. There are some really good ones on the market – just make sure they have stout hooks.
Fishing Line – 20# plus Fluorocarbon or 65# braid
Deep Diving Crankbaits – I prefer the Norman DD22 and Strike Kings 5 to 6XD series
Square Bills – Just make sure they have strong hooks.
Colors – Citrus Shad, Sexy Shad, Tomato Craw, Tennessee Shad and any Tilapia color
Rat-L-Trap – Use the ¾-oz models in Honey Craw, Bream Fire-Tiger and Tilapia.
Also try the new Zombie Shad series in the Citrus, Sexy, Shad and Chrome Black patterns.
Plastics – Ol’ Monster, NetBait Paca Craws and Mad Paca’s, Magnum Flukes and full size Brush Hogs. Toss in a few extra long worms such as NetBaits 15-inch C-Max and Mann’s 12-inch Jelly Worm.
Colors I would have handy are Watermelon/Red, Red Bug, Green Pumpkin, Watermelon Candy and Okeechobee Craw.
Jigging Spoons – Silver ¾ and 1-ounce for working the rocky ledges
Spinnerbaits – Go with ¾ or 1-oz, baits with large double blades such as Stanley Lures “Wedge Plus” and the Strike Kings KVD series.
Swim Baits – Even though I didn’t do much good on them this trip the shallow flooded brush in many area looks ideal for working this bait
Well there you are, a few tips for fishing what I consider to be one of the premier bass fishing lakes in the country. Falcon Lake is one of those special places where a 5-plus pounder per day is the normal and don’t be surprised to catch more that 40+ bass on a good day. I have heard it said by more than one angler that a bad day on Falcon Lake is usually better than a good day on many of our other lakes. How true!
Send me a picture of the big one you catch! Good Fishing – JB ***************************************************
Falcon Lake State Park – (956) 848-5327
Falcon Lake Tackle – (956) 765-4866 Store Hours: Internet store open 24/7/365 – regular store open everyday from early to late – and longer if needed
Robert’s Fish N’ Tackle (956) 765-1442 (Guide service and fishing tackle)
Store Hours: Monday- – Sunday: 6:00 am-8:00 pm
Outlaw Guide Service – Tommy Law – (325) 439-6045
Jim Edwards Guide Service – (361) 816-1316
Gary Harlan’s Guide Service – (956) 765-3404
Speedy Collette – (956) 236-9717
Jim Behnken Guide Service – (210) 414-8048
Doug Fett – (419) 302-8600 Steed Guide Trips Cell: (956) 286–4091
John Williams – (956) 236-2942
Robert and Robin McFarlane – (956) 857-7314 or (210) 416-4563
Keith Combs – Trophy Bass Guide Service – (254) 681-9566
Roberts Fish N’ Tackle – Robert Amaya – (956) 765-1442
There will be days when the fishing is better than one’s most optimistic forecast, others when it is far worse. Either is a gain over just staying home.