Choke Canyon, the nearly 26,000-acre South Texas reservoir a few miles west of Three Rivers, has been renowned as a world-class bass fishery. It has also seen the bottom fall out, quite literally, when the storied lake dropped to less than half its normal size during a massive drought some years ago. However, Choke's fortunes - and water levels - have been on the rise once again over the past few years.
“You hear a lot about Amistad and Falcon, but when Choke's good, it's the best lake in Texas,” said longtime Choke Canyon guide Jerry Dunn. “There's not another lake that can touch Choke Canyon for average weight right now.”
And Dunn should know. His guiding career has spanned five decades and covered four different Texas lakes, including famed bass factories Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn. However, since Dunn relocated to South Texas 20 years ago, he says he only felt the urge to spread his wings once. “There towards the end (of the drought), we quit talking about how many fish we caught and started talking about how many bites we got. At that point, I was really wondering what would happen. But then, we got our water back and fishing was good again and has only gotten better.”
Dunn's been on Choke through the good and the bad, having arrived shortly after the lake was impounded, as did his good friend and fellow guide Carroll Atkinson. “Carroll moved here about six months before I did, but we were both here before it fully filled the first time,” said Dunn. “And, this is only the third time in the lake's history it's been completely full.”
According to Dunn and Atkinson, although it took some time for the lake to reach pool level after being impounded, fishing was good right off the bat. This was due, they said, to the fact many brood ponds - which were scattered over acreage that would eventually comprise the lake's bottom - were stocked in advance of the impoundment, resulting in mature, spawning fish once the lake was flooded.
“I was here the first day they opened this lake to the public,” Atkinson said. “You couldn't even bring a boat. We had to walk around and find a place we could wade out to fish. But, the fishing was good.”
Both guides enjoyed Choke Canyon's rise to fame. Both of them also stuck with Choke during the dry years. Now, they are glad they did, especially as October dawns. “October is my absolute favorite time on Choke,” stated Dunn. “I know there is good fishing in all Texas lakes during October. But, I'll take Choke over any of them. People can fish anywhere in October and have good fishing, but I'll stay right here on Choke because I don't want to miss a day. It's that good.”
During October, Dunn and Atkinson - self-professed soft-plastic fishermen - switch from lizards and worms to everyone's favorite lures to fish - topwaters. “We'll still have fish hitting deeper, we have deep fish all year except for spring when they come shallow to spawn,” said Dunn. “However, when that water temperature starts coming down a bit in October, these fish will start moving shallower and we have a real good topwater bite.”
“We also catch some big fish in October,” Dunn continued. “I have personally caught 119 bass over 10 pounds out of Choke. About half of those came on topwaters in October. You can catch fish on worms, lizards and spinnerbaits in October - we have a real good spinnerbait bite - but I just love seeing them crush a topwater. That's what I love to see.”
Noise and commotion are the keys to successful topwater fishing on Choke, Dunn says.
“On this lake, the fish want a bait that's gonna make some noise - PopRs, buzzbaits, stuff like that. On a lot of those East Texas lakes, they use jerk-baits and minnow-style baits like Rogues and Redfins. But, those baits don't work as well here. You really need to make some commotion to get these fish interested.”
“Another bait that's real good October bait here is that (Stanley) Ribbit,” said Dunn. “That's a good lookin' frog and it makes a lot of commotion on the surface.”
When the water fell out of Choke Canyon, heavy growth began to take over the shorelines and once-wet lake bottom. Today, with the lake once again full, there is a myriad of visible structure, although Dunn says it has died back quite a bit since it first re-flooded. However, an astounding amount remains and having too many targets to fire at can be overwhelming for many first-timers on Choke.
“When someone first looks at this lake, they have a hard time figuring out where to start,” said Dunn. “So much of it looks good, but it doesn't all hold fish - even areas that are similar in depth and structure may not all hold fish the same way. We have spent a lot of time out here patterning the fish - and most of that's been through trial and error.”
As far as lure selection, the duo has also narrowed that through the years. “You can catch these fish on a lot of different baits,” said Dunn. “But, again, I feel like if they aren't hitting on top, I can probably get as many fish on a lizard as anything. Although, I will throw a spinnerbait from time to time.”
“We throw soft-plastics - lizards mostly - most of the time if we're not throwing topwaters,” Atkinson agreed. “But, we do catch a lot of fish on spinnerbaits. Some guys have been throwing jigs in recent years. Those who know how to jig fish do real well. Not a lot of people throw crankbaits, but those who do do pretty well with them at certain times of the year.”
As basic as their lure selection is, Dunn and Atkinson's color scheme may be even simpler. “Watermelon/redflake,” Dunn said, referring to his lizard color of choice. “That's pretty much it, although Carroll and I have been having some success on cotton candy/chartreuse tail. When I throw a spinnerbait, I use chartreuse/white with a single gold Colorado blade. Like a lot of lakes, chartreuse is a pretty good color here most of the time.”
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