Fishing Falcon in the Fall
Having once been a rising star on the professional bass fishing circuit and having drunk from the cup which overflowed with national attention, the fall from grace was particularly hard. But, that's what happens when you can't quench your thirst. And, Falcon Lake couldn't seem to get a drink for nearly 10 years. Those days are over. The water has returned to the lake, bringing fish and fishermen with it.
Dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953, Falcon Lake quickly became the quintessential black bass lake. It's 60-mile length seemed to be overflowing with fish. Falcon soon established a reputation among anglers on the pro bass circuit. Heavy limits were commonplace during competitive events staged on the lake. Unlike other bass lakes that rise and fall within a decade, Falcon maintained its greatness through three decades of fishing pressure. The lake's popularity spawned an entire economy based on bass fishing - guides, hotels, tackle shops, and restaurants had all the business they could handle. That all changed when the rain stopped.
As water levels began to fall in the mid-90s, the fortunes of Falcon Lake and nearby Zapata went with it. According to Speedy Collett, lifelong resident of Zapata and owner of Beacon Lodge, the fall from grace took more than money from the area. “No area has given up as much as Zapata in order to get a lake,” Collett said, referring to the relocation of the entire town in 1953 to accommodate the reservoir. “The residents of gave up their history, their heritage and part of their culture in order to get this lake. Falcon in intertwined in the fabric of the community. When the lake fell, it hurt the economy and it hurt the community's pride.”
It got so bad, in fact, that Collett refused to take paid charters on the lake. “Don't get me wrong, there were still bass in the lake,” Collett explained. “And, even down 45 feet, Falcon is still a big lake. However, we couldn't get to the water. All the ramps and docks were dry. And, even when on the water, the fishing was okay, it just wasn't as good as Falcon was known for. I just didn't want someone to come down and not get what they were expecting and go home disappointed.”
Collett estimates Falcon Lake lost around 25 percent of the lodges during the dry spell. Many just couldn't hang on he said. He, on the other hand, has continued to improve Beacon's facilities, ever-faithful the water would return and bring anglers with it.
The water has, indeed, come. Beginning in late 2003 and continuing through 2004, much needed rainfall has served to refill Falcon. The lake is still low, but not near as low as it was just over a year ago. Summer 2003 saw the lake fall to 45 feet below pool level. However, through summer 2004, the lake remained only 13-15 feet low - a drastic increase which has re-flooded miles of shoreline and rekindled the hopes of the Falcon faithful. The water continued coming, business, tournaments and fishermen returned to Falcon.
Although getting to the lake is no longer a problem, where to go once in the water may be a tough decision for some fishermen. With so much newly flooded brush, it is hard to decide which cluster of treetops to cast in. Collett advises fishermen to seek out brushlines along rocky points and ledges where bass have deep water access on each side. He also points to the ruins of old Zapata as a good starting point - provided you can find them.
“Now that the water is back, a lot of folks don't remember where those ruins are,” said Collett. “But, those that do find them are taking some good bass.”
Fishermen looking to poke their way back into the brushy shorelines could very well find good topwater action early and late. In between the surface activity, spinnerbaits, jigs, worms and lizards are the best bets. Whichever bait you throw, be mindful the brush is thick. A stout rod, strong line and quick reactions are necessary to coax bass out of the brushy entanglement without getting hung-up.
Other, lesser sought-after species have also began to strengthen in numbers. “We are starting to see some folks catchin' crappie again,” Collett added. “Most of `em have been around dock pilings - some under ours. Catfishing has always been good and now it is downright phenomenal.” Channel and blue cats are the most common catch among catfishers, he noted.
Look for crappie to be hanging around docks, bridge pilings and brush along the deeper edges. Live minnows and small jigs fished on light lines work best. Catfish can be found just about anywhere on the lake, but anglers fishing around the dam, near both the Little and Big Tigers, and up the Rio Grande consistently fill stringers. Shad, shrimp, nightcrawlers and stinkbait will all produce good catches of cats.
One other unique aspect of this fishery is the giant alligator gar that have been the target of bow-fishermen in recent years. Triple-digit gar are common and fish over 200 pounds have been shot in the not so distant past. Fish this size are rare on most reservoirs, but not on Falcon. "I think it has to do with our remoteness," Collett hypothesized. "If you come by here, it's because you are coming to Falcon. You don't just accidentally pass through Zapata. So, these fish haven't really been bothered - especially with all the low water. And, they've had plenty of time to eat and plenty of time to grow." Not to mention, Falcon is fed by the Rio Grande - a river renowned for producing gar of goliath proportions.
*photo of pro angler Alton Jones courtesy of PRADCO
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