In just a few weeks, bass boats will be flooding Lake Conroe, located north of Houston, for the 47th Bassmaster Classic — marking the first time Space City has hosted the “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing.”
“Lake Conroe has a high-quality largemouth bass fishery with great trophy potential despite being heavily utilized by anglers in the Houston area,” said inland fisheries biologist Mark Webb, of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “Lake Conroe anglers tend to be very conservation-minded with a strong catch-and-release ethic, even though up to five largemouth bass over 16 inches can be harvested each day.
“The largemouth bass population exhibits a moderately high density, with very good growth and condition, and reproduction and recruitment are also very good. Lake Conroe’s largemouth bass trophy potential is enhanced by annual stockings of Florida largemouth bass fingerlings when hatchery production allows.”
Webb offered some average numbers from several amateur largemouth bass tournaments on the lake during the spring of 2016. He said the top 10 five-fish bag weights averaged 19.2 pounds, the average big bag fish-five bag weighed 25.9 pounds and the average big bass weighed in at 8.3 pounds. The current lake record for largemouth bass sits at a whopping 15.93 pounds, meaning a game-changing bass could be only one cast away for any angler on the water.
Lake Conroe also has had 17 largemouths weighing 13-plus pounds registered through the department’s Toyota ShareLunker Program, which encourages anglers to lend the fish to the TPWD for spawning purposes.Webb said the best fishing approach on Lake Conroe typically varies on an angler-by-angler basis, with bass in a variety of locations ranging from the rip-rap to shallow beds to deeper channels.
“These are pro anglers, and they will be able to adapt to whatever conditions are there,” Webb said. “It’s hard to say where the best fishing will be, but recent electrofishing samples stratified by the primary shoreline habitat types (bulkhead, vegetated shoreline and rip-rap) indicated the bulkhead is dominated by 11- to 14-inch largemouth bass, with 2 percent of adult fish 16 inches or greater. Vegetated shoreline has a higher catch of 8- to 11-inch largemouth bass, with 15 percent of adult fish 16 inches or greater, and the rip-rap has higher catch of largemouth bass of 16 inches (legal fish), with 43 percent of adult fish 16 inches or greater.”
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Two anglers to keep an eye on will be Keith Combs, of Huntington, Texas, and Mike Iaconelli, of Pittsgrove, N.J. Combs won the Elite Series’ Toyota Texas Bass Classic on Conroe in 2011 in a sudden-death fish-off with Iaconelli. Combs also handily won the event two years later, besting John Murray by 12 1/2 pounds.
Also of note will be the nightly weigh-in in the home of the Houston Astros, Minute Maid Park. The 17-year-old stadium has a seating capacity of 40,963 and a retractable roof and is located in the northeast end of downtown Houston. Fans also will be able to check out the Bassmaster Classic Outdoor Expo, which features some of the top fishing tackle and boating manufacturers in the world, March 24-26 at the George R. Brown Convention Center. The expo will cover more than 300,000 square feet, making it the largest in Classic history.
“It is a great privilege for us to get to participate in this event and we are putting all the resources we need to assist B.A.S.S. in making this event a success,” Webb said.
He said that outside of its regular fisheries management activities on the lake, the department will assist with the transport and care of fish during the Classic. The TPWD also will have staff in several booths at the expo to talk about fisheries management across the state, the ShareLunker program and to answer questions about local fishing and family fishing.
He said the department was thrilled to have the Classic in Houston for the first time and couldn’t wait to show off the excellent bass fishing that Texas offers.
“I think people are going to find Lake Conroe’s bass fishery to be of extremely high quality,” Webb said. “Lake Conroe is a scenic lake, it’s very pretty and the quality of the water is fantastic.”
B.A.S.S. was similarly glowing in his praise of the area when the Classic location was announced last year.
“We are thrilled to bring the biggest event in bass fishing to the biggest city in the biggest state,” said Bruce Akin, B.A.S.S. CEO, in a press release. “Of the 500,000 members of B.A.S.S. worldwide, nearly 45,000 — more than any other state — call Texas home. We’re glad to be able to hold the Classic near them.”
There will be no Kansas anglers representing the state this year. Nine anglers are from Alabama — including four from Guntersville — and five are from Texas, four are from Oklahoma and four are from Florida.