Visiting and Fishing Texas’ Sam Rayburn Reservoir
Located just north of Jasper, Texas is one of the most storied bass fishing lakes in the country. Sam Rayburn Reservoir, also known as Lake Sam Rayburn, was formed in 1965 when the Angelina River was dammed. Rayburn is a giant reservoir, covering over 114,000 surface acres.
With a maximum depth of 80 feet, Sam Rayburn Reservoir is the second largest lake in Texas (though it is the largest lake entirely in the state as the banks of Toledo Bend are shared with Louisiana). The main branch of Sam Rayburn Reservoir, which follows the Angelina River, extends about 80 miles above the dam. There are a handful of other large forks and branches of the lake, as well countless smaller coves, forks and branches, many of which drain smaller creeks and rivers.
Through the years, the reputation of this legendary lake has spread throughout the country. Today, Sam Rayburn Reservoir draws anglers from around the United States. Both professional and amateur tournament anglers, as well as weekend fishermen and fishing families, flock to the lake throughout the year. Most come because of the storied bass fishing.
Fishing Sam Rayburn Reservoir
Sam Rayburn Reservoir is situated in the middle of the Texas Piney Woods region. When the Angelina River was dammed in the mid 1960s to form the lake, the river waters above the dam flooded hundreds of thousands of acres of forestland. As a result, Sam Rayburn Reservoir became distinctive for the considerable amount of flooded timber in the lake, with areas such as the Black Forest becoming well known among anglers.
More than five decades since it was flooded, the lake still holds an impressive amount of standing timber and is surrounded by towering pine trees. However, much of the flooded timber in the lake now no longer protrudes above the water’s surface. So, while it still serves as excellent fish habitat, it can also be a hazard to boaters. Caution is urged when running a boat in the sections of the lake known for submerged trees.
Sam Rayburn Reservoir’s large size and unique ecosystem makes it home to a variety of species, including white bass, bluegill, crappie and catfish. However, the lake’s fishing reputation was made from the quality largemouth bass found in its waters. The current lake record largemouth bass is 16.80 pounds. But, beyond top-end bass, Rayburn is known for yielding lots of quality fish of different sizes for anglers of all levels.
Although timber is still the dominant feature, many types of water features and structure exist in Sam Rayburn Reservoir. There is a wide range of aquatic vegetation (hydrilla, lily pads) and structure for holding fish (rocky cliffs, bridges, creek channels, submerged roads and tank dams, brush piles, laydowns, docks). There are also several PVC structures sunk by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department to create even more habitat.
“Fishing drains” – ditches, creeks, gullies, etc. – is a popular way to target bass on Sam Rayburn Reservoir, especially during the pre-spawn period when fish travel and stage in the deep center areas of these drains. There is certainly no shortage of these areas. And the entire lake shoreline is ragged and irregular with drains of various sizes, ranging from tiny ditches to sizable creeks and bayous, feeding the lake.
Visible structure, as previously noted, is abundant throughout the lake. And fish can be found along the shorelines during much of the year. In these areas, spinnerbaits and crankbaits are usually go-to baits. Chatterbaits and swimming jigs are also very popular. During the spring and summer months, when the vegetation is thick, weedless soft-plastic frogs can be extremely productive as well.
When fishing around points, creek channels or deeper water structure, anglers more often than not resort to soft-plastics on either Carolina or Texas rigs. Although crankbaits, lipless crankbaits and jigs also produce good results.
Because it is surrounded by the Angelina National Forest, Sam Rayburn Reservoir feels remote and not nearly as developed with shoreside homes and amenities as many major reservoirs in the region. However, despite a relative lack of actual shoreside development, there is a great amount of access to the lake. Nearly two dozen boat ramps, a mix of private and public facilities, dot the lake shore. There are also miles of public access shoreline for bank fishing and where canoes or kayaks can also be launched.
There are many park areas and campgrounds within the National Forest, as well as a few small community parks around the lake, that offer different points of access to the water. Caney Creek and Sandy Creek Recreational Areas are two popular spots within Angelina National Forest, each offering boat ramps, shore access and camping. The US Army Corps of Engineers also operates several parks around the lake. Among these park areas, Twin Dikes is perhaps the best known and most popular. Located near the dam, Twin Dikes features a boat ramp, shore access, and campsites. Rayburn Park, Mill Creek Park and San Augustine Park are a few of the other USACE parks that offer both camping and boat ramps around the lake.
Beyond parks and campsites, there is a hub of lodging, retail and dining just east of the dam, near the town of Brookeland, including the Rayburn Inn, tackle shops, restaurants, Twin Dikes Marina and other amenities for anglers. While the city of Jasper is just a short drive away, a few other towns are sprinkled around the lake, most notably Zavalla and Huntington. There are also various lodges, inns and cabins along different portions of Sam Rayburn Reservoir to give visiting anglers other accommodation options.