By David A. Brown
It’s a classic example of the timeless truth: What goes up, must come down. In the case of Lake Belton, the reversing trend of recent high water could bode well for anglers competing in this weekend’s Championship event for the 2019 Texas Team Trail, presented by Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops.
As of Monday afternoon, Belton’s water level stood at 600.01 feet, which is about 6 above normal pool of 594. With heavy spring rains inundating the area, the lake had reached as high as 603.36, an astounding comparison to the 591.94 mark from one year ago.
Fortunately, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has tamed this liquid beast and now has the water moving in the right direction. Local pro Cliff Brown sees this as promising scenario.
“We’re coming down about 6 inches a day,” he said. “By the time the tournament rolls around and it comes down two more feet, we should be in pretty good shape. We’re going to be about 3-4 feet high and that lake will fish really good.”
It’s worth noting that Brown’s opinion is more than conjecture. He can back it up with documented success.
“As a matter of fact, there are a lot of good fish being caught right now,” Brown said. “We fished a tournament on Belton on Sunday (June 2) and won it with 17.17 pounds.
“I’ve heard some guys talking about catching them on deep diving crankbaits and I’ve heard some guys talking about catching them on unweighted Senkos and some topwater fish also.”
Located 5 miles northwest of Belton, Texas, this U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir on the Leon River in the Brazos River basin, is formed by the Belton Dam. Impounded in 1954 as a flood control and drinking water reservoir, Belton is managed by the Fort Worth District and the Corps.
With 12,385 surface acres, Belton features steep, rocky shorelines with high bluffs and long rocky points on the main lake; along with sand and mud flats in the Leon River and Cowhouse arms. Maximum depth is 124.
High water has caused park closures, flooded picnic areas and created navigational challenges by covering items you really don’t want to find at 60 mph. However, with the lake level on the downward trend, Brown said the dynamics are starting to work in the anglers’ favor.
“Typically, when you have falling water on Belton, it’s a tough bite,” he said. “But it’s been falling now for a little over two weeks. They’ve been letting it down for so long, I think the fish are finally relating to it and getting used to it.
“They’ve been up in all the flooded stuff and I think they’re feeding well now. I think they’re used to the water dropping and they’re pulling back now and setting up on outer spots and I think we’re going to have a pretty good tournament.”
Given its size and layout — a long, narrow, winding lake with lots of curves and coves — Belton offers ample area for anglers to spread out. Moreover, the falling water dynamics will activate the entire lake.
“Belton is a big lake, so you’re going to be able to catch largemouth and smallmouth; you’re going to be able to catch fish from the top to the bottom,” Brown said. “I think guys guys that like to throw topwaters early are going to catch fish and I think guys that like to throw deep diving crankbaits are going to be able to catch fish.
“And then I think the unweighted flukes and Senkos are going to catch fish. I think you’re going to be able to catch fish just about any way you like to fish on that lake.”
Brown points to a key truth that cannot be overstated: “A lot of the ramps have been close due to the high water, so the lake has not been as pressured as it normally would this time of year.”
The one significant limitation anglers will face, as compared to some of the Lonestar State’s other powerhouses will be Belton’s distinct lack of grass. Hydrilla, milfoil, coontail, hay grass — not gonna find that here; but Belton makes up for it with lots of rocky structure, deep bluffs and a good amount of wood cover. Brown says he recently caught a nice smallmouth on a mud bank, so it’s just a matter of putting in the time to dial in the most promising areas.
“You can run up the river and catch fish or you can stay down on the main lake,” Brown said. “I think the tournament will be won in the river somewhere; I think the current will set them up well. I don’t mean way up the river; not north of the Hwy. 36 Bridge, but I think the bigger fish will be caught about halfway up the river.
“I don’t think the tournament will be won on the main lake. I think some people will fish the main lake for smallmouth, but I think the bigger fish are going to be caught halfway up the river.”
Brown said he’s expecting to find fish in a mix of postspawn to early summer patterns. With the extended cold lingering through the spring months, spawning cycles got pushed back enough to keep a few fish shallow. It’s unlikely anyone’s going to focus on sight fishing, but Brown said he would not be surprised to hear of fish caught cruising the bank.
“I’ll bet money that some fish will be weighed in by anglers throwing topwaters,” he said.
Brown said he expects a team to need 15-18 pounds a day to be competitive. A winning weight’s always a tough number to predict, but Brown said the winning game plan will be based on mobility.
“I think you’re really going to have to manage your fish,” he said. “I think the guys that stays in one spot and just hammer their fish all day long and keeps culling up ounces and ounces and ounces on Day 1 can hurt himself on Day 2.
“I think the guys that catches their five fish and then goes somewhere else and manages them really well will do better than the guys who try to hit a home run on Day 1 because they’ll strike out on Day 2.”