Hidden Hideaway

Lake Waco, Texas

May 2011 Feature Dan & Gini McKain From April 2007

Automotive executive Bill Miller, the three times past commodore of the Ridgewood Yacht Club is one of the most active users of both his houseboat and of Lake Waco itself. It was under his last tour as commodore that the marina doubled in size to accommodate 275 slips, 100 of which are houseboats. This was no small accomplishment because being controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers, they had to first obtain permission and consent for the construction and expansion.

His custom-built, double deck, 65- by 16-foot houseboat is one of the most active on the lake, being used on an average of four times a week. Miller often donates trips on it to be auctioned or raffled off by charities.

Lake Waco
's claim to fame, like its hidden houseboats themselves, is somewhat unique. It is the largest lake in the United States lying completely within the geographic boundaries of a major metropolitan entity. Lying due west of I-35 and just north of Routete 6, yet still within the city limits, Lake Waco isn't hard to find. Either by looking on a Texas map or by the people who fish it, or for those that keep their houseboats docked there. Three marinas, loaded with houseboats, are situated around the lake's perimeter. The houseboats, for the most part, are of a special design, having been built on the shores of Lake Waco for generations.

The unique lake covering an average of 7,270 acres with a maximum depth of 85 feet has a conservation pool elevation of 455 feet msl. It does precisely what it was designed to do by the USACOE when built in 1965. Its primary mission is to protect the City of Waco and surrounding areas from flooding by the frequent rampaging waters of the Brazos and Bosque Rivers.

With approximately 60 miles of shoreline and shaped roughly like South America with a north/south orientation, Lake Waco is a houseboat and pontoon boat owners dream; if you just enjoy a close-in peaceful lake. It is known as a great place to raise children, teach them how to fish and swim or to just go to chill out and get away from the hot sun or the "big" city's hustle and bustle for the weekends.

Captain Selverio Pacles, a boater education specialist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife, pointed out that Texas does have some of the most up to date boating safety regulations, due in part to the popularity of recreational boating and the large number of inland freshwater lakes and saltwater coastal areas. For this reason, the state legislature passed a strong water safety bill. And be advised here that, before you go boating in Texas, know the law. It is enforced.

In 1997, the City of Waco entered into an agreement with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers to raise the level of Lake Waco by seven feet. As raising the level of the lake would flood certain areas, the City was required to mitigate the loss of the existing habitat. As part of this mitigation, the City of Waco began the Lake Waco Wetlands Project. This project resulted in a 174-acre wetland area constructed for habitat enhancement. The construction of this wetland does more than merely mitigate the loss of certain habitat-it is creating a living laboratory that provides opportunities for research, education and recreation.

The wetland is located on the Central Migratory Flyway of North America. It is strategically unique by being in the transition zones between the East and West Texas avian areas and between the North and Coastal Texas avian zones. These two facts combine to create a site with enormous potential as a bird habitat.

Together, the wetlands and Research and Education Center present a unique and valuable resource-a place where people can go to obtain information about wetlands and water conservation issues. They can observe plants and fauna and perhaps participate in projects such as plantings. People can conduct research into the plants and fauna that inhabit the wetlands and the impact of the wetlands on the adjacent North Bosque River. This leads to conversation on conservation issues with scientists working in these fields of study.

It also provides a place where people can go to experience a unique part of nature and have an enjoyable, "green" relaxation period. Civic organizations, businesses, schools, colleges, universities, and individuals have participated in planting the wetlands.

The main shoreline of Lake Waco has lots of water willow that holds fish year-round, except during low water levels. The North and South Bosque rivers have lots of standing timber and laydowns.

Largemouth bass fishing is at its best in March and April. Coves protected from the north wind, and the backs of creeks, are excellent places to look for spawning bass at this time of year. White or chartreuse spinner baits and black/blue or black/chartreuse jig and pork combinations are the preferred baits. From May through September, look for bass on windy points on the main lake and flats next to river channels. Hog and Flatrock creeks are also good at this time of year. Spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, chuggers, and plastic worms are popular baits.

Crappie fishing is tough to beat at Lake Waco. White crappie predominate, but black crappie are occasionally caught. Best fishing occurs in the spring from late February through April. At this time of year, crappie move into water less than two feet deep. Best catches are usually around standing timber, submerged brush, or aquatic vegetation. The best places to look for spawning crappie are main lake coves that provide protection from the north wind or shallow flats next to creek channels. Keep your houseboat moving to find concentrations of fish. Make liberal use of your electronic "fishfinder."

Catfishing is generally best in the spring and early summer. The North and South Bosque rivers are favored spots. Drift fishing over main lake points, submerged structure, and flats is popular. Shrimp, blood bait, and stinkbait work well for channel catfish, but anglers after blues and flatheads have their best success with live shad, sunfish, or fresh cut bait.

White bass fishing is best from February through April. Spawning runs up the rivers result in dense concentrations of fish. Good catches are also made along sandy beaches and submerged roadbeds on the main lake throughout spring and summer. This is where the acquisition of an old map showing these can be invaluable. Trolling or casting jigs and other small baits work well for these schooling fish.

Sunfish can be caught using live worms or crickets most of the year, although late spring is best. Fish cover along the shoreline for best results, although bigger fish are usually found on submerged woody cover in deeper water.

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