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fishing in highland lakesFebruary through June is the best time of year to participate in what is probably the most popular sport in the Highland Lakes: fishing.

PHOTO: Fishing Guide John Gilbert (left) with a customer on Lake Travis, Feb. 2012, showing off their catch of white bass, crappie, yellow catfish and blue catfish. Photo Courtesy John Gilbert

Fishing is so popular in this area the high school kids even have a fishing club. The Marble Falls High School Fishing Club has 42 members from four area high schools who compete on a monthly basis during the school year. This year, on March 15, they are hosting a state championship tournament of the Student Angler Federation, part of The Bass Federation.

Two young anglers, who are planning their careers around the outdoors and fishing, say the lakes in the Colorado River chain are the best because of the variety of fish and the different habitats.

“It’s great to live here because we have access to every single lake,” said Austin Ellis, a junior at Faith Academy of Marble Falls. Ellis has already earned a fishing scholarship to Bethel University near Nashville, Tenn.

“My favorite lake is LBJ,” said Lyle Schmidt, a sophomore at Marble Falls High School. “It has the most different places to fish and more area to fish.”

Schmidt plans to attend a college with a strong fishing and business program. He wants to own his own business someday, probably selling outdoor equipment. Both plan to fish competitively long-term.

The two spend many afternoons after school on a boat testing their lures to prepare for the big tournament in March. Tournament fishing requires lures, so they seldom use live bait.

Fishing guide John Gilbert, who mostly fishes lakes LBJ and Travis, uses both live bait and lures. With more than 30 years’ experience fishing those two lakes, he knows where to find the hot spots.

“The most important thing I’ve learned about fishing is to go as often as you can to find the fish,” he said. “If you keep going year after year, you’ll find the fish in the same spot every year at that particular time.”

Which is why hiring a guide can pay off if you’re looking for some quick and easy catches.

The fish population in the five lakes in the Highland Lakes chain — Buchanan, Inks, LBJ, Marble Falls and Travis — stays high thanks to management by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and stocking programs by several organizations including the National Fish Hatcheries. About 200,000-500,000 fish are released in the lakes each year, mainly striped bass fingerlings.

“Striped bass are not natural to the lakes,” said Marcos De Jesus, a TPWD marine biologist. “Striped is normally a saltwater fish that moves up the freshwater to spawn.”

If the bass are not stocked every year, they are quickly fished out since they cannot reproduce in land-locked lakes. So why do these government entities stock striped bass in the lakes?

“We put them there for the sporting industry,” De Jesus said. “They provide some really good fishing.”

Before picking up your rod and reel and heading to one of the lakes, be sure you have a valid fishing license. Anglers 17 and older who are born after Jan. 1, 1931, must hold a license to fish public waters. Exemptions include fishing in state parks. For complete rules and regulations, visit the TPWD website.