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Lake Jacksonville ranks No. 9

The problem with those best-of and worst-of lists is just about anyone can put one together using any criteria they want.

Take the current Bassmaster Magazine's list of the 100 best bass lakes in the United States. A year ago it started with Lake Falcon, but Falcon's riches have declined as fast as the water level at the drought-stricken reservoir and this year it fell to No. 7.

The list now begins with Michigan's Lake St. Clair. That is a bitter pill for most Southern bass fishermen to swallow, but the lake does carry some credentials. According to BASS it has always been a good smallmouth bass lake. Now the largemouth bass fishery is improving. It took a three-day total of 67-4 to win an Elite series event on the lake last July. Even more impressive was that 135 of the 147 fishermen in the tournament boated a five-fish limit daily. In all, they weighed in more than a ton of fish.

However, on the same list at No. 90 is Texas' Lake Dunlap, an 85-year-old, 410-acre lake near New Braunfels. The only reason anyone outside a radius of about 20 miles of the lake has ever heard of it is because it produced a ShareLunker in December. Hardly a ringing endorsement. Tyler State Park's 64-acre lake is probably more productive.

There is better, and more deserving, Texas representation on the list. Sam Rayburn is No. 2 and Toledo Bend ranks No. 10. Amistad ranks 23rd, while Fork is 28th and Lake Austin, the state's hottest ShareLunker lake in recent years, is 34th. Besides Dunlap, the only other Texas reservoirs considered top 100 lakes are Conroe (72) and Fayette County (99).
Understanding the bass fishing world doesn't evolve around Texas, the list included some seemingly slam-dunks like Alabama's Lake Guntersville, Lake Okeechobee in Florida and California's San Joaquin Delta. 

It is also easy to understand that BASS has some tournament favorites that not surprisingly appear on the list like Lake Erie and the Potomac River, but is there really any chance that Connecticut's largest lake, the 5,420-acre Candlewood Lake (ranked 27th), is going to provide a better day's bass fishing than Lake Fork tomorrow or any other day?

Honestly, trying to put together a list of 100 lakes is near impossible. What might be more interesting and would be a top 10 regional list. An East Texas top 10.

It sounds simple, but it's not. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists took a stab at naming the best lakes in East Texas based on what they know from surveys and hear from fishermen. Their lists included the expected: Fork, Toledo Bend, Rayburn, Caddo, Lake O'the Pines, Tyler and Palestine. It also included some lesser know reservoirs and former hot spots like Welsh, Sandlin, Pat Mayse, Athens and newcomer Naconiche. 

There were smaller lakes on their list: Gilmer, Mill Creek, Kurth, Holbrook, Winnsboro and Bellwood.

Most of the guys, however, weren't willing to rank an all-region top 10.

Is there really any way to quantify lakes and put together a list that doesn't include subjective opinions? Craig Bonds, TPWD Fisheries regional biologist said he thinks there is using four criteria: bass greater than 14 and 18 inches sampled while electrofishing; angler catch rates based on recent creel surveys; and Toyota ShareLunker entries in the past five years.

The result is what the biologist called, with tongue firmly planted in check, the Index of Bonds' Assessment of Relative Bass-fishing Quality in East Texas, or iBARBQ. He was serious about the results and his list includes both the expected and unexpected. 

The top 10 includes: Rayburn, Gilmer, Toledo Bend, Welsh, Nacogdoches, Pinkston, Raven, Lake O'the Pines, Jacksonville and Murvaul. Lake Fork came in at 13, Tyler 18 and Palestine 21.

Of all of those, Jacksonville has to be the one that has heads spinning the most. Of the 50 lakes Bonds looked at, it probably has the worst reputation among fishermen. On Bonds' index, however, using the electrofishing samples the lake ranked 19th best in bass over 14 inches and 11th in bass over 18 inches. It ranked second in the fishermen creel survey with a catch rate of 1.8 fish per hour based on its last two surveys. Had the lake produced a ShareLunker, it would have finished higher.