Best East Texas State Parks

For the Fishermen (And the Wannabe Fishermen): Lake Livingston State Park

Think you can beat the record catch at Lake Livingston? You'll have to hook a 115-pound catfish first.

By Catherine Matusow April 28, 2016 Published in the May 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Image: Lauren Marek

Just one fish, is all I want, just one fish. David Cox was beside himself that I’d said I’d be happy catching just one fish, and to process his emotions, he was singing it out, to the tune of “Just One Look.”

“‘All I want is just one fish,’” the fishing guide repeated my words accusatorily, shaking his head at me. “It’s like a hex. You can stop by the house and get one. Geez.”

My husband and I had met Cox that morning at the Harmon Creek Marina & Resort—tagline: “Best Kept Secret in the World”—before setting out to explore the creek, which feeds into Lake Livingston just north of Lake Livingston State Park. It was a crisp March day, the time of year when bass like to swim up the creek to spawn. Heavy rains had driven them upstream, Cox had recently observed, “like a magnet.”

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Image: Jeff Balke

They’d move back down to waters around the state park in a couple of months. May and June, Cox said, are the very best times to visit the state park for white-bass fishing, although they can be found in all parts of the lake year-round. The park’s a destination for fishermen, who make use of its three public boat ramps, its pier with attached fish-cleaning station, even its rods and canoes. Those who want to post up and drop a line in the water can do so without a license—permission is included in the price of entry.

Out on the creek, Cox was worried. For whatever reason, the fish weren’t biting. We were on the lookout for clear or tea-colored water, he explained. “You want to be able to see your bait.” We stopped at a couple of places—under a bridge, by a ridge where he knew the fish to congregate. Nothing. I didn’t mind, though, as I was enjoying the area’s wildness, watching red-tailed hawks, black hawks and herons swoop between the pine trees, water moccasins slide into the water, and an alligator casually cruising by.

“My wife says I think like a white bass,” Cox said, idling the boat again. Indeed, many people in the area seem to, judging by the number of times his phone rang with callers wanting to know if the fish were biting; he let them go to voicemail with a roll of the eyes.

Then: Cox cast a line and, before I had time to even pick up my rod, handed me his. I was caught off-guard. It was a bite! What should I do? Oh yes—reel it in! I started reeling backward and, in a panic, let the line go slack. The first fish to bite, sadly, got away. If I thought Cox was beside himself before, well, I had no idea. Once again, he broke into “Just One Fish.”

We did eventually catch a good number of white bass, plenty for supper for two. I even redeemed myself by catching a few. By the end of the trip, I’d started to regard Cox as a favorite uncle. He cleaned the fish for us, and we departed with a hug. My husband and I took the filets home and fried them up. It was, by far, the best fish I’d ever tasted.

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