As Randy Howell showed in the 2017 Bassmaster Classic, Lake Conroe has plenty of lakeside residential cover and structure to fish. Photo by Joel Shangle

Hope is trumping trepidation this weekend as 80 MLF anglers roll in to Lake Conroe for Stage Two of the 2019 Bass Pro Tour, schedule February 12-17. Meteorologists predict the cold front that dropped east Texas temperatures into the 30s over the weekend will yield to warming temperatures expected to top out in the mid-60s to low-70s during the Bass Pro Tour Huk Stage Two tournament presented by Favorite Fishing next week.

Most of the 80-man field reads “big bass” into that forecast.

Affects of 2017 flooding

Chatter shuttles between history and high water as the field rolls into town for the first day of practice on Sunday. Few locals have forgotten the historic floods that hit the Houston area late in the 2017 season on the heels of Hurricane Harvey. Echoes of that regional tragedy lingered with the cold and muddy high-water conditions on Conroe this winter.

But better days lie ahead.

“The lake had been dirty for the past month, but it cleaned up last week,” reports Kelly Moore, a local tournament angler and rod builder for Impulse Fishing Rods. “We caught 50 fish up to 5 pounds in a day last week. Visibility was a little over 1 foot. It had been one inch for weeks. Lake level is at 201 feet. That’s normal pool.”

Improved water clarity has combined with more favorable surface water temperatures of 59 to 64 degrees (colder temps reported near the dam) to significantly improve the bite. Local anglers have reported fish over 12 pounds in recent days, and one released fish was estimated at 13 to 14 pounds.

“The bucks aren’t on the bank, but that’s probably due to the high water,” says Moore. “The (Friday-Saturday) cold front will drop water temperatures again, but expect lake temperatures to climb back to 64 or 65 degrees through the week.”

Forecasts at this writing include rain two of the six tournament days.

A snapshot of Lake Conroe

The 21,000-acre east Texas impoundment on the San Jacinto River sets up well for this MLF event. A large population of 12.5- to 15-inch fish should keep SCORETRACKER busy, but giant pre-spawn females just might determine the outcome. Moore expects the BPT field to ring up “a number of fish over 8 pounds, and possibly a few 9s and 10s” if water warms as predicted.

“Conroe has the weirdest dynamic when it comes to fish sizes,” notes MLF pro David Walker. “There are big gaps between fish sizes, with 6-pounders and 3-pounders and 12-ouncers all mixed. You’ll be catching tiny ones, then catch a giant. I’m sure that will come into play.”

Brett Hite remembers his roller-coaster ride at the 2017 Bassmaster Classic won by Jordan Lee.

“I had a rough first day, but I finished strong,” he recalls. “But I know what to do there. It will be a really good pre-spawn bite. Good ones will be caught.”

The Highway FM 1097 bridge divides Conroe into two distinctly different lake portions. Land south of the bridge was largely cleared prior to lake creation. North of that demarcation is an expanse of flooded timber.

“If you are running your outboard wide open north of the bridge and don’t know the lake, be prepared to lose a lower unit,” says Moore. “But fishing is good up there.”

No doubt some will run the banks in search of frontrunners and early spawners. Under current conditions, however, a run-and-gun game seems more likely to factor into the winning scenario. Finding groups of bass on a forage feast on flats or congregated near pinch points at the mouths of prospective spawning areas could be critical.

“I think this event will be won with treble hooks,” predicts Moore. “Find the bait, and you’ll find the fish. If you’re not moving, you won’t be catching many.”

Channels and drains leading into spawning areas will be key features. They will play an even bigger role if there’s a sudden weather change.

The Bass Pro Tour field romped in aquatic vegetation last week, but they’ll find green grass scarce at Conroe.

“It’s going to be totally different going from the vegetation of the Florida lakes to Conroe,” says Shaw Grigsby, who expects jigs and crankbaits fished on points or in drains and ditches to count coup on Conroe largemouth.

Still, finding a rare grassy area with unpressured fish could yield a jackpot.

Hard bottom – rock, riprap, boat ramps and drains with gravel – will get fished hard. Docks and bushes will get heavy play as well.

“The mood of this lake has changed with all the tournaments and fishing pressure it’s received,” says Moore. “But I think the Bass Pro Tour anglers are arriving at a good time. The fish are big and healthy.”

Walker expects Conroe’s strange population dynamics to make the difference.

“We’ll be out there trying to catch a bunch of fish, but somebody will figure out how to catch three or four of those big bass in a row real quickly,” he predicts. “It will make things interesting for sure.”