Lake Athens Tournament Roundup PLUS How to DIY This East Texas Lake

| April 12, 2016

lake athens texas fly fishing tournament Johnny Martinez

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Heck of a deal. That’s all I could say – but not all I will say, of course.

I didn’t make it there on Friday to take part in the sunfish event that took place on Friday, but after the monster bluegill I caught Saturday? I wish I were focused on those power-packed little sunfish on a more regular basis. Ounce-for-ounce, they’re hard to beat, and the one I caught Saturday was bigger than my hand – the biggest I have ever caught.

The Lake Athens Event – Women Steal the Bass Show!

Saturday was the bass event, and it was quite simple; big bass wins. In event of a tie, which will probably never happen, the number of total inches of fish caught would be the tiebreaker. My 12” and the 16” fish I took did no good against the eventual winner at 22”. I don’t know how much math readers do, but that is a GOOD fish.

The Athens event is fun at the size it is now, but I can almost guarantee you it will get bigger for many years ahead. The only thing I would think to do differently is actually start adding to the “winners” by having more places besides only first (how capitalistic is that!), and also add another category that keeps us on the water longer: a “most inches” category starting at 12” fish measured and up from there (less than 12” don’t count).

This event was started by Johnny Martinez of Johnny on the Fly guiding fame, and Johnny definitely qualifies as one of the “nice guys” in Texas fly fishing. Running this event solo, is a feat, but to have it come off so well is pretty amazing.


[ppw id=”129511024″ description=”Fly Fish Lake Athens Texas” price=”.10″]

First, let me say without any qualifications – DON’T BOTHER TO FLY FISH THERE ON THE WEEKEND! When I arrived, just before first light, the hooya bass boaters (with all due respect) were lined up for a hundred yards of idling diesel, metal-flake pulling driveway. So I waited, not in line, but over in the parking lot between the TPWD Texas Freshwater Fishery and the boat launch – apparently the only launch for the entire lake. Granted, at 1799 acres of surface, Lake Athens is a small lake, but this marina does not charge for launch, and everybody everywhere apparently knows it.

On the water, Athens is a very good example of a near East Texas lake. It is (what I call) well aged-in (impounded 1962), with great vegetation and sizable trees overhanging from the lush yards of million-dollar homes that line much of the lake. I found my fish, all of them, along a retaining wall that kept a private golf course from falling in to the lake, yes private, short but private. I didn’t see a single home that was not within my standards of lusting for a lake home, and a lottery win.

Nevertheless, the lake was extremely crowded with the kind of fishermen I have documented in places like Lake Fork – literally following each other around islands in a clockwise direction, respectfully apart, but moving around at the same pace … like a parade in Downtown Denton, except they weren’t throwing the right candy to the fish that day. These guys were mostly all befuddled by the overcast skies that kept them from getting visuals on bass beds, and without any other strategy in their pockets … the parade was lost.

However, as a person who had never fly fished Lake Athens, I can honestly say I was more lost than they were. My strategy was to see the fish, be the fish and catch the fish. However, what I saw was a habitat that is absolutely heaven for bass, but I couldn’t make heads-or-tails of where they were in the habitat that day (grass and lush vegetation with boat houses and trees overhanging the water in yards and in the wild areas) because of conditions. So it became a day of prospecting with different flies, and pulling up and running. I felt very safe running because it’s such a small lake, and the navigation is pretty darn straight forward. This place is tailor made for the skiff, and running around the boat houses and mansions with their trees – with the trolling motor. Once I recognized the need to shift strategies, it became a search for overhanging trees and skipping into boathouses – the tree and brush thing, along with walls, felt a lot like my days on Lake Kiowa; I was very thankful that experience fit this situation.

The winning boat bass inches (Kimberly Panick), did it at the earthen dam, which I had pulled up on as time was running out, but I just had no idea how to go at it (frog fly is/was the answer). My main fly was a black/black Clouser, but I think there would have been equal or greater success with a whistler in black (but I was out of those for some strange reason). I think you would also have luck with topwater flies, but there was enough battle with the wind, that I decided to save my energy and stay off the difficult casting flies in the interest of making it through the day.

Athens is not a walk-wade lake, nor is it a shore fishing lake. So, a boat or kayak are your best bets, even though the launch has only one and about a half ramps to launch from. Time to expand fellas, and feel free to charge something to launch to slow these guys down somewhat! My legs were still swilling Saturday night – from all the boat traffic waves I had to ride out!

What you’ll want to do is:

  • Avoid the weekends at all cost.
  • Get A GUIDE! Johnny Martinez is a good guy and guide. [email protected] / 972-697-7096
  • Take all the typical bass flies and gear up for it – these fish are in top physical condition.
  • Be ready to hit on some monster panfish (sizes of a lifetime) as well. Contact me if you have any more questions.

This is a lake that seems logical to stop the Airstream at and spend some time – about this time next year – to cover the tournament and spend a few weeks guiding on Lake Athens before moving to the next location. So stay tuned next year for that announcement!



I definitely like the fact that the standings are updated in real time, as participants use their phones to photograph their fish (with proper ID), and text the images in to the organizers. Simple, and brilliant. Back at the boat launch (there’s no marina), there was plenty of swag from sponsors, door prizes, a raffle, food and beer. Dallas Fly Fishers had a significant presence, and it was good to see Ted Warren from the Lake Fork Bass on the Fly World Championship tournament – set up and selling flies. I can see this tournament growing by leaps-and-bounds if it gets past the bottleneck boat ramps. Otherwise, the facilities are great. I’ll be back there soon – ON A WEEKDAY.

Seeing, and talking to Ted Warren – organizer of the Bass on the Fly World Championship at Lake Fork, gave me an idea. I did tell Ted that I would be ready to spearhead a bass on the fly tournament on Lake Ray Roberts next year, but I didn’t tell him that I thought his tournament, Johnny’s Athens tournament and this new Ray Roberts tournament could benefit from being unified into some kind of “points chase” … a tour championship of sorts. Maybe I’ve been watching too much WFN? I can imagine a No matter what, it’s great to see more tournament opportunities now that I have a skiff to actually be somewhat competitive. By the way, the kayak division sleighed the fish at the Athens tournament.


Kayak Division

Lee Kodat Wins both categories.

Most Fish – 5 fish at 68 inches

Biggest – 15.5 in

Big Bass Boat division

Jimmy Smith 22 inches

Most Boat Bass

Tied on count.

Tie broken by overall inches.

Kimberly Panick 6 fish 96 inches

Janet Baca  6 fish 77 inches

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Category: Adventure, Culture on the Skids, East Texas, Fishing Reports, Fly Fishing for Largemouth Bass, On The Road, Paid Reading Content, TECHNICAL, Technique, Tournaments and Contests

About the Author () is where to find my other day job. I write and photograph fish stories professionally, and for free here! Journalist by training. This site is for telling true fishing news stories, unless otherwise noted.

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