FIRST, YOU HAVE to learn how to sit in a boat. Very important. The essence of boat riding is the posture. Before anything else, you’ve got to hunker down in your all-weather set, tilt your head back so the sun can catch your face and keep one arm over the side of the boat so your fingers can dangle in the water.
Your feet should be propped against the Igloo cooler, and with each sway of the boat, you hear the ice sloshing against the beer cans. The water skis rattle on the floor. You notice, almost with pleasure, the aroma of gasoline exhaust seeping from the motor and the rubbery smell of the life vests. Then you know it’s time.
The driver guns the outboard, the boat lurches forward and you tip way back. In that one astonishing moment of geometric balance, where at any moment you could be thrown violently into the water (or at least into the fishing poles at the back of the boat), you should be experiencing the happiest moment of your life.
For you are participating in a tradition that is as normal in this part of the country as falling oil prices. You’re “at the lake. ” If someone at work asks where you were over the weekend, you can simply say, “At the lake, ” and it will explain everything. You don’t even have to say which lake you went to, what you did there or whether you had a good time. They will already know.
This part of Texas is just plain lake-hungry. Bob Kemp, the fisheries director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, says that the Dallas/Fort Worth area has more water recreation sites than any other major metropolitan area in the United States. Every major highway out of Dallas leads straight to a lake. There are no less than 50 lakes within a 100-mile radius of the Metroplex.
We are, admittedly, a little bit weird when it comes to lakes. We’re constantly changing their names. Lake Lewisville, for example, used to be Lake Dallas, which used to be Garza-Little Elm Reservoir. And our lake laws are bizarre. Although you can water-ski on a couple of the lakes owned by the City of Dallas, it is illegal to swim in any of them. In other words, if you fall while water-skiing over at Lake Ray Hubbard, it is theoretically illegal to swim back to the boat.
LAKE RAY HUBBARD
Not only is there a chichi private yacht club, a windsurfing club and a party boat called the Crappie Queen at Dallas’ largest lake, but there’s also a skeleton of a 40-foot-long 75-million-year-old sea lizard that was discovered on the lake’s shore.
It seems that everyone likes Lake Ray Hubbard. At Lake Ray Hubbard, 25 miles east of the city on I-30 (take the Dalrock exit), you’ll see the ultimate hodgepodge of life – from the rich in their deck shoes at Chandlers Landing Yacht Club to the country folk who eat bologna sandwiches in the picnic areas.
And it’s at this lake where you can watch the classic confrontation between fishermen and water-skiers. The sand bass, the most popular fish at the lake, always heads for open water. Anglers dutifully follow, much to the irritation of the skiers, who consider the open water their territory. Consequently, there is a great deal of cursing and splashing and beer-can throwing, which is great fun to watch if you have nothing to do on a Sunday afternoon.
Frankly, the lake is great fun any time. During the summer, there are sailboat races on Wednesday and Saturday nights at Chandlers Landing. There’s also the International Windsurfing School at the landing.
If you want to rent a sailboat, try Sue’s Sailboat Rentals. Or if you want a different kind of fishing, reserve a place on the Crappie King or Crappie Queen, two fishing barges that take trolling tours on Friday and Saturday nights. If you want fish that’s already cooked, Mr. Catfish at I-30 and Ridge Road is terrific, with one of the best sunset views of the lake.
Just 10 miles southwest of Fort Worth off of Highway 377, Benbrook is becoming increasingly popular with fishermen, especially those after crappie. Although the lake is only 3, 770 acres, most of its southern side is still rural. The city of Benbrook has developed an excellent park beside the lake. Dutch Branch Park offers playgrounds, ball fields, a marina, a swimming beach that is roped off and serviced by lifeguards (lifeguards are almost nonexistent at area lakes), a snack bar and a golf driving range.
Only 800 acres off of Northwest Highway near Las Colinas, North Lake is the clearest lake in Dallas. It’s so clean, in fact, that there is little algae for the fish to feed on. The lake was built to cool a nearby Dallas Power & Light generating station, and as a result, there are no streams feeding into it that can carry muddy rain water, silt and other debris to benefit the water life. Although no swimming is allowed, there are picnic grounds, campsites and a grove of trees around the lake.
CEDAR CREEK LAKE
This old lake is nestled beside some of the most interesting small towns in the state. If you haven’t been to Gun Barrel City, with its Sunday flea market on the edge of the lake, or to Seven Points or Caney City, it just might be worth heading down Highway 175 for about an hour until you hit the 34, 000-acre lake (it’s south of Kaufman). Stop at the Petticoat Junction Cafeteria in Ma-bank on the way for outstanding country cooking.
This part of East Texas was quite poor and run-down until the lake was built. Now there are dozens of lakeside homes, numerous marinas, campsites, picnicking areas and probably more little bait-stands than are near any other lake. The fishing here is outstanding. And Cedar Creek is a haven for marathon water-skiers: It’s one of the longest lakes in the area, stretching 18 miles through Kaufman and Henderson counties.
Up to 6, 000 people show up at tiny Bachman on weekends during the summer, which has a paved, 4-mile path circling the lake.
If you simply want to watch the human pageant, set up a lawn chair beside the path. The ducks seem nicer at Bachman than at White Rock: At White Rock, if you stop feeding them, they come up and bite you on the leg.
You never know who or what will show up at Bachman Lake. Recently, some muscle man named Al Jones, who went around the country calling himself Captain America, attempted to pull a 7, 000-pound boat through 300 yards of Bachman water. It wasn’t the most spectacular act in the world: Captain America cut his foot on a piece of glass.
WHITE ROCK LAKE
The closest you will ever come to feeling like you’re in the pace lap of the Indianapolis 500 is when you’re driving around White Rock Lake on a Sunday afternoon. A day at the 1, 100-acre lake in Northeast Dallas can be hilarious – sometimes one beer can short of a riot; sometimes astonishingly peaceful.
White Rock is packed on weekends. At night, teenagers call White Rock the “petting zoo. ” Parents bring their kids to tell them about the infamous ghost, the Lady of the Lake. You can fish, although most fishermen scoff at the idea of catching anything here.
There’s an 11 p. m. -to-7 a. m. curfew around almost all of White Rock during the summer, and there’s a circular traffic plan designed to reduce traffic density (although it ends up baffling most drivers).
White Rock is still the most popular lake within Dallas city limits. One man, for example, recently went before the Dallas Park and Recreation Board, asking permission to run a 65-foot party boat around the lake. The Dallas Park and Recreation Board said no. Some things, apparently, must be left to nature.
POSSUM KINGDOM LAKE
If anything, Possum Kingdom, two hours west of Dallas off of Highway 180, exemplifies our fierce love for lakes. A few years ago, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed regular water releases from the dam in order to improve canoeing and fishing on the 120 miles of the Brazos River below Possum Kingdom. Although the proposal would only have lowered the water level of the lake by a couple of feet during certain times of the year, the people who boated or owned cottages on the lake revolted. They thought the lake would be ruined and raised such hell that the federal agency withdrew the plan.
That kind of pride perhaps has made Possum Kingdom the classic Texas lake. This 17, 700-acre lake, with its high limestone bluffs and secluded coves, has just about everything, from big homes on the shore to mobile home developments and a huge YMCA camp. And Possum has one of the state’s best viewing areas: the Observation Point, on the eastern shore of the lake near the dam – where you can see not only the expanse of the lake, but you can view the Brazos and the country beyond.
If you’re in a boat, putter over to Hell’s Gate, a water canyon formed by two limestone cliffs. It’s 100 feet tall, and on weekends, local kids actually climb up and jump off the thing in a rather rough-hewn version of the Acapulco cliff dives.
This may be the best scuba-diving lake in the state. Go to Scuba Point, a part of the lake that also has a scuba-diving shop with classes, service, sales and rentals of diving equipment. Rock Creek, northeast of the lake, and Caddo Bay, south of the lake, are the most well-known fishing spots.
There are dozens of marinas, stores and cabins and more than 100 camping sites in the state park (off of Park Road 33). Bass Hollow Lodge and Restaurant is a great place to stay. Jake’s Lakeside Inn has the best all-you-can-eat catfish dinner in the area, and Moore’s Malt Shop, which is by the lake, has great french fries.
EAGLE MOUNTAIN LAKE
Eagle Mountain Lake is the quintessential sailboat lake. Northwest of Fort Worth off of U. S. 287, sections of the 9, 200-acre lake have been designated for sailors only. Filled with yacht clubs, sailboat marinas and some of the most beautiful old homes and new housing developments around the water, Eagle Mountain is quickly developing a reputation as a rich man’s lake.
LAKE O’ THE PINES
This lake is included only to show that we occasionally name a lake after something other than a politician or the nearest town. Three hours from Dallas, Lake O’ the Pines is north of Longview on Highway 259, and it’s got the prettiest name of any lake in Texas. The 19, 700-acre lake is pretty in its own right as well, with deep groves of pine trees stretching down to the shores.
Lake O’ the Pines is a typical East Texas lake. Unpretentious and not very developed, it’s used primarily for fishing. There are 14 parks by the lake, and there’s a wonderful fishing camp called Pop’s Landing. But basically, not many regulars at the lake like to tell the city folks about it. They’d like to keep it for themselves.
Go 100 miles up U. S. Highway 75 through Sherman and Denison, then west on U. S. 70 for 13 miles. In two hours you will hit perhaps the best lake in Texas. Unfortunately, most of this lake is in Oklahoma. Lake Texoma, the old king of North Texas lakes, is shaped like a serpent. With white cliffs that rise up 50 feet from the water and trees that cling to its sheer face, the lake is often startling in its beauty.
It is also huge-89, 000 acres-which means that there’s plenty for you to do. The 101-room lodge in Lake Texoma State Park on the Oklahoma side has 68 nearby cabins; Pickens Restaurant is considered one of the best country-cooking restaurants around. The park covers 1, 882 acres and has everything from an airstrip to a miniature golf course.
On the Texas side is Eisenhower State Park, with a large marina, boat launching ramps and a sandy swimming area but no lodge or cabins. Tanglewood on Texoma is a private lodge on the Texas side, for which you can sometimes get a reservation.
There are massive boats on the lake – yachts that sell for $125, 000 as well as three-bedroom houseboats. If you want to live a little less opulently, try the Little Mineral resort on the Texas side. The Preston Fishing Camp is also popular. The fishing prize at the lake is striped bass. (The state record, a 32-pound striped bass, came from Lake Texoma. ) Frankly, there is so much to do that if you plan to go there, the best thing to do is write the Lake Texoma Association for a resort guide. The address is P. O. Box 610, Kingston OK, 73439.
The home of the Waco elite, this 7, 200-acre lake is inside the Waco city limits and could well be the best city lake in Texas. Sprawling homes overlook it, and there are four large public parks. Airport Park is the nicest one with beaches, boat-launching ramps and campgrounds. Sailing is the most popular water sport there.
A 90-minute drive south from Dallas, Whitney is one of the best bets for a fishing vacation in Texas. That’s because Whitney is a “river lake” that extends 45 miles up the Brazos. It’s a haven for perch, crappie, white bass, catfish and black bass. Up to four miles wide, surrounded by oak and cedar trees and sheer cliffs that rise straight from the water, the lake has six marinas, two airstrips and some comfortable lodges. The best of them, Redwood Lodge, is usually booked weeks in advance for weekends.
One of the best things to do at Whitney is to rent a canoe just below the dam and float down the Brazos for about eight miles. The trips last six to eight hours and take you through beautiful, unspoiled forests. A truck will pick you up at the end of the journey.
If you drive east on Highway 78 for about 30 minutes, you’ll come across the newest “hangout” lake. A “hangout” lake is one filled with a lot of people who don’t have boats or fishing poles or even bathing suits. They just come to hang out.
The 21, 400-acre lake has become extremely crowded on weekends. As a result, life here can get pretty rowdy. The sheriffs deputies who patrol the lake say the problem started when a Dallas city ordinance was put into effect limiting alcohol consumption in city parks. The beer drinkers came up to Lavon. To cut down on crime, a 10 p. m. curfew has been established at the lake, and parking has been limited.
Lavon has 16 parks and 82 public launching lanes, which is as many as you’ll find at any lake in the state. But it doesn’t have many facilities. The second marina has just opened, and most of the parks have no restrooms. But two of the park areas -Brockdale and Caddo-are designated specifically for use by the handicapped.
MOUNTAIN CREEK LAKE
This 2, 900-acre lake just east of Grand Prairie has had its problems lately. A small section of Grand Prairie residents who live near the lake want to secede from Grand Prairie because they aren’t getting the utilities they say the city promised them. There was a huge dispute over whether to hold drag-boat races on the lake (at the last minute, the plan was discarded). The residents complain that the police do very little to protect Mountain Creek Lake Park, which has become a place for loud rock music, broken beer bottles, trash and fistfights.
But protected from the wind by a series of rolling hills, Mountain Creek is a tremendous water-skiing lake and has its share of fishermen and one of the all-time great toll bridges. On the bridge is a sign warning of “low-flying airplanes” from the nearby Dallas Naval Air Station in Grand Prairie. (What are you supposed to do? Duck? Drive off the bridge?)
JOE POOLE LAKE
When this 7, 500-acre federal reservoir opens in 1986, it will change the entire complexion of the southwest part of Dallas County. It may also become the slickest recreational lake in Dallas. An astounding 5, 100 acres of parks will surround the lake, and major developers are already planning high-dollar subdivisions among the cedar-covered hills next to the lake.
LAKE RAY ROBERTS
This 29, 000-acre lake northeast of Den-ton will probably be finished after 1986, completing the circle of lakes around Dallas. So far, the recreational plans for the lake aren’t clear, which gives us a chance to explain why Dallas is building so many lakes.
Dallas now consumes 224 million gallons of water a day; city officials predict our consumption will reach 350 million to 450 million gallons a day by the year 2000. Dallas officials know that if no more lakes are built, the water will run out. Lake Ray Roberts will provide 73 million gallons of drinking water daily. Joe Poole Lake will provide 15 million gallons of water a day. By 2000, Dallas might have to build even another lake.
Surely, at some point, you’re going to get tired of dammed-up rivers and houseboats and ski-jump ramps and beer cans floating in the water like lily pads. Then it’s time to go 140 miles east of Dallas, just north of I-20, to the state’s only natural lake.
Caddo Lake, which straddles the Texas-Louisiana border, is more swamp than lake on the Texas side. But that’s precisely the reason for its beauty. The Spanish moss-draped cypress trees cast shadows on the shallow waters. There are 200 varieties of plants and trees-12 of which can’t be found anywhere else in Texas. The lake holds 59 different kinds of fish, as well as such things as alligators. At night, eerie lights flicker among the trees, which inspired a lore about ghosts haunting the swamp.
Of course, there is bountiful fishing in the lake’s 24, 500 acres. But in a state of man-made lakes, it’s a blessing just to be able to paddle quietly into the heart ofCaddo Lake, where the light slantsthrough the tree limbs. There is no sight ofhumanity, no outboards, no suntan lotion. The only sound comes from the birdsand the little splashes of the fish.