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Ray Sasser: Private club offers fishing solitude for anglers of middle-class income

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Ray Sasser, Outdoor Writer

Steve Alexander had warned me not to become complacent about the small East Texas lake where we fished. "You might catch a dink, a dink and another dink, and the next bite may be a quality fish," he said.

My wife, Emilie, and I had fished on the wrong end of the lake from daylight until midmorning. We'd landed just three fish, two dinks. I lost a fish that looked about five pounds when it jumped but it quickly wrapped around an obstruction and broke me off.

When Alexander climbed in the boat with us, he suggested fishing the other end of the 40-acre lake.

"That's the shallow end, and I think the fish are on beds down there," he said. Alexander grew up in Plano with a natural-born curiosity about fishing. His father did not fish, but his next door neighbor, Jim Jacobs, was an avid angler. Jacobs' kids didn't like fishing. It seemed like angling kismet that the two found one another and the young Alexander's fascination with fishing grew.

He studied horticulture in college and wound up in a sales job that he didn't find fulfilling. When he was at low ebb in his career, Alexander was offered a chance to buy a private fishing club, which he re-branded as Private Water Fishing (PWF). Its motto is "Reel Solitude."

Many of Texas' greatest hotspots are lakes unknown to the general public. A middle-class angler has no chance of casting on such privileged bodies of water, most of them sequestered behind locked gates, sometimes in exclusive fishing clubs with six-figure memberships.

Alexander offers an affordable alternative in his not-so-exclusive club that opens the private waters experience to anglers of middle-class income. Individual annual memberships cost $335 (there's a one-time $200 initiation fee), Family memberships are $435, plus the initiation fee, and there's a discount for seniors, military, fire fighters and police.

There's also a fishing fee paid to the lake owner. The average is $60 to $85 for a full day, $40 to $55 for a half day. About 20 of the lakes are considered premier properties and charge a higher rate for what's generally better fishing. About 25 percent of the 70 PWF lakes have overnight lodging available for an added fee.

Most lakes are much smaller than 100 acres, meaning no large bass boats are necessary. In fact, all the lakes have some kind of boat that members can use, generally a simple flat-bottom aluminum boat.

Members supply their own trolling motor and battery. Some lakes have bigger fishing boats for rent or loan. Others have launch ramps or a spot where a 4WD can launch a sizable bass boat from the bank.

How good is the fishing experience? You can do a one-time trial run and just pay the fishing fee to find out. Alexander said 94 percent of anglers who make a trial fishing trip wind up as PWF members.

"Our members like the solitude of having the entire lake to themselves," he said. "When a member reserves a lake, he and his group are the only people on the lake. Members also enjoy the fact that we manage the lakes to grow big fish. We also manage fishing pressure.

"Because of our advance reservation system, we are able to rest the lake before and after each fishing day. No other fishing club in America builds in rest days. Most of our lakes are fished less than eight times a month."

Alexander was correct about the shallow end of the spring-fed east Texas lake. In the three hours after he joined us, we caught more than 40 bass, half a dozen of them quality fish weighing four pounds to nine pounds.

The nine-pounder is the biggest bass I've caught in awhile, but it didn't surprise Alexander. He regularly stocks baitfish in PWF lakes and the fish grow accordingly. The heavyweight bass reported caught by a member on a PWF lake thus far weighed 13.9 pounds.

Because Alexander lives in the Dallas area, most of the PWF lakes are in north Texas or northeast Texas. Twenty three lakes are within 100 miles of downtown Dallas and 11 are within 60 miles. The details, including general lake locations and descriptions, are online at privatewaterfishing.com.

CALENDAR

Saturday, April 15: Eastern turkey season begins. Check county listings in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Outdoor Annual.

Thursday, April 20: 36th Annual Banquet for the Dallas Chapter of Coastal Conservation Association, 5:30 p.m. at Frontiers of Flight Museum, 6911 Lemmon Avenue, Dallas, honoring Temple Fork Outfitters Chairman Rick Pope as Conservation Sportsman of the Year. Tickets and details are at ccatexas.org/chapters/inland/dallas.