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Trip Guide: Toledo Bend Reservoir

Piscatory pursuits on the largest man-made lake in the South.

By September 2016Comments

A view of the lake from the Harborlight Marina and Resort, in Hemphill.
Photograph by Wynn Myers

On my first morning deep in the Piney Woods, I handed over three quarters for a Sabine County Reporter. The 133-year-old East Texas weekly had just come off the press, but the main headline—“Toledo Bend Retains Top Spot on Bassmaster’s 100 Best Bass Lakes”—was old news. In less than 24 hours I’d already heard as much from the woman who’d checked me in to my rustic waterfront cabin, from the high schooler who’d sold me a summer watermelon from a flatbed, and from the restaurant owner who’d introduced himself as I finished my fried-shrimp supper. Toledo Bend Reservoir, the 185,000-acre lake that straddles the Sabine River and, thus, the Texas-Louisiana line, was what I’d come to see—and one of its famed trophy lunkers was what I’d come to catch.

Over the past year, 139 largemouth bass weighing a tantalizing ten pounds or better have been wrangled out of the stump-riddled waters. Such bounty has lured big-money tourneys, new businesses, and new neighbors to the small towns that ring Toledo Bend’s 1,200 miles of shoreline. In Hemphill (population: 1,200), where I’d hunkered down for the week, one longtime resident half-whispered, “I never thought there’d be million-dollar homes here.” And yet it’s hard to oversell the curb appeal of the landscape’s lush congregations of loblolly pines, oaks, and gums. As I drove through portions of the Sabine National Forest, a patchwork of second- and third-growth plots of timber across 160,656 acres, I allowed myself delusions of joining the pro-Bassmaster circuit and someday affording such priceless views. Out on the water, in a 21-foot Skeeter piloted by local guide Miles McDaniel, I was reeling ’em in: bar fish, white bass, gaspergou, even a catfish caught with a crankbait. The largemouth, on the other hand, weren’t having any of it. Five hours of effort earned us only a couple of two-pounders, but I knew that somewhere, in some other quiet, cypress-lined pocket, someone had just hooked the largest bass he’d ever fought, and next time that could very well be me.

SEE + DO

The catch of the day near Holly Park Marina, in Milam (left) and the Sabine National Forest (right).
The catch of the day near Holly Park Marina, in Milam (left), and the Sabine National Forest (right).

Sabine National Forest // You can hunt, camp, hike, horseback ride, or mountain bike amid the towering timber of this 160,656-acre forest. Keep an eye out for bald eagles as you swim in the 19-acre tree-rimmed Red Hills Lake and for red-cockade woodpeckers as you hike the 28-mile Trail Between the Lakes that runs from Toledo Bend’s Lakeview Recreation Area to the Sam Rayburn Reservoir.

Toledo Bend Reservoir // The largest man-made lake in the South, Toledo Bend stretches more than 65 miles up the Sabine River, and it’s been a favored fishing paradise since it was created in 1966 thanks to an abundance of aquatic vegetation and submerged stumps, a largemouth bass’s favorite hangout. Crappie, white bass, and huge sunfish are likely to end up on the end of your line too. (Note: I booked a half-day, mid-lake fishing trip with local guide Miles McDaniel, of Holly Park Marina; other guides to consider: pro angler Tommy Martin or Living the Dream Guide Service.)

In Hemphill…

Patricia Huffman Smith NASA “Remembering Columbia” Museum // When the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over East Texas, in 2003, the citizens of Hemphill and Sabine counties came together to assist in the search and recovery efforts. The museum, which takes you through all 28 of STS-107’s missions, memorializes the seven lost crewmembers as well as the Texas Forest Service employee and helicopter pilot who died during recovery efforts.

In San Augustine…

Mission Dolores // Recently designated as an official Texas State Historic Site, the mission, once known as Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de los Ais, was built in 1717 as a way station along the Camino Real. Interpretative displays tell the stories of the Native Americans who lived near the Ayish Bayou and Texas’s earliest European settlers.

EAT + DRINK

Imogene's Cafe and Homemade Baked Goods, in San Augustine, is a pie lover's dream (top left and right); a pizza at the Feed Store Cafe, in Hemphill (bottom left).
Imogene’s Cafe and Homemade Baked Goods, in San Augustine, is a pie lover’s dream (top left and above right); a pizza at the Feed Store Cafe, in Hemphill (bottom left).

Photographs by Wynn Myers

In Hemphill…

The Feed Store Cafe // Located near the town’s historic square, this popular cafe tempers its fried fare (alligator tails, catfish) and jars of sweet tea with fresh, figure-watching salads.

Hemphill BBQ // The spicy boudain is the standout at this family-run joint, but you’ll likely be just as happy if you order the beef dinner or the rib sandwich plate.

In Milam…

Martin’s Corner // Owned by Sheilah and Tommy Martin (he of professional bass fishing fame), this converted gas station serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is a good place to query locals about their favorite fishing spots. Friday’s fish dinner and Saturday’s shrimp special are big draws.

In San Augustine…

Imogene’s Cafe and Homemade Baked Goods // There’s a cowbell on the door and a chalkboard inside listing the nearly two dozen “famous” desserts you’ll have to decide between after you polish off your breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Daily specials may be anything from “stick-it-to-your-ribs” pork roast with fresh cornbread to shrimp avocado salad—that’s if you can resist the excellent chicken-fried steak.

 

SHOP

Samuel Melton, the owner of Lonesome Pine Mercantile (left), and Glinda's Emporium (top right and bottom right), both in Hemphill.
Samuel Melton, the owner of Hemphill’s Lonesome Pine Mercantile (left); and the nearby Glinda’s Emporium (top right and bottom right).

Photographs by Wynn Myers

In Hemphill…

Glinda’s Emporium // You can pick up an armful of vintage fishing trophies and pretend they’re your own at this seventeen-vendor junking treasure trove. Don’t forget to peruse the side yard.

J & A Antiques // What was once a hardware store is now filled with antiques finds. A pot of coffee’s nearly always on, so don’t be surprised if you’re offered a cup.

Lonesome Pine Mercantile // After stints in Dallas and Brooklyn, Samuel Melton returned home to turn an old feed store into a furniture and home goods mini-mecca that favors the vintage, the reclaimed, and the Texas-made, like Thro Studio planters and mugs and Hemlock & Heather wall hangings made from reclaimed wood.

Serenity Books & Gifts // The sheer number of selections—more than twenty thousand new and used books—will overwhelm you in the best way. (I walked out with four like-new hardbacks for $5.41.)

STAY

The fishing pier (left) and a cabin (right) at Harborlight Marina and Resort, in Hemphill.
The fishing pier (left) and a cabin (right) at Harborlight Marina and Resort, in Hemphill.

In Hemphill…

Harborlight Marina and Resort // Whether you book one of the eight motel rooms, six cabins, or nineteen extra-wide RV sites, you’ll have access to the waterfront property’s fishing pier and cleaning station, boat launch, swimming beach, charcoal grills, and picnic tables.

In Milam…

Holly Park Marina // Multiple generations of the same family run this marina and lodge, which offers both RV and tent camping sites, apartment units and multi-bedroom mobile homes, guide services, and a well-stocked shop.

BEFORE YOU GO

Read…Gene Lyons’s “Bass Fishing in America” (October 1976) and Rick Bass’s “Fish Story” (September 2010).

Bookmark…local news sources the Sabine County Reporter and the Toledo Chronicle for the latest on happenings, events, and even menus, as well as the LakeCaster, a print copy of which you can pick up for free at area businesses.

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  • Misty

    Thanks for the mention! I enjoyed our visit and hope you stop back by if you find yourself this way again. (Serenity Books & Gifts)