Sam Rayburn is the largest body of water that is entirely within the state of Texas. This Corp of Engineers lake is created by impounding the Angelina River and several bayous. The terrain is rolling hills with lots of trees and mostly undeveloped. The water is clean and clear and there are lots of good coves for skiing/boarding, fishing, or swimming. The wind can cause huge waves as it blows down the lake and there are a number of islands and shallow areas, so be careful.
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We have only explored the south end of this huge lake, so when we visit Sam Rayburn we'll cruise around to enjoy the scenery and find a good cove for anchoring, swimming, or skiing/boarding. There are a couple of restaurants on the lake but none that we know of where you can park the boat and enjoy food and music on the water. For example, Powell Park Marina (409 584-2624) has a small cafe with good food - you can beach the boat and walk about 300 yards to the cafe.
We haven't found a lot of activity on or near the lake. Jasper is about 15 minutes from the south end of the lake and they have shopping, art museums, restaurants, and some nightlife (ie, Jasper Roadhouse Bar & Grill). Near the dam is a good bar and restaurant (have Mike cook you a steak - yummy) that occasionally has karaoke or live bands on the weekends. Lufkin is near the north end of the lake and is a much bigger town with lots of restaurants, a zoo, and some ok nightlife (Shenanigans, Angelina Tavern, Electric Cowboy).
If you like golf, you have some excellent choices - Rayburn Country Resort is at the south end of the lake a couple minutes from the dam and they have 27 fun and challenging holes - to learn more read the reviews of all three courses. Crown Colony Golf Course is in Lufkin and it is consistently rated one of the top 3 courses in Texas - here is our review.
We aren't aware of any boat rental locations. If you want to go fishing, there are plenty of fishing guides that will take you to where the big ones are biting.
We haven't discovered a lot to do in the area except golf as mentioned above. Some other options include:
- try hiking the Trail Between The Lakes which is located in the southern portion of Sabine County and winds 28 miles through Sabine National Forest
- Jasper is five miles from the south end of the lake and it offers an historic town square with a courthouse built in 1889, art galleries, outdoor art sculptures, antique shops, murals, and the old county jail where county archives are housed
- Lufkin is a few miles from the north end of the lake and has lots of restaurants, shopping, nightlife, and more
- the Piney Woods near Sam Rayburn has 126,000 acres available for public hunting and the woods are full of deer, wild turkey, and other small game, as well as ducks and geese that stop by on the winter migration to warmer climates.
This is starting to sound like a broken record, but the only nearby restaurant we found was The Stump on the east side of the dam, but you can't get to it by water. And Powell Park Marina has a small cafe about 300 yards off the water. Remember that you came to Sam Rayburn to enjoy the lake, camping, fishing, skiing/boarding, and nature.
Depending on the wind, you shouldn't have any problems finding some smooth water - there are plenty of coves and if the wind is not blowing you can ski any part of the lake. You won't have any problems with boat wakes because the lake is so big and not real crowded. There is also plenty of nice sandy beach for day use.
The following is provided thanks to Texas Parks and Wildlife. The most popular game fish at Sam Rayburn Reservoir is the largemouth bass; an excellent year-round fishery exists. Excellent year-round crappie and catfish fisheries are also present. White bass numbers are limited, but provide good fishing opportunities during the spring. The hybrid striped bass population is maintained by TPWD through annual stockings and is popular due to this fish's growth potential, schooling nature, and fighting characteristics. Bluegill and redear sunfish are present in high numbers and provide good fishing, especially for youth or inexperienced anglers.
Habitat in Sam Rayburn Reservoir consists of submerged aquatic vegetation, standing timber, and flooded terrestrial vegetation. Hydrilla is the predominant plant species, although many native plants such as coontail and pondweed are also present. In the lower part of the reservoir the water is relatively clear; game fish are typically found around vegetation edges, flats, humps, and creek channels. In the upper third of the reservoir, the abundance of vegetation typically declines. Timber, brush, laydowns, and creek channels provide upper-lake gamefish habitat. Due to water level fluctuations, habitat conditions change seasonally and yearly. Drastic water level changes can decrease the amount of vegetation. At high water levels, inundated trees and bushes provide excellent habitat.
Tips & Tactics
Anglers are most successful at catching largemouth bass during the fall, winter, and spring months. Due to cooler water temperatures, fish are active for longer periods of the day and are typically found in shallow water. A variety of baits and techniques will work during these times. When fish are active, crankbaits and spinnerbaits are usually the preferred choice. During the hot summer, the bite usually slows and fish activity is usually concentrated during early morning, late evening, and at night. Poppers, propeller baits, stickbaits, and flukes are good topwater choices during low light conditions. As the sun rises, most bass are concentrated in or around vegetation edges, or seek refuge on deep ledges and creek channels. During this time, plastic worms and jigs are the preferred baits.
Crappie fishing is excellent year-round with jigs and minnows. During the spring spawn, anglers target shallow areas around vegetation. During other times of the year, fish are typically concentrated in deeper water around brushpiles and creek channels.
Sam Rayburn has lots of good campgrounds on the lake - a couple of our favorites are Shirley Creek Marina, Powell Park and Twin Dikes Park. Take a look at Texas Outside's lake and campground map to find a park and read our review or check this lake map from Texas Parks & Wildlife.
Although it is not on the lake (just a short 5 minute drive to the ramp), we enjoyed a weekend stay at Rayburn Resort. They have a variety of accommodations, pool, tennis courts, restaurant, and three superb golf courses.
There are plenty of marinas and ramps regardless of which part of the lake you want to launch from. Check out this lake map from Texas Parks & Wildlife to find a ramp, marina, or campground.