There’s a buzz in the air about of a small, but productive reservoir 70 miles southwest of DFW called Wheeler Branch. Carved out of the limestone hills that make up much of Somervell County, the 180 acre lake is fed by a water pump system that draws the water from the nearby Paluxy River. An extensive stocking plan over the last four years has led to quality bass being routinely caught by North Texas anglers.
The reservoir has a short but interesting history. Facing a declining water table and increased demand for water, Somervell County Water District (SCWD) officials decided to construct this off-channel reservoir in order to collect drinking water for the county’s 8,500 inhabitants. According to SCWD, the reservoir and park were built using primarily local Somervell County tax dollars. They did however, use state grants to fund construction of a boat ramp and to stock the lake with fish from the state’s hatcheries. A million walleye fry have been stocked in Wheeler Branch as well Florida largemouth bass, Kentucky smallmouth, channel catfish and numerous bait fish species.
The following series of photos provide a bird’s eye view of Wheeler Branch Reservoir including pictures taken during the excavation of the lake in 2007.
The use of state funds to stock the lake has sparked a little bit of controversy over the park usage fees, which are much higher than most other Texas parks and lakes. If you’re not a Somervell County resident, you’ll pay an $8 per-person entrance fee on top of a $25 fee if you launch a boat. Somervell County residents pay less in entrance fees, although still high by Texas standards.
There was some debate in the online fishing forums about the usage high fees at Wheeler Branch. Critics of the high fees will tell you that the fish stockings, as well as a portion of the boat ramp construction, were funded by their state taxes. At a minimum, the fees should be the same whether for residents and non-residents alike.
But according to Kevin Taylor, General Manager of Somervell County Water District, “It costs 28 million dollars of local Somervell County tax dollars [to construct the reservoir]. Zero federal funds and zero state funds. The average Somervell County taxpayer pays $200 to $300 per year to the district for the construction of the reservoir.”
Taylor concedes that the state, not the county, paid for most of the fish and part of the boat ramp, but he asserts that the state’s share of the total reservoir project equals about one percent. And he says because the reservoir is only 180 surface acres, the county can’t accommodate all of North Texas’s potential anglers without destroying the fishery. So in essence, SCWD is using their pricing structure to limit the number of anglers who visit the reservoir. Says, Taylor, “Wheeler Branch is probably not for everyone…[due to] its size, it simply can’t be for everyone.”
From all I saw during my recent visit to Wheeler Branch, the SCWD is doing a great job of maintaining the fishery. The park opened in August 2010, and it was immediately stocked by TPWD, but fishing wasn’t allowed until late 2011. The fish we caught that day were all fat, and although we didn’t catch any walleye, there have been reports of recent walleye catches.
The park facilities include a boat ramp, a fishing dock, clean public restrooms and lots of waterside pavilions and picnic tables. Park hours are from 8:00 AM to official sunset every day.
Entrance Fees (Per Person)
Somervell County Residents… $4
GRISD students (w/school ID) & Children… $2
Somervell County Residents over 65… Free
Non-Somervell County Adults …$8
Non Somervell County Children less than 13 years of age… $4
Boat Fees (per trailered watercraft) and one occupant
Somervell County Residents… $10
Non-Somervell County Residents… $25
To read an account of my recent fishing trip to Wheeler Branch, click here: Lone Star Chronicles
Geo Note: The Paluxy River is a tributary of the Brazos River. It is formed by the convergence of the North Paluxy River and the South Paluxy River near Bluff Dale, Texas in Erath County and flows a distance of 29 miles before joining the Brazos just to the east of Glen Rose, Texas.