Lake presents great bass fishing to South Irving anglers
By TODD JORGENSON / The Dallas Morning News
Mark Grigsby speaks of Vilbig Lake as though it’s his next-door neighbor. And actually, for him and more than 300 south Irving residents, it is. Take two steps past the grass of Grigsby’s back yard, and you’ll be swimming with catfish in 10 feet of water.
Invisible from any street with a traffic light, Vilbig Lake is lined with 234 middle-class homes on more than a dozen winding streets west of MacArthur Boulevard and north of Hunter Farrell Road.
Yet many locals are shocked to find out such a place exists in Irving. A place where you can satiate your appetite for fishing in the back yard and get a good view of the Dallas skyline in the front. A place where you can see picturesque sunsets and hear coyote calls on a dock 20 feet from the back door.
“I lived in Irving for five years before I even knew this place existed,” Grigsby said. “You take a new vacation every week.”
Grigsby is president of the Vilbig Bass Club, which seeks to enjoy sport fishing on the obscure Irving lake, but also to promote environmental health on its 154 acres.
That’s one reason the club is closed to outsiders – just like the lake itself. Vilbig residents bond around their “hidden jewel,” as Grigsby calls it. The common denominator is what makes their community unique, and they’d like to keep it that way.
“It’s kind of its own society,” said Grigsby, who bought his home on Vilbig Lake in 1997. “Everything I know about fishing I learned from people on this lake.”
And the fishing is pretty good, too. The bass club has been active since 1993 and holds monthly member tournaments that typically attract dozens of competitors. It also raises money through fish fries, garage sales and raffles to fund fish-stocking projects.
The Irving Lake Association – a resident-operated organization that oversees Vilbig Lake and its shoreline development – first stocked Florida bass in Vilbig in 1993. Since then, the ILA has spent more than $16,000 and stocked almost 50,000 fish. The association also conducted a wildlife habitat survey in 1998.
“It’s paying off. We’re seeing some definite fish improvements,” said Al Kohutek, a two-year Vilbig resident and the bass club’s vice president. “[The lake] is just the right size where you can get around the whole thing with a trolling motor, but you can’t fish the whole thing in one day. There’s no crowding.”
Besides the growing bass population, which included nine 8-pounders in 2000, Vilbig also has plentiful catfish, crappie, bluegill and carp, Kohutek said. The lake has a maximum depth of about 30 feet.
The bass club, which has sprouted from its humble beginnings as a neighborhood poker club to a membership of about 40, has a common structure to its tournaments. At the end of the five-hour tournament, anglers weigh their top three bass in competition. Highest cumulative total wins. A dead fish constitutes a one-pound penalty.
The lake originally was open to outside fishermen but has been exclusive to residents since the late 1980s. Not that many hard-core anglers would want to compete for trophies in lieu of cash, like the Vilbig faithful, anyway. But that doesn’t decrease the level of competition at tournaments.
“I’m worn out after one of these things,” Grigsby said. “It’s intense. We go at it 100 percent.”
Several steps have been taken to ensure the continued high water quality in Vilbig Lake. No gas motors are allowed, and residents schedule biannual drainage clean-ups. They help perpetuate the ecosystem by stocking crawfish and perch and by building duck boxes for waterfowl on the lake’s north side.
“Most people that live on the lake use it as a backdrop, so I don’t think they would do anything to intentionally hurt it,” said Brandon Wooddell, who holds the club record with a 9-pound bass caught in June 2000. “I think most of the people who live here are conscious of that.”
Among the projects in the planning stages are a park with picnic tables, a clubhouse and a baseball field on the north side of the lake. Erosion controls, including sea walls, already are in place to alleviate the need for dredging.
“There’s a lot of growth yet on this lake. We’re only in the beginning stages,” Grigsby said. “People who live here are willing to make that investment once they realize what a jewel we have.”
Wooddell said that’s because Vilbig residents appreciate the value of the lake, not only as a backyard novelty but as a source of community pride.
“The club has helped us grow closer as neighbors, but the lake itself brings everybody together, too,” he said. “For some of us, it’s the view. For some of us, it’s the fishing. It offers something different for everyone.”