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Bryant Sheets enjoys some bass fishing with Luke Clayton on a crisp fall day.

I’ve always said long-term friendships can be created faster in the outdoors when like-minded folks get together than any other way. Through the years, I have made a great many friends while on story assignments. When I stop and give some thought to the reasons why, it’s pretty obvious: the people I find myself writing about and I have one thing in common that bonds us — a lifelong love of the outdoors.

A couple weeks ago, I was invited by owner Arlan Sheets to visit Cedar Cove Ranch not far from Athens. The ranch consists of 700 acres of prime East Texas wildlife habitat and a very well-managed lake that provides excellent crappie and bass fishing for guests that lodge on three well-appointed cabins on the property. Arlan introduced me to his dad, Bryant Sheets, and from the get-go I could see another of those long-term friendships beginning. Bryant and I are about the same age, and we both are lifelong sportsmen with many of the same interests. When visiting the ranch, Bryant is the one who personally sees to it you have an enjoyable stay and have everything needed to do so.

I met Bryant at the front gate of the ranch at the appointed time, and he inquired as to what I would like to do first. “Want to use the electric ‘buggy’ and quietly drive the ranch roads? Chances are very good you can shoot a hog with that big bore air rifle,” Bryant said. With plenty of fresh pork in my freezer and a desire to simply enjoy the day and learn all I could about this awesome piece of outdoor paradise, I replied, “You know if we shoot a hog, then the work begins. How about we just take it easy and soak up all the splendor the fall woods has to provide?”

This was fine with Bryant. We had plans to begin fishing about mid-morning, and skinning and quartering a wild hog would severely cut into our fishing time. As we rode slowly through the hickory- and oak-covered woodlands that were just taking on their fall colors, I learned about the ranch and the myriad activities available. Bryant knew I was all about hunting and fishing, but many of the guests at Cedar Cove Ranch Resort come to simply get away to a very remote but comfortable place for a couple days.

“We have the grand lodge as well as a smaller cabin and also some hotel style lodging right on the water,” Bryant said. “We host a lot of weddings through the course of a year. Many couples desire a ceremony where they really ‘get away from it all,’ and it’s hard to beat Cedar Cove for that. We also have folks that just come out to hike the trails and fish. We have a fully rigged bass boat that is available for rental, and if folks wish to simply concentrate on catching fish and not handing the boat, I offer guided trips here on the lake.”

As we drove the ranch roads, it was obvious the place was well managed for wildlife. Several food plots had sprouted green, and feeders and stands that varied from double ladder stands to comfortable enclosed hunting blinds were strategically placed along game trails and clearings. Along the trails we noticed several fresh whitetail rub lines and scrapes. The roads and trails were covered in hog and deer tracks. It was very obvious to me I was in great game country. I have hunted this section of the state in past years and have always been amazed at the terrain that varies from gently rolling to some downright steep hills.

As we broke out of some heavy woods, Bryant drove us to a state of the art shooting range that offered shots out to 200 meters. The shooting stations were covered and distances to the various targets well marked.

By mid-morning, we decided to head back and do a bit of fishing before I had to leave for home. As soon as we launched the boat, the wind picked up and changed from the east to the northeast. Conditions were less than ideal with an incoming cool front, and we opted to fish again soon when the weather was more conducive to spending time on the water. I’ve fished lots of private lakes but never one as well designed as this. The depth finder near the dam plotted a bottom 50 feet below the boat. The same aquifer that Ozarka water uses feeds the lake.

Always interested in a fish fry, I quizzed Bryant as to the flavor of the fish caught from these pristine waters. His answer was just what I expected, and I vowed to return and bring my fish cooker for a shoreline fish fry on the next outing.

The ranch is just a few miles from Purtis Creek State Park and about 1.5 hours from Dallas. If you have yet to lock in on a place to hunt deer of hogs this fall, consider giving Cedar Cove Ranch a call or you might wish to do some bass or crappie fishing away from the crowds. You can learn all about the ranch on the website,

Email outdoors writer Luke Clayton via

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