Night Bowfishing Adventure — 19 Oct. 2012 — Stillhouse Hollow

Tonight I welcomed aboard Andy M., his son Trent, and Trent’s high school buddy and football teammate, Andy A., all from N. Austin. Tonight’s trip was a bow fishing adventure. Trent has been bowfishing several times and, in fact, holds bowfishing records on Stillhouse, whereas this was Andy’s first go at it.

Trent (L) and Andy (R) and a nice night’s catch.

We got on the water around 6:30p so we could do some target shooting and pin/sight adjustment in the failing light. Once darkness set in we were off hunting carp, gar, and smallmouth buffalo.

My last bowfishing trip was in August with the water temperature at its annual high and there was noticeably more shad in the shallows than we witnessed tonight with the water now a full 12 + degrees off of that high.

The sighting/shooting was pretty consistent with roughly a 5:1 ratio of carp to buffalo.

This was the second full day of calm conditions with the winds light from the north until around 5pm, then going flat for about the first 2 hours of darkness. Unfortunately, after that, around 9:30pm, a light southerly breeze kicked in, but, as you know if you’ve ever tried this, even a light wind plays havoc with light penetration and your ability to spot fish.

By the time the winds came up too strongly for us to escape it, the time was 11:30p and we’d managed to bag 3 carp and 1 buffalo. The largest of the four was one of the carp which, on a certified scale, weighed in at 7.25 pounds.

While both boys shot at about as many fish as the other, tonight was Trent’s night, bagging all 4 of the fish that came aboard. Andy A. was a good sport and, despite missing, didn’t get discouraged or frustrated, but rather stuck with it right to the last shot. It’s not uncommon for “rookies” to go without a hit until their minds “grasp” the concept of how light bends (refracts) in water and how objects simply are not where they appear to me. Finally, it “clicks” and then the learning curve flattens a bit from then on.

Go Warriors!!

Staying in Touch Pays Off! 40 Fish, 15 Oct. 2012, Stillhouse Fishing Guide Report

As bookings begin to slow down now that hunting is on people’s minds, the kids are back in school, and cool weather is setting in, I keep right on fishing even on days with no clients aboard so that I can keep up with the seasonal movements of the bait and gamefish.

I caught this screen shot on my Lowrance HDS-10 as the bite was tailing off around 10:35 this morning. As I worked my slab in long sweeps, two or three fish perked up and chased the bait. One was hooked while the other fish (possibly two other fish) spooked and headed to bottom.

Today I fished for a short while, spending more time studying sonar than fishing, but still managing to put a nice catch of fish together.

The “big event” right now is the fall “turnover” where the water temperature becomes uniform from top to bottom and the fish scatter from 0 to 45 feet vertically, and do a lot of moving horizontally, as well.

The “bite” turned on abruptly around 9:45 and lasted for about 50 minutes. During that time I caught 38 of the 40 fish landed during this trip.

Two areas, Area 1138 and 767, gave up fish today. At both areas the fish responded well to an “easing” and a “smoking” tactic, both done with my go-to slab the TNT180. Today I used the 3/8 oz. in chrome while the bite was tough before and after the feeding window, and used the 3/4 oz. in white once the fish began perking up.

Sometimes I just shake my head at how good AND comfortable the fishing is in the fall compared to the hot summer time and can’t believe more people don’t take advantage of the autumn-time fishing. Add to the comfortable, dry weather the fact that some of our best fishing “under birds” happens in the fall, and that is an unbeatable combination.

If you’re itchin’, let’s go fishin’!!

TALLY = 40 fish, all caught and released

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Start Time: 8:30a

End Time: 11:15a

Air Temp: 71F at trip’s start.

Water Surface Temp: 75.5F

Wind: WNW @ <6.
Skies: Skies were fair.

SKIFF Trip #10 for 2012 — 18 Fish, Stillhouse Hollow Lake, 13 Oct. 2012

The following blog entry appears in the form of a report to those who support the Soldiers’ Kids Involved in Fishing Fun (S.K.I.F.F.) program which serves to put the children of deployed or deceased soldiers on the water at no charge to their families…

Gabriel came up with the trip’s largest fish today, a 2 7/8 pound largemouth that came out of 41 feet of water on a modified Pet Spoon

Here both boys (Angel on left, Gabriel on right) display a pair of 13.75″ white bass also found quite deep today now that the thermocline has just about vanished.

13 October 2012

Dear Friends of SKIFF,

Today I fished with Angel (age 12) and Gabriel (age 10) Espinoza, the sons of First Lieutenant and Mrs. Angel G. Espinoza, originally from San Antonio and now serving in the U.S. Army based in Ft. Hood. 1LT Espinoza is an Army Transportation Corp officer with the 96th Transportation Co., now deployed to Afghanistan.

Our conditions today were tough — very windy even before sunrise and with increasing winds thereafter, and a hard-to-shake murky low cloud base that has been the norm for the past 5 mornings.

Nonetheless, we used sonar to search out fish and eliminate unproductive water, boating 3 sets of doubles (6 fish) in our first half hour, and locating sufficient numbers of fish to keep us busy thereafter.

Despite finding great concentrations of fish, we had to get our baits in front of the many to get bit by just a few, given the “funk” the fish were in due to the so-so weather. This is a great application for downriggers, and, indeed, the downriggers accounted for the majority of our fish today.

We used modified Pet Spoons on a tandem rig presented at 41 feet over a 43-45 foot bottom between Areas 1134 and 863 to land white bass (12), largemouth bass (3), and a crappie (1). Every time we encountered a decent concentration of fish, we’d e-anchor and attempt to slab for them, but the fish were totally disinterested in that vertical presentation today.

In our last bit of time on the water, we headed shallow for a change of pace to gun for some sunfish, but even they were sluggish. We managed 1 longear sunfish at Area 1098, but saw many others just content to hug bottom and hardly give notice to the presence of our baits.

In the end, we wound up with 18 fish and the boys enjoyed catching every last one of them. Their prior fishing experience had been long ago and unproductive, so they were very enthusiastic the entire time we were on the water and stayed keenly focused on the downrigging gear as we covered water today.

Thank you all who have or do contribute to SKIFF in any way for you help, encouragement, and contributions!

TALLY = 18 FISH, all caught and released

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Start Time: 8:00a

End Time: 12:15p

Air Temp: 73F at trip’s start.

Water Surface Temp: 75.5F

Wind: SSE12-15.

Skies: 90% early morning cloudiness in the form of low murky clouds and humid conditions.

From Finances to Fishing in Two Hours Flat — 12 Fish, 11 Oct. 2012, Stillhouse Hollow Lake

This morning we were blessed to receive a $250 check from the Fort Hood Area Assoc. of Realtors (FHAAR) in support of the SKIFF (Soldiers’ Kids Involved in Fishing Fun) program! A special thanks to Tom DeAngio of the “Shine Team” for going to bat for us on this!!

Manuel was all smiles when this 3.06 pound largemouth made it into the net.

I was joined at this event by Manuel Pena of the Austin Fly Fishers and by Marty Wall, owner of First Draft, Inc. (and volunteer videographer for SKIFF). After a nice breakfast with the realtors, Marty headed back home to entertain some house guests and Manuel and I, well, we hustled back to my house, swapped dress pants for fishing shorts and headed to the lake!!

Today’s conditions were below average, mainly in that we had a murky, low cloud set that kept things dark and damp, and we got a later than optimum start. In fact, we were just putting the boat in within minutes of when I would normally be pulling out, but, my main intent was not a large catch, rather, it was to give Manuel a “sampler” of the techniques I use with kids on board — the kids he works hard to generate funds for!!

So, we did a little downrigging around Area 859, 860, 070, and 457 (result: 4 white bass, 3 largemouth bass), we did a little jigging (result: a strikeout), and we did a little shallow water sunfishing at Area 200 (result: 3 bluegill sunfish and 2 longear sunfish).

Our big fish of the trip came off of Area 457 when Manuel connected with a 3 1/16 pound largemouth that slammed into his Pet Spoon in 32 feet of water. After leaping from the water once about 40 feet away from the boat, we saw he was solidly hooked and I felt confident we’d boat him … until him took a last ditch dive toward the downrigger cable. In the end, disaster was averted and we brought the fish to net, as shown above.

TALLY = 12 fish, all caught and released

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Start Time: 10:30a

End Time: 1:45p

Air Temp: 77F at trip’s start.

Water Surface Temp: 76.5F

Wind: SSE13-14.

Skies: Skies were darkened by low clouds; very light mist fell on occasion; light rain began as we departed.

Downrigging 101 — 60 Fish, Belton Lake Fishing Guide Report, 08 Oct. 2012

This morning I fished with Zacch S. and his fishing buddy, Ben. A little nip was in the 48F pre-dawn air following a cold front’s passage this past weekend.

Zacch came up with a rarity today — twin smallmouth bass taken on our tandem rig from off a rocky face in around 31 feet of water.

Zacch and Ben hold four of the white bass we caught today — all average for Belton Lake this year.

Zacch contacted me about a month ago to set up this trip and was very specific about his goals. He wanted to learn the fundamentals of downrigging so he could travel and fish some of the Texas freshwater striped bass fisheries (Texoma, Whitney, etc.) and head to the coast and use downriggers offshore.

We put a solid 3 hours in on the downriggers in order to cover and review all the basics of setting the ‘riggers correctly, maintaining contact with the balls on sonar, avoiding twists of the fishing line around the cable, trolling speed adjustments, and more. For our efforts, we boated a total of 24 fish during that time from Areas 133-1129 (early) and from Areas 181-1023 (mid-morning).

Although today’s weather (post-frontal but still breezy) wasn’t perfect, I hesitated to put this trip off any later in the year because our thermocline is rapidly breaking down with cooling surface waters beginning to sink and displace the once-heavier water beneath.

At Area 1023, we pulled up the riggers and did some casting with blade baits and jigging with slabs in order to give Zacch and Ben an idea of what needs to be done to capitalize on larger concentrations of fish once they are found via downrigging. This area held lost of smallish fish and these fish were reluctant to chase, so, we gambled — we left fish to find fish (with their permission, as we could have gone right on catching small fish) in hopes of finding some better quality fish elsewhere.

As it turns out, the gamble paid off (warning: it doesn’t always!!). We headed to Area 714, took a few serpentine passes over the area while studying sonar, found fish tightly bunched on bottom, got our slabs down to them, and, over the next hour, put another 36 fish in the boat — all white bass including 1, 2, and 3 year old fish up to 12″.

As noon came and went, the skies were brightening, the winds were calming, and the bite here slowly died to zero. We decided to call it a day with mission accomplished on “Downrigging 101”. For our efforts today we boated 2 smallmouth bass and 58 white bass – strangely enough, not a single hybrid (keeper or short) was boated today.

TALLY = 60 fish, all caught and released

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Start Time: 7:00a

End Time:12:15p

Air Temp: 48F at trip’s start.

Water Surface Temp: 76.6F

Wind: NNW7-9.

Skies: Skies were greyed over with cloud cover until around 30 minutes post-sunrise, then cleared toward a post-frontal blue.

Even the Ball-Boy hits a Homer now and then! 105 Fish, 04 Oct. 2012, Stillhouse Fishing Report

This morning I fished with father and son team Kenny and Aaron R. Kenny serves as the senior pastor at Skyline Baptist Church in Killeen, TX. Aaron is an all-around sportsman and attends Patterson Middle School there.

Here Aaron (L) and Kenny (R) show the best 4 white bass we boated this morning.

Here’s a StructureScan shot of what was happening beneath us. The number of fish increased and decreased over our 75 minute stay here, but never did we go without having at least a few fish showing on sonar.

And here is that same shot on colored sonar with a wide angle transducer, capturing many more targets due to the fact that it covers a wider angle and more area — literally hundreds of fish were within a 40 foot diameter beneath the boat.

I had a really good feeling about this trip since Monday when Kenny called to book it and I clicked on the WunderGround website and saw that this day was the first day of a wind returning to a southerly direction after almost 6 days of coming from the north and east.

Our water is cooling, and the thermocline is slowly deteriorating. Today, it was set up at around 43-44 feet, thus opening up a whole lot more submerged topography to the potential of holding fish versus when it is set up shallower as it is during the heat of the summer.

We spent our first hour patrolling with downriggers deployed with balls down at around 34 feet and steadily picked up white bass of all sizes in the 0-3 year class using tandem rigged Pet Spoons. By 8:30a we had boated 18 fish fishing primarily between Areas 868 and 859.

The way I normally work things is to have the person not hooked up and reeling in a fish complete the task of winding in the downrigger ball to both clear it out of the way of the fish and to get it reset and ready to be rigged and dropped again after the fish is landed. I had to laugh when Aaron, a particularly competitive young man (in a good-natured way), while fighting a fish, called to his dad, “Oh ball boy, can you reel this ball in ?”

As we downrigged, I occasionally opened out circuit up to a wider ellipse to check for the presence of fish in adjacent waters. As we did so, we consistently graphed fish at Area 1134. After picking up fish on Area 1134 in 3 consecutive passes, I e-anchored us over top of this area and we began to work TNT180 slab spoons vertically in an effort to tempt these fish holding from 0 to 3 feet off the bottom in 42 feet of water. That did NOT require much effort at all — these fish were ready to feed! We noted earlier how some of our larger white bass had concave bellies indicating they hadn’t fed much lately (not uncommon following a cold front). They were about to make up for it! Long story short, we sat at this one area for approximately 75 minutes and boated fish after fish after fish, catching and immediately releasing a total of exactly 75 white bass, bringing our tally up to 93 fish by the time they quit. When things got a bit slow, we’d toss Cicada blade baits out away from the boat to draw more curious fish in and then is was game-on once again.

When these fish were done, they were done for good. We spent another 45 minutes searching for active fish and/or bait and found precious little.

We all had in our minds that it’d be neat to break that 100 fish mark, though, so, we pressed on.

Eventually, at Area 1135 we began to mark a small, scattered school of white bass holding about a foot off the bottom in 36 feet of water. We worked the downriggers over them at least 6 times and combed out 3 fish on the outskirts of the school, but the “main body” of fish refused to respond. So, on the next pass, as we came over these fish again, I tossed a marker buoy and then backed off downwind, e-anchored the boat, and we fired cast after cast right over the deep school to see what they’d do. This turned out to be the right move, as we caught fish right away and managed to comb out 9 more fish (all nice white bass) bringing our final total to 105 caught and released.

We decided it wise to end on a strong note after experiencing a slow bite following that white-hot fishing earlier, and so we headed on it and called it a great morning. Yes, even the ball boy hits a home run now and then.

TALLY = 105 fish, all caught and released

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Start Time: 7:00a

End Time:12:00 noon

Air Temp: 59F at trip’s start.

Water Surface Temp: 76.6F

Wind: SSE8-14.

Skies: Skies were darkened by low clouds early, clearing to about 30% cloudy by trip’s end on a fair sky.

Took a Little Coaxing Today — 25 Fish, 05 Oct. 2012, Stillhouse Fishing Guide Report

This morning I fished with father and son David and Sean F. of Belton. David is a heart specialist (an electrophysiologist, to be exact) on the Scott & White team here in Central Texas, and Sean is working his way through his junior year in college in North Carolina.

Sean (L) and David (R) with the best of the bunch from today’s outing, all taping 13-14″. The fish were tight-lipped today on an easterly wind.

Bottom line: we had to work for every one of the 25 fish we caught today.

Despite a great weather forecast (mild SW winds and partly cloudy skies in advance of an approaching cold front), we actually experienced strong SE winds and a murky, persistent low cloud cover. When winds go east of southeast, things always get tough, and that’s what we faced today.

We got out on the fishing grounds and saw widely scattered bottom-hugging fish most of the morning.

We put our first 90 minutes into downrigging in order to catch fish (obviously!), but also in hopes of coming across a large concentration of active fish which we could hover over top of and jig for. In these first 90 minutes in the vicinity of Area 1131-1112 we never experienced any consistency in fish location. We boated a total of 12 fish including a few doubles, about a third of which were <1 year old fish and therefore smallish, but had to go far and wide to do it.

We searched out 3 other locations before coming upon a solid concentration of fish along the 35-37 foot contour line extending from Area 070 to Area 878. Although there were definitely fish here, they were definitely not turned on. Most were holding “belly to the bottom”. We went with a jigging approach using TNT180 3/4 oz. slabs and, although we did catch fish in two distinct location along this contour (6 at the first location and 7 at the next) the fish never really turned on for us.

Typically, when the fish are in a positive feeding mode, the first fish from the school is the toughest to catch. Once it is hooked and fought to the surface, its struggling, flashing, defecating and regurgitating all serve to whip the other schoolmates into a frenzy that can be kept going for quite some time if you play it right. Such fish will also typically suspend by a foot to as much as 4-6 feet off bottom and be alert and on patrol. These fish we found today never did turn on like this. When we did hook one, I’d observe 3-4 other fish lolly-gag half-heartedly upwards in the water column after the hooked schoolmate only to drift right back to bottom to sulk again. One silver lining to all this was the excellent quality of these fish we’d found here. As the photos show, these fish were all in the 13-14″ range and we’re in great condition. Their bellies were not bulging from recently gorging on baitfish, but they were plump and convex.

And so it was, we certainly didn’t strike out this morning, nor did we just knock ’em dead today. But, as my wife often reminds me, there is more to a fishing trip than a “head count” at the end. Sean wanted to spend some outdoor time with David on his short trip home and we accomplished that thanks to some flexibility on David’s part. We enjoyed the conversation along the way, especially (for me) concerning some things directly from a physician for me to consider with a double-shoulder surgery slated for sometime in the New Year. By 11:15 we wrapped up and parted ways.

TALLY = 25 fish, all caught and released

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Start Time: 7:00a

End Time:11:00a

Air Temp: 69F at trip’s start.

Water Surface Temp: 76.8F

Wind: SSE11-16.

Skies: Skies were murky due to low clouds for the entire trip with only glimpses of sun amidst the heavy cloud cover.