Despite Winds from the North, We Fishermen did go Forth — 20 Dec. 2013, Stillhouse Hollow, 19 Fish

Tough fishing today!

Despite high winds in conjunction with a stiff cold front’s arrival, we persisted and put a few white bass in the boat today, all on slabs from out of about 27-29′ of water.

I was joined by long-time clients Jim and Shena S. from Austin, TX. We were all in a bit of a scheduling crunch which, long story short, put us in the path of a significant cold front as we tried our hand at boating some white bass today. Jim and Shena had school responsibilities right up until Tuesday with holiday travel planned thereafter. I was hemmed in prior to our trip with pre-op medical appointments in advance of my upcoming rotator cuff surgery through Wednesday, and then faced the surgery afterwards on Friday. So, we let schedules dictate our fishing time instead of allowing weather to do so and this showed in our results as we wound up fishing on this less than ideal Thursday.

I was confident we could catch a few fish as this was still a dry front (hard, wet cold fronts are killers and demand a postponement) so, after talking things over with Jim the night before, we decided to go. You know the old saying, ” A bad day of fishing …”.

It was a blustery day with winds at 18 gusting higher as we launched around 1:30pm. The cold front had arrived hours earlier, the winds had peaked at 22-24 around 11a and were ever so slowly slacking off. The temperatures hadn’t dropped nearly as far as they would in the clear overnight hours, but, it was definitely NOT balmy, either!

Due to the high winds, we were limited to fishing the upper lake of Stillhouse Hollow as boat control in the more exposed lower end would have been an impossibility. We found exactly 3 populations of fish to fish for today and there was some commonality in the locations. All 3 were on the high points of small, open-water flats in 27-29 feet of water, all were tight to the bottom, and all were very sluggish, feeding only for a short while after we initially made contact.

Small and slow are the keys to sluggish fish, so, we geared up with 3/8 oz. slabs (TNT180’s in white) and made intentionally prolonged pauses in our jigging strokes to give fish ample opportunity to get to and inhale our baits.

We connected with fish at Areas 1154, 334, and 1156. I kept a close watch on sonar, especially when Jim and Shena were reeling in hooked fish to see what other commotion this produced. Each time it was much the same — just a few (3-4) schoolmates would pull a foot or two up off bottom out of curiosity, but then settled right back down.

By 4:30pm the winds had knocked down to 16+ mph or so and so I headed as far downlake as I dared. I got to look over two deep humps I hoped were somewhat insulated from the changing conditions, but they were clean — not even holding bait.

We gave downrigging a try at mid-lake as the light began to fail trying to cover a lot of water quickly in hopes of connecting with a few “high riders” using the light up near the surface to feed, but, that didn’t work, either.

We ended our trip with 19 fish boated and look forward to better weather and better results on our next outing when Jim and Shena’s schedules next relent.

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Start Time: 1:30pm

End Time: 6:00pm

Air Temp: 47F at trip’s start.

Water Surface Temp: 52F

Wind: NNW16-18+.

Skies: Clear.

A Fisherman, and a Fisher of Men … 113 Fish, Central Texas Fishing Guide Report, 17 Dec. 2012

Today I fished with father and son team Larry and Brett L. Larry serves as an assistant football coach at Lampasas High School and Brett works at the Wildflower Country Club and golf course in Temple.

Father and son fishing means father and son results. Here Brett (L) and Larry (R) lip one of the many 13-14+ inch white bass we boated today.

Larry and Brett had both done a good bit of white bass fishing in the past, having fished the spawning run in the Sabine River and Angelina River, and having fished in the slack water of Lake Livingston.

We had a stiff constant northwest breeze today which got the fish going early and kept them going until beyond 11 AM. Our first success of the morning came at Area 130/1159. This area features a slow taper from 20 feet out to 27 feet. As we found fish scattered and tight to the bottom on sonar, we hovered over top of them, made long casts into the wind, and worked our blade baits lift–drop style all the way back to the boat. I chose half-ounce Cicada blade baits for this duty. By 9:15 AM the bite in this area died, and we once again began searching for fish. By this time we had boated 34 fish and nearly every one was a beefy 13-14 inch white bass.

A loosely organized and fairly wide ranging flock of terns helped solve the location puzzle for us pretty quickly. We once again found ourselves on top of fish at Area 334. With these fish down between 28 and 31 feet, I decided to go with a smoking tactic at first, and when that produced less than I’d hoped for, we switched over to straight vertical jigging with TNT180’s in 3/4 oz. We added another nine fish to our tally here, but as went the terns, so went the fish – they, too, were loosely organized and fairly wide ranging. We wound up catching nine fish here.

We caught up with another more concentrated flock of terns working over top of Area 335. These fish were right on the shoulder (or breakline) where a deep flat rolls off into the old river channel. This group of white bass were much more tightly bunched thus making them much more competitive. Given the fishes’ demonstrated reluctance to chase a smoked slab at our last stop, and given that the hour was now late in the morning, we decided to start with a straight vertical jigging approach, assuming these fish would be a bit sluggish. This area produced at a moderate pace, but it produced well. In an hour’s time, with 3 rods going, we added 45 more white bass to our tally. These fish were mixed in the year class from one to three years old.

Since neither Larry nor Brett had any experience with downriggers I did a little on the water demonstration to show their effectiveness. As the fishing began to wane around 11 AM, I put down twin tandem rigs (that’s four lures in the water total), and we worked a 60 yard stretch of breakline in the vicinity of Area 335. Larry’s rod went off first just minutes after we got going, and he came up with a single; then, both rods went off and both men came up with a double (that’s four fish landed at once). I watched sonar closely as we trolled and saw a strong congregation of fish at Area 1158. I marked that area and we returned to vertical jig over it after quickly stowing the downrigging gear. Our fish count stood at 93 as we begin fishing this location, and by the time the fish had turned off, we had boated another 20 fish including 19 white bass and one freshwater drum.

We decided to call it a real good day right there with scarcely more than five minutes gone by without catching a fish at any point in the day’s trip.

I particularly enjoyed today’s company and conversation. Larry has an evangelist’s heart and is now honing his evangelist’s skills. His forthcoming retirement coupled with his good standing and reputation in his community will allow him to reach a lot of people in Lampasas and the surrounding area with the Gospel and the message of hope it brings. May God bless you in that pursuit, Larry.

TALLY = 113 Fish, all caught and released, including 1 drum, 1 largemouth bass, and 111 white bass

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Start Time: 7:20a

End Time: 11:40a

Air Temp: 53F at trip’s start.

Water Surface Temp: 59.8F

Wind: NW12-14.

Skies: Clear, “bluebird” skies.

Great Screenshots Today — Central Texas White Bass Fishing Guide Report (Stillhouse)

Today, Thursday, 13 Dec., was my first day back on Stillhouse following the hard cold front that pushed through Sunday night into Monday. I focused on scouting current fish locations and on collecting sonar screenshots for an upcoming presentation at the Cabela’s store in Buda.

The two distinct “peaks” of fish showing in the center of the screen were fish that raised up off bottom to chase fish that I’d hooked and was reeling toward the surface. If you look above the “e” in Range (Less) and at about the 23 foot mark, you’ll see a lone fish arch up there by itself. That’s my hooked fish.

If you look just above the letters “R” and “e” in the word “Range”, you’ll see a dark blue line traced from about 20 feet downward to about 42 feet at about a 30 degree angle. That is my 3/4 oz. slab. You can also see that the line stops at about 42 feet. That’s where a fish swam up off bottom to strike the slab. I hooked this fish and reeled it to the surface, as shown by the blue, red and yellow line that slopes upwards and fades into the surface clutter, starting at the “e” in Range and ending above the “o” in “Stop”. I then released that fish. You can see the trace of the fish swimming in a beeline toward the bottom starting at ~7 feet deep above the “S” in Split, and tailing out at 38 feet deep above the “u” in Source. You can also see about 9 other fish followed this hooked fish upwards out of curiosity.

Although the bottom is not well defined because I was stopped over top of a sloped bottom, you can clearly see fish on bottom in 63 feet of water. Until today’s trip, the deepest I’d ever consistently caught fish on Stillhouse was 55 feet, but, this is an unusual year with water much warmer than usual given the date.

As you can see, there is a massive school of fish here — 20 feet thick with hundreds of white bass — and extending for yards in all directions around the boat. I refer to these as winter “mega-schools” which begin to form now and stay formed until at least late February.

Here’s a shot off of my Lowrance Structure Scan in downlooking mode showing a school of white bass clearly relating to the downwind side of a deep rocky hump.

Despite the cold days and nights, we only lost about 3 degrees on the surface, dropping from ~63F to ~60F.

Although I looked over many areas today those areas holding the fish all had two things in common: they were in deep water and they were adjacent to the river channel.

I found fish at three areas today: Area 947, 1005, and 946, in that order. As is typical as we transition into the winter these fish were in very large schools with literally hundreds of fish per school. Because my object was to find fish for upcoming guided trips and not catch a bunch of fish, I stayed on each area only until I boated 15 fish and then moved on to find more fish.

Each of the three productive areas I located fish on today fished in the same manner. First I observed the fish were in an active, feeding posture by observing sonar. Next, I got a slab down into the school and used the smoking technique to see how active the fish were. In each case, the fish were extremely aggressive, so I continued using the smoking technique which served to keep the fish agitated and striking.

Long story short, I put an easy 45 fish in the boat in under 2 1/2 hours’ time.

TALLY = 45 Fish, all caught and released

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Start Time: 2:30p

End Time: 5:00p

Air Temp: 65F at trip’s start.

Water Surface Temp: 60.3F

Wind: SSW10.

Skies: Fair and cloudless until 3:30, then a thick bank of grey clouds moved in from the SW, dropping the temperature and light level.

Fishing with Santa (and his brother-in-law, Larry) — 73 Fish, Stillhouse Hollow, 07 Dec. 2012

This morning I fished with Dave H. and his brother-in-law Larry S. As you can see from the photo below, Dave looks an awful lot like Santa Claus, and in fact, he does a lot of volunteer work as a Santa Claus in and around Austin.

Here Santa (a.k.a. Dave) shows two presents he pulled out of Stillhouse on a well-worked bladebait.

Happy Birthday, Larry! Although not our target species, we always put a few largemouth in the boat while fishing Stillhouse for abundant white bass.

I first got to know Dave through his work in and participation in the Austin Fly Fishers. Since meeting back in 2009, we’ve been fortunate enough to work together to make the S.K.I.F.F. program (Soldiers’ Kids Involved in Fishing Fun) available to the children of Ft. Hood’s deployed soldiers. Dave gave this trip as a birthday present to Larry.

As we met shortly before 7 AM, a moderate fog was blanketing the area. Fog is typically accompanied by calm wind, or vice versa, and neither is particularly helpful to fishing. Due to the low light conditions, I chose to start up shallow. We began our search for fish at Area 717/745. Due to the shallow depth and flat taper of this area, I chose to start us off using blade baits (Reef Runner Cicadas) cast horizontally. We fished these “lift drop style”, and in so doing kept them near the bottom. We knew fish were in this area as sonar clearly showed both game fish and shad, however, for the first 15 minutes we couldn’t draw strike. I told Dave and Larry not to worry, that when the light level hit a certain point, the fish would turn on. And that’s exactly what they did. We stayed on these fish for nearly 2 hours for two reasons: 1) we were consistently catching fish albeit at a moderate pace, and 2) we didn’t have many other options given the persistent fog and calm. We wound up catching exactly 25 white bass and one largemouth bass off of this area before moving at around 9:15 a.m., after these fish finally shut down for good.

For the next hour or so, I checked a number of different areas at a number of different depths all with little result. Finally, over a patch of very deep, very clear water, just as a light northwest wind begin to ripple the surface, a few gulls and terns begin to fly and point the way to schooled white bass that were just becoming active. We moved in, observed sonar closely, found numerous large schools of white bass in the bottom 25% of the water column, and began to fish for these right on top of Area 1157. Due to the feeding posture of these fish, we went first with a “smoking” presentation using TNT 180’s in three-quarter ounce white and silver. In 90 minutes time, we boated an additional 47 fish, including three largemouth bass and 44 white bass. Nine out of ten of these white bass went 13 to 14.5+ inches.

Because neither of the fellows had ever done any downrigging, and because these fish were deep, schooled, and still active, I offered to do a down rigging demo as they learned by O.J.T. I set one downrigger up with 40 feet of line behind the boat and 48 feet of cable beneath the boat. We trolled a pair of Pet Spoons on a tandem rig, and on our very first pass Larry came up with a nice double (see photo below, courtesy of Dave). On our next pass, Larry did all the rigging and was rewarded with another nice, plump white bass of his own.

Larry doubles up on the downrigger!! Two at a time!

By about 12:15 p.m., the winds had gone calm again, what few birds remained were now resting on the surface, and the fishing died hard. We knew we had seen the best of it today, and decided to head back in with a tally of 73 fish boated despite the tough conditions.

As typically happens this time of year, the days around the holidays are all booked now, but there are still a few half day trips before the holidays open including:

Monday, Dec. 10th, 7:15a to 11:15a

Monday, Dec. 10th, 2:00p to 6:00p

Saturday, Dec. 15th, 7:15a to 11:15a

Monday, Dec. 17th, 2:00p to 6:00p

Tuesday, Dec. 18th, 7:15a to 11:15a

Tuesday, Dec. 18th, 2:00p to 6:00p

Wednesday, Dec. 19th, 2:00p to 6:00p

Thursday, Dec. 20th, 2:00p to 6:00p

It just takes a phone call to 254.368-7411 to make it happen. Fishing will only get tougher as the cold fronts come more frequently and with colder and colder winds. Our water temperature (incredibly!) is still in the mid-60’s. Take advantage of it while you can!

TALLY = 73 Fish, all caught and released

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Start Time: 1:45p

End Time: 5:55p

Air Temp: 69F at trip’s start.

Water Surface Temp: 65.1F

Wind: NW12-13, changing to NNW10-12 around 4:30, then tapering to NNW8 by dark.

You Know You REALLY Trust a Guy When … 84 Fish, Belton Lake Fishing Guide Report, 04 Dec. 2012

This afternoon I fished with long time client Ryan S., an anesthesiologist at Scott & White (more on that later).

As you can (barely!) see, the bite extended right up until dark.

I know people make a lot of jokes about “doctors’ hours” and such, but, every one of the physicians who fish with me from Scott and White don’t have very much down time, and, what down time they get typically has to be planned long in advance of taking it.

With Ryan’s days off limited, we had to “go with what we got” as far as weather was concerned today. The forecast was “iffy” because a mild cold front pushed through beginning around sunrise. It pushed out some moisture ahead of the front, but the front itself came in dry and from the NW beginning around noon when the skies began to clear (wet cold fronts tend to come in from the N or NE).

We linked up at 1:45p and, given the now favorable conditions, we began our search deep and worked slowly shallower and caught fish consistently along the way.

Our first stop was in the deepest water we would fish all day. We found a decent school of white bass on bottom with some short hybrid stripers working over top of them at Area 717 in 45-47 feet of water (although I marked fish as deep as 51 feet as well, just not as many). This was by far our most productive area, giving up 58 fish altogether. We would fish a “patch” of bottom, get the fish teased up really well, catch them in rapid succession, then see them settle down, work for them a while longer, then see them get lethargic, then move a few yards to watch the same process unfold. We did 3 or 4 “hops” like this in the same area and kept on catching for two solid hours. All of this work was done with TNT180s in 3/4 oz. white, although when the fish were in a chasing mood, Ryan scored as many on a BPS Tail Spin.

Around 4:15 we’d scraped all the fish off of Area 717 I felt we could, so we went searching. We didn’t have to search long as we located another nice school of white bass, this time in 35-38 feet of water on Area 297. We got our slabs down, saw the fish get instantly agitated and rise up off the bottom to chase our baits as well as chase after fish we’d hooked, but, after only 12 fish boated, these fish cooled off very quickly and sent us looking once again. It was interesting to note that these less enthusiastic fish really had to be slabbed for. Ryan tried the BPS Tail Spin on these more lethargic fish as I tied on a similar Strike King Sand Blaster, but the fish really would have none of this.

With sunset only 30 minutes away, I looked for some bird activity to develop, but, after watching both with the naked eye and glassing for birds, we saw nothing of interest.

With the light fading fast, I knew we needed to get to some shallow water quickly to gun for fish using the still-illuminated shallows to feed. We rolled the dice and headed for Area 327. The gamble paid off nicely. As we idled in and upslope, we transitioned into 25 feet of water and on into 20 feet of water. In the band, dozens of fish littered the bottom up about 14″ from it and in a definite feeding posture. We got the boat stopped and hovered over these fish as quickly as we could, got our slabs down and used primarily an “easing” tactic with long pauses to tempt these low-light feeders. We added a fast 14 fish to the count here before it got too dark for the fish and they quit altogether. Again, slabs ruled the roost in this application. We did both give a horizontal approach a try (Ryan with a BPS Tail Spin and me with a Reefrunner bladebait), but the fish refused this presentation.

Now, I recently decided to have rotator cuff surgery done on my right shoulder. Naturally, I’d prefer to have a medical team that I know and trust work on me. So, I asked Ryan if he’d consider being the one to “knock me out” and bring me back out of anesthesia. Now, I know your thinking “Oh, that’s what he meant when he titled this blog entry as he did.” Well, actually, that isn’t right. Although I certain do trust Ryan to be my anesthesiologist, that isn’t an indicator that I REALLY trust him. No, sir!

No, that indicator came at the end of the night’s trip when I asked him to back my Ford truck and guide boat trailer down for me!!! Now that’s when you know you REALLY trust a guy. A shoulder is one thing, but your fishing rig is another matter altogether. Enough said.

TALLY = 84 Fish, all caught and released

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Start Time: 1:45p

End Time: 5:55p

Air Temp: 69F at trip’s start.

Water Surface Temp: 65.1F

Wind: NW12-13, changing to NNW10-12 around 4:30, then tapering to NNW8 by dark.

Grumpier Old Men – The Sequel!! — 86 Fish, Stillhouse Hollow, 03 Dec 2012

This morning I fished with Dick C. of Harker Heights, TX, and Claude C. of Ding Dong, TX (yes, that’s a real place!).

Claude (L) and Dick (R) shown here at a “less grumpy” moment, with a few of our nicest 14″ class white bass.

The blog entry for these fellows’ last big adventure about a year ago was appropriately titled “Grumpy Old Men”. Well, since then, both men have gotten considerably grumpier, and with due cause. Each spent over 2 consecutive months of 2012 in the hospital!!

I knew right away the day would be “interesting” when Dick showed up at boatside, showed me a washcloth balled up in his pocket, and asks, “You know what that’s for?” Without waiting for my reply, Dick continued, “It’s to stuff in Claude’s mouth when the fish stories start to get out of hand!” And with that, we departed the dock to look for fish.

The fishing was easy for the first hour and a half. Birds showed us the way to fish feeding in the low light of sunrise up on a flat at Area 718. About 15 gulls and terns fed heavily on the shad forced to the surface by hungry white bass beneath them. We used TNT180 slabs in 3/4 oz. white/silver to get the job done and boated 20 fish in our first 25 minutes of fishing. When the birds lifted, we left and looked for greener pastures.

Next, we headed to Area 713 and found another flock of birds working there. This was to be the shallowest water we found fish in this morning, just 10-12 feet deep. So, we fished horizontally with blade baits (both silver and white got equal results) and scored another 15 fish here. It was interesting to note that 12 of the 15 here beat the 13″ mark whereas only 3 of the first 20 fish we caught at Area 718 did so.

As Area 713 played out, we headed for deeper water with the sky now brightening and the winds picking up to around 12-14.

We enjoyed our next bit of success at Area 036 which has been a very steady producer this fall. We found fish here in 30 feet of water, but they were less than enthusiastic beyond the first few minutes, staying tight to bottom and not responding well to a smoking tactic after the first half-dozen or so were caught. We slabbed for these fish and, after sticking with it a while, were able to put a total of 21 fish in the boat here until the bite died to near zero.

We moved on, this time to the deepest water we would fish on this trip — 40 feet, at area 987. There were a few terns working far and wide in this general area, so, I looked at my sonar’s Navionics map to see what topographic elements were in this area and saw a breakline that rolled off into the channel. I began to search it out and found fish on it. There were two distinct groups of fish — one group suspended at 20-24 feet down (these turned out to be schoolie largemouth) and another group tight to bottom at 40 feet. We used both a smoking tactic (which appealed to the suspended largemouth both on the rise and on the fall) and a slabbing tactic which appealed to the white bass on the bottom. We worked for about 40 minutes here and put another 19 fish in the boat, taking our tally to 75. By way of a quick demonstration (because Claude had expressed curiosity about the device) I showed the fellows how the downriggers worked by putting a ball down at 20.5 feet to target the suspended largemouth. After just a few minutes trolling, the rod went off and Dick reeled in a multi-species double — one white bass and one largemouth bass caught on the same rod at the same time. These fish hit the tandem-rigged Pet Spoons I had on that particular downrigging rod.

It was now about 11:45 so we decided to take a look at two more areas on our way back to the dock. The first area was a scratch, the second area, Area 1156, proved otherwise. We saw fairly heavily schooled white bass right on bottom, and, just as we experienced earlier at Area 036, these fish got very excited when we first presented our baits, allowing us to boat 6 fish very quickly, but then they air went out of the balloon and they turned off, allowing only 3 more fish to be taken via slabbing. The fish were now done and we called it a day right there.

TALLY = 86 Fish, all caught and released, including 2 freshwater drum, 8 largemouth bass, and 76 white bass

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Start Time: 7:10a

End Time: 12:15p

Air Temp: 64F at trip’s start.

Water Surface Temp: 64.5F

Wind: SSW the entire trip, starting at 3-4 and tapering up to 14 then stabilizing.