Sonar Seminar! — 25 Feb. 2014, Belton Lake, 15 Fish

This morning I fished with Jason W. of Round Rock, Texas.  Jason owns his own boat and fishes successfully quite often on both Lake Georgetown and Lake Buchanan, primarily with livebait.  His desire today was to understand “electronic sight fishing” and be able to replicate what he learned.

and vertical jigging provided mixed bag results today.  Jason shows a
nice Belton Lake crappie that fell for his tandem rig.  We also caught
largemouth, white bass, and hybrid stripers.

No, they are not giants, but they opened a whole new world of fishing to Jason today as he first saw these fish on sonar, made a presentation to them, and successfully hooked and landed them — that is electronic sight fishing!!

Jason initially contacted me about 2 weeks ago after perusing my website and seeing that I use a sonar-intensive approach to my angling.  As I considered today’s weather forecast on Sunday, we were to have balmy conditions and southerly winds on the tail end of a nice warming trend, and in advance of another cold snap,  What we got come “game day” today was a cold, damp fog with a NNW blow and very tough conditions.

The silver lining on this cloud was that those tough conditions made electronics all that much more necessary as fish were scattered and no birds were working, so, the only way to locate fish was to detect them with sonar.

We used downriggers for part of our time on the water and then switched over to vertical jigging and a modified jigging technique I refer to as “sniping”.

Each of the three tactics produced fish for Jason.  It’s one of those things you have to experience personally to understand — when you give something new a try, put effort and concentration into it and it finally “works”.  That happened for Jason today — TWICE!!   First, we were sniping for suspended fish and I’d shown him what to look for on sonar and how to react to fish that appeared.  After working his bait for a while in 32′ of water, a “blip” showed up on sonar at about 13 feet.  Jason adjusted his presentation as we’d practiced, held steady, felt the strike, set the hook, and all of a sudden was successful in using a technique that was totally new to him which opens up a whole spectrum of possibilities for his own fishing efforts. 

Not long after, a similar scenario played out as we jigged vertically near bottom for schooled white bass.

This trip did not produce the biggest fish or the most fish Jason has ever boated, but the lessons learned were invaluable.

TALLY = 15 FISH, all caught and released



Start Time: 8:15a
End Time: 2:00p
Air Temp: 56F at trip’s start.
Water Surface Temp: 53-54F 
Wind: NNW13 tapering to NNW9
Skies: Foggy to the point of forcing a delayed start, then
Other Notes: GT30

Areas Fished with success:

**  1335 – downrigging
**  1341/1340 – downrigging
**  1290/1012 vertical jigging
**  1342/1343 sniping

Bob Maindelle
Holding the Line Guide Service

Salado, Texas

Any time now … 14 Fish, Belton Lake, 22 Feb. 2014

This morning I fished with perennial guests Jim and Shena S., a father and daughter team from the Austin area.

Downrigging and vertical jigging provided mixed bag results today.  Jim holds his best hybrid and best white bass.

Shena with her best hybrid and largest white bass.  We caught no fish until the wind came up to around 11 mph.

nice warm spell has certainly reversed the downward trend on our water
temperatures, and has even warmed the surface a good bit (we found
“spots” of 52F water here and there), but the waters beneath the surface
are still quite chilly and the fishing continued to reflect that.

For our efforts today we boated 14 fish including 3
hybrid striped bass and 11 white bass including fish in the 1 to 3 year

Once again, the fish never really fed
well or long, and, despite the presence of lots of bait-eating birds,
very little bird action was to be found.  We had no action for the first 90 minutes and until the wind began to kick in at around 11mph.

There are some indications that things are beginning
to improve.  Yesterday on a scouting trip to Stillhouse, and again this
morning on Belton, I found the deep holes where these fish have been
hunkered down over the past 5-6 weeks now devoid of bait and gamefish
indicating that they are moving up shallower in the warming upper layers
of the lake water.  I also found bottom-oriented white bass on both
lakes in under 35 feet of water.  This is good!

Today we caught fish via two very different methods.
 We downrigged slowly and specifically targeted fish seen on sonar by
adjusting our downrigger ball depth to run where they were seen on sonar
(no “set it and forget it” as is done in the summer).  Storm ThinFins
did the best for us today.  This produced all of our hybrid and a few
white bass. Although we saw fish consistently suspended at both 21-25
feet and 32-25 feet, those shallower fish at 21-25 feet were the ones
doing the biting on the down riggers.

We also vertical jigged with small 3/8 oz. TNT180
slabs.  We were very methodical, keeping the lures positioned very
precisely near the fish, and pausing for long periods before jigging
again.  This produced only white bass for us.

I never want to be one to over-promise and
under-deliver, so, I tried to be very upfront about how this present
cold-water situation has impacted our fishery for the time being.  Like
most things in nature, Spring will most likely work on a bell-shaped
curve, starting slowly, peaking, and then tapering off.  I do believe,
based on what I saw today and on the forecast for next week with hardly
any time spent cooler than the low 50’s, that we are on the upswing of
the curve headed toward the typical peak in late March, barring anymore
extended cold or any flooding.

Stay tuned.  It’s going to happen any time now!

TALLY = 14 FISH, all caught and released



Start Time: 7:15a
End Time: 2:30p
Air Temp: 56F at trip’s start.
Water Surface Temp: 49.7-52.1F 
Wind: Light and variable at sunrise, tapering up to SSE11 by 9:30 and increasing to SSE16 by trip’s end
Skies: Fair skies with no cloud cover.
Other Notes: GT0

Areas Fished with success:

**  1335/1344 – downrigging
**  1341/1340 – downrigging
**  1339/1008 vertical jigging
**  1342 vertical jigging
**  1343 vertical jigging

Bob Maindelle
Holding the Line Guide Service

Salado, Texas

We Launched the SKIFF! – 17 Feb. 2014

Well, I rolled the dice and lost where the fish catching is concerned,
but still had a strong “Plan B”.   I returned 3 happy and very worn out
kids to their mom who very much appreciated a 6+ hour break from being a
single mom 24/7 for 4 weeks while her husband is at the National
Training Center at Fort Irwin, CA.

(L to R) Zachary, Brock and Marissa C. spent their Presidents’ Day day off from school in the great outdoors, giving their mom a break while dad’s at NTC.  When the fishing didn’t work out, we treasure hunted with great success.  Shown here are 3 choice freshwater mussel shells!

Today’s trip was the first SKIFF (Soldiers’ Kids Involved in Fishing Fun) trip of the new year.  The Ft. Hood SKIFF program serves military families by providing free 4 hour fishing trips to military kids separated from their parents by military duties.

I was hopeful back 3 weeks ago when I first discussed this trip with with the kids’ parents that our water would be warmer than it is, but, that was not to be.  As we launched and searched about today we found 48.6 to 49.1 F surface temperatures.  The fish are all but in suspended animation except for occasional, short feeding spurts.

I picked the kids up from their home in one of the Ft. Hood housing areas at 7:00am and we made our way back to Belton Lake where I’d been able to put a few hybrid and white bass in the boat for adult clients over the past two weekends.  My hope was that we’d get a short window of feeding activity with gulls and terns showing the way to fish by their diving over top of the feeding fish, but, there was no bird activity to be found this morning.  Typically, when there is no bird activity, the fishing is very slow and methodical and technical — just the opposite of what an 11, 7, and 5 year old are capable of doing for any length of time.  Then, the winds kicked in strongly from the N and that pretty much put a lid on the fishing.  I knew pretty early on that this was just not going to pan out so far as putting fish in the boat was concerned, yet, I still had 3 eager, excited kids to consider who had been looking forward to this for several weeks.

So, we took lemons and made lemonade by introducing the kids to a few different types of fishing methods while their interest in this new equipment was high.  Next we had fun by going “fast” in the boat with the wind and against it, purposely taking on “spray” as we quartered into the wind to splash the kids as the waves broke on the bow.  We then took turns bailing out the water we took on and gave the older two kids a chance to steer the boat a bit.  Then, we took to the shore for treasure hunting.  With the water down low there is all manner of natural and manmade treasures to be found. Larger freshwater mussel shells seemed to make the biggest hit.

The trick on tough days like this where kids are involved is engagement — gauging the kids’ enthusiasm level and making a change to a new activity when you notice the interest in the current activity is beginning to wane.

By trip’s end we’d had fun, worn the kids out to the point of needing an afternoon nap, and had given mom enough time to get caught up on laundry and do some shopping with a girlfriend from church.




Start Time: 7:40a
End Time: 12:00p
Air Temp: 63F at trip’s start.
Water Surface Temp: 48.6-49.0F 
Wind: W9 at sunrise, turning and increasing to N17 by trip’s end
Skies: Fair skies with 15% cloud cover.
Other Notes: 

Bob Maindelle
Holding the Line Guide Service

Salado, Texas

Belton Hybrid Fishing, 15 Feb., 2 Limits from Cold Water

morning I fished with Jessica M. and her boyfriend, Jay S.  Both are medical professionals with the Scott and White system where Jay works as a heart doctor and Jessica works as a registered nurse.

Jessica scored first and scored often this morning, boating some nice hybrid striped bass on light spinning tackle using finesse presentations.

Jay chipped in as well with fish taken both on the downriggers and with a vertical presentation.

Jay is originally from Minnesota where people typically learn to fish before they learn to walk, so, true to form, he came into the trip with a good bit of previous experience in both fresh and salt water and across many different species.  Jessica was not as experienced, with just a few prior outings under her belt, and those mainly focused on pond-dwelling catfish in Kentucky.  Regardless, both were willing to be coached and did well using the techniques we employed.

The cold water continues to plague our fishing.  Until we break into the low 50’s, it’ll remain tough.  I was hopeful that this late-week warmup would help more than it did, but, with clear nights we lose nearly all the heat gained during the day and have no net gain on heating the water.  So, with still-cold water, things continued as they have been for several weeks with the fishing being slow, deep, methodical and the fish perking up only for short periods at a time.

Today we caught fish by two methods:  slowly downrigging at around 1.8 mph with crankbaits, and by working a tandem rig of my own design equipped with a slab and a stinger very passively around suspended fish.   Most of the gamefish we saw today were holding at 22-25 feet over water as deep as 45 feet.

I noted that the fish we caught and placed in the livewell for photos regurgitated quite a number of partially digested shad.  I suspect that even though their metabolism is quite slow, the bait is nearly motionless right now and these gamefish can essentially feed at will when the mood strikes given the massive quantities of bait that have schooled up tightly and sunk to the depths with this record cold water.

The birds (mainly terns now) did perk up and feed for a short 25 minute spell, but the fish beneath them were still pretty deep and lethargic and well-spread.  Of the 5-6 boats that converged on the bird action, I did not see a single one of them (ourselves included) pick up a single fish under these working birds.

We got off to a slow start this morning, not landing a single fish until 9:15.  Our last hour was the most productive — from 11a to Noon.  When all was said and done Jay and Jessica had boated 2 limits of keeper hybrid, one short hybrid, and 2 white bass – that’s a very respectable catch given the condition we faced.

TALLY = 13 FISH, all caught and released



Start Time: 7:40a
End Time: 12:10p
Air Temp: 35F at trip’s start.
Water Surface Temp: 46.1 – 48.2F 
Wind: W9 at sunrise, tapering to light and variable at 3-4, then turning SSE11-13 by 10:30a
Skies: Fair skies with 15% cloud cover.
Other Notes: GT35

Areas Fished with success:

**  1335/1336 – vertical jigging/sniping
**  1337/1338 – downrigging

Bob Maindelle
Holding the Line Guide Service

Salado, Texas

Rainy Day in Sun City — Seminar on Belton & Stillhouse, 11 Feb. 2014

At the invitation of club officer Mr. Jim Key, I presented a
seminar today before a strong showing of the Sun City Hunting and Fishing
Club.  About 200 Sun City club members
turned out on this cold, dreary day with a light freezing rain falling.

Mr. Jim Key presents me with a Sun City Hunting and Fishing Club hat and honorary membership in the club. 

Over 200 members turned out from this Del Webb retirement community club.

We gathered in the warm main auditorium of the Social Center
at 2 Texas Drive for a 2pm start.  After
a few matters of housekeeping I took the podium and spoke about fishing through
the seasons on Belton & Stillhouse for about 30 minutes.  The main purpose of the presentation was to
introduce those who weren’t aware of the Belton/Stillhouse fishery to these
fisheries just 50 minutes to their north. 
I also compared and contrasted the two fisheries and shared with them
the various services I provide as a guide.

At the close of the presentation I fielded questions from
the audience and then held over to the close of the meeting to speak one-on-one
with those who wanted to dig deeper and put hands on some of the rod and reel
combinations I used.

The club generously presented me with a speaker’s fee, an
embroidered fishing hat, and an honorary membership in the club.

I have visited with many of our local clubs through the
years providing such seminars and this was by far the largest local club I’ve
interacted with.  Their membership stands
at over 350 and nearly two-thirds turned out for this monthly meeting.   I attribute this to both the retired status
of the membership, but also to the very active schedule of events they keep,
and to a solid, conscientious leadership structure.

Easily Entertained! — Belton Hybrid Fishing, 8 Feb. 2014, 13 Fish

This morning I fished with Todd S. of Temple, joined by his dad, Dave, and his brother, Brian, both from the San Francisco Bay Area in California.  There were a number of weekend activities all coordinated by Todd’s wife, Lindsey, in celebration of Todd’s 39th birthday including lunch on Friday, a half-day off from work after that lunch, the surprise visit of Dave and Brian, an all-guys campout at Cedar Ridge Park on Belton, this morning’s fishing trip, and more to come!  Way to go in pulling that all off, Lindsey!

Happy Birthday, Todd!  Todd (L), Dave (C), and Brian (R) each hoist 2 of the 13 fish we boated on this first day of the last 5 where temperatures got out of the 30’s.

“The Boys”, with massive icicles hanging off the cliffs near the Belton Lake waterfall shown in the background.  Yes, it was that cold.

As Lindsey and I texted back and forth trying to keep the trip “under wraps”, I let her know that the fishing was going to be tough, but her “window of opportunity” was limited by the flight plans, etc.   When I told her we’d do our best but that our best may not add up to a mess of fish, she assured me the 3 men were “easily entertained”, and, indeed, they all confessed as much!

Fishing continued to be tough today, and will remain tough until we get our water temps back into the low 50’s.  We worked through a fishless 3+ hours today and then it happened.  Just as the grey murk of the morning began to clear and the orb of the sun became visible through the thinning cloud cover, birds started working over top of a large, mobile school of hybrid striped bass as those hybrid pushed shad forward and upward.  Our fishing took place over 30-40 feet of water with the fish suspended from 10 to 25 feet down beneath the surface.

This was an ideal situation for downriggers given that there was little timber to contend with.  We put crankbaits behind the balls and put the balls down over the fish and let the ‘riggers work their magic.  I kept the boat speed super slow by putting down the trolling motor to increase drag and trimming the engine up to reduce thrust.  We crawled along at 1.65 mph and scored consistently.

I noted 3 other boats in the area that came in on top of us as we began boating fish.  They all idled until they saw fish on sonar or saw diving birds or both and then stopped to jig vertically.  As we boated fish regularly we observed only 2 fish caught by the other 3 boats combined.  These fish were not on bottom and were not stationary, thus the downriggers were simply THE way to go during this short window when these fish were ready to feed.

The aggressive action lasted only 30 minutes, but we stuck around and fished them as the action tapered off for about another hour and continued to score, but much less frequently.

The one time we did stop to try a vertical presentation we caught 3 white bass and 1 hybrid by reeling our baits up into the fish as they showed on sonar.  We quickly realized we needed to cover ground if we were going to be successful, so, we put the jigging rods away and continued downrigging.

TALLY = 13 FISH, all caught and released



Start Time: 7:00a
End Time: 12:40p
Air Temp: 34F at trip’s start.
Water Surface Temp: 45.5-47.0F 
Wind: SSE10 at sunrise, tapering to S7 by 12:30p
Skies: 100% grey and cloudy until 10:35am, then clearing quickly to fair skies with 20% clouds
Other Notes: GT20

Areas Fished with success:

**  1333-1334 (30T)

Bob Maindelle
Holding the Line Guide Service

Salado, Texas

Liquid Ice Fishing! Stillhouse Fishing Report — 6 Fish, 01 Feb. 2014

morning I fished with Mr. Pete D. of Round Rock, TX.  Pete participated in the sonar use & interpretation seminar I presented at the Central Texas Boat Show in early January, and was eager to learn electronics on the water.

Sonar Certified!  Pete went from 0 to 60 on sonar interpretation skills today.

Pete phoned me Friday morning looking to fish this morning.  I was very up front in letting him know the fishing would be slow and would require a methodical approach in deep water using electronics.  He was game for that as his real interest was in learning to use sonar more effectively.

We fished for 5 solid hours, drew the interest of about 30 fish,  hooked 9, and landed 6.  Every fish came from at least 43 feet of water, and all on a small, 3/8 oz. white TNT 180 slab.

We found shad schooled up in deep water, located white bass in small groups near the shad, then I held the boat steady so Pete could fish perfectly vertically, keeping his presentation on sonar nearly 100% of the time.  As fish responded, we finessed them into striking using both a snap-jigging action and an “easing” tactic.

As Pete got accustomed to what he was viewing, I switched from the intuitive chart mode to the interpretation-intensive flasher mode to hone in on our presentation and the fishes’ reaction to it.  By the end of the trip, Pete was reacting well to whatever the fish threw our way.  There is always a steep learning curve, but Pete got through it quickly.

I repeatedly refer to this kind of fishing as “liquid ice fishing” as it is just like fishing through the ice for cold, slow fish as far as the vertical tactics, the finessing required, and the slow approach to things.

In 22 years on Stillhouse and Belton, this is by far the longest, coldest water temperature I’ve witnessed.  The water is only in the high 40’s and has been for the last 4 weeks.  The fish, being cold-blooded, are simply lethargic, deep, and tough to fish.  I did not say impossible to catch, just tough.  It takes persistence and realistic expectations of a reduced catch over results from water that is even just 4-5 degrees warmer.  It’ll come!

TALLY = 6 FISH, all caught and released



Start Time: 7:00a
End Time: 12:15p
Air Temp: 62F at trip’s start.
Water Surface Temp: 47F 
Wind: SSW12 at sunrise, tapering to calm by 9:15a and remaining calm
Skies: 100% grey and cloudy
Other Notes: GT0

Areas Fished with success:

**  1331 (0 B)
**  1319 (0 B)

**  1332 (0 B)

Bob Maindelle
Holding the Line Guide Service

Salado, Texas