Tough, with a continued chance of tough — 17 July 2015, Stillhouse, 20 Fish

This morning I was joined by father and son team Beau and Travis Nickel for an “instruction heavy” white bass fishing trip on Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir.


Travis Nickel with the 2 largest white bass we took by downrigging this morning on Stillhouse Hollow.

Beau, the operations vice-president with Keith Ace Hardware in the Lorena area, contacted me a few weeks back wanted to do some fishing on the front end of a Belton Lake camping trip he and his family had planned out at Cedar Ridge.  As we corresponded by email and spoke over the phone, Beau emphasized his desire to learn how to catch fish over catching fish, so he and Travis could go out in the family boat and be more consistent.  Travis, aged 16, is a quiet, hard-working kid.  He mows lawns, does odd-jobs on a 400 acre farm for his boss, and works for that same boss at a local pharmacy where Travis makes home deliveries as a service to the community.  As I introduced Beau and Travis to the various pieces of equipment on the boat, Beau would ask how much these items cost, and would then divide that cost by the price Travis charges per lawn so as to present the cost in a tangible for to his son.  For example, a $180 manually operated downrigger divided by $25 per lawn = 7+ lawns.

Fishing continued to be really tough and sporadic.  I thought we had an improving trend headed our way as the releases at Stillhouse have slowed to a trickle, as last Friday’s trip saw an uptick in my white bass catch, as some topwater action was witnessed on Saturday during a sonar training session, and as both high pressure and a new moon dominated the skies.  In addition to this, I received very credible reports of topwater action on Belton from two friends early this week.  Things were really looking good.  On Thursday, I conducted yet another sonar training session on Belton beginning around 6:30am, and, thanks to the cooperation of the fellow I was training, got to use that as a bit of a scouting trip to determine if I’d be fishing Belton or Stillhouse with Beau and Travis.

Around 8p Thursday I made the call to head to Stillhouse based on the fact that I only saw 3 very briefly appearing schools of surface feeding white bass/hybrid stripers in 3.5+ hours on Belton Thursday, and no sustained topwater action around sunrise.  Additionally, the winds were supposed to be 9-11 at sunrise, which would make it tough to spot surface feeding fish even if they were there on Belton.  For these reasons, I went with Stillhouse.

As we met at Stillhouse at 6:30am, the first part of the instruction was to show Beau and Travis my technique for catching sunfish in shallow cover using bream poles and slipfloats.  They caught onto this very quickly including some of the fine points about how best to set the hook, how to use the wind to your advantage for bait placement, and how to bait the hook for a good strike to land ratio.  We put 14 fish in the boat in short order, including bluegill, longear sunfish, and blacktail shiners, and retained these for use a livebait for largemouth bass later in the trip.  I pointed out that if they chose to pursue hybrid on Belton and could not find shad, or simply did not want to put the effort into collecting shad, that this approach can serve as an alternative to those high-maintenance fish, especially in the heat and/or if a specialized shad tank was not a part of the boat’s equipment.

Next, we headed out to open water where I gave an overview on sonar.  Since Beau’s NauticStar center-console is equipped with a Humminbird, I ran my Humminbird 1199 and my Lowrance HDS-12 Gen3 side-by-side so he could observe the difference in resolution between the two.  We covered  how the sonar works, how sensitivity and colorline adjustments impact the readings on the screen, and we identified bait, gamefish, bottom, the downrigger ball, and the developing thermocline.  As we downrigged at the first location, gamefish were in short supply — we managed only 2 juvenile largemouth bass — one on each umbrella rig.

We covered four different areas with the downriggers, seeing bait at all locations, but precious little in the way of gamefish.  We made a stop in the vicinity of Area 401/402 and encountered some scattered white bass at 21-23 feet deep over a deeper bottom in open water and worked these over for all it was worth, coming up with the only 4 white bass of the entire trip in that vicinity, consisting of 2 singles and 1 double that came as our baits went through the only solid school of fish we witnessed on sonar all morning — a large, suspended school of about 80-120 fish.  I backtracked over our GPS “snail trail” and turned on the Humminbird 360 Imaging after we found that school to try to maintain contact with it, but to no avail.

During the entire morning we saw occasional fish breaking the surface chasing after shad, but never any sustained action in terms of either time or location.  The fish continue to be scattered and suspended with pods of baitfish just everywhere from just below the surface down to around 30 feet.

Next, we shifted gears and I introduced Beau and Travis to my style of livebait fishing with linecounter reels as the centerpiece of this effort.  We found a few gamefish signatures on a hump topping out in 23′ of water and put some sunfish and blacktail baits down among them.  We “jogged” a few boatlengths/boatwidths to cover this area well, but only had 2 attempts on  our baits with no serious pulldowns and no fish landed.

We attempted downrigging at several more locations, extending the trip an extra 1.25 hours, but did not add any finny creatures to our count despite the extra effort.

We ended the day with 20 (mostly small) fish landed, but, only 4 of those were the white bass that I had planned to be the lion’s share of our action this morning.  In that, it was a bit frustrating, but, Beau really appreciated the detailed explanations I gave as to how and why I did things.  After the trip I actually had them follow me back to my home and I supplied them with what they needed to rig up bream poles of their own using some Shakespeare Wonderpoles I had on hand.

For their upcoming week on Belton, I suggested looking early and late for topwater feeding fish, and, to this end also supplied them with some small, shad-imitating baits that would cast well on light spinning outfits in order to help them take full advantage of any topwater action they discovered.


TALLY = 20 FISH (including 4 white bass)






Start Time: 6:30a

End Time:  11:45a

Air Temp. @ Trip’s Start:  76F

Water Surface Temp:  86.3F

Wind Speed & Direction: S9-13

Sky Conditions:  5%  cloud cover.

Note: Lake has dropped 0.06 feet in the last 24 hours and now stands at 622.54 above sea level, with 622.00 being full pool

Other: GT= 40




**Area 239 (sunfish on bream rods)

**Area  207 (juvenile black bass on downriggers)

**Area 401/402 (white bass on downriggers)



Bob Maindelle

Owner, Holding the Line Guide Service

254.368.7411 (call or text)

Salado, TX

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