Like many local anglers, Steve Niemeier, of Temple, had some reservations about fishing on Belton Lake given recent reports of flooding, closed facilities, turbid water and more. Niemeier sent me a text message on Aug.7 simply asking, “How’s the fishing?”
Knowing that Niemeier rarely arrives without at least one grandchild in tow, my reply assured him that both big numbers of fish and a variety of species were accessible at Belton Lake, and likely would continue to be into early October.
With that, he booked a trip Friday with his grandson, 11-year-old Caleb Fowler, and Caleb’s cousin, 13-year-old Tevan Gilmore, both students at Lake Belton Middle School.
As we corresponded in advance of the trip, Neimeier made a special request — that we help Caleb meet several of the requirements to get a fishing merit badge. These included catching a fish, identifying the fish we caught, learning to tie two fishing knots, using spinning gear and baitcasting gear, measuring a fish and cleaning and cooking a fish.
Our trip began at 6:30 a.m. I provided a safety briefing, pointing out where all safety gear is stowed, explaining what to do if someone fell overboard, and showing everyone where the boat’s two required noise-making devices were located.
After that, I introduced everyone to the spinning tackle and baitcasting tackle we would be using, making sure the handles were on the appropriate side of the reel for each angler. I then previewed how I expected the day would flow, based on the past several days’ results. I then prayed for our efforts and we throttled up and left the boat launch area behind.
We made a beeline to surface-feeding fish revealed by the fish-eating terns flying over the water just above them, scavenging the dead and crippled shad left there by the hungry fish below. We used a combination of casting and downrigging to catch our first 30 fish before our first hour on the water had gone by.
As opportunities presented themselves, we slowly whittled down the list of Caleb’s scouting requirements. By 8 a.m., both boys had used both spinning and casting gear, had landed and identified multiple species of fish including white bass and hybrid striped bass, and Caleb posed with a 17.75-inch hybrid striped bass which we measured properly — with mouth closed and tail lobes pinched together.
When the exciting topwater action died down and the terns headed back to roost, we quickly transitioned from targeting white bass and hybrid to targeting blue catfish and channel catfish. Using cut bait positioned near the bottom, we held the boat in place using the Spot Lock feature of my Ulterra trolling motor to avoid anchoring and disturbing that portion of bottom we were fishing over. We pitched chum into the water to attract catfish from all around us and then concentrated on our rod tips to watch and see when a catfish had grabbed one of our baits in its mouth.
Over the next two hours, Niemeier and the boys caught catfish after catfish, taking our tally for the morning up to 101 fish landed by 10:45 a.m. Occasionally, a catfish would swallow a hook so deeply that the hook had to be abandoned to give the fish a chance at surviving. This afforded Caleb an opportunity to learn to tie both an improved clinch knot and a Palomar knot.
With so many catfish coming over the side so quickly, we had our choice of size and species to choose from for Caleb to take home and clean. Although my guide service has an all catch-and-release policy, this seemed an appropriate time to make a small exception.
As we concluded our trip, Caleb pulled his rolling cooler filled with ice up the hill toward the parking lot weighted down with a freshwater drum, a channel catfish and two blue catfish for him to clean and eat as he continues to work toward earning his fishing merit badge.