When South Dakota’s Garvon Golden caught the lake-record white bass aboard my boat on Oct. 25, it replaced the catch-and- release category record that had stood since 2009. Golden’s moment of fame would be just that ... momentary.
Golden landed his record fish on a Tuesday morning outing. The following Saturday, Oct. 29, I welcomed a trio of friends aboard for an afternoon fishing excursion. Jack Kovach, Bob James and Brittany Santoro regularly fish together on Belton Lake and other nearby Central Texas reservoirs, but, by their own admission, did a lot more fishing than catching.
Kovach contacted me for help not just in catching fish, but learning what it takes to locate fish to catch.
Thanks to stable weather and water levels, the fishing on Belton has been predictable and consistent with the fish doing the same things in the same areas and at the same times each day for several weeks now.
I always share with my clients how, concerning white bass and hybrid striped bass, morning trips typically start well and then taper off, whereas afternoon trips typically start slowly and finish with a bang. This is because these species feed most aggressively in low light conditions.
This afternoon would adhere to that rule of thumb. As we launched and began searching for active fish, we had to place our lures before quite a number of relatively disinterested fish to tempt a few to bite from amongst them for the first three hours. We fished in deeper, 30- to 35-foot water right up until the last hour before sunset.
Around 6 p.m., we left the deeper haunts behind and transitioned to water less than 20 feet deep and began scanning large areas of water with sonar. Sonar revealed fish slowly moving into water as shallow as 12- to 14-feet deep and in fair numbers.
I positioned the boat along the 14-foot contour line and instructed everyone to cast parallel to, or slightly in toward, the shoreline so as to present our baits in 12- to 14-feet of water.
After working out the kinks of using the Binsky bladebait I had tied on everyone’s lines, Kovach, James and Santoro got into the rhythm of casting and retrieving these baits, and began hooking and landing fish routinely.
Over the next 40 minutes, we landed nearly as many fish as we had in the previous three hours as the fish really turned on for the final low-light feed of the day. On several occasions at least two, if not all three, rods were bent with nice white bass doing battle at the far end of the line.
Kovach, fishing on the port side, required some assistance in unhooking a fish that had multiple hooks stuck in it. As I went to assist him, Santoro, a 29-year- old speech language pathologist from Killeen, let us all know she had a large fish and needed some guidance and assistance.
As I shifted back over to the starboard side to help her, I saw a large, white mass just below the surface.
Because of the failing light, I could not be certain of the species. I netted the fish, looked closely and realized Santoro had just landed an outsized white bass on par with the record-breaking fish Golden had landed earlier that week.
We quickly unhooked the fish and got it into the livewell to allow for some recuperation as I explained to everyone that I believed we had a record-setting fish onboard, and assigned everyone roles to quickly obtain the photos and documentation required for submitting a record application with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
As I removed the fish from the livewell and placed it on the measuring board, my suspicions were confirmed. This fish measured 16.75 inches, just edging out Golden’s 16.38-inch specimen.
We snapped photos of Santoro with the fish and photos of the fish held carefully on the measuring board with the mouth closed and the tail lobes pinched together. Belton Lake had produced its second record white bass in under a week.
My theory as to why we are seeing such quality fish this year goes back to the spring of 2015 and to this past spring. Both times Belton Lake flooded in May, right at the end of the spawning season for the threadfin shad — the lake’s main forage fish. I believe the last third of both years’ shad crops had high survival rates as there was ample cover for the young fish to hide in, and ample nutrients in the flooded water for them to survive on.
As goes the forage population, so goes the gamefish population dependent upon it for survival. Both forage and gamefish populations are in excellent condition at this time.
I expect we have not seen the end of the broken records yet.