Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of fishing on Belton Lake with two longtime Killeen residents, Payton Duncan and Bob Word.
Duncan, a 78-year-old U.S. Navy veteran and retired mailman, was born in the Brook Haven community, which is now part of the training area at Fort Hood, before what was then known as Camp Hood came along in the 1940s. Word, also 78, was born in Tallulah, La., and came to Killeen in 1961 while serving in the U.S. Army. Word met his wife, Wanette, at Memorial Baptist Church, married her, and then stayed in Killeen after separating from the service. Word and Duncan became friends through that same church.
I arrived at Belton Lake several hours before Duncan and Word arrived at 6:40 a.m., in order to net threadfin shad to use as live bait for hybrid striped bass. I gathered approximately 70 big, healthy baitfish by throwing a castnet, and then headed to the boat ramp to pick the fellows up.
I use specialized casting reels which incorporate line counters. These allow my clients to know at what depth the bait is being presented, so when fish are seen on sonar they are sure to have their baits at or slightly above the level of the fish. I demonstrated to Word and Duncan how to use these reels and set their baits at an appropriate depth. We enjoyed instant results.
While holding in a hovering position over a 26-foot bottom using the Spot Lock function of my Ulterra trolling motor, we presented our baits at about 22 feet deep. When the hybrid stripers, which on this trip ranged from 16 to 22 inches and 1.5 to 4.25 pounds, struck our baits, they caused the bait clickers on the reels to produce an audible alarm.
Without setting the hook, which is a common error when using circle hooks, Word and Duncan would ease the rods out of the rod holders and simply begin reeling to bring the line tight and cause the circle hooks to penetrate into the upper lips of these hard-fighting fish.
We enjoyed nonstop action right through 8 a.m., when the bright sun shining through the nearly calm surface brought an end to the fast-paced fishing.
As we sat and fished in this one small area for 90 minutes and caught 21 fish, these fish both regurgitated what they had eaten and defecated as stress responses to being hooked. This matter sank to the lake’s bottom giving off an odor attractive to nearby catfish. By the time the hybrid had settled down, the catfishing began to heat up.
The catfishing on Belton this season has been incredible, albeit for small fish — many not making the minimum legal size of 12 inches. Belton Lake flooded the past two springs, thus flushing in abundant nutrients right around the time the catfish spawn. When the young of the year catfish hatched, there was plenty of food for them to forage on and a bumper crop of these fish has resulted.
We used fresh, dead shad pieces on small hooks presented just above the bottom to attract these blue catfish.
These blue catfish have two very distinct types of bites which the successful angler will do well to distinguish between. The first sort of bite is what I call an “identifying grab.” This is where the catfish just tastes the bait by barely taking the bait into its mouth as if to confirm that what it detected some distance away by its odor is indeed something edible.
The second sort of bite is a downward pull. This takes place when the catfish is convinced the bait is edible and takes it fully into its mouth and then heads downward toward the bottom and away from other catfish competing for the same food.
It is during this downward pull that the angler needs to set the hook. It took Duncan and Word a few tries to get the hang of distinguishing between these two types of bites, but once they did, they consistently turned bites into boated fish.
Although the majority of our hybrid stripers were keepers, the ratio of short fish to keeper catfish was much lower, about 14 to 1. Regardless of size, if you enjoy steady action and aggressively setting the hook, these catfish provide ample opportunities for both.
As we concluded our morning around 11 a.m., Word and Duncan managed to land 52 fish — a respectable result given the hot, calm and bright conditions we encountered.