As I write this, Belton Lake stands at 23.47 feet above normal elevation and is still rising by 0.2 to 0.4 feet per day thanks to a heavy, ongoing release of water from Lake Proctor further upstream on the Leon River. Lake Proctor’s release this past week has remained around 7,700 cubic feet per second, whereas Belton’s release this past week has fallen about 2,000 cubic feet per second shy of that, thus resulting in a net gain of water on Belton.
The water has taken on a stained, olive tinge to it, with much flotsam present under calm conditions and/or during wind shifts.
Despite the atypical and constantly changing environment, Belton Lake’s fishery has remained amazingly consistent. Over the past 10 days, I have conducted eight guided trips, and each trip has played out nearly identical. Hybrid striped bass begin becoming active in the upper half of the water column right around 6:15 a.m. through sunrise.
At sunrise the fish begin to push down into the lower half of the water column, remaining active and suspended through around 9:15 a.m. By 9:45, the morning feed winds down to zero, and the fishing has remained slow until the last 75 minutes or so before sunset and until about 20 minutes thereafter.
It was during this short evening feeding window on June 17 that 14-year-old Gregory Hughes III, of Copperas Cove, set the record for the Junior Angler catch-and-release category for hybrid striped bass.
After downrigging for about an hour, we came upon a heavily schooled group of fish holding just off bottom in 26 feet of water. Multiple downrigger passes failed to produce the results we had hoped for, so I decided to try live bait instead.
We positioned the boat over top of the fish using Minn Kota i-Pilot GPS positioning so no anchoring was necessary to hold over top of the fish. We baited up with large threadfin shad and let our baits down to within 3 feet of bottom.
Results came almost instantly as Gregory’s rod and his sister Aurea’s rod both got pulled down by 3-pound-class fish. We netted and photographed these fish, then rebaited. Again, nearly instantly, Gregory got a hit. This time his rod bent deeply way back into the butt section and the fight went on for several minutes. I slid the net under a 25¼-inch hybrid striped bass. This fish is the largest fish ever recorded on Belton Lake in the Junior Angler catch-and-release category.
The Junior Angler category is open to anglers under the age of 17 for whom a fishing license is not yet required. The catch-and-release category is based on the length of the fish versus the weight of the fish as is used in the kept fish category. By dispensing with weighing the fish on certified scales, handling time is reduced, thus increasing the odds of survival for large released fish.
The next day, June 18, I fished with Bill Miller, of Belton, and his 13-year-old daughter, Lily. Miller’s wife, Rowena, had presented him with a fishing gift certificate for Father’s Day.
As the sun climbed into the morning sky around 8:20, the fish steadily pushed deeper down into the water column until, by mid-morning, we were fishing with our baits suspended just barely off bottom. Bill’s fishing rod was baited with a large, lively threadfin shad when his lake record hybrid striper struck.
This fish pulled line off the reel against the firmly set drag a number of times before we were able to get a glimpse of it. Even then, it would be several moments before we got our second glimpse and a chance to bring the fish to net.
Once netted, it was clear that this was an unusually long fish. After closing the mouth and pinching the tail lobes together as required for measurements made on fish in the catch-and-release category, the fish taped at exactly 25 5/8 inches, thus eclipsing the current catch-and-release record for this species of 25½ inches set by another client of mine, Lacey Sparkman, back in May of 2011.
Both Hughes and Miller will receive a certificate from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department attesting to their accomplishments.