Flood control is an art, a science and a juggling act, all rolled into one. Each time heavy rains fall on expansive portions of Texas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers monitors runoff, river flow and elevation, and then makes decisions accordingly as to whether or not to release water from flood control reservoirs like Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes.
Recently, Belton Lake bore the brunt of the impact of our most recent round of heavy rains which fell between May 6 and May 11. Although only two inches or so of rain actually fell on the reservoir, much more fell upstream of Belton, within its watershed, as well as downstream from Belton and within the Brazos River watershed.
Lake Proctor, the first reservoir on the Leon River, located north and west of Belton near the towns of Proctor and Comanche, rose to over 12 feet above full pool. To alleviate this flooding situation, the Corps of Engineers began releasing water from Lake Proctor’s dam, thus feeding it into the Leon River and directing that water downstream to Belton.
As that was occurring, points west of Belton Lake, all the way out to the Houston area near Brazosport and Surfside Beach where the Brazos River empties into the Gulf of Mexico, also received heavy, flooding rains, thus swelling the Brazos River to maximum capacity, threatening to overspill its banks.
The Corps of Engineers therefore could not add water to an already flooded situation downstream by releasing water into the Leon River below Belton Lake dam, as the Leon River feeds into the Brazos River.
Slowly but surely the rising water on Belton crept up beyond the concrete boat ramps, into parking lots and campground areas, forcing closure of a majority of the Corps-controlled access points and threatening the closure of all others.
In the face of this situation, the status of the Wounded Warrior Project fishing trip planned two months in advance to be focused on the pursuit of hybrid striped bass on Belton Lake was, as of May 11, very much up in the air.
The Wounded Warrior Program had organized two previous trips in this 2019 season, the first resulting in a catch of 184 fish for six anglers on Belton Lake in January, and a catch of 76 fish for six anglers on Stillhouse Hollow in March.
For over 15 years WWP has helped wounded post-Sept.11 military members in all aspects of their recovery and path to normalcy and success.
According to WWP, more than 52,000 servicemen and women have been physically injured in recent military conflicts. 500,000 are living with invisible wounds ranging from depression to post-traumatic stress disorder; and 320,000 are experiencing debilitating brain trauma.
WWP has recognized that although advancements in technology and medicine save lives, the quality of those lives might be profoundly altered thereafter.
With the support of WWP’s staff, their community of donors and volunteers, and their team members and families, WWP seeks to give a voice to the needs of wounded warriors, and to empower them to begin the journey to recovery.
One of the ways WWP meets Wounded Warriors’ needs is by coordinating outreach events, like this week’s fishing trip.
After doing a physical reconnaissance of the flooding situation on Sunday afternoon, I contacted the WWP volunteer event coordinator, Ernestor “Tito” Cortez, and made the decision to move the event to Stillhouse Hollow and focus on white bass. Unlike Belton, Stillhouse does not receive annual stockings of hybrid striped bass after studies conducted in the 1980s showed the fish did not grow as well there as compared to Belton.
At 6:45 a.m. Monday, another crew of three Wounded Warriors boarded my boat and we launched out in pursuit of white bass.
Stillhouse did not escape the recent heavy rains unscathed. It was more than 7.8 feet above normal elevation, with muddy water in the upper third of the reservoir, near the mouth of the Lampasas River.
Only Cedar Gap Park was closed as a result of the flooding, with four other parks remaining open.
This trip’s crew consisted of all ex-Army veterans, including Mike Clark, Tywan Cannon, and Shawn Poole. Clark served as a combat engineer, Cannon served in aviation operations, and Poole served in armored units as a tanker.
Each angler was equipped with a light Fenwick Eagle spinning rod, a light Pflueger Supreme spinning reel loaded with Sufix 832 braided line, a fluorocarbon leader, and one of my custom-made tailspinners. I have recently found these tailspinners to be more effective at this time of year for catching white bass in turbid water than is the more subtle slab I traditionally use in clearer water and when fish are feeding on smaller forage.
The anglers each had a clear view of one of the two Garmin LiveScope-equipped sonar units mounted to the starboard gunwale of my boat, so each was able to monitor the movement of his bait and the fishes’ reaction to it. After learning to retrieve the lure correctly and avoid an aggressive hookset, each angler began to routinely put fish in the boat.
The bite lasted until right around 11:30 a.m., and then began to taper off quickly. By that time, my crew had landed 81 fish, including 80 white bass and one freshwater drum. As we caught our fish, I assisted in unhooking them so the anglers could very quickly get their baits back into the water and take advantage of willing fish while they remained beneath the boat.
WWP alumni may stay informed about all future events, including future fishing events, and sign up for such events once they are posted, via WWP’s weekly email called “The Post.” Every Texas-based alumni receives this email weekly on Thursdays.
Those qualified individuals not yet a part of WWP may find out more about the organization and become a member online at www.woundedwarriorproject.org/programs/wwp-registration.
WWP members must be a post-Sept.11 veteran with a physical or mental injury, wound, or illness experienced during his/her military service on or after Sept. 11, 2001.