Back in the fall of 2017, Alison Errington of Fort Hood contacted me for more information about
the Fort Hood SKIFF (Soldiers’ Kids Involved in Fishing Fun) program.
This program is funded by the donations and fundraising efforts of the members of the Austin Fly Fishers, a fly-fishing club which meets monthly in Austin. The program offers free, four-hour guided fishing trips by boat on both Belton Lake and Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir. In so doing, the Austin Fly Fishers hope to help ease the strain on military families which occurs when a military parent must be separated from his or her spouse and children due to military duty.
On Oct. 9, Errington brought her 12-year-old daughter, Becky, and two neighbor boys, Lance and Wells Noon, ages 11 and 13, out for a guided SKIFF fishing trip. At that time, Errington’s husband, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Joey Errington, was in the midst of a deployment to South Korea, and Col. Scott Noon was deployed to Kuwait.
After the four-hour trip concluded, resulting in a catch of 44 fish, Alison knew her two older kids, 15-year-old Billy and 17-year-old Brooke, would enjoy such an adventure as well.
Fast forward to this past week. Once again Alison contacted me, this time to arrange a trip for Brooke and Billy.
After looking at the weather, Thursday’s conditions appeared excellent in that we were forecast to have southerly winds, ample gray cloud cover, and above-average temperatures toward the end of a warming trend, with a mild cold front moving in the following day.
We met at Belton Lake at 2:15 p.m., intending to fish until sunset at around 6:15. The kids were accompanied by their maternal grandfather, Roy Adams, who rode along as a non-angler. Adams resides in central Pennsylvania and arranged to escape the cold winter weather for a few weeks by visiting his daughter and grandchildren here in Texas.
After setting up the spinning reels appropriately for Billy and Brooke, both of whom are right-handed, I showed them the two most common tactics we would employ in pursuit of white bass. After showing them these tactics, I then had them demonstrate the tactics for me so I could coach them on any adjustments they would need to make in order to be successful.
We then headed out in pursuit of fish.
We were fortunate in that we were able to find bottom-oriented fish loosely congregated in about 33 feet of water at the first location we searched with sonar. As the kids got more adept at presenting their 3/8-ounce slabs and detecting bites, they began to steadily catch fish, including one- and two-year-old white bass. We continued catching fish for a full 90 minutes at this first area.
When the action at our first location waned, we cranked up the outboard and moved locations, hoping to find another population of fish willing to bite. As we rode, I spotted two terns which appeared to be feeding on shad. I slowed the boat and observed these terns from a distance. The birds’ feeding activity quickly escalated and soon over 30 gulls and terns were flying and diving atop a small area of water, eating the small baitfish which were being crippled and killed by the hungry, feeding fish beneath them.
Seeing this develop, I advised Billy and Brooke to grab different rods with heavier ¾-ounce lures tied on and gave them some instructions on how to work these baits for the suspended fish we had encountered. These fish were holding between 35- and 45-feet deep over a 53-foot bottom.
Our catch rate soared as these aggressive fish fell for our presentations, which very closely matched the size, color and profile of the threadfin shad they were feeding on. By the time the sun had set and the fish stopped feeding, we had landed 149 fish.
Brooke, a senior at Killeen High School, plans to attend Kansas State University and double-major in nutrition and kinesiology to prepare for a career in occupational therapy for special-needs children.
Billy, a sophomore at Killeen, has his sights set on studying architecture as a Golden Gopher at the University of Minnesota.
The siblings’ 149 fish landed Thursday put the cumulative total number of fish caught over the span of the SKIFF program over the 10,000-fish mark. This was the second most productive SKIFF trip ever, falling just short of the 153 fish landed by Cody and Cady McNeal in 2014. The average catch is just over 25 fish per child.
SKIFF began in May 2009 and has placed 391 children on the water. The vast majority of these kids have been from the Fort Hood community, but others have come from as far away as the Dallas-Fort Worth area and from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
Those interested in coordinating a SKIFF trip may call 254-368-7411. Children age 10 and older may fish any time of year. Trips for children ages 5 to 9 take place in the warmer months from early May through the end of September.