On July 12, I received an email from Fort Hood SKIES Unlimited program manager Brenda Brown informing me that a Fort Hood family had signed up for a “Fishing 101” guided fishing trip.
Fishing is but one of the many activities available to Fort Hood children and youth through this program.
As a result, 5-year-old Jozy Ramirez, her mom, Keike Talley, along with her 9-month-old son, R.J., all came aboard my boat at 6:45 a.m. Thursday for a morning spent in pursuit of fish on Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir.
The trip began with fitting everyone with a life jacket and explaining what to do in the event of an emergency. I then introduced Jozy to the equipment we would be using — both casting gear and spinning gear. We then headed out in search of our first fish of the trip.
Excitement was in the air, as none of my passengers had ever caught a fish before, nor ridden on a boat.
A three-quarter mile run got us in the vicinity of the first area we would fish. Because of Jozy’s age, I planned to break the trip up into multiple, short segments so we would not wind up doing the samething for long. In over a decade in the fishing guide business, I have come to appreciate that even on the most successful days, young children’s attention spans only stretch so far.
We used Cannon electronic downriggers combined with sonar to precisely place our baits just a few feet above the level at which the fish were holding, which was around 16-20 feet below the surface.
Jozy, who will start kindergarten this coming school year, already had a solid grasp on counting, so I had her operate the downrigger by pressing and holding the “Down” button to lower our presentations to the fish.
In our first 30 minutes on the water, Jozy boated not only the first fish of her lifetime, but four others, as well. That first fish, a 10½-inch white bass, earned her a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department “First Fish Award,” complete with a golden, raised seal of the State of Texas affixed upon it.
Our second stop treated us well, too, allowing another eight fish to be caught, including a “double.”
To tempt the white bass, we were using a pair of three-armed umbrella rigs, each equipped with three Pet Spoons made by Luhr-Jensen. Every so often two, or even three fish will strike this rig at the same time, allowing for a “double” or a “triple” to be landed.
When the novelty of downrigging for white bass wore off, we changed our location and target species, moving up into shallow water and focusing our efforts on sunfish.
To rig up for sunfish, we used redworms as bait on small hooks suspended beneath lightweight floats.
When the sunfish pulled the float beneath the surface, I instructed Jozy to set the hook by lifting upward on her pole. Jozy did really well at this, given her age, and over the course of about 75 minutes, landed 22 fish, including a mix of bluegill sunfish, green sunfish, redear sunfish, longear sunfish and juvenile largemouth bass.
As we used these various techniques, Jozy also got to touch the fish we caught, hold and release them carefully back into the water, cut up bait, use the net, use the Boga-Grip fish handling tool I keep aboard and more.
As is typical for kids her age, enthusiasm began to wane just into the third hour of the trip. Mrs. Talley gave me the nod that it was time to escape the increasing heat and conclude our trip while memories would still be fond ones.
With that, I cranked up the four-stroke Yamaha and we headed back to the boat ramp with Killeen’s newest junior angler beginning to nod off on mom’s lap after a 5 a.m. wakeup to prepare for the day’s big adventure.
Jozy landed 35 fish during her time on the water.
SKIES Unlimited stands for School of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration and Skills. SKIES Unlimited classes are open to children of active-duty military personnel, retirees, Department of the Army civilians, and to Department of Defense contractors. To enroll in SKIES Unlimited activities, call 254-287-4592.
While the SKIES Unlimited programs are not free, many military families are eligible for sizeable credits toward SKIES Unlimited activities. There is a $300 “Army Strong” credit available to each child when their parent is deployed.