About two weeks ago, U.S. Army Maj. Marion “Liz” Williams, of Killeen, contacted me with a bit of a dilemma. Her twin 9-year-old boys, Caleb and Tyler Williams, wanted to go fishing, but, as a single mom with limited fishing experience, Liz was not sure if she was up to the challenge.
A co-worker suggested she contact me. We spoke about her situation and agreed that Labor Day would be a good date on which to schedule a trip. We agreed to meet at 6:30 a.m. Monday at one of the boat ramps on Belton Lake.
I conduct approximately 185 guided trips each year, of which about 70 percent include at least one child or youth angler, so I was confident that I could both teach Caleb and Tyler, and help them be successful at catching fish.
After fitting the boys with life jackets and covering basic boat safety, we moved on to how to hold and use both spinning outfits and baitcasting outfits, and then set out in pursuit of fish. Due to the unstable weather of late, we had heavy, gray morning cloudiness with a breeze of 12 mph from the south-southwest.
Because the breeze prevented us from spotting fish feeding at the surface, we started off by using downriggers. Inside of two hours, the boys landed a combination of 38 white bass and hybrid stripers up to 4-plus pounds. As I observed the boys, I could see the novelty of this technique was beginning to wear off despite the fact that we were catching fish steadily.
I decided to transition us over to fishing for sunfish up in shallow, cover-filled water. Before we moved from our current location to the sunfishing grounds, the boys took a snack break. Refreshed, the boys now were looking forward to something new and different.
I positioned us in water less than 4 feet deep with a bottom consisting of some rock and waterlogged wood mixed with the vertical stalks of terrestrial vegetation, which had grown along Belton Lake’s shoreline during the several years of drought.
We used ultralight tackle consisting of #14 hooks, split-shots less than BB-size for weight, and sensitive balsawood floats. We baited with small pieces of redworm and tried our luck. The boys quickly understood how sunfish, which are ambush feeders, tend to hold near cover. They saw that when their presentations landed in open water away from the rocks and stalks, they got little action. Conversely, they also observed that when they presented their offerings near such objects, the fish responded quickly and consistently.
The boys caught several species of sunfish, including bluegill sunfish, longear sunfish, and green sunfish. Then, the unexpected happened.
As Caleb made a nice presentation near a submerged rock, we all watched his balsawood float disappear the instant it hit the water. The long rod he was using bent more deeply into the butt section than it did for any of the other sunfish, and the fish did not quickly come to the surface as all the others had done.
The fish kept surging out toward the midline of the cove we were nestled in but then finally gave in. As Caleb raised the rod to lift the fish out of the water, it was clear that he’d just hooked into an exceptional sunfish for Belton Lake. Due to its relative infertility and lack of aquatic vegetation, Belton is not known for producing large sunfish, nor great quantities of the various sunfish species.
This specimen was a redear sunfish, one of the larger varieties of all of the species in the sunfish family. I immediately removed the hook and got the fish into the livewell so it would revive while I consulted my online version of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department lake records, which I keep on my iPhone.
I had good news for Caleb!
His redear sunfish set the lake record for this species in the Junior Angler category open to youth under the age of 17 who do not yet need to possess a fishing license.
Caleb’s fish weighed exactly one-half pound on a certified scale, and measured 7.75 inches long.
Not only did Caleb and Tyler land 63 fish on this, their first-ever fishing excursion, but the family managed to walk away with a lake record to their credit. For his efforts, Caleb will receive an 8½-by-11-inch water body record certificate to which a gold seal of the State of Texas will be affixed.