Joan James celebrated her 81st birthday on Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir recently, pursuing one of her favorite pastimes — fishing.
Now living on the east side of Harker Heights with her daughter, Linda Grant, and her grandson, John Grant, James is a native of Wyoming. James grew up in a coal-mining family that supplemented their income by living off of the land in many ways, namely by hunting and fishing.
After wrapping up a recent fishing trip to Homer, Alaska, Grant and James enjoyed their time in pursuit of chinook salmon so much, that upon their return to Texas, Grant began researching local options for angling with her mother and son.
On Sept. 23, the three came aboard my boat at 7:15 a.m. for a half-day multi-species fishing trip.
Unlike most clients, this crew was already familiar with downriggers since it was by the use of downriggers that they caught a majority of their salmon in Alaska. Although crew members on their Alaskan trip did the rigging of the downriggers, on this trip my team of three worked together to set out their own lines the correct distance behind the boat and then the correct depth beneath the boat.
We used my pair of Cannon downriggers equipped with 12-pound balls to find active fish and then stopped over top of the fish we found to work them over more thoroughly with jigging spoons and tailspinners.
This crew was a particularly competitive group, announcing before we left the dock that contests for the most fish, the biggest fish and the smallest fish were now underway.
James jumped out to an early lead in the most fish category by catching a triple — three fish on one rod at the same time, as she used a three-armed umbrella rig equipped with Pet Spoons to lure multiple white bass all at once.
Once we found fish holding in specific areas and stopped over top of them using the Spot Lock function of the Ulterra trolling motor, Grant, a Belton ISD student, began to work his way up the leader board for most fish caught as he maintained a steady rhythm to his retrieve and fought his hooked fish well, assuring they stayed hooked long enough to be brought into the boat and be counted.
One of John Grant’s white bass went just over 14 inches, thus placing him in the lead for largest fish of the trip, as well. Not long afterward, however, James put a largemouth taping at just over 16 inches in the boat, thus stealing the show for a while.
As we fished, Grant shared about her 22 years of service before retiring from the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps; her son shared about his love for hunting; and James shared about her love for gardening on their plot of land along Farm-to-Market 2410 where she raises fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts and berries.
With a planned quitting time of around 11:15 a.m., I let my crew know at 10:45 that we had about a half hour to go. We had boated just over 70 fish by this time, including largemouth bass, freshwater drum and white bass. I hinted that the fishing typically slows down in the final hour of a four-hour morning trip, but because of the low-light conditions caused by grey cloud cover, I also mentioned that I felt we could still put a few more fish in the boat.
Grant challenged her mother and son to shoot for 81 fish in honor of James’ 81st birthday. Now, with renewed focus, everyone worked their lures attentively, and with active fish still showing near bottom on sonar, we began a slow march toward 81 fish.
As we counted our way up to 81 fish, the younger Grant got a hard strike, set the hook, and had his rod bent well down into the butt section. I instinctively grabbed for the net and awaited a look at the fish. Shortly, a frisky 17-inch largemouth charged to the surface to try to execute a head-shake, but to no avail. John Grant had guaranteed himself the big fish honors for the trip.
Now, everyone went back to their rods and continued focusing on getting that 81st fish. Finally, all at once, both grandmother and grandson had fish on at the same time — both yearling white bass. Grant pulled his up and out of the water (number 80); then James landed hers (number 81!).
With the pressure off and a few minutes still left in the outing, we put a final four more fish in the boat to polish the morning off at 85 and a memorable birthday for 81-year-old Joan James.
Fishing — something that three generations ranging in age from 12 to 81 could enjoy together, share in equally and reflect upon favorably.