When Anthony Vaughters, owner of Kids Xpression Learning Center in Killeen, received a Father's Day gift from his children and father, little did he know that gift would lead to the adventure he experienced recently.
The gift Vaughters received was a half-day, multispecies fishing trip on Stillhouse Hollow Lake.
Vaughters was instantly excited. He recalled telling his kids that, from that point forward, they never had to put any more thought into what to get him for Father's Days, birthdays, Christmases or anything else. A fishing gift certificate would suffice for all of the above.
Vaughters chose to redeem this certificate on Aug. 23. Since the certificate was valid for up to two anglers, Vaughters brought a friend, Corey Alexander, with him.
We began the trip as usual. I made sure everyone had their fishing license, reviewed where to find and how to use the safety gear, made sure the reels’ handles were on the correct side for everyone and asked the Lord to be with us as we left the dock.
The weather had been stable in advance of this trip, with each successive day’s weather like that of the day before — hot, dry, sunny, and with just enough breeze to keep it comfortable. The water surface temperature was in the mid-80s.
The first area I probed with sonar had held abundant baitfish the morning before and, as I slowly motored over the area, bait once again showed on sonar in great quantities. Before long, the distinct boomerang-shaped yellow marks which indicate larger gamefish on colored sonar began to show them interspersed with the bait.
We put two downriggers down, each equipped with a three-armed umbrella rig to which three Pet Spoons were tied. The various sizes of Pet Spoons allow the angler to imitate shad of various lengths.
Our results were instantaneous — both men had fish in less than two minutes after we lowered the downrigger balls into the water.
We continued using downriggers until the sun rose to about 10 degrees above the horizon. At this time, white bass began to show on sonar in tightly grouped schools on the lake’s bottom.
We shifted tactics at this point, hoping to use blade baits to catch more fish in less time from out of these tightly congregated, bottom-oriented schools.
I equipped both men with spinning rods rigged with a half-ounce Reef Runner Cicada, a kind of bait generically referred to as a blade bait. The Cicada is heavy and compact, and therefore sinks quickly. Its shad-like profile and the silver color pattern I prefer dupe white bass effectively.
We maintained our position just a few yards south of the school of fish with the help of my Ulterra trolling motor’s “Spot Lock” feature, and we cast off the boat’s starboard side with long casts, lobbing our baits beyond the fish and working the baits back through the school.
Vaughters and Alexander both got the gist of working their blade baits quickly and were rewarded instantly, as they pulled fish after fish aboard from out of 31 feet of water.
After about a half-hour of non-stop action, Vaughters called out, “Bob, I’ve got a good one here!”
I sprang into action and instinctively grabbed for my landing net, thinking perhaps a largemouth bass had taken his bait. After some give and take in the deep, clear water, the faint white shine off the side of a large white bass shone up through the depths.
Vaughters landed a 15 3/8-inch white bass. This specimen surpassed the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s 15-inch threshold established for this species, thus qualifying Vaughters for a TPWD “Big Fish Award” for this trophy class catch.
We quickly worked to get a photo of Vaughters with his catch, as well as a photo of the fish on a measuring board with its mouth closed and tail lobes pinched together. An application for an official “Big Fish Award” was submitted the day following the catch.
Should Vaughters be able to capture four additional freshwater species of trophy dimensions, he will qualify for TPWD “Elite Angler” status.
A few of the minimum lengths for highly sought after species include: 21 inches for largemouth bass, 15 inches for crappie, 10 inches for sunfish, 36 inches for blue catfish, 30 inches for channel catfish and 45 inches for flathead (yellow) catfish.
A separate trophy threshold length listing is maintained by TPWD for saltwater species.
When Vaughters’ morning on the water came to a close, he and Alexander had amassed a catch of 52 fish including both white bass and largemouth bass.