After a successful “pilot project” conducted on Belton Lake in January of this year, the Wounded Warrior Project turned its sights on fishing Stillhouse Hollow Lake last week.
For over 15 years WWP has helped wounded post-9/11 military members in all aspects of their recovery and path to normalcy and success.
According to WWP, more than 52,000 servicemen and women have been physically injured in recent military conflicts. 500,000 are living with invisible wounds ranging from depression to post-traumatic stress disorder; and 320,000 are experiencing debilitating brain trauma.
WWP has recognized that although advancements in technology and medicine save lives, the quality of those lives might be profoundly altered thereafter.
With the support of WWP’s staff, their community of donors and volunteers, and their team members and their families, WWP seeks to give a voice to the needs of wounded warriors, and to empower them to begin the journey to recovery.
One of the ways WWP meets wounded warriors’ needs is by coordinating outreach events, like this week’s fishing trip for several of their members.
According to Kristin Taddeo, WWP Outreach Specialist, near 40 wounded warriors expressed interest in last week’s event and participants came from as far away as San Antonio to board the boat at 6:45 a.m. for a chance to land fish and enjoy the camaraderie of other service members.
Participating in Friday’s fishing excursion were Hector Cuellar, Eric Haines, Brian Hammonds, Matt Hinds and Frankie Silverio, all current or former members of the U.S. Army, and Kristin Taddeo, a Gold Star family member on WWP’s staff.
Friday’s balmy weather stood in stark contrast with the 24-degree temperatures the area experienced just two mornings before. As we launched, the air temperature was 64, and the water surface temperature stood at 53.5, which represented a warmup of about 2 degrees versus Wednesday’s post-cold front surface temperature.
The skies were gray and entirely overcast for the entire trip with a southerly wind blowing around 13 mph.
We targeted white bass, but along the way also picked up a number of freshwater drum. All were caught using just two tactics and using just one kind of artificial lure.
The most productive tactic, which accounted for fish throughout the trip, was snap-jigging with a slab.
This involves tediously maintaining proper distance between the slab and the bottom of the lake, snapping the lure upward, then letting it flutter back toward bottom, all the while paying attention to the line and the rod tip to detect a strike.
The second productive tactic we used was that of smoking. This was of use during the last 90 minutes of the trip when the combination of higher wind and more sunlight encouraged fish to feed more aggressively and higher up off the bottom.
Everyone’s rig was identical — a white, 3/8-oz. Hazy Eye Slab with a Hazy Eye Stinger Hook attached. The slab was attached to the Sufix 25-pound fluorocarbon leader using a #2 VMC snap, and the leader was attached to Sufix 20-pound braid using a pair of back-to-back Uni-knots.
On several occasions the fish we caught regurgitated recently swallowed bait fish. When we compared these threadfin shad to our own presentations, they were a near-perfect match on color, shape and size, thus confirming that our lure choice was solid.
During the trip, I asked if any of the WWP members had participated in other WWP outreach events. All five indicated they had done so, and some shared about some of the more memorable events they had attended, including a deer hunt and a hybrid striped bass fishing trip on Lake Ray Hubbard. Others mentioned going out to breakfast with other members and bringing spouses to more formal dinner events.
As the fish tally grew higher and higher, everyone joked light-heartedly with their boatmates. One participant brought tasty venison sausage made from a deer he had harvested and shared it with all aboard. A number of times some of the veterans expressed disbelief about the number of fish being caught.
One of the anglers remarked, as just the third fish of the morning was being reeled in, “Man, we’ve already landed more fish than I’ve ever caught during my trips down to the coast — and I go down there for three days at a time!”
Hector Cuellar, who was originally on a standby list for one of the six open seats on the boat, shared about being truly excited when he received a call from WWP letting him know one of the original six participants had to back out at the last minute and that, if he was still available, he was now invited.
Cuellar hung up the phone and prepared immediately for a 3-plus-hour drive to join in on the fishing.
The fishing events have proven so popular that Taddeo has already placed the next central Texas-based event on the calendar for May 13.
WWP alumni may sign up for this event once it is posted in WWP’s weekly email called “The Post.”
Every Texas-based alumni receives this email on Thursdays.
Those qualified individuals not yet a part of WWP may find out more about the organization and become a member online at www.woundedwarriorproject.org/programs/wwp-registration.
WWP members must be a post-9/11 veteran with a physical or mental injury, wound or illness experienced during his/her military service on or after September 11, 2001.
As the 11 o’clock hour rolled around, the fishing slacked off sharply, as it normally does during the midday hours. By 11:15 a.m. we reeled in our lines for the final time, took a group photo with a few of the fish we had retained in the livewell just for that purpose, and headed back to the dock with a grand total of 76 fish boated for our efforts.