On Saturday, May 23, I spent a delightful Saturday morning of Memorial Day Weekend on Belton Lake with a wonderful group of residents from our community, all over the age of 70.
Kathy Hull of Killeen contacted me some time ago inquiring about a fishing trip as a birthday gift to her friend, Phil McCullough, also of Killeen. She also desired to invite their mutual friends, George and Judy Van Riper of Harker Heights.
Hull is a retired Army lieutenant colonel who served as a hospital dietician until her retirement, when she then continued serving in a similar capacity at Metroplex Hospital for many years. Her late husband, Art, still has his Falcon Lake-record largemouth bass on display at Tightlines Premium Fishing Tackle in Killeen.
McCullough, a widower, is a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York.
Following his graduation, McCullough cruised around the world multiple times while serving the nation.
With a background in engineering, he consults in engineering-related matters to this day.
Judy Van Riper is a retired school teacher and principal. She met her husband, then a young aviation officer, at a Fort Hood happy hour event back in 1968.
George Van Riper is a retired U.S. Army aviator who specialized in flying helicopters produced by the Bell Corporation, such as Hueys, Cobras and the like in the Vietnam era. George and Art Hull used to fish together regularly before Art’s passing.
According to George: “We are all senior citizens who try to remain active.”
The COVID-19 pandemic forced a postponement of Hull’s originally chosen date, but we rescheduled for May 23.
Weather threatened this rescheduled effort right down to the last minute as rain cleared from northwest to southeast just as the foursome arrived at the courtesy dock on Belton Lake a few minutes before our scheduled meeting time of 6:45 a.m.
After everyone boarded, I provided a safety briefing, ensured everyone was familiar with the equipment we would be using and the tactics we would be using with that equipment, prayed for our safety and headed out to our first fishing grounds.
I arrived well before my guests in order to do some pre-trip scouting. This paid dividends as I was able to locate spawning shad and fish feeding upon them by driving them to the surface.
We first put lines in the water at this location and were immediately into fish. We used a twin set of downriggers to present three baits on each device and landed singles, doubles and triples for most of our first 75 minutes on the water. By the time this bite died down, we had already amassed a catch of 34 fish.
Next, we headed upstream and fished an area which had produced well for me earlier in the week. We used live threadfin shad to catch hybrid striped bass, white bass, blue catfish and freshwater drum, all from the same area. This action was not as productive as the downrigging had been, so when I noted that the wind had picked up speed, we moved to a more wind-blown area in search of better action.
This move would be the last move necessary for the duration of the trip, as the number of fish and activity level of the fish we found next was off the charts.
I introduced everyone to yet another tactic here, this time using light spinning gear. We presented ¾-oz. Hazy Eye Slabs of my own design to white bass in approximately 50 feet of water. These fish were feeding in the lower third of the water column.
Our lures, which were white in color, were a close approximation of the threadfin shad these gamefish were feeding upon.
Once I saw that everyone’s technique was solid, that each had grasped the fundamentals of the presentation we were using and each was routinely landing fish, I introduced Garmin LiveScope technology to help make everyone even more efficient.
George, the most experienced of the bunch when it came to fishing, really upped his game once the LiveScope came into play, as he understood that he could time the movement of his bait with the movement of the fish, thus allowing him to present into the center of mass of schools of fish which passed beneath us.
Although I routinely have seniors aboard, rarely does my entire crew consist of seniors as it did on this day.
I hoped to glean some input from my clients, and at the close of the trip asked them all if there was anything I could do, or not do, to make the trips on my boat more suited to folks their age (as I am 51 and have not walked in their shoes, yet).
Kathy provided me with two useful suggestions. The first was to have a stepstool to help reduce the vertical distance which must be overcome to safely exit the boat. The second was to consider offering a senior discount.
This week, a stepstool is found in my boat’s front hatch, and in addition to discounts for youthful anglers under the age of 12, and military discounts, I am now offering a discount for those 70 and older, as well.
As our morning on the water came to a close four-plus hours after it had begun, we had amassed a catch of 128 fish, all of which were released to fight again another day.
I received a note from Mr. Van Riper following the trip which was most welcome and very gratifying.
He wrote: “Bob, thanks for a great guide trip this morning. We all had a great time. Kathy is very pleased that she chose Holding the Line Guide Service! Phil thought it was a terrific birthday gift. It was kind of an answer to: ‘What do you get for someone who has everything?’ Well done! Thanks, George.”
The fact that this came from a fellow angler, fellow boat owner and fellow veteran made his kind words very impactful.
I so enjoyed fishing with this bunch I thought to share with you about their experience in hopes that a greater percentage of my clientele would include our local seniors going forward.