With my fishing business now idled for nearly two weeks due to government closures of non-essential businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, I have been intentionally pursuing several things in order to stay positive and productive.
The most important of these pursuits is maintaining a healthy, daily routine which includes prayer, reading and memorizing Scripture, exercising, making sure my wife is taken care of, and working with my hands.
Since the normal work my hands perform — that of operating my guide service — is currently not an option, much of my work has focused on being as well-prepared as I can be when I am able to once again take clients out fishing.
I have, therefore, been working on both fishing and non-fishing related tasks. The non-fishing related tasks would eventually have competed for limited time during my busiest season, which runs from mid-March to late-August. So, by taking care of these chores now, I can focus on fishing to the fullest extent if and when the “green light” comes later this year.
The fishing related tasks I am tending to will simply make me more efficient during my time on the water and make the equipment I have invested in last to its full potential. For example, by pre-tying leaders now, I won’t have to do this task “on-the-spot” when fish are biting and clients are anxious to get their bait back in the water.
Scouting in order to stay abreast of baitfish and gamefish locations is also important so I know where to go to put my clients on fish when I am once again lawfully able to do so.
There has been some controversy and some confusion about whether or not fishing as individuals (not as a business) is permissible under the shelter-at-home order now in place. To his credit, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently clarified this matter.
In his live address to Texans on Tuesday, Abbott said, “Essential activities include any activity to access essential services like going to a grocery store, going to a bank, going to a gas station, getting supplies from a hardware store. Importantly, it includes maintaining physical activity, which is so important at this particular time; activities like jogging or biking and hunting and fishing are permissible so long as precautions are maintained to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and to minimize in-person contact with others.”
In order to get some fresh air, do some scouting, spend some time with my wife and run the boat a bit, we decided to go fishing.
On Monday, I took my wife, Rebecca, out fishing on Stillhouse Hollow. The day was gray and balmy with a southeasterly breeze around 6-8 mph and with occasional drizzle and light rain falling.
My last trip with clients, on March 19, and the several trips I conducted before that, revealed that the fish had moved shallow, so on this day I began looking shallow.
Whenever I fish in water under 20 feet deep, I rely more heavily on side-imaging than on down-looking colored sonar or down-imaging. Indeed, on this day, side-imaging revealed schools of shad and white bass in numerous places.
When I scout, I typically limit my catch to five fish or so from a given area and then move on to find more fish, thus creating a “milk-run” for myself in which I have confidence when accompanied by clients. On Monday, with my wife aboard, we aimed for catching 10 fish at any given location and then leaving to find other fish.
At our third such location, with about 30 fish in the boat, we hit into a large school of post-spawn white bass which were feeding voraciously.
The fish were shallow and aggressive — a scenario in which I like to try new presentations or test modifications to existing presentations.
When these white bass turned on, we were using Cicada bladebaits up to 1/2-ounce in weight. To speed up the sink rate, I tried going with a Binsky bladebait weighing in at 3/4-ounce. It produced as well or better than the Cicada.
Next, I experimented with a modified Hot Bite Gang Banger G2, a lure specifically developed for schooled fish. Australian fishing guide Matthew Langford introduced me to this lure as he and I fished for Australian bass in February 2019 in Queensland.
Rebecca was positioned on the front deck of my boat and I was in the stern. We had the Minn Kota trolling motor on Spot-Lock to maintain our position, and chose an object on the shoreline to cast toward so our casts would land in the same vicinity each time.
Rebecca went 14 fish in 14 casts and then on her next cast called back to me, “I’ve got a big one one.”
Knowing the lake bottom in this area was snag-free, I encouraged her to take her time and to let the rod and the drag do their thing in wearing the fish down.
The tussle took several minutes and not once did the fish approach the surface, so I ruled out a largemouth bass.
I had never taken a catfish from this fairly smooth, featureless bottom, so I ruled out a catfish.
Soon, even in the stained water, the broad, light colored side of a massive freshwater drum reflected light penetrating from the surface.
When the fish was near enough, I used my rubberized net to help land the fish. Rebecca was grinning from ear to ear.
Since our professional policy is 100% catch-and-release, and our personal preference is to release fish, as well, we wanted to get this drum back where it came from fairly quickly. I did a quick measurement on my Check-It-Stik with this fish’s mouth closed and its tail pinched. It measured 26 3/8-inches, thus eclipsing the 25-inch minimum set by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for a “Big Fish Award,” and thus qualifying the fish to be entered as a water body record in the catch-and-release category. The fish weighed 11.50 pounds on the certified scale I keep onboard for just such occasions.
The fish was released and took off back to the depths with a powerful tail stroke.
TPWD processes water body record applications on an ongoing basis, sends successful anglers a hard-copy certificate by mail and posts the updated records for each body of water in Texas on a monthly basis.
Fishing offers a great way to escape the indoor environment during this unprecedented time of difficulty. By angling prudently, we can retain the ability to do so.