Bob Maindelle Guide Lines Oct. 3

From left, Larry Brewer, Blake Hoesktra and Chris Zwern landed these Belton Lake hybrid striped bass this week using MAL Heavy Lures in 40 feet of water. Due to cooling water spurred by the passage of the fall's first cold front, the fishing in Central Texas reservoirs has dramatically improved and should continue to do so through mid-December.

I have now fished on our two local reservoirs, Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes, for 29 years after coming to this area as a bachelor lieutenant in the Army’s 2nd Armored Division back in 1992.

What I witnessed this past week was the single fastest transition of fish from their summer patterns into the fall/early winter patterns they exhibit when turnover occurs, over those 29 years.

Let us back up a bit and nail down what “turnover” means. All summer our lakes have been stratified into layers based on water density, which is determined by water temperature. Generally speaking, the warmer the water gets, the less dense it becomes. Conversely, the cooler water gets, the more dense it becomes.

So, the warmest water remains nearest the surface, and the coldest water sinks to the bottom. In the case of Belton and Stillhouse, that warm water layer extends down to around 36 feet on a typical summer. That light, warm layer is called the epilimnion. The colder water beneath the epilimnion is called the hypolimnion. The transition layer between the epilimnion and hypolimnion is called the thermocline.

Typically, the cool water in the hypolimnion is oxygen-poor — so oxygen-poor that it cannot sustain fish life, so fish are forced to stay at or above the level of the thermocline in the warmer, but more well-oxygenated epilimnion during the summer months.

Turnover occurs when, due to the change of seasons and the arrival of cold fronts, the upper layer of water (epilimnion) cools to the point where it becomes cooler (and more dense) than the hypolimnion below it. As the epilimnion cools, it sinks down into the hypolimnion and displaces it, thus creating a subtle mixing of the water, all due to falling surface water temperature. This mixing is nicknamed “turnover.”

On Sept. 21-22, the autumn’s first cold front arrived in Central Texas, turning winds northerly and dropping both daytime and nighttime temperatures. The two nights after the front’s passage saw overnight lows in the 50s, followed by three more days with overnight lows in the 60s.

This, combined with a rather mild summer which did not see the reservoirs get as warm as they often do with protracted runs of temperatures in the upper 90s and low 100s, was enough to start the turnover process.

As I prepared to receive my clients on Sept. 25, I measured the water temperature on Belton in 5-foot increments from the surface down to 60 feet. This was accomplished with a Fishhawk TD device. The water was a uniform 81.3 degrees over that entire span. This was clear evidence that the surface water had cooled and had begun to sink.

The fishing last week was nothing short of spectacular, with 100-plus fish trips for my last five consecutive trips conducted on Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings.

During this time, fish began to show up in locations they have been unable to access since June due to low dissolved oxygen levels over the summer. On Wednesday, we landed multiple white bass from off bottom in 53 feet of water.

Pelagic species like white bass, hybrid striped bass and threadfin shad also began to congregate heavily on deep bottom topography. Multiple times over the course of the week my clients and I encountered schools of white bass with several hundred individuals in the school.

As we focused on white bass, we employed two tactics. When the fish were aggressive, meaning they were moving quickly through the water column, slashing at bait on the surface, and willingly chasing lures, we used MAL Heavy Lures with silver blades and white tails to fish vertically. This fishing was aided by the use of Garmin LiveScope set in downward mode.

While sitting in a hover atop the fish using Minn Kota Spot-Lock technology, we would drop our baits to bottom, then, with a single, fast handle turn of the spinning reel, we would reel these spinners eight or nine turns (which translates into about 16 or 18 feet) toward the surface while observing the sonar screen for a result.

When the fish were less aggressive, meaning they were holding tightly to the bottom and were not chasing bait, nor willing to chase a lure vertically, we used MAL Heavy Lures with white blades and chartreuse tails to fish horizontally in as much as 45 feet of water.

To do so, we made long casts perpendicular to the side of the boat which side imaging showed the greatest concentration of fish to be on. We allowed the baits to sink all the way to bottom while leaving the bail open so as to speed up the sink rate.

Once the bait hit the bottom, we turned the reel’s handle slowly to gather in any slack, then with a single, fast handle turn followed by seven slower handle turns, we would reel the lure off the bottom on a diagonal. After cranking eight times, we would open the bail, let the bait sink back to bottom and repeat the process.

On Sept. 25, Josh Good and his wife and son landed 122 fish. On Monday, Gary Jones landed 139 fish. On Tuesday, Gerry Collier and his son, Geoff, landed 134 fish. On Wednesday, Gary Davidson landed 116 fish, and on Thursday, Larry Brewer, Blake Hoekstra and Chris Zwern landed 107 fish.

As I compare this to the results I encountered from mid-June when the thermocline first developed, through July and August, those months, combined, yielded only two 100-plus fish days (July 30 and Aug. 12).

As another cold front works its way toward Central Texas for today, forecast overnight lows in the 50s and 60s are once again at hand. This will further cement in place all the positive change that goes with the fall turnover and the fantastic fishing that accompanies it, typically right into mid-December.

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