The public school spring break typically serves as a “season opener” of sorts for fishing in Texas. This year, a perfect storm of mild weather, nearly full lakes, increasing day length and lots of kids and educators out of school looking for something to do brought about a full and successful week on our local reservoirs.
We kicked off the week on Monday with the single most productive trip of the week — a catch of 120 fish — made by U.S. Army veteran George Van Riper of Harker Heights, his son, Geoff Van Riper, and three of George’s grandchildren — Greg Van Riper, and Jacob and Kaden Howley.
The crew of five endured the week’s worst (but still not terrible) weather, spending a full four-plus hours in a breezy drizzle with the temperature hovering around 64 degrees.
Our target species, white bass, tend to be most active whenever gray skies and winds persist, and this morning was no exception. We used the white, 3/8-ounce Hazy Eye slabs which I craft by hand to tempt multiple species of fish using all vertical tactics.
By lunchtime, we’d landed freshwater drum up to 5.25 pounds, largemouth bass up to 4.25 pounds, dozens of fat, egg-laden female white bass exceeding 13 inches, a single crappie and a single, hand-sized bluegill sunfish.
On Tuesday I welcomed aboard Belton Independent School District students Tevin Gilmore, age 17, and Caleb Fowler, age 14, for a morning of fishing on Stillhouse Hollow Lake. Both boys have fished with me previously and therefore there was essentially no learning curve as we fished bladebaits horizontally for scattered groups of large white bass on mid-depth flats. Later in the morning we fished Hazy Eye slabs vertically for channel-oriented fish.
The boys landed a total of 95 fish including a double-digit blue catfish which readers will learn more about in an upcoming column. The week’s tally stood at 215 fish at this point.
On Wednesday I fished with Jeff Arbogust, a retired landscape architect who recently moved to a ranch which has been in his family for some time just outside of Kempner, and desired to explore nearby fishing options. He contacted me some weeks ago, booking a white bass trip on Stillhouse and a hybrid striped bass trip later in the spring on Belton Lake.
Our Stillhouse white bass hunt involved the use of bladebaits and slabs and resulted in a total of 65 fish landed, including a beautiful 6.5-pound largemouth.
We had a nearly 90-minute dead spot in the middle of the trip after the low-light bite around sunrise tapered off and bright, calm conditions set in. The fish went into a funk during this time but perked back up around 9:50 a.m. when a southwest breeze began to kick in, thus allowing us to finish the trip on a strong note. The week’s tally stood at 280 fish at this time.
On Wednesday evening, I trailered my fishing rig out to Belton Lake, which typically fishes better than Stillhouse in the afternoon. There I met Santa Brown and her two children, Michael Brown III (age 11) and Leilani Brown (age 7), of Harker Heights.
The children’s father, U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Brown Jr. was away from his family on military duty, thus, the children qualified for a free Soldiers’ Kids Involved in Fishing Fun (S.K.I.F.F.) program trip.
As the southerly winds continued to blow into the afternoon, the fishing on Belton was consistent. We fished at three distinct locations, all in about 30 feet of water and landed another 67 fish, all on the 3/8-ounce Hazy Eye slab, and all caught using a vertical presentation. The fish count climbed to 347 for the week.
On Thursday I was joined by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department fisheries technicians to seek out mature egg-laden female white bass for use in their captive breeding program in an effort to produce sunshine-strain hybrid striped bass.
In about five hours’ time we were able to capture 78 fish, of which 43 were female white bass. We selected 40 of these to be transported to a TPWD hatchery. Of these, 24 went right into egg production, whereas the remainder, all of which were smaller females, went into holding ponds to be grown out and used for egg production next year.
The week’s tally grew to 425 by the close of Thursday.
On Friday, I welcomed yet another crew of three men, all friends through their association with Temple Bible Church.
Shawn Leverington, Paul Spinn, and Adam Kuykendall threw bladebaits under gulls which pointed the way to fish through the 10 o’clock hour, then worked Hazy Eye slabs used in conjunction with Garmin LiveScope after the shallow water bite died.
By noon, the men had landed 60 fish, including one white bass which exceeded 15 inches in length. Once again, a calm spell during the first hour and a quarter of the trip kept fish from feeding as aggressively as they would under breezier conditions and we saw depressed results as compared to the previous three days of the week during that same timeframe.
However, once the lightest southeast breeze kicked in and began to ripple the surface, the fish engaged and we began to land fish steadily. We closed out the work week on Friday at noon with 485 fish landed during spring break 2020, with an all-kids trip for three pending on Saturday morning.
The bottom line here is that conditions are good, the fish are biting, and by focusing on what is abundant (white bass), anglers of any experience level can enjoy success at Belton and Stillhouse Hollow now and for as long as water conditions and weather conditions remain stable.