One of the satisfying aspects of fishing is that of not knowing exactly what is on the end of the line until it emerges from the depths, thus allowing the angler his or her first glimpse at what, up until that moment, has remained hidden beneath the surface.
In some ways it is like a Christmas gift remaining under the tree with the wrapping paper preventing the intended recipient from seeing precisely what the gift is until the moment the paper is torn away. It captivates the imagination with curiosity.
Longtime local angler Thomas Wells of Temple was treated to such a present last week while fishing at night on Stillhouse Hollow Lake.
Wells, who at age 41 has been fishing for about 35 years, competes weekly on this body of water from March through September in the 3X9 Series of bass tournaments held each Tuesday. Wells has fished competitively for about 20 years now, and was first introduced to the sport by his parents.
On Thursday evening, Wells, a superintendent for a local general contractor, was on the water doing some scouting, searching for new, potential fish-holding areas which might benefit him in upcoming 3X9 Series events or in the forthcoming Texas Boat World tournament to be held Aug. 30 .
As he scouted, he used his sonar unit to identify a ledge near a submerged channel. Noting that both baitfish and gamefish were showing on his sonar unit, Wells decided to stop and throw a few casts to see what the area might hold.
Around 9 p.m., Wells cast out a black-and-blue-colored, ¾-ounce Strike King spinnerbait with a single Indiana-style blade and let it fall to bottom in 25 to 30 feet of water. He reeled it back in slowly so as to keep the bait near the bottom. As Wells’ line came nearly vertical toward the end of his retrieve, he began to reel more quickly to get the bait back to the boat to prepare for another cast. As he sped up his retrieve, a fish solidly struck his bait.
Wells, who serves on the pro staff of Power Tackle rods and Gamma Edge line, was using a 7½-foot Power Tackle rod — “The One” 04 model to be exact — in a moderate-heavy action, coupled with a Shimano Tranx baitcasting reel loaded with Gamma Edge 16-pound test fluorocarbon line.
Despite the size of the fish, Wells tamed it quickly with this stout gear and then reached into the water to grasp the fish by the lower lip to safely transfer it into the boat.
Wells was amazed at what he had landed. In his hands was a hybrid striped bass over 30 inches in length.
If the sheer size of the fish were not enough, what made this catch even more special and unusual was the fact that hybrid striped bass have not been stocked in Stillhouse Hollow by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department since 1982, according to the agency’s own records.
Fishing nearby and witnessing the commotion was a fellow angler and a friend of Wells, Justin Rogers.
Rogers holds the current Stillhouse Hollow largemouth bass record which he landed on Dec. 8, 2019.
Rogers pulled his boat up near Wells to help with photographing and measuring the fish so that it might be entered into the TPWD record book as a water body catch-and-release record fish.
The catch-and-release category only requires that a length be obtained and witnessed prior to the live release of a fish. Wells and Rogers measured the fish at 30.5 inches.
The current all-tackle lake record for Stillhouse, which goes by weight, stands at 27.75 inches. That fish, which weighed 11.63 pounds, was landed in 1989.
After learning of this catch, I reached out to John Tibbs, the TPWD District Supervisor for the Waco Inland Fisheries District, and asked how such a thing might be explained. Tibbs said, “Fish show up in places you would never expect. I’ve seen it a lot. This one may have been stocked into a private pond that overflowed in the past and ended up in Stillhouse. Hybrid stripers are widely available on the private market and there are no permits required to stock them.”
Additionally, a practice known as ‘midnight stocking’ occasionally takes place wherein anglers who desire a particular species in a particular body of water go capture that species elsewhere and release those fish into the body of water they are interested in.
There really is no way of knowing for sure just how this fish got into Stillhouse and grew as large as it did. But, it definitely was stocked, as hybrid striped bass are a man-made cross between a white bass and a full-blooded striped bass.
Wells’ catch was not the first fish oddity taken from our local waters. In 1993, a red bellied pacu weighing 1.93 pounds and measuring 13.50 inches was landed from the waters of Stillhouse Hollow.
The year before that, a 9.29-inch pacu was landed from Belton Lake. These were most likely released alive by someone disposing of their tropical fish collection, and they were likely caught not long after being released, as the winter temperatures in both reservoirs are too low to allow such fish to survive the winter.