June 16, 2014 | by Mark McDonald
Catfish Trip from the Memory Book

Whitney Rock Slide Reminds Us of Nature’s Power

By Mark S. McDonald
Editor, sportsandoutdoors.guru

Sheer limestone ledges hovering over the water give unique character to Possum Kingdom and Lake Whitney, the two of the most scenic reservoirs in all of Texas.

At times, Lake Whitney, located in Central Texas between Austin and Dallas, can provide excellent fishing. Last week, it provided excitement of a different kind – as a rock ledge slid off into the water, and took part of this home with it. (Dallas Morning News photo)

At times, Lake Whitney, located in Central Texas between Austin and Dallas, can provide excellent fishing. Last week, it provided excitement of a different kind – as a rock ledge slid off into the water, and took part of this home with it. (Dallas Morning News photo)

For decades, both have produced easy living and good fishing. Last week, however, one of Whitney’s picturesque overhangs slid into the lake, taking part of a luxury home with it.

There were no injuries, only sobering pictures of what happens when humans take liberties with Mother Nature. Lake authorities finished the job Friday morning when they soaked hay bales in diesel fuel and planted them in the garage and lit the fire.

With news cameras grinding, the remains of a 4,000 square-foot home tumbled into the lake. The remains of the home had no more hit the water when I thought back to a fishing trip from yesteryear.

Today, more than 25 years later, that memorable summer day comes back to me in sepia tones, like a home movie shot on the family’s hand-held 8mm …

The channel catfish, widely distributed throughout North American lakes and streams, is the third-most popular freshwater gamefish in Texas, behind only largemouth and bluegill. (Artwork courtesy of TPWD)

The channel catfish, widely distributed throughout North American lakes and streams, is the third-most popular freshwater gamefish in Texas, behind only largemouth and bluegill. (Artwork courtesy of TPWD)

Ps-s-s-st. Catfish are biting, the Whitney grapevine said. So what’s a man to do?

As outdoor writer at the now-defunct Dallas Times Herald, it was my sworn duty to make the world safe from the dreaded channel cat. Somebody had to do it. I was the man for the dark and dirty job.

By mid-morning, a local part-time fishing guide had us positioned close – disturbingly so — to a sheer rock wall rising above the lake. Staring straight up from the boat, I couldn’t help but wonder, what happens if one of those ledges crashes down on this boat?

Ahhh, but biting fish trump fear and focus. After all, we were fishing for the skillet, and for public safety.

This 3-foot long channel cat from Oregon waters weighed an estimated 25 pounds. (Photo by bigfishesoftheworld.blogspot.com)

This 3-foot long channel cat from Oregon waters weighed an estimated 25 pounds. (Photo by bigfishesoftheworld.blogspot.com)

Lone Star waters have produced channel cats weighing north of 36 pounds. The North American record stands at 58 pounds. Caught on trotlines, limb lines and rod/reel, the channel cat will bite liver, worms, shrimp, chicken, cheese, commercial stinkbait and, presumably, shredded truck tires.

Did I mention a catfish fillet is a firm whitish flesh that’s merely delicious. Any wonder why the catfish ranks behind only the largemouth and the crappie in popularity among freshwater anglers.

Fish on! Get the net.

These blue-gray whiskerfish, channel cats 15-25 inches long and weighing up to four pounds apiece, had an appetite for earthworms. They absolutely could not resist gooey snails we collected from the underside of junk lumber the guide had found.

Our technique was simple: Anchor the boat, secure the bait to a stout hook, swing the offering right up against the ledge and free-line (no sinker) to the pay zone. Closer to the rocks, the better.

The bait would sink slowly and just at the thermocline, where warm-water oxygen depletion turns a lake into a giant layer cake, the catfish were lying in wait.

Oh, there’s one. Set the hook.

Patiently letting the fish work against the flex of the rod and the reel’s drag system, this got to be a routine … set the hook, get fish to boat, swing it into the net. Cackle with delight. Make another snail ready for action.

Why the good fishing? Why then and there?

The fish were lurking in the depths below the barren ledge, the guide theorized, because swallows nesting on the vertical walls would drop their loads in the water below. And, yum, the catfish, which will swallow a Senator’s lie, were there to recycle the goodies.

Still, I was leery, feeling vulnerable below those rock ledges. What if …?

After the events of last week, now we know.

Past president of the Texas Outdoor Writers, Mark S. McDonald escaped starvation while variously covering conservation, hunting, fishing and team sports for five major dailies in Texas. His next book, “They Gave Us Baseball: Now Look What We’ve Done” will be released in early 2015.

 

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