Fishing for striped bass in Lake Texoma.
The fishing guide pulled into the parking lot of my hotel on the banks of Lake Texoma as the last streaks of orange in the early morning sky were giving way to a slate blue. "Sorry I'm late," the smiling Richard Portz said, with more exuberance than any man should have at 6am. Mention Lake Texoma to anyone who knows anything about fishing and they will know you are going after striped bass, or "stripers" as they are most often called. The third largest lake in Texas and the second most popular fishing lake in the U.S., the 89,000-acre pool straddles the Texas-Oklahoma border and is fed by the Red and Washita rivers.
A professional fishing guide on Lake Texoma for the past six years and a sport fisherman for the better part of his 40-plus years, the Nebraska native says that he hires a guide when he goes to unfamiliar lakes. "That way I find out where the fish are hitting and on what bait. It saves a lot of time," he says. Unless you do a lot of fishing, hiring a guide can save money as well as time. Top-notch equipment, a well-equipped boat, and access to marina facilities can make the experience much more enjoyable. "Fishing is supposed to be fun," Richard says. Wrestling with old equipment can quickly turn the experience into work.
Personally, I had given up fishing years ago. Because I never fished more than a few times a year it was always a chore getting things ready. After all that work I wouldn't catch much, if anything. If I did catch something it was usually too small for a meal. Then I felt guilty when I freed the baby fish only to have it float away upside down. I once tried to fillet and cook my paltry catch. All I got for my trouble was a cornbread hushpuppy with a partially cooked fish center. I finally decided I could sit on the lakeshore and drink beer without the frustration and disappointment of tangled lines and bobbers that refused to bob.
When a friend invited my wife and me along on a trip with her boyfriend the fishing guide, I jumped at the chance like a largemouth bass going for a slow fly. The lake was very pleasant in the early morning hours as we made our way to the center of the lake. I was kind of surprised when Richard pulled the boat into place among a dozen other boats scattered over an acre or so of choppy water. I was under the mistaken assumption that he would take us to a secret, hidden cove.
Richard tied our boat behind the boat of another guide who has the slip next to his back at Highport Marina. For the next three hours, the eight fishermen and two guides kept pulling in a steady catch of stripers. The fish weren't exactly jumping into the boat, but the first one I pulled into the net more than matched the total of my catch over a five-year period. Pick any five-year period of my life.
When the tip of one of the eight poles sitting in cradles on the gunwale of our boat dipped into the water, Richard would grab it and hand it to one of us. Silver and white with black stripes running horizontally, the striped bass was originally a saltwater fish that spawned in rivers. When a large number of stripers got caught behind a dam, the species evolved into a freshwater fish. The hybrid has been stocked in lakes around the southern United States. Stripers thrive in Lake Texoma because of the right combination of salinity, spawning grounds in the two rivers, and water temperature, Richard said. The striper is a muscular fish that can put up an exciting struggle even on 30 or 50 feet of line.
Our catch of seven fish was nowhere near a record, unless you consider it against my historical average of fish caught. Despite my pleasure in having pulled in two healthy-sized bass, Richard declared it a poor day of fishing on Lake Texoma as we headed back to the marina. Of course, the afternoon fishing trips that day saw us catch nearly 10 fish per person, the lake's limit. I inherited that kind of fishing luck from my father and passed it genetically to my son.
After Richard expertly filleted our catch, we brought home enough food for four good-sized meals. This time the hushpuppies will be a side dish instead of the main course.
Word of mouth is the best way to find a guide. Ask around for recommendations from friends, area hotels, and chambers of commerce. Richard advises that before hiring a guide you ask lots of questions about rules on the boat, how long the guide has been taking people out, whether they are a full-time or seasonal guide, and what limits and licenses are applicable.
No guide can guarantee catching fish, but most can assure that you have a good time. They will bait your hook, take the fish off, and clean the catch into fillets ready for the frying pan.
Most Texas lakes have guides working out of the marinas. Prices generally run from $75 to $125 per person. Often, the more people on the boat, the lower the per-person price. A 23-foot boat can comfortably hold six fishermen plus the guide, but the maximum total capacity is usually eight or nine people. For a list of guide services on Lake Texoma, call 580/564-2334. Richard Portz can be reached at 940/969-2379.
Coming up this weekend ...
Peach Jamboree & Rodeo honors the height of peach-picking season in the Hill Country with lots of peachy dishes and a Western rodeo, June 15-16. 830/644-2735 or www.stonewalltexas.com.
Old Gruene Market Days fills the historic village north of New Braunfels with music and shopping, June 16-17. 830/629-6441.
Fort Concho Days brings the frontier back to the national historic landmark in San Angelo with pioneer military drills, period games, and special exhibits, June 16. 915/481-2646 or www.fortconcho.com.