Category: Fish Tales

Fishing Wheeler Branch Reservoir

An off-work Friday presented a rare but welcomed opportunity for some kayak fishing in one of North Texas’s more unusual fishing locales– Wheeler Branch Reservoir. It’s unusual for a couple of reasons. The first is its size; bigger than a pond but much smaller than most Texas impoundments,

Daddy’s Boy

This is North Texas angler Wesley Wyatt and his son Kanon posing for a post weigh-in picture at an Eagle Mountain Lake tournament in early February. Wyatt had just finished fishing the tournament with his dad, Timbo Wyatt, when his wife and son showed up. Says Wyatt, “My boy Kanon loves fishing so much that…

Blast from the Past II: Family Fishing Float

A few years back, Texas river rat Shane Davies guided me, my wife and 16-year old daughter on an upper Brazos River fishing trip. My son and I had gone with Shane the previous month and had a blast with both of us logging new personal bests. On this trip with my wife and daughter,…

Lane Ferguson and the Big Catfish


For fishing guide Chad Ferguson, December thru February are prime fishing months for  trophy catfish. Those months typically mean brisk business for the Saginaw, Texas guide, but the down side is there’s usually little time to take his own 12-year old son, Lane, out to chase the big cats. Until last December, that is, when Chad made good on a promise he’d made his son. It would prove to be a fateful decision for both. This is the story of Lane, his father and one very big catfish…

As told by Chad Ferguson…

The Promise

Being a fishing guide is a lot like being a plumber or anything else for that matter, and your stuff is always last. The plumbers house always has leaking pipes and the fishing guide rarely gets to “just go fishing” for the sake of fishing. My son, Lane has always wanted to catch a record fish and it seems something was always getting in the way (mostly my lack of time during peak times). We took some time last winter, but it was limited, and although we managed some really nice blue catfish, we just didn’t connect with that record fish.

This last Fall we discussed it, and I committed to taking some time off during the holidays to try and get him on that record catfish. The goal was a lake record or a lake junior angler record. In Texas, a junior angler record applies to any fish caught by an angler less than 16 years of age.

The First Attempt
The first attempt at landing the record catfish took place on Wednesday, December 21 2011. We arrived at the boat ramp and I saw a friend’s truck sitting at the ramp. Pulling away from the marina I called him and after a brief conversation he informed me his son had just landed a new junior angler lake record of 40 lbs.

A few minutes later we met on the water and they showed us the fish. We shared some brief pleasantries and parted ways so he could go weigh his catfish and we could catch some fresh bait and get to fishing. My son was a little bummed about the other angler’s probable record. I’d been pretty confident we could break the previous junior angler record of 26 lbs that day because, truth be told, it was kind of a “softball” record. We ended up with numerous big fish that day, but the biggest was “only” 36.5 lbs. At least I’d been right about the previous record being a softball.

The Second Attempt

After lunch on Friday, December 23, we headed out with plans to knock out a new junior record. The new record fish from Wednesday actually turned out to weigh 37 lbs, which was easily still the junior record. I was still pretty confident we could break the record before year end but landing a blue catfish that was 37+ lbs was not quite the softball that the 26 lb record was. Still, I was pretty confident we could find him a better fish. We started catching some fresh shad and then proceeded to idle around using my fish finder to locate some good sized blue catfish.

We located active feeding fish in several areas and made several attempts to catch them but kept pulling up channel cats despite seeing what I thought were mature blue catfish on the sonar. We moved to a new area and made several passes through a hole I frequently fish. We picked up several large fish on the side scan fish finder and threw out the anchor. We sat for about fifteen minutes, which is as long as I like to sit and wait with no activity on the lines. I then made some slight adjustments with the boat’s position and put the lines back into the water. Within ten minutes one of the rods slammed down and my son grabbed it.

I knew when I saw him swing the rod back the first time it was a good fish, but wasn’t sure how good. I was giving my son pointers and telling him to slow play it. At this point, I still wasn’t really sure about the size of this fish. When he finally got the fish up near the boat, the fish took another run only this time it managed to drag the boat into the wind. It was then that I realized just how good the fish was.

Lane has been fishing his whole life and handled the situation well with me standing there coaching him through the process but I was a little nervous at times. At one point the fishing rod doubled over into the water and I could hear the rod tip tapping the boat!

We landed the fish with the dip net and got it into the boat and I knew immediately he had blown the 37 lb junior angler record away. When it was all said and done, the fish weighed over 66 lbs! We release the catfish after getting the proper weights and measurements, and it swam away to fight another day!

The record Catfish (Photo by Chad Ferguson)

The Certificates

I submitted the required paperwork for the lake record, junior angler lake record, lake catch and release record and Texas State Junior Angler Record Catfish. Three weeks later the certificates arrived and Lane’s been awarded the following records:
(1) Catch and Release Water Body Record
(2) Water Body Record
(3) Catch and Release Water Body Junior Angler
(4) Water Body Record Junior Angler
(5) Catch and Release State Record Junior Angler
(6) State Record Junior Angler Blue Catfish

The TPWD Certificates

He was also given a Big Fish Award by TPWD. Watching him catch this catfish, the smile on my his face and the excitement in his voice when he talks about his big fish is better than any Christmas present anyone could have given me. This is truly one of those father son moments I will never forget. The official weight was 66.28 Lbs!

Lone Star Chronicles – Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Fish

 

First Kayak Trip on the Brazos

A few years back, when my son Dan came home on leave, we booked a guided fishing trip with a Texas river fishing guide named Shane Davies. Shane specialized in kayak trips on the Brazos River and was known for putting his clients on big river fish. I’d been fascinated by the incredible stories of his client’s successes, but to be honest, there was a cynical part of me that thought the stories were exaggerated. I was wrong; the trip we booked surpassed every expectation we had. In fact, it changed the way we think of fishing even to this day. This is the story of that trip…

Sometimes when you’re fishing…

Conventional wisdom says always expect the unexpected. Now add in a bird nest from hell, your line is in the water…and your buddy suddenly catches a big fish. Sound interesting? Yeah, you could say that. Just ask Tanner Worley, of Hurst, Texas, who was dealing with said bird nest on Lake Welch in East Texas, when suddenly the fun began…

Video courtesy of Tanner Worley

Lone Star Chronicles – Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Fish

 

Chasing Alligator Gar on the Brazos

These six photos were submitted by Texas angler and airline pilot Jamie Mowrey. He and his 14-year old son were targeting gar on the middle Brazos River when he landed a 6′ 9″ alligator gar, which he caught, photographed and released (CPR). His son caught a couple of gars including one which was in the…

Yakking It Up on the Middle Brazos

I had the opportunity to accompany Texas river guide Shane Davies and his client Sam Underwood (call sign: Yakitup) on a guided kayak fishing trip on the middle Brazos River last week. Although the fishing was somewhat  slow (by Shane Davies’ standards), Sam still managed to pull out some very respectable blue and channel catfish. Here are  few pics and notes from that…

Cold Water Survival: Brandon Pope’s Story

For the last four hours, Brandon Pope had been running up and down Lake Arlington in North Texas tending to his brush piles. Pope, a high school biology teacher and father of two from Arlington, Texas, had fished his entire life and it wasn’t unusual for him to be on the water alone, even on a cold January day such as this one. Boating alone during this time of the year was something his wife, Patty, didn’t like but she accepted it.  With his last brush pile done, he pointed his center console boat towards the boat ramp and gunned the engine.

The sun was dropping and the sky was already showing signs of the bright orange hues typical of Texas sunsets. The water temperature that afternoon was a cool 48 degrees, but the lake was glassy calm, and so Pope put the boat at full throttle as he headed in. What happened next was as sudden as it was unexpected.  Arching his body to stretch his back, Pope released the boat’s steering wheel, and the boat turned sharply to the left ejecting him out of his boat head first into the lake. Unfortunately for Pope, he wasn’t attached to the boat’s kill switch lanyard, nor was he wearing a life jacket.

Momentarily stunned by the cold water, Pope was shocked back to reality when he heard something behind him, and he turned to see his boat turning back towards him. He instantly started backstroking to get out of the boat’s path and it missed him. It was then that Pope realized the enormity of his predicament. There were very few other boaters on the lake that afternoon, he was several thousand yards from the nearest shore, and the 48-degree water was already causing his core temperature to drop. Within a few minutes, it would rob him of the use of his extremities, and it would eventually kill him if he didn’t get out of the water.

Adding to his troubles was the fact that he was wearing several layers of winter clothing. He quickly considered, and then rejected, the idea of removing the clothing. He also considered balling himself into a fetal position to conserve heat and waiting for rescue, but with few other boaters on the lake, Pope quickly concluded that his most immediate threat was losing the ability to tread water and drowning.  And so he decided to swim. He knew that a shallow sandbar existed near the mouth of one of the lake’s feeder creeks, and with the sandbar as his target, Pope started swimming.

At first, Pope thought he might actually make it. He was in a good shape and he seemed to be making good progress. Perhaps, he thought, this was not going to be as bad as he initially thought. But hope turned to devastation when he realized that the cold water was already making it difficult to swim and he wasn’t going to make it to the sandbar even though he’d only been in the water five minutes. He could still hear his boat’s engine whining somewhere behind him, but his breathing became more and more difficult and he was now losing the ability to use his arms and legs. After a few more minutes, he noticed that his swim stroke was becoming something more like a dog paddle, and he knew he didn’t have much time left. He could no longer feel his arms or legs, or any other part of his body below his neck for that matter.

He knew he was still propelling himself towards the shallows because he could feel the water rushing past his face, the only part of his body that was out of the water, but soon, the sensation of water sliding passed his face started to fade away as well, which told Pope that he could no longer maintain even a dog paddle.

Having no feeling below his neck, Pope sensed that his body was rotating as he began to sink, legs first. This was the end, he thought, and it all happened so quickly, so easily. Ten minutes earlier he’d been in his boat heading for home, but now he was going to drown. Pope thought of his wife with whom he’d reconciled after a long separation, and he was glad that he’d had the opportunity to do so. He remembered playing with his one-year old daughter and her older brother earlier in the day. It crossed his mind that she would not remember him. Not surprisingly, he also thought about his life insurance.

With his head sinking below the surface, powerless to do anything else, Pope lifted his head back and his face out of the water. He looked up at the beautiful twilight sky and took his last breath. And then…nothing. He stopped sinking. Despite not being able to feel his feet, he knew something had stopped his body from sinking any further, and he realized that he’d probably made it to the sandbar.

Now what? He still couldn’t feel his body much less swim and there was no one around to help him. Although the sandbar had given him a short reprieve, he knew the cold water would soon render him unconscious and within a few hours, it would kill him. If his knees buckled, then his face would drop below the water line and he’d drown immediately. But there was nothing he could do except look up at the sky and wait.

The situation deteriorated rapidly. Pope started losing consciousness as the world around him—what little of it he could see from his precarious position—started to get hazy. He started to lose his peripheral vision and had trouble focusing on the brightly colored clouds above. He knew he didn’t have much more time. At this point, all Pope could do was to make a decision about how he would die. He didn’t want to die in a panicked state—scared and thrashing about. In what he thought would be his last conscious moments, he made a decision that he would do his best to die peacefully, and then he waited.

Brandon Pope and his wife, Patty.

Anglers Keith Bettis, Ricky Jennings and Jennings’s daughter were also on the lake that afternoon when they noticed what they thought was a jet ski running in a tight circle about a quarter mile away. But when the ski’s erratic engine sounds wouldn’t subside, Jennings pulled out binoculars to get a better look and saw an ominous sign: an unmanned boat doing circles in the lake, not a good sign on a North Texas lake in the winter time. They quickly pulled anchor and headed over to investigate. Upon getting closer, they confirmed their fears: the boat’s engine was running and propelling the boat in a circle, but the occupant was nowhere to be seen. They started a search of the area, and before long, they saw what appeared to be a face sticking out of the water about a hundred yards from the boat. They motored over and called out to him, and to their surprise, Pope responded.

To this day, Pope doesn’t remember responding to his rescuer’s shouts; he recalls looking up at the sunset, thinking of how he would die and suddenly hearing a boat’s engine. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the boat pulls up next to him. The men threw Pope a life jacket, but he had been in the cold water too long, his arms were now useless and he was powerless to grab it. Seeing this, Bettis carefully repositioned the boat, and the two men hauled him out of the water over the boat’s transom.

Although Pope was incoherently talking with his rescuers on the way back to the boat ramp, he doesn’t remember any of it, nor does he remember being carried off Bettis’s boat.  His first recollection after being pull from the water is of him lying on the dock and the EMTs stripping off his wet clothes.  He also recalls that the sun had fully set by the time he was being wheeled on a gurney to the waiting ambulance.

Brandon Pope, his wife and children.

Upon arriving at the hospital, doctors quickly determined that Pope was suffering from severe hypothermia and they worked to warm him up. His body’s core temperature had dropped to 88 degrees, and he’d been dangerously close—within a few degrees—of going into cardiac arrest. However, the medical team was able to quickly raise his body temperature. Ironically, the process of raising his body’s temperature triggered his own body’s efforts to warm itself, and Pope suffered through an hour of violent, involuntary shivering. It was during this time that Pope was reunited with his wife and children. Because Pope was pretty physically fit, his body recovered quickly and by the end of the night, he was released from the hospital.

Despite the close call, Pope maintains that the episode didn’t really change him, and though he does have a newfound respect for the use of kill switches, he’d long ago learned to appreciate life, because, as this episode so clearly illustrates, things can, and often do, happen. When Pope’s wife first saw him in the hospital, she was angry, but she quickly got passed her anger. After all, as a mountain climber herself, she understood that sometimes the rewards we seek outweigh the risks. And although she rather he didn’t boat alone, he still does.

Lone Star Chronicles – Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Fish

Note: this story was originally recounted by Brandon Pope on Texas Fishing Forum. To read his post: click here:
Texas Fishing Forum