“Since the introduction of hybrid stripers into Texas waters several decades ago, we diehard white bass fishermen have not been the same. A freshwater fish that tastes even better than the white bass and pulls harder than a striper [and] many Texas lakes are teeming with these genetically mixed brutes. In the past 25 years or so, we have learned enough about their habits and patterns that allow us catch them on a year-round basis.” Luke Clayton – Game & Fish Magazine (http://www.gameandfishmag.com/fishing/fishing_stripers-hybrids-fishing_tx)
As we drove down the long country road towards Proctor, I kept an eye on the canoe strapped to the bed of my truck. My wife, Luisa, and I were thirty minutes away from the lake, and I found myself getting anxious. Not only was this an opportunity to put some badly needed fillets in the freezer, it was also a chance to finally fish again with the Hybrid Man.
Jaime Mowrey is his real name, and the first time I’d met him, we fished for hybrids, he by standing on his kayak and throwing flies at them—no easy feat in a Scrambler. I caught one hybrid that day, and it put on a hell of a fight, but the thing that stuck in my mind from that outing was Jaime, standing on his ‘yak, silhouette against an orange sunrise, hunting hybrids.
We’d kept in touch over the last several years, mainly through social media and he was always posting photos of big fish. Jaime competes in Kayak Wars so he documents all his catches, some of which he occasionally shares online: photos of monster largemouth, huge flatheads and man-sized gar, but the species he posted pictures of most these days were hybrids.
As the name implies, the fish are a cross between striper and white bass, and one of the most sought after game fish in Texas. Some say their popularity is due to their aggressive feeding styles, which makes every hook up a battle, whiles others point to their fillets, typically fat and delicious, as the reason for their popularity. They’re a hardy fish and not only survive the weather extremes seen in Texas, but actually thrive in them. It’s not uncommon for hybrids to grow to 12 inches in their first year of life. Generally speaking, hybrids don’t reproduce in the wild, but that’s okay because TPWD breeds millions of them each year for stocking into Texas lakes.
We finally arrived at the boat ramp and unloaded the canoe. Jamie’s truck was there, but he’d already launched and was waiting for us out in the middle of the lake. He’d be fishing from his Hobie, a pedal-driven kayak, and using his fish finder to spot the large schools of hybrids.
Luisa and I boarded the canoe and pushed off into an almost glass like lake; it didn’t take long to spot the bait fish. Massive schools of threadfin shad carpeted large swaths of the water, so thick that when the school rolled over, it flashed waves of silver and blue, reflecting the skies above. At first we thought it was one large school of shad following us, but as we paddled further into the lake we realized the entire section of lake was filled with them, seemingly millions of threadfin. Luisa had never seen anything like it, and she was fascinated by the waves of bait fish.
As we paddled on, I could see dark clouds far off on the northern horizon, and although a front had been forecasted to pass over the lake later in the afternoon, the morning was supposed to be calm. We were planning to be off the lake by the time the front rolled through, but I made a mental note to keep an eye on the clouds. I hoped I wouldn’t regret my decision to bring a canoe instead of the kayaks, which we normally paddle.
This was a last minute decision due to Luisa being an inexperienced paddler and I thought a canoe might be safer for her and more efficient, allowing us to take turns fishing while the other kept the canoe over the hybrid schools that Jaime found. At least that was the plan.
It took us about 30 minutes to reach Jaime, and as we paddled up, he told us it’d been a slow morning, but that he finally marked a good-sized school, pointing to the marker buoy in the water. Since our first outing with him, Jaime had become proficient at using his fish finder to locate underwater structure. He then used his pedal driven kayak, a Hobie Outback, to patrol these underwater highways for roaming schools of hybrids. Once found, he marked the spot and commenced catching hybrids. Fishing from a Hobie allowed him to keep his kayak over the hybrid schools even on windy days, and as we fished in the canoe near him, I could see how efficient a platform the Hobie really was. It was a game changer for kayak anglers.
I’d been thinking about Hobies a lot lately and had briefly considered talking to my wife about buying a pedal drive kayak, but decided against it since we were in the process of buying a house and money was going to be tight for a while. Still, it was fascinating to watch Jaime in his Hobie, pedaling racetracks around the marker buoy as if corralling the hybrids, and catching one after another. He must have felt sorry for us because after a bit he offered us some of some of the hybrids he was catching for the freezer. Of course we accepted. We pulled up alongside his Hobie, and he threw a couple of fat slabs into our cooler. Then he pushed off, and within a few minutes, was fighting another hybrid. At this point, I had started to develop a serious case of man-envy.
Ironically, Jaime doesn’t consider himself a “great” fisherman, saying he is just able to spend lot of time on the water fishing. Growing up, he says, he fished with his father & grandfathers for as long as he can remember and got his love for the outdoors from them. As a teen, Jaime read every fishing and hunting magazine he could get his hands on, a habit he still has (his wife thinks Jamie has OCD when it comes to fishing).
In 2014, while competing in Kayak Wars, Jaime caught and documented a monster hybrid on Proctor; it measured 29 inches and is now the official state catch and release record hybrid striped bass. These days he fishes two-to-three times a week, a luxury he’s allowed by his nomadic airline pilot schedule, and lately he’d been consistently posting pictures of really big hybrids, lots of them. When I asked him about it recently, he graciously invited us out to fish with him, and with the pics I’d seen him post lately and my freezer needing restocking, I gladly accepted. Now here we were.
As I watched Jaime fighting his third or fourth hybrid since our arrival, I started regretting my decision to bring the canoe. Jaime had marked the schools for us and Luisa had been doing most of the fishing with me paddling, but I had a hard time keeping the canoe near the marker. The dark clouds that had been lower in the horizon earlier now looked closer, and the wind started picking up, chopping up the water a little. When I mentioned to Luisa that we might have to cut this trip short, she insisted that I fish and so she took over the paddling duties.
I pitched my lure near the buoy marker–per Jaime’s advice, we threw a three-inch fluke on a jig-head—and I waited for it to drop. With some fish, you have to pay attention to the bite. Crappie, for example, usually hit jigs with just a slight thump. Hybrids don’t have that problem. They don’t so much hit the bait as much as they attack it. My jig continued its drop, almost to the bottom and suddenly the line went taunt and tip of my rod shook violently and bowed down towards the water. The fish hit so hard that it startled me a little and then it ran and started taking line with it. Luisa heard the drag and turned to watch me pulling up on the rod and reeling down. The drag screamed again, pulling tightly on the rod, then nothing, slack line. I reeled in quickly thinking it was swimming back to the canoe, but then tension again, and another short burst of the reel.
I couldn’t believe my luck; this was greatness. I was hoping I didn’t rip the jig out of its mouth and worked hard not to horse the hybrid, to just let it wear itself out. Again, it peeled off some drag, and I laughed, thinking I could do this all day. I looked up and saw Luisa sitting up on the bow, her head turned back, looking at me with a big grin on her face. She’d long since given up paddling the canoe to watch the show, and we were now under the power of the wind and currents, and occasionally, the hybrid. It ran again and pulled drag, but not as much, and I thought it might be tiring out. When the fish finally showed itself, I confirmed it was a brute hybrid, and I wish I’d brought a landing net.
The hybrid eventually ran out of steam, and I lipped her into the canoe without too much difficulty. I looked around and realized the current had separated us from Jaime, who I could see fifty yards away, battling another hybrid. He was really onto something here, and I wished we were in kayaks; the chop was starting to pick up and we didn’t want to push our luck, so we threw the fish into the cooler and paddled back over to say our goodbyes to Jaime. We thanked him for the fish he’d given us and assured him the fillets would be enjoyed. We also thanked him for inviting us out and putting us on the hybrids.
After saying goodbye, we paddled back to the boat ramp, again with millions of threadfin shad keeping us company. It was no wonder the hybrids were so fat here. As we neared the boat ramp, Luisa said something that I couldn’t quite make out. I stopped paddling and asked her to repeat what I thought she’d said.
This time, more loudly, she said that we needed to buy Hobies. That way, she said, we could do more hybrid fishing like Jaime.
I thought about it for a second and nodded.
“Good idea, babe…very good idea.”
Lone Star Chronicles – Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Fish