Texas Mike and the Alien Lizards

OPT Brazos Bass 4His name is Mike Whitacre, but I call him Texas Mike, which would strike you as odd if you ever saw him in person. He stands all of 5’6” and has a soft-spoken, southern drawl, but don’t let that fool you. He fishes from his kayak with Texas size tenacity and routinely catches enormous bass as evidenced by the many videos he’s posted on his YouTube channel where he and his friends are always seen fighting, and landing, lunker bass. I’d fished with Mike a couple of times before, at Wheeler Branch and Amon Carter Lake, but Mike is famous for his trips to O.H.Ivie Reservoir out in west Texas, the origin of several of his big bass catches.

To my surprise, though, one place Mike hadn’t ever fished before was the Brazos River. Actually he did once fish Lake Whitney, but that’s an impoundment, not the river proper, and he was fishing from a bass boat–so in my book, it didn’t count. I felt like I needed to invite him to come south with me and fish the river one day, and so I did…and he agreed.

You have to understand something about Mike; he’s not the type of person that does anything half-ass. He is meticulous in his research and preparation, and is very particular about certain things, like which lakes to fish or which kayak to buy or even which plastics to throw on a particular day. That meticulous nature translates into lots of trophy bass for Texas Mike and his fishing buddies. Simply stated, when you go fishing with him, you know good things will happen.

This is the size of bass that Mike routinely catches. This one came from O.H. Ivie in west Texas.

This is the size of bass that Mike routinely catches. This one came from O.H. Ivie in west Texas.

The day came and we put into the river below Lake Whitney early one Saturday morning. The plan was to boomerang it, paddling downriver a few miles and then back up to the dam. Although I had envisioned us both doing lots of fishing, he was actually more interested in getting video of me fishing for a project he was working on.

We launched and for most of the morning he followed me around, with his video camera at the ready, kind of fishing, while kind of bird-dogging me, waiting for a fish to hit within camera range. I’m not going to lie, I don’t like being in front of the camera, and it felt awkward, but then I figured that here I was on my favorite river, fishing with Texas Mike, and it didn’t get much better than that, so I tried to forget about the camera and just go with the flow…no pun intended.

Mike attributes a lot of the quality fish that he catches to an ugly Fliptail creature bait he likes to throw. I first saw him using the odd looking plastic at Amon Carter Lake a few weeks before and I was intrigued. It’s an old style paddle-tail lizard, like something you’d see on the cover of a 1950s Field & Stream magazine. The creatures are long and stout, with a somewhat unconventionally lizard form, so strange looking, in fact, that a mutual fishing bud said they reminded him of little human fetuses. I ordered some after our Amon Carter trip and when they were delivered, my wife called me at work to tell me that my ‘creepy’ baits had arrived.

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Turns out the lizards are creepy, and it’d be accurate to say they look like something not of this world… but the bass sure did love them, at least on this part of the river. I was fishing the alien looking Fliptails weedless, and kept getting hit after hit in the thick grass beds that inhabit the first mile or so of the river. I probably should have boated twice as many fish I did, but I kept missing strikes. I was later advised by Mike to leave the hook point shallower in the thick bait than I had been doing. So I adjusted, and as the morning wore on, I started to gain more confidence throwing it, and then started catching more fish.

Mike and I were still videotaping the “Spotlight” project at that time, and we needed to finish the interview that we’d begun the week before at Amon Carter Lake. With rain clouds starting to roll in on us from downriver, we decided to stop and set up on a gravel bar near a bend in the river hoping to beat the rain and shoot at least one segment in the scenic bend. We quickly scouted the area and picked the background, and just as Mike finished setting up the camera, it started to drizzle on us. Because we were kayak fishing on a river, we couldn’t exactly break out a canopy or umbrellas, so we were forced to wait.

Mike stashed the camera into his waterproof, roll-top camera bag, and broke out his fishing rod, mumbling something about if we have to wait out the rain, then we might as well be fishing. I agreed and grabbed my rod, and we started pitching the alien lizards into the deep hole below the gravel bar.

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Up to this point, I think I had caught five bass to Mike’s one, something that will likely never happen again as long as I live. Of course, this was because Mike was alternating between being a cameraman and a fisherman, and it wasn’t working for him. But the rain forced him to put away his camera and just fish, which is what he did, catching one bass, and then another, and another, and by the time the clouds parted and it stopped raining, Mike had caught five more fish, and was now in the lead (not that this was a competition, mind you).

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With the sun out, Mike once again broke out his camera and said he wanted me to keep bank fishing while he videotaped it, with me answering questions for the interview as I fished. I knew it was a bad idea; I have a hard time even walking and chewing gum at the same time, but I went with it, trying to form cohesive sentences in my mind while fishing from the gravel bank which is more difficult than it sounds for an uncoordinated cat like me.

So while ‘talking’ to the camera, I cast the lizard into the hole and was retrieving it slowly along the bank when something hit it, just barely, but definitely a hit. I started the retrieve again, and the fish pounced on the unsightly lizard. I set the hook and stepped back onto the steep bank, losing my footing on the loose gravel and almost fell on my butt. Somehow I managed to stay on my feet and set the hook as evidenced by the line that was now being dragged off my reel, first in one direction, and then the other way. The powerful bass slowed a little, and then it jumped into the air and danced across the water a few times. When it finally wore itself out, I horsed it onto the bank and bent over to pick it up. I looked up and saw Mike videotaping me, and it occurred to me that I had just tied the score again…and Mike got his video.

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I wish all the video segments for this project were like that, but most had me just sitting or standing there, talking into the camera, and answering questions by an unseen interviewer. We’d just finished one segment and were about to start another when I heard the familiar rumblings of an airboat approaching the bend from downriver…another delay. We needed to start heading back soon, but we wanted to finish one last segment, so we agreed to wait and let the airboat pass.

The boat’s massive engine throttled back as it neared the bend, and then a few moments later, it appeared from down river, rounding the bend slowly (but still loud). Then we saw and heard a second airboat, trailing the first. It turned out that this was a package deal apparently. No biggie, I thought to myself, we’ll resume after they both pass.

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It was then that the airboat in the lead tuned off the river and onto the large gravel bar behind us. Then, with deafening power, the airboat accelerated the engine and propelled itself up the steep gravel, kicking up a barrage of water and air and gravel. A minute later, the other boat followed the first up the bank causing the same commotion—it’s no wonder they motor up and down the river always wearing big sound suppressors; the thundering howl of their engines can’t be safe for unprotected ears. Once atop the gravel bar, they turned the boats to face back down towards the water and shut down the giant engines even as they started passing beers around to each other. It was party time on the river, and I guess we wouldn’t be videotaping the last segment here.

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We packed our gear, munched on some snacks and drank a beer ourselves. Then we began the paddle back up to the dam. On the way down, Mike had mentioned that I should try to paddling his ‘yak–a Native Ultimate FX which he considers to be one of the best kayak fishing platforms available. So I decided to take him up on his offer, and on our way out we traded kayaks.

The Ultimate is a hybrid kayak, not quite a sit-inside kayak but not quite a sit-on-top (SOT) either, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well it handled. The open cockpit gives it the feel of a SOT, and it has a very comfortable framed seat, which I really liked. It’s a lightweight boat but it tracked well in the open and even handled the thick river grass nicely. Of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the quality of the boat. It was, after all, Mike’s kayak.

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Since we were running late, we didn’t do much fishing on the way out, and we agreed to do the last interview once back at our place, not far from the river, where Mike would be our guest for the night. At the dam, we loaded up the boats and headed out, knowing I’d be back someday soon to throw more of the alien lizards to the monster bass I knew inhabited the river. If I was lucky, I’d have Mr. Whitacre with me again, because after all, when you’re fishing with Texas Mike, good things happen.

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

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