The Rookie: Grapevine & the One that Got Away

By Darrin Collins

It was the night before the tournament and I was going through all of my gear to make sure everything was ready. Rain has been in the forecast, but the next day looked like it could be an epic day of fishing.  I continued to load my truck and a feeling of nervousness came over me.

What was I forgetting? What lure should I tie on that could be the game changer? What colors was I going to use? Do I have enough of my “go to” soft plastics? Did I charge the batteries to my kayak? These questions had become the staple of my night before checklist.

I grew up in the Grapevine area, and so as a teenager I spent a lot of time at the lake. Weekends were filled with cliff diving, camping and BB gun wars in the woods. I never really fished the lake in my younger years, but the tournament meant I was about to get a good taste of the lake.

Grapevine Lake is also where I developed an interest in kayaking fishing. A few summers ago I’d seen a kayak rental ad on Groupon and thought it’d be great way to get the kids outside and do some fishing. We launched at Meadowmere Park and spent several hours paddling around on what was a beautiful day. You could say this is where the addiction began, and so it was like a bit of kayaking nostalgia to come back to this lake for the North Texas Kayak Championship Trail.

Prior to the tournament I spent a total of 35 hours pre-fishing, trying to learn the lake. It was the most frustrating 35 hours of my life. Water temperatures were still too cool for a good Texas spawn, so the fish were difficult to find. So difficult I only caught four fish prior to the big day. And all those fish were on the tail end of my time there.

So it was time to fish!  We left the check-in, and made it to the launch site.  I originally had a plan to get out about a half a mile in front of everyone. But apparently tournament paddlers have impressive amounts of caffeine and adrenaline fueling them.

As I launched my newly acquired pedal drive kayak into the windy darkness, my rudder wasn’t operating. I was literally spinning in a circle and cussing under my breath as some anglers passed me. I beached the kayak and frantically began trying to diagnose the problem.

Luckily I’d launched with a friend who was gracious enough to stop and loan me some tools to fix the rudder, even though it meant being passed by several anglers while he helped me. That says something about my friend, and the overall graciousness of the kayak fishing community in North Texas. After several minutes the rudder was again functioning and I was on my way.

It was still dark, and as I pedaled, the green LED lights on my kayak illuminated the way. I was on my way to a good spot I’d found during pre-fishing. I was armed with the same lures, and same colors, used during pre-fishing.

As the sun started to rise I got to a point where I’d netted two good fish during practice. I made a 20 feet cast along a rock wall, focusing on getting my jig into some underwater rocks.

A couple of line twitches and BOOM!  A largemouth inhaled my jig, and I set the hook harder than I ever have. I worked the fish through a scary jump out of the water and pulled him closer to the yak.  Well this guy definitely wasn’t going down without a fight!

Another jump out of the water, and my heart was racing. This thing was a real bucket mouth, and looked around seven pounds. I gave out a little “woo” as another angler watched me from a distance.

He was starting to tire, and I started thinking I was actually going to boat this fish. Soon he’d be in my lap, and I’d be measuring him on my Hawg Trough. But the fish had other plans. As I reached for my net, I felt the line begin to loosen and watched in horror as the monster swam off into the abyss, along with it my chances of winning the $800 big bass pot.

After shaking off the fact that I lost the biggest tournament fish I’d ever caught, I continued to grind out the rest of the day. At least now I knew there were some big girls out there. I would just stick to my plan.

I continued working my way down the rocky bank, casting over and over into every opening I could find. One after another, I watched other anglers hook up with fish. The scene repeated itself over and over. I suddenly started to get a bad feeling.

I ignored it as I pedaled further down and hooked into another fish. It was nothing big, right around fifteen inches long, and it didn’t put up much of a fight. The moment you boat your first fish, though, is always a relief. It can set the pace for the rest of the day, and if nothing else, it kills the dreaded skunk.

But today Grapevine was a lake of give and take. On my next couple of casts, I placed a shaky head next to a submerged rock with a good cut out. As I reeled in the Air Tail Rattler, I suddenly saw my line slowly moving right. I set the hook hard and started working the fish towards me. Another lackluster fight, and I could see he was about thirteen inches. Wouldn’t you know it, right as I got him to the kayak, he shook the hook free, and just like that he was gone!

So there I was, mid-morning and almost nothing to show for it, and losing two of the three fish I’d hooked was beginning to frustrate me. On the positive side, I was beginning to see a pattern.

As I continued moving further into the cove, the wind picked up, and every time a stronger gust of wind hit, it made my Hobie Pro Angler feel like I was spinning in circles.

I found a good anchor spot just off the bank and started throwing everything I had. There was a slope here and I could see fish stacked up on my depth finder but no takers. I looked around and didn’t see anyone catching fish. The lake had come to a standstill.

With my last productive spot just off in the distance, I watched as several anglers paddled past it. I’m a huge fan of fishing rip rap walls and submerged rocks, and in fact that’s where I catch sixty percent of my fish, so I was surprised that everyone kept paddling right by the wall without fishing it. As quickly as I could, I pulled anchor and made a dash across the cove, just edging out another angler who was also approaching.

I positioned myself in the wind and noticed that it took steady pedaling to hold that position. With the end of the day nearing, I made cast after cast along the wall. I threw a crankbait, beating it around in the rocks praying for a bite but nothing. From jigs to swim baits to a chatter bait, I could not get a strike. So I continued to fish the only bait that gave me the most luck during the day.

Working an Air Tail Rattler into the rocks, I started with a slow twitch, twitch reel routine. Five minutes and no bites. Ten minutes in and no fish. It was almost time to start pedaling back to the launch site. Then it happened, something struck my bait. I set the hook hard and fought a decent eighteen inch fish into my net. What a relief!  Especially after feeling like the bite had been completely shut down.

It’d been a long and hard fought day with not much to show for it.  As I pedaled back to the launch site I wondered if everyone had done as poorly as me. I fished on my way back hoping to hook into one last fish and add to my points, but nothing. To make matters worse, I hit a submerged stump with my Mirage Drive, and it bent one of my fins, robbing me of much of the pedal’s efficiency. It took me forty five minutes to get back to the weigh and I almost missed it.

Grapevine gave, and it certainly took, that day. I showed up at the weigh in with two fish in my bag, and I still finished 28th out of 84 anglers. Seems the lake had her way with a lot of people that day.

With Grapevine behind us, I began to think about Possum Kingdom Lake, the next stop on the series.  It was a lake I had never fished before, and after today it was important not to lose any more ground in the overall standings.

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

Note: A native Texan, Darrin Collins calls Fort Worth his home. He works as an EMT-Paramedic with Careflite Ground Services, and when he’s not working, he enjoys the outdoors and being a father to his three boys.

Darrin also hosts a YouTube channel highlighting his kayak fishing adventures and helping beginning anglers get into the sport. You can find him here as The Paramedic Yakker: (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCROqr4YIAs-TgZptLiUOwCQ)

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