The Rookie – Possum Kingdom

By Darrin Collins

After completing the first two events, I was excited to be headed west of Fort Worth to Possum Kingdom Lake for the third tournament in the NTXKC series. I hadn’t fished or even laid eyes on the lake since I was a teen, but was ready to take it on. Possum Kingdom is a lake that is home for the famous Hell’s Gate, a break in the sheer cliffs around the lake. Another thing about the lake that stands out in my mind, and has since my high school years, is a song by a North Texas band called the Toadies. The song’s name is “Possum Kingdom.”

I approached the lake no differently than the first two in the series, and began to study what made it so popular. If you have never been to PK, you will most likely be in awe of the beautiful high cliffs and rock ledges that make up a lot of the lake’s shoreline. It’s so well known for its high cliffs, the lake hosts an annual cliff diving competition, which is a sight to see.

One of my favorite areas to fish is around submerged rocks in the water. You would be surprised how well fish attract to the rocks, especially good sized tournament fish. We all knew coming into this event, it would take a strong stringer of at least ninety inches to place in the top five. Not only was this achievable, but was nearly witnessed by myself just days leading up to the tournament. I spent several days, and long hours on the lake trying to find a few productive areas to fish. Each day surpassing the next which helped build my confidence of how well I would be able to compete.

After a few weeks of fishing and camping at the lake on my days off, I put together a plan. I had found an area that fished extremely well (and netted me several decent sized fish) near some cliffs with large rocks submerged in about fifteen feet of water. This was it, I told myself. My pattern was on; now the real work was to duplicate this on tournament day.

Anglers that fish these events on a regular basis can probably relate to the sleepless night we’re sometimes subjected to prior to the big day. With the tournament check-in at four-thirty in the morning, and an almost two hour drive, I decided to head out to the lake the night before, so I wouldn’t have to drive in the morning. For me this meant swapping shifts with someone at work so I could work twelve hours, and then leave straight for the lake after work. Unfortunately in my line of work, we rarely get off on time. I remember leaving work around ten fifteen that night and driving two hours to the meeting location. Once I got to the check-in site, I attempted to sleep in my truck for a few hours. I tossed and turned as more anglers slowly made their way in to the parking lot. It was an exhausting night, and I tallied up maybe ninety minutes of sleep. I’m not writing this to scare new anglers away from these events, but to merely to give you an idea of dedication and behind the scenes work put in by tournament anglers.

So with limited sleep, I slowly made my way over to the check-in table for what has become one of my favorite things about these tournament—the check in. Not only do I get to razz the director, but I also get to greet some of the most humble anglers around. A lot of them don’t realize it, but several of the new participants really look up to the more seasoned anglers. We are fortunate in this series in that we are surrounded by some very talented individuals, not only skilled anglers, but also wise in the ways of the sport. I usually make an effort to try to meet someone new at each event, either by meeting a friend of a friend or by inviting a newcomer over to our group and getting to know them. This is another aspect of these events that I really enjoy, and everyone I have met so far has been great.

At the meeting we ran slightly behind that morning and there was an unexpected chill in the air. This was enough to make me walk back to my truck, grab a pullover, and put the legs back on my fishing pants. The meeting was conducted with the usual topics covered, lake boundaries, fishing times and the issue of safety being the most important.

It was a short meeting, and afterwards it was funny to see anglers sprinting back to their trucks, trying to gain ground over the other anglers. Glaring headlights illuminating the parking lot and car doors slamming shut; then the air was suddenly filled with the loud wail of a truck’s air horn. It sounded like a freight train hauling down the tracks, and although I was sleepy at the check in, I was wide awake now after the air horn.

As normal, my launch sites can never be located near the meeting point. I usually find a good spot across the lake with at least a twenty minute drive. This isn’t necessarily by choice, but seems to have become my norm. Good thing is that if your spot is a little further out, then usually you don’t have anyone else fishing it. I was the first one to the boat ramp, and I quickly unloaded my gear while going over the plan in my head.

I must have been in deep thought, because although I had noticed several boats that were pulling into the ramp’s parking lot, I hadn’t noticed one of our top anglers back his truck in next to mine. It was a huge surprise, but made me feel confident that I had chosen a good spot to fish. While unloading I began making small talk with him, and since I was done I offered to help him unload his kayak. That’s something else I have really tried to do recently, and in fact was how I met one of my best fishing buddies at a local North Texas tournament.

A lot of guys of course deny the help, but it’s the gesture that counts. I hopped in my Hobie PA 12, wished my competitor luck, and quickly pedaled around the corner hoping that I could get situated in my spot before I got any company.

The sun was now up and I was rushing to stay ahead of one of the best anglers in our series. I wedged myself in between a boat and some bank fishermen, asking both groups if it was okay if I fished the spot. My plan was to start off with top water lures, so I cast a Booyah, Buzz Bait far along the rocky bank line. With a couple of turns of my reel handle, I surprised myself and others around as they witnessed a first cast tournament hit on my bait. I watched as the fish pulled the buzz bait under, and I quickly set the hook and reeled him to the kayak.

I don’t know what’s better, catching a fish on your first cast of the day, or making your way in between two groups, with their permission, and catching a fish right next to them. Either way I was sitting on a healthy seventeen and a quarter inch fish. With the fish safely on my Hawg Trough, I snapped my needed pictures and was hoping my competition had seen me work some early morning magic, but apparently he had paddled the opposite way from the launch.

With my first fish so quickly caught I began to worry a little bit. I’ve heard of the horror stories where it’s bad luck to catch a fish on your first cast, especially in a tournament. So maybe that’s what affected the rest of my day, who knows. I continued to work my way around the corner not catching another fish for several hours, and when I did hook one, it came off before making it into the boat.

My next three fish all counted for points but not one was bigger than thirteen inches. PK was definitely not playing nice like it was in practice. I threw everything I could at em that day, and for the last ninety minutes I fought hard to bag my fifth fish.

With ten minutes left before we were required to get our lines out of the water, I cast a small crank bait on a lay down coming off of a point. A few reel turns and I felt a hard pull in my line.  I pulled and set the hooks and caught what I believed was a fifteen inch large mouth. He made a hard run to the left and then began to go under the nose of my kayak. Not thinking, I pulled hard up and to the right, yanking my line across the bottom front of my Hobie Pro Angler. And just like that the tension in my line disappeared. My fifth and last fish was gone. Now normally I’m really good at containing myself but I remember slamming my rod down on the deck of my kayak in pure disappointment.

“Really?” I asked to myself aloud, wondering if this was how it was going to end.

I never got another bite and I worked my way back to the ramp, thinking hard about what I should have done differently that day. Zane Grey couldn’t have said it any better. “If I fished only to capture fish, my fishing trips would have ended long ago.”

I ended up placing thirty-third out of about sixty-five anglers that day. Not great, and definitely not where I wanted to finish, but it could have been worse. With each event, I felt like I was taking away another piece of knowledge to help make me become a better angler. And with Lake Fork being the next stop in our series, I knew I was gonna have my work cut out for me!

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

About the Author
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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