My Fishing Story
First time On Dale Hollow Lake
Where in three days on the lake the fishing trio of Texas Dad, Kentucky son and their friend make memories for a lifetime.
In the decade before WWII, during the same time that the Core of Engineers in Kentucky acquired and cleared land and built Dale Hollow Lake by putting a dam on the Obey River, the Lower Colorado River Authority in Texas was doing the same thing to dam up the Colorado River close to Austin, Texas. Both Dale Hollow Lake and Lake Travis are ironically about the same length. However, when full Dale Hollow Lake has approximately 9,000 more surface acres of water than Lake Travis. And whereas the land around Dale Hollow Lake is owned by the Core of Engineers, most of the land around Lake Travis is privately owned. Both lakes being surrounded by rocky shorelines boast of clear water year-round except for short periods of time when runoff from heavy rains clouds the water with its murky menace. The scales get tipped sharply in favor of Dale Hollow Lake for fishing because six out of the top ten world record smallmouth bass, according to Bassmaster, have been caught in Dale Hollow Lake!
In The Beginning...
In the early 1960’s I was just a young boy fortunate enough to have a set of grandparents who loved hunting and fishing. In the late 1800’s near the community of Spicewood, Texas the Bebee Ranch and the Nauman Ranch had a common fence line on one side and fronted the Colorado River running through the central Texas hill country. That’s how my “Pampaw” Bebee met one of the Nauman girls who became my “Mammaw” Bebee. My Dad was an only child and grew up with lots of “guides” encouraging him along the way to his becoming an avid outdoorsman who loved hunting and fishing. Right after returning to Austin in 1945 from serving in the Navy during World War II, my Dad met the love of his life. They soon married and in a little over five years, my two older sisters, me and our younger brother had been born. A little more than five years after that in the late 1950’s Dad purchased a place on the west side of Lake Travis downriver from Spicewood but on the same side of the lake.
This is where Mammaw and Pampaw Bebee taught me and my brother how to hunt and fish. Back in the 1960s Lake Travis, with the only developments on the lake or along its shorelines being Marinas, looked like Dale Hollow Lake looks today. Knowing what Lake Travis looks like today surrounded by the greater metropolitan development of Austin, Texas was a huge reason why our son Ryan, living in Kentucky wanted me to see and experience fishing Dale Hollow Lake.
New Fishing Friends
Daniel’s family had been going down to Dale Hollow Lake ever since he could remember. With all the family reunions and fishing trips down there over the years while growing up, Daniel had developed a thorough knowledge of and appreciation for Dale Hollow Lake. That is a huge plus for those who get to be a part of these fishing adventures. With all its spectacular shoreline splendor and well-known fishing reputation combined with the enjoyment of his childhood memories, it was only natural that in wanting to carry on those traditions with his family and others, a few years ago Daniel purchased a place close to Dale Hollow State Park.
If Ryan is not hunting or fishing, then he is at least thinking about it somewhere in his multi-tasking mind. Daniel and Ryan are much alike in that respect. Once their friendship struck up it wasn’t long before in the tradition of true outdoorsmen they became congenial co-conspirators in being certain that between their family and work responsibilities they would schedule to be in the woods or on the water as often as reasonably possible.
Ryan had grown up hunting and fishing back in his home state of Texas where his mom and I still live. Perhaps you can understand why over the last few years my curiosity has been building with increasing intensity each time Ryan and his friend Daniel- who both live in Oldham County, Kentucky, would make multiple fishing trips each year down to Dale Hollow Lake. Ryan would text me pictures of Dale Hollow Lake and all the fish they caught.
Talking to Ryan on the phone, hearing the contagious excitement in his voice about his and Daniel’s Dale Hollow Lake experiences always stirred up good memories for me and a deep longing to make some more. But how and when would circumstances allow the Texas Dad to go fishing on Dale Hollow Lake with his Kentucky son and his good friend?
After “many moons” of trying to find a time when I could be in Kentucky to go fishing at Dale Hollow Lake with Ryan and Daniel, it finally worked out. We loaded up Daniels pickup and were at Dale Hollow Lake from Wednesday evening April 4 through Saturday afternoon April 7, 2018.
Over the past few years Ryan had been telling me about the thrill of catching, reeling in the hard fighting Smallmouth Bass, Shell crackers, Bluegill, Crappie, Walleye and other species. Putting out a bunch of juglines also kept them busy catching catfish most often but occasionally, catching bait thieves such as gars and turtles.
The Trio Table Talk
While sitting at the kitchen table Wednesday evening I listened to Daniel and Ryan strategize the fishing game plan for Thursday as we swapped a few fishing stores. I had a peaceful sense that my fond fishing memories of long ago were about to be reaffirmed and increased through the new memories that were most certainly going to be made. I shared one of my old memories with them about running the trotlines on Lake Travis with my Mammaw and Pampaw Bebee back in the early 1960s.
Mammaw Bebee was an early riser. She would get up and slip out the back door of our cozy cinderblock cabin with one big room, including kitchen on the north end seating area in the middle with beds on the south end. Plus, a screen porch across the front facing east toward the lake. I would sleep on the front porch and often be awake when I heard that back door open and close. By the time Mammaw came around the front corner of the screened in porch I would have already pulled on my clothes and be stepping out the front screen door meeting her for the short walk down to the boat dock.
Down at the dock, the routine was that I would sit on the front of the 3 metal seats of the fourteen foot aluminum Lonestar boat. Mammaw would be on the back seat, squeeze the black rubber bubble on the fuel line priming the carburetor, pull the choke and then jerk the pull starter rope a couple of times and that would fire up the Johnson 10 horsepower motor. In seconds we would be out on the serenity of early morning sunrises reflecting off the deep green waters of the main lake.
There was one morning running the trotline that I will remember forever. Arriving at the place along the shore where our trotline was tied off, Mammaw throttled back on the motor and then shut it off. As we glided slowly toward the bank I grabbed a boat paddle and thrust it down into the water just in time to raise our trotline onto the boat. With the front of the boat still facing the shore, Mammaw would then start hand over hand running the trotline pulling the boat backwards toward the middle of the lake. This morning while running the trotline Mammaw became angry. At each hook she became even more angry.
You see, one of our other routines was that in the late afternoons into the evenings, Pampaw and my younger brother and I would go casting and or trolling in all our favorite places. The afternoon before, we had had some very good fortune by catching a mess of white bass. We had a few minutes before dark and were trolling close to our trotline. With our 14-hook galvanized steel stringer full of white bass trailing through the water alongside our boat with multiple hooks holding at least a couple of bass Pampaw said; “I think we will go bait up the trotline with these white bass.”
Yes. Illegal. Had never done it before. And have never done it since. Pampaw chuckled and said; “Now Donny and “wee buddy” (that’s what he called my brother) you two don’t say anything about this when we get back to the cabin, OK?” Grinning from ear to ear, we nodded; “OK.” Fishermen Secrets. Beware. Your secrets will find you out.
When Mammaw came to that first hook with a white bass on it, she mumbled something to herself about legalities, pulled the still alive white bass off the hook and threw it into the bottom of the boat and continued pulling hand over hand to the next hook. Finding it baited with another still alive white bass, her words became much easier to understand as she was making declarations about what she was going to say to “Aaron” when we got back to the cabin… as she took the next white bass off the hook and threw it into the bottom of the boat with the others. This went on hook after hook. I sat quietly in the front of the boat as a fearful accomplice to the cause of her fishing frustrations.
Suddenly she got quiet. The next thing I heard in the stillness of the early morning air out on the calm quiet water was Mammaw saying,
“D-O-N-A-L-D-R-A-Y, get the dipnet!”“D-O-N-A-L-D-R-A-Y, get the dipnet!”
Pampaw told my brother and I the evening before that he was putting our largest white bass weighing between a pound and half to two pounds on the last of the 30 hooks on the trotline because that far out into the lake was where there was an underwater ledge and drop off where the bigger fish hang out. I fetched the dipnet and together Mammaw and I pulled in a 31-pound blue cat. We had a family fish fry instead of a family feud! A memory that makes me feel good all over more than anywhere else.
Getting late Wednesday night, we finished up our fishing stories and game plan then called it a day. I slept well.
On Your Mark. Get Set. Rig Up.
Continuing education is a necessity if we are to have long term success at anything. One must be a constant learner. Fishing (and hunting) is no exception to the rule. Non-anglers would be amazed at just how hard it is to outsmart those fish. Fishing could perhaps be defined as the mind and money of fishermen being exhausted proving the intelligence and resourcefulness of the fish.
Daniel had arranged for us to meet our guide, Bobby Gentry at the Dale Hollow State Park Marina boat ramp at eight o’clock Thursday morning for four hours of continuing fishing education. An hour before that Daniel, Ryan and I were on the water strategically putting out four dozen juglines, mostly homemade but a few from Walmart. The mixture of the fishing depth of the hook on our juglines is 5, 10 and 15 feet.
When we returned to the boat ramp at eight o’clock after putting out the juglines, Bobby was there ready to go. We had an enjoyable time on the lake fishing with our 30+ year guide-educator. Bobby’s lure of choice was the Ned Rig. In those cool water and windy conditions combined with Bobby’s savvy of multiple places for us to fish, three out of four of us caught a good size Smallmouth Bass. Each time a fish was caught Bobby would say; “Ned strikes again!” Bobby and Ned Rig, good job! (bobbygentry.com “Dale Hollow Lake and Smallmouth fishing has been a passion of mine for 30 years.”)
Where Eagles Dine
Toward the end of our time with Bobby we were fishing about two thirds of the way into Lanear Creek Cove when up high in the sky at the head of the cove a pair of Bald Eagles glided quietly into view crossing the cove from our right to our left. One landed in a tall tree at the top of the ridge. The other one started circling over the cove coming within a football fields length from us. Each time the majestic bird circled, each circle of his flight pattern got smaller and smaller as he also came closer and closer to the water. We realized that he was circling to get into position to snatch from the water what we thought to be a floating fish.
Sure, enough as he flew his tightest and lowest circle over the water between the treelined shores of the cove, having just flown over his prey he flared his wings pulling his head and body almost straight up to a point where at the exact moment he lost his momentum he turned swiftly to his left cutting the circle in half and swooping down skillfully with gracious finesse snatching lunch from the water. He regained altitude flying upward toward the high ridge returning with “take out lunch” for him and his business partner. An outdoors adventure etched into our minds we had not expected but thoroughly enjoyed and will always remember.
Odd Man Out
Yep, I was the odd man out. Maybe it was my rusty technique. Back at the dock and in Daniel’s boat I could tell that my not having caught a Smallmouth Bass bothered Ryan and Daniel. They were doggedly determined that they were going to do whatever it took for me to have the pure fishing pleasure of catching Smallmouth bass on the lake whose reputation is known for its Smallmouth Bass.
Daniel and Ryan were not going to be denied accomplishing what they had purposed to complete on my behalf. Although Ryan and one or more of his five daughters had caught a bunch of perch and put them in the freezer in the couple of weeks before our fishing trip, we ran out of bait quickly since they were cut up and used mostly to bait up all those juglines. We needed more bait to persevere in our determined pursuit of those Smallmouth bass in Dale Hollow Lake.
It turned out that we had plenty of live bait thanks to Daniel’s friend George who lived in his houseboat at the Dale Hollow Lake State Park Marina. George had an umbrella net and a spotlight rigged up on the back end of his houseboat. With it he had filled his large baitwell. George had the baitwell tied off at the dock just a few feet from the umbrella net rig. Big shiners. Perfect. George very generously said, take what you need for each trip out but not too many because you don’t want them to die. When you run out just come back and get some more! Thanks, George!
Friday morning, we checked out our juglines. Each time Ryan saw that there was a catfish on the jugline in good humor with a big grin would say; “D-O-N-A-L-D-R-A-Y, get the dipnet!’ Done with the juglines we headed out on the lake to try catching the elusive Smallmouth Bass. After moving from one trusted proven fishing hole to another yet without catching anything, Daniel and Ryan decided to go to a totally different area of the lake.
We reeled in, put our rods up and sat down for the trip. Daniel turned the boat in the right direction and began picking up speed. Just about the time the boat had leveled off and was running smooth across the top of the water we came around the corner of Boys Island onto the main lake. There was a huge flock of coots floating in the water less than 50 yards in front of the boat. This is not unusual on the lake. We had already gone through multiple flocks of them while moving from one fishing spot to another. Typically, the coots fly away before the boat gets too close.
For some reason these coots hesitated a little bit too long before spreading their wings and starting their webbed footed wind sprints along the top of the water air lifting themselves into safety. And perhaps Daniel slightly accelerated the motor. Before the rear guard of the coots could get airborne more than a few inches, for a split second the front of the v-hull boat caught up with a few of them dividing their flight formation as they were lifting off from their water runway.
Some of the coots were on the right-side of the boat and some on the left picking up speed inches above the water but below the side of the boat. Seasoned dodge boat players as they are, their bad timing in ducking to dodge the boat made watching their frantic escape hilarious. We laughed heartily. It came at just the right time for this intense fishing trio.
Never Give Up
It took us a while to get there just off Little Goat Island in the Willow Grove area. Daniel has two first generation Hummingbird Helix 10s (Depth & Fish Finders) on his boat. The one on the console is side and down imaging. The one in the front is down imaging only. Once again combining his accomplished technical skills with his knowledgeable fishing experience, in a short time Daniel found just the right spot.
For the last day and a half because of the wind moving the boat off the fishing spots while we were fishing, we discovered one anchor was not enough. Earlier, Daniel had purchased another anchor at the Willow Grove Marina when we had lunch there. He had us drop both anchors to hold the boat over the spot where the shallow flat underwater terrain dropped off steeply into deeper darker water. Along this ledge is the prime habitat for the fish. The fish can quickly move from the shallow water where they are nesting and feeding into the secure safety of the deeper darker water.
Baited up with lines in the water, we hadn’t been there long before I reaped the reward of all their hard work. I enjoyed landing that beautiful Smallmouth Bass on Dale Hollow Lake. In that Dale Hollow Lake setting in the awe of the exhilaration of the moment, I was standing there holding that beautiful Smallmouth Bass taking it all in when I heard Ryan say; “Dad, hold it up so we can get a picture!” We all celebrated our collective victory in outsmarting that fish! Ryan and Daniel, Good Job! Thanks again!
Another Of Nature’s Unexpected Delightful Displays
All three days we were out on the lake we were layered up with clothing just like we would have been when hunting on frigid winter days. On Thursday it warmed up slightly. But Friday started off cold and a cold front was coming in later that afternoon. Knowing how cold it was forecasted to be on Saturday, Friday afternoon we decided to move our juglines into the Fanny Creek Cove area of the lake because it was closest to the Dale Hollow State Park Marina.
Temperatures being already unseasonable cool, ahead of the cold front that was coming later that night the temperature was already beginning to head south on the thermometer. We were about halfway into the cove diligently putting out our juglines, so we could get back out on the main lake to finish up the day fishing for Smallmouth Bass. Our progress was paused momentarily as we noticed movement in the sky above the boat. We were pleasantly surprised with yet another gift from the great outdoors.
Stripped bare by harsh winter winds torrential rain and heavy snowfalls the majestic wooded hills were standing tall in the reflecting sunlight. The forest still had its winter skeletons of trees. The main branches forked angling upward from the tree trunks the limbs growing out to the end becoming small twigs. The skeleton trees looked as if they had upraised arms with open hands whose fingers pointed skyward preparing to receive the spring blessing of being individually clothed in their own unique nature’s best foliage wardrobe designed exclusively for them.
It was from one of these trees that a stately young Osprey flew authoritatively from one side of the cove to the other. He soared back and forth across the cove multiple times as we passed through on his homesteaded waters. He landed again positioning himself high upon a limb of a tall skeleton tree on the opposite side of the cove from which he came. From here he had a better vantage point from which to keep vigilant surveillance on these trespassing intruders.
Again, in a little more than 24 hours we watched in stunned awe at another one of nature’s unpredictable displays of unscripted magnificence. Sir Osprey held us quietly spellbound as we put out our last few juglines and turned the boat around releasing back to this honorable bird of prey the silence and solitude of his stealth-fully guarded dominion. Back out on the main lake we fished until dark. Reeling in the last line so we could head back to the Marina, we topped off our day by catching a Warmouth!
Making The Most Of It
Winter still going strong in Kentucky, the water temperature was in the low 50 degrees. We knew that the cool temperatures of the water and the air plus the wind was going to make for a challenging three days of fishing. It was. We enjoyed every minute of it. We agreed that we’ve never had a bad day fishing. Each day offers its own unique rewards. However, some day’s rewards are much more rewarding than others.
Saturday morning when we got out on the lake, the temperature was in the 20s and it was snowing! Pressing on we pulled a few more shivering catfish off the juglines tossing both the catfish into the live well and the juglines into the boat. Then we headed back to the Marina.
Even with caps and or fur lined hooded jackets on our hands and faces were burning cold. We remained hopeful that our lips would thaw out before lunch. However, the deeply rewarding satisfaction of the new memories warmed our hearts and conversations as we were already planning our next fishing trip to Dale Hollow Lake.
Fish Caught: Bluegill 1 Smallmouth Bass 5 Largemouth Bass 2 Spotted (Kentucky) Bass 1S Channel Catfish 6 Yellow Bullhead 2 Warmouth 1
Don Bebee, Texas
Do not tell fish stories where the people know you; but particularly, don't tell them where they know the fish.
- Mark Twain -