After a truly brutal winter last year it wasn’t until May that my local spots were fishable with many areas covered by a layer of ice well into April and most of the rivers in flood. With this in mind I decided to make plans to beat some of the upcoming winter doldrums by planning a trip to Texas in late February and boy was I happy I did. This winter has been one of unrelenting snow and cold weather, with records set in many categories, so when February rolled around I was chomping at the bit to get the rods out, only having fished 2 day sessions the whole of the winter so far.
My plan was simple. I would book a week off work and fly into Austin, Texas; home to not only big carp, but big grass carp and buffalo’s. Having fished the Austin Team Championships two years before I was keen to fish the area on my own terms and not be reliant on a decent peg draw. Rather than fishing one area or lake I would try to fit a few sessions on three different waters in the hope of catching some decent fish while Boston was stuck in the depths of winter.
I always like to set myself goals and knowing I would be fishing several areas with different species I set myself a target of a 35lb+ grass carp and a 35lb+ buffalo. Both were species I was yet to catch and I was looking forward to the challenge.
I organised my tackle and packed only the essentials, shipping my rods down to Texas and begging and borrowing some of the bigger items from one very kind local. I arrived Saturday night and after picking up a rental car headed over to the ATC social to meet up with anglers who had been fishing the Carp Anglers Group competition the previous 2 days.
After a few beers and some food I headed back to the hotel and got a good nights sleep, only to be greeted by temperatures that were not much warmer than the ones I left in Boston. I had originally planned to fish a few days on Town Lake, but after looking at a few of the better areas and sitting in the biting wind for a few hours I was sorely lacking motivation.
A quick change of plans was devised and I plugged in the directions to Emma Long Park into my phone and headed over , hoping that one of the hot swims would still be available. I arrived just before dusk to be greeted by several anglers already in situ, as they were fishing a few days prior to heading to the Lake Fork Tournament. Instead of rushing to set up I decided to socialize for a few hours. Nothing much had been caught apart from the end peg, which seemed to have lots of fish in front of it. Unfortunately, I would be several hundred yards away with 18 rods between myself and the swim!! Instead of getting pissed at the situation I decided to make the most of it and just enjoy the fishing. After a few hours chatting to the anglers already fishing I made my way back to my swim and started setting up in the dark.
Rather than baiting heavily without knowing what was in front of me, I cast out 3 PVA bags and retreated to the warmth of the sleeping bag in the car. I had a great nights sleep, undisturbed by carp. Fortunately, Paul Hunt in the next swim had had seven fish with a couple of 40lb+ Buffalo’s which was very encouraging as at least the fish were moving. I had a chat over coffee and saw that most of the fish were coming at range and so I got back to my swim and made plans for the next 24 hours.
Getting the spomb out I clipped it up at just over 100 yards, using a couple of marker sticks for accuracy. This was a good distance and right where most of the fish were moving so over the next hour I spombed around 20 balls of particle laced ground bait and another 12-15 spombs of boilies and tiger nuts. My area was about the size of a tennis court and using method feeder rigs I put all three rods out at the same distance. Hook baits were either tigers and fake corn or a boilie and fake corn. I had heard lots about rigs and baits for buffalo’s but I decided to use 7-8 inch hooklinks, strong Fox Arma Point SSSP hooks in size 5 and a bolt rig consisting of a 60 gram method feeder. Throughout the session I did not lose one fish and all were nailed in the bottom lip, proof that the method and rigs worked for all species.
I only had to wait a few hours before I had a slow rise on the bobbin and I bent into a solid resistance. Unlike a regular carp run the fish gave no head shaking and instead plowed around. I was pretty sure I had a buffalo on the end and so I played it a little easier than I usually would. Paul kindly helped with the net and in she went. My first fish of the trip and my first from Emma Long, being a 35lb+ buffalo. Exactly the reason I had traveled 1900 miles.
The rest of the day passed pretty uneventfully, although the odd fish was being caught but in the middle of the night my area kicked into life with several common carp, typical to Emma Long. They were hard fighting teens up to low twenties and I was happy that my rigs and bait were working. However, the rest of the anglers were leaving at mid day and I knew I would now be able to fish the area that most of the fish were occupying.
I packed up early and secured my spot before talking to the very kind Polish anglers who were leaving. They gave me a good idea of where they were catching and I slowly set up my area so that I could get a feel for the swim. I knew the margin areas were prime for grass carp but I also wanted to establish a baited area well away from the grass carp in hopes that the buffalo’s would come into feed.
After a few casts with a lead I decided to concentrate two rods on the marginal spot, where the grass carp seemed to be feeding and then heavily bait the spot further out. The Polish anglers had been catching from around 50 yards, but having seen a lot of fish feeding at 100 yards I made the choice to fish at longer range. I just had a feeling that I could create a competitive feeding environment as I was the only angler fishing. I spombed quite heavily at the 100 yard mark and on my margin spot I used the catapult to put out some ground bait, tiger nuts and boilies. At this point I was quitely confident, which was quickly replaced with annoyance as firstly another angler turned up and only 20 yards away proceeded to thrash the water to a foam over my margin spot, before a speed boat entered the fray and started doing donuts in front of me!!
Oh well, at least the water was 20 feet deep. After a few hours the other angler left and peace returned, at which point the area in front of me came alive with fish activity. I was expecting my alarms to sound at any time but they remained silent. At this point it is very easy to question tactics, when you know the fish are active but you are not getting bites. This is where experience is invaluable. Having gone through this pattern many, many times I knew it was just a case of sitting on my hands! My rigs were good and my bait was working and in many cases the fish activity can be prior to the fish actually feeding. Don’t panic, trust in your methods and be ready for action once it comes. Shortly after 3am I got my first bite, a common carp.
This was followed by four more, with the biggest around 24lbs.
All of these fish were taken during the dark, and once it became light my margin spot really kicked off with a savage bite! I was surprised when I picked the rod up as I preceded to wind back what I thought to be a very small common, before a big grass carp popped up in the margins. In the net she went and another goal was achieved with the fish going 37lb+. I quickly took some pictures and rebaited the rod with a few catapults of ground bait.
At this point the margin spot went into over drive. Another savage take signaled a grass carp was on the end. This grass carp fought very differently than the previous one as it jumped around like a salmon and made several electric runs. While not lasting long it certainly put up a good account for itself and I had a big smile on my face as it was engulfed in the net. I didn’t have anytime to rest though as my alarms sounded and another fish was on. This one turned out to be a double figure common carp and while playing it the last rod also took off!! I was already knee deep in water with a fish in the net and another on the end of my second rod and could do nothing but hope the fish on my third rod stayed attached. I played the common in and unhooked it in the water before securing the fish in the net into a retaining sling. At this point I have found it is better to sort out what you already have rather than rush around and risk damaging fish.
Fortunately, the fish on the last rod was still on and I slowly played it back in from over 100 yards out. It didn’t put up a massive fight but had some weight to it and once it surfaced I knew I had a 40lb+ fish on the end. After a few more minutes the fish was beaten and I had a brace of grass carp weighing over 80lb. I don’t like brace shots at the best of times and as grass carp are notorious for their unruly behavior on the mat, I took a few shots of the 37lb+ fish first before getting some video footage of the bigger fish, which went over 43lb.
After returning all of the fish I surveyed the scene in my swim and only one word came to mind…..CARNAGE. All of my rods were wiped out but I quickly put on new hook baits, recast and lightly rebaited the margin area as I was sure I could pick up one or two more bites before the feeding spell was over. It only took a half hour or so and another common carp was quickly followed by a cracking upper thirty pound grass carp. I only had one rod left in the water and shortly this one went too with another common carp joining the party! Instead of recasting I left the rods out of the water for a while and made myself some fresh coffee and a couple of bacon sandwiches, a true carpers breakfast. I’ve found over the years that fishing is much better when you eat and drink properly and the breakfast and coffee revitalized me for another spombing session.
Having caught several decent grass carp I now decided to move one of my margin rods and rebait the distance spot, that had also produced several common carp. The buffalo’s had not showed up yet, but I was confident that with regular baiting they would eventually start to feed. Prior to the trip I had read a lot about the buffalo species and it seemed evident that most anglers used a particle and method mix approach. I didn’t want to completely go against the grain but I also felt that the inclusion of a good boilie would only add to my baiting mix. I spombed another 20 balls of method mix (laced with hemp, corn and boilie crumb) and I also spombed the same amount of boilies, mixed with tiger nuts and corn.
I then tidied up my fishing area and recast the rods. I was expecting a lull in the action as the previous day of spombing had seen several hours of inactivity after, but I didn’t have to wait longer than an hour before the action started again. In quick succession I landed a couple of commons before getting into the biggest of the trip at just over 24lbs.
Another blistering take shortly after resulted in an upper twenty pound grass carp, before my first buffalo in the new swim made an appearance.
A few more commons followed before I was into another buffalo that gave a fight that had me thinking it was much, much bigger. I was not complaining though as it was over 45lbs and was a cracking fish. The fact that I had managed a 40lb+ grass carp and buffalo was more than I could have hoped for and I was grinning for the next few hours.
At this point I knew that I still had a few more days left to go and plenty of bait. If I kept the bait going into the swim and fished well I was sure the fish would keep coming and I would have the chance at a 50lb+ fish. Texas had different plans!! The weather had been unsettled at best, and over the next 2 hours the temperature dropped by over 30 degrees. This in itself wouldn’t have been that bad as I was fishing deep water and had plenty of warm clothing. What was a problem though was the 30 mph wind that started to blow down the lake, which resembling a canal in structure was now more akin to a wind tunnel. With tree branches snapping and the bivvy about to take off I decided to pack everything away and fish from the car.
The fish seemed nonplussed by the change in weather though as the distance spot was still producing as I continued to pack away. I played another cracking buffalo through the white caps and posed with it just as the light was fading which made for a nice shot.
As I was now unable to rebait with the spomb, due to a massive cross wind and with the rain increasing I made the choice to retreat to the safety of a hotel for the night. As much as I wanted to stay and keep fishing I also knew the smart option was to wind in and call it a day. With age comes experience and although I knew I was leaving feeding fish, I also knew I could benefit from a shower and a good nights sleep without the risk of a falling tree! With everything packed away I was winding the rods in, when the only rod left signaled my last buffalo of the trip which was also the only one under 30lb’s, all be it by only a few ounces.
Once safe and dry in the hotel, I relaxed with a shower and some beer and pizza while deciding what to do next. I still had two days to go and was unsure as to where to fish next. I had loved Emma Long, but felt like I had achieved what I set out to do and did not want to set up camp again. I did have unfinished business with Town Lake though as my previous trip had been hard fishing with only one carp caught, saving me from a blank. It was decided then, I would return all of the camping equipment I had loaned in the morning and then fish the iconic 1st Street swim at Town Lake for an afternoon session.
The next day saw me having a leisurely morning and I did not get to Town Lake until around 1pm or so. I’d fished a few other areas at the ATC and I have to say that the 1st Street swim was pleasantly surprising in it’s looks. It was landscaped with several trees and was next to a gazebo with the parking lot only a couple of hundred yards away. Before getting my gear out to the swim I surveyed the areas to fish. Being a bridge swim it was obvious that the main feature would be the bridge stanchions. I counted out the light poles on the bridge so that I could match up where I was fishing and then took a walk up onto the bridge itself to bait. I chose a stanchion that was around 80 yards from the swim and baited with a couple of kilo’s of ground bait, tigers, corn and boilies.
Back at the swim, it was just a matter of getting the distance correct as falling short would result in no bites and over casting would result in being stuck on the bridge! I only smashed one feeder before I got the distance correct but I made a point to wait until the bridge was clear before each recast.
After an hour I decided to recast both of the rods and I had one positioned to the left of the stanchion while I was casting the second to the right side. As the second feeder was in flight the first rod absolutely melted off as the fish was intent on reaching the sanctuary of the bridge. I dropped the second rod onto the ground and loosened off the clutch. I then walked backwards with the first rod to move the fish away from the bridge. The fish fought very hard and had me fooled it was much bigger as it stayed deep and made several strong runs. Eventually, I coaxed it into the net. Just in time as the second rod started to move, with another strong Town Lake common attached. This one fought just as hard and after another 10 minute fight I had a brace of mid twenties in the net. I felt elated and also like I had gotten the monkey off my back after my last experience of Town Lake. Pictures were taken and the rods recast in hopes of a few more fish before dark.
Over the next couple of hours I landed two more twenties and packed up just after dark so that I could take a few shots of the bridge.
Back at the hotel I decided that my last goal was to fish Decker Lake, although I was sure I would have caught a few more fish from Town Lake if I had baited and returned. I got up relatively early and headed for one last day session at Decker. I decided to fish near the parking lot as the buoys in the water were surely fish attracting features, even though my water craft told me to fish further down in the teeth of the wind as it looked to be hammering into the corner. At this point though, it was more about packing up and organizing my gear and the further away from the car, the harder this would be.
I was also tired and spent the day relaxing and just enjoying the surroundings. Safe to say….I BLANKED!! Packing up on dark I drove back to Austin to ship my rods back with Fedex and then made my way to the airport, returned the rental car and went to the terminal to catch a few hours sleep before jumping onto a 6am flight back to the artic tundra of Boston.
All in all a great trip, where I put faces to names and made new friends, fished three cracking Lakes and surpassed all of my initial goals. I kicked off the 2015 season with seven 30’s and two 40’s, more than I had hoped for. I’m also keen to return in the winter of 2016 to get back among the Texas giants. If you’ve not been fishing in Texas…….what’s keeping you????
For a look at the video footage from the trip just click the following link: