For my brother Austin and I, this was our second ATC (Austin Team Championship) which was held in Austin Texas, we placed at a respectable 4th, among 24 other teams. We worked hard both days to get to that position and we were happy with what we had done. But there’s way more to the story than just this.
My brother Austin and I have felt trapped, with this hideous winter and we were bursting at the seams to just start fishing again. It was finally our time to unleash that buildup of excitement, and that feeling of being cornered in. Along with my brother, my dad was going to be a part of this adventure!
I had two main goals for this trip. The first one was to catch my first buffalo and in particularly a smallmouth buffalo. The second achievement I wanted to attain was to catch my first grass carp (white amur). We headed off to Austin, Texas to begin our fishing adventure. We wanted to make the best out of this trip, so we planned to get the most fishing in as possible. To do that we headed down a week before the tournament, which is held on Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas. But there was a problem, one of the tournament’s rules is that you cannot fish five days before the event begins and so our solution was to fish a nearby lake called Austin Lake and in particular a campground called Emma Long Park. If anything, this was the place to come in contact with my goals but we had some serious complications right after arriving in Texas.
Since we were flying down to Austin our only option was to ship our equipment. Just after landing in Texas we found out that two important tubs filled with equipment was delayed and left behind in another state. Being in Texas while not having all our gear and knowing we weren’t going to be able to fish properly for the first day or two, was absolutely killing both Austin and me. With the equipment that did arrive, we picked it up and headed off to Austin Lake to try do some fishing with what little we did have. When we did arrive at the lake, we met some close friends down at the campground and we all decided to fish together.
First Austin and I had to sort through our gear and see if we had enough to even set up. Luckily we weren’t missing as much as we thought we were. Austin was missing his bite alarms and some other small items. I was missing one reel so I could only fish with two rods, but we could make do. To go along with my missing reel, most of my bait was missing as well. We finished setting up with the gear we did have when the sun was just setting on Sunday. With some of the bait we chummed out to get prepared for an epic 4 days of straight fishing and camping. That night we discovered that the swim comes to life when the sun finally goes down. While fishing and catching up with our friends and explaining our plans for fishing this week, we also listened to the fish greeting us for the first time. That night we all fell asleep to the peaceful sound of fish franticly crashing and slowly rolling at the surface of the water.
On Monday morning we woke up early, mostly because we were going to bait up the swim again. Nothing excited happened during that day besides the fact that the rest of our gear arrived. It felt so nice that we were finally able to fish properly and I finally felt that I was fishing to my fullest. The day passed by and the hours elapsed. Now it was almost that time again, when the swim comes to life. So we threw in more bait that evening to try and have the opportunity to catch one of Austin Lake’s beauties. This night my brother Austin did really well. He landed two new PB grass carp for himself.
His first one was 23lb+, then later that night he landed a stocky 31lb+ grass carp which is his current personal beast. Nothing else happened that night.
The next morning, at 1:30 a.m. I drowsily woke up to a recognizable sound coming next to my head and then realized….my receiver! I ran out of the warm tent and into the cool damp night air to my rod that had a fish on it. While the fish was slowly pulling line off of my reel, I picked up my rod with one swift movement. This fish was putting up a fight I wasn’t used to. This fish was swimming with slow, sluggish movements and at this point everything was going through my mind of what it could be. Finally it was in the net and it was my first ever buffalo! I had just achieved one of my goals for this trip and I was really happy with what I had landed. After I unhooked the fish, we had to weight it right there to get an accurate weight because we were going to keep her in the sack till sun rise, so we could get pictures. It ended up weighing 27lb 2oz.
I was really happy to have that as my first buffalo. After I put her in the sack (which was connected to a bank stick far out in the water) I recast to try my luck again for another night time fish. On settling back down in the tent, all I was thinking about was seeing the buffalo later that day when I could get a good look at my new PB. Then I slowly fell back to sleep. Later that day there were only few commons caught but nothing special. With little action from the previous days we started to analyze our tactics and realized that something needed to be changed. We decided we needed to lengthen our hook-link and approach the fish with even smaller baits That morning we also picked up some bait we wanted to try, which were called range cubes. A lot of the local guys bait up swims with these. Basically they are really big pellets that have a slow break down time. You can relate them to solubles. We were going to try this bait, because these fish have experienced this bait a lot and were used to it. The range cubes are filled with minerals, maize, and some salts.
While I was crouched down next to my rods that night, watching the fish crash and roll endlessly at the surface of the water I thought to myself this ought to be the night that I either get my first buffalo or grass carp because of all the signs of fish, and I felt confident. Knowing it would take some time for a fish to get on the bait I went to bed, again with the exciting sounds of fish letting us know they were still there. Each morning was beautiful in Texas, with the sound of birds greeting us along with the noise of the water washing up onto the shore. After having our gourmet bankside breakfast of chili at around 9 am, we were deciding whether to move to another lake, called Decker Lake which is a beautiful lake with enormous buffalo, but with low numbers of fish it can be slow. Along with our friends we all were thinking that we all would have a better chance to hook into a fish which was what we all wanted for each other. To my surprise next think I know, I am running to my rod which is screaming off, then it suddenly stops before I can get to it. All I am thinking is that I lost the fish. I am looking at my lines now. Two lines are tight and one is slack, so assuming it is the one rod with the different line presentation I reel in the slack. To my surprise again, I was completely wrong it was my middle rod, it starts taking line out again. I pick up the rod that actually does have the fish on it. This fish feels super heavy, just an absolute bull dog because it was hugging the bottom. This is also a strong fish, it takes out a decent amount of line at a slow pace and I could not do anything to stop it. Eventually I continue to bring in the heavy fish. The fight had to be going on to 25 minutes by now. My back was aching from the weight of this fish, which had now finally surfaced. Another buffalo and this time a huge one! The buffalo is in then net now. I run through the water to the fish and take a look over the net. She is definitely big. So with great care we bring her to the mat and I unhook her. Even before putting this beast on the scale I knew I smashed my old PB buffalo. Well we will just have to see, so we weighed her. She was an impressive 41lb 0oz! Just after weighing her, we got pictures and sent her back on her way to live another day.
Then probably making the wrong decision we still decided to go to Decker Lake. It made sense to us because we all had to look at the big picture, and that was having all of us have a chance to catch. So we thought moving spots for a decent amount of hours to a lake that had produced more fish than what we have caught so far was the best choice. About the only thing that happened at Decker was some chattering on the bank. So we packed up, grabbed some McDonalds for our dinner and we went back to Austin Lake for our last night.
At this point I was beat and feeling a little upset because I now released that moving spots was not the right choice. After arriving back at Austin Lake, I was deciding whether to set the rods up and fish or just go to bed and get a good night’s rest. Our friends were not fishing this night as they were really tired. The fish were there crashing around at the surface when I was trying to make my decision. It almost seemed that the fish were giving us a welcome back sign. I was thinking to myself about how stupid I would be if I didn’t try to fish this last night. The reason we came down here so early was to fish before the tournament. After all, I could just get a good night’s sleep tomorrow night. All that convinced me to set up and fish. I am really glad I did, it ended up being the best night of fishing for me! No later than 10 minutes of having all three rods out I get a nice hit. I was in disbelief for a moment, if it had really happened or not, because I was standing right over the rod and I literally watched it happen. Then within the next couple minutes two of my brother’s rods scream off and then my rod that got the hit on it as well gets a fish on it. So I was fighting my fish and our friend was helping Austin by fighting the fish on his second rod.
My fish starts out fighting with one big jolt on the rod, but it wasn’t hard enough take any line out. Then there is another jolt that takes out some line. Then there is a third jolt on the line. After that, it seemed like the fish just stopped fighting, but the fish was not giving up that easy and it took a long steady run before finally yielding. So now it gave me the opportunity to keep bringing the fish in. Now there was a problem, my dad wass helping Austin and our friend by netting those two fish, and now I have no one to net my fish. So I start yelling out to another friend that was sleeping to help me land my fish. He still had not arrived yet when I first saw my fish. It was a colossal buffalo. Finally he gets over here and just in time. He helped me out by netting my huge buffalo.
Finally it was netted and I felt so relieved that this fish was finally in the net. I set down my rod to assist my friend in lifting the behemoth. When he did make his first step up on the bank, his sweat pants fell down to his ankles and I had to grab the net with the fish in it and help him carry it to the mat while his sweats were still down! When we set this stunning buffalo down, I was instantly astonished by the utter size of this buffalo. I thought for sure this buffalo was going to break the 50lb mark. But I was wrong. I didn’t care though, as it was another PB buffalo and a new current personal best coming in at 48lb 12oz!
Of course I kept this one in the keep sack till morning so I could get a good look and take good pictures. I was so happy at that moment, I could not stop thinking about my new PB buffalo and at one point I walked into the water to just look at it and admire it. Later on that night I got a weak run on one of my rods. It was my first common carp of the trip. I released the fish and got the rod back out. At this point I headed into the tent to try and get some sleep, but kept the rods out. I lay down and set my receiver next to my head so it would easily wake me up. Without a clue on what time it was because I was sleeping, I wake up to a startling run, my reactions took over and I instantly got up, sliding out of the warm tent into the fresh night air. The fish stopped running by this point, but I continued running to my rod. I picked up the rod and it took out a lot of line and then just completely stopped fighting, but it continued to keep trying to turn around. It was black outside and you could not see past you headlamp, so a lot of the time night fishing you rely on your sense of sound. The fish seemed about 20 yards out and I imagined what the fish did was jump head first out of the water away from me toward the other shoreline. I was amazed at what I heard. I finally landed this fish and my brother told me it is grass carp. Yes, I was really hoping to get a grass carp and I was really happy! I was admiring this fish when I first saw it. We weighted it and she turned out to be 29lb 0oz! I was really happy to have that as my first grass carp and proud to say it is. So I put her in the sack until the morning and put her next to my PB buffalo that was also in the water as well.
After recasting I went back into the tent and I dosed off with the feeling of success. I woke up around 8 a.m. on Thursday morning, and now it was finally time to take pictures of my two new personal bests. I was happy to see these fish again. After a lot of strength and patience to try and correctly hold my personal best buffalo, we got pictures. When I was releasing this amazing fish, I was mentally recording this moment; I tipped the fish over a little to the left and slid my hand to the middle of the fish’s side facing me; I compared my hand to the overwhelming size of this fish. It seemed to have gotten even bigger. Now the fish was ready to be released. I was also thinking at this moment how blessed I was to catch this one, then I sent her back into the wild. Now it is time to get pictures of my 29lb 0oz PB grass carp. This fish especially made me happy because it is so different than the other fish I have caught so far, and how rare they are. We got pictures and I happily sent it back on its way.
It had been about a half hour since I released my two new personal bests and I was talking to our friend, when I suddenly got a run on one of my rods. I picked up the rods and by this point I had a sense of what buffalo fought like, so I was picturing this to be a buffalo. I had guessed right, it was another buffalo. This one was an amazing 37lb 10oz. Unfortunately that was my last fish at Austin Lake. I was happy with this last night of fishing and was proud of what I have done.
Now we had to pack our fishing equipment and camping gear to get ready for the ATC. My brother, my dad and I were staying at the Wyndham hotel because that was where a lot of the anglers in the tournament were staying as well and it was also the location of the peg draw. So now it was Thursday night, and there was a social gathering and dinner with a lot of the directors and anglers that were fishing in the tournament. So after finally going to bed that night I was ready for the tournament. The morning had come and it was time for the peg draw. For the peg draw you randomly select two chips with numbers on them. Each number is a peg location on Lady Bird Lake and you have ten seconds to pick you peg. When we randomly grabbed the two chips, one of them just so happened to be a peg that we fished last year. That peg produced very well for us last year and put us in first place on day one of the tournament last year. So it was just common sense to pick it again this year, so we did. When we got done carrying all our gear down to the swim, like last year the dam further down from the swim messes with the spot when the dam pulls water in and out of the swim. We assumed this would happen again and it did. The only thing we could do was to wait for the dam to stop pulling and pushing water out. Finally it stopped and as soon as the water slowed down enough for us to cast out we did, and now we could get fishing.
Things didn’t go as planned and to our disappointment we didn’t hook a fish till late into the day. I landed our first fish at 24lb+ and I was happy to have that fish. Sadly it took around another hour to hook into our second fish. This time it was Austin to land a fish. Again it was another decent fish a 22lb+ common. Around another 30 minutes later I landed an 18lb+ common. All these fish were hooked late into the day, which had now finally come to an end, and day one of the tournament was over.
Even though we were in 3rd place we felt we could have done better and we were a little disappointed, not because how we placed the first day, but because we felt that we could have fished that peg better. Now it was day two of the tournament. This day we picked two pegs that were new to both of us. We thought we picked the better of the two choices we got. Before we left to get down to the peg we checked the leaderboard for the results on day one of the peg we just picked to fish. Wow, we just picked a peg that didn’t produce on day one of the tournament. The results let us know that we were going to have to fish hard this day. The swim is in a park but pushed out of the way of everyone there. You have to walk down a set of stairs that leads to a dock that faces the water. This peg looked nice. After finding the swim we got set up and it was soon time to cast.
There was one problem since it was out of the way and on a dock extended out onto the water, we had to cast with over hanging trees. There was one spot on this dock were you could just barely cast by crouching a little. So after finding a spot to cast from we got all our rods out. It has been about 20 minutes now since we have had all our rods out. All I am thinking is what if there is no fish here like there was yesterday, they blanked does that mean we will too, and what happened if we are blanking how can we change that. But then my right hand rod screams off. Yes, a fish. But it was not the type we wanted to catch. It was a small catfish. So I after releasing the catfish I cast out my rod again, and I then continue to think about how the people before us had blanked. To make things worse, the day was starting to brighten up which started to bring people out, which were school rowing teams, their coaches on boats, canoers, paddle boaters and more water related boats. After facing the fact that we were going to have problems with all the disturbances and that the water was going to get even more crowded with the boats, things started to go our way. It only took around ten minutes after casting the rod that got a catfish on it, to start screaming off again. This time I could tell it was a carp, and a nice one at that. Finally after a nice battle with this fish, she was in the net. I was so happy and relieved that I landed a fish already from a peg that didn’t produce the day before. This fish let us know that there was more to come. So without wasting any time, I unhooked her and put her in the sack for the marshal to weight the fish and confirm the weigh. It was a healthy 22lb + common and was a nice fish to start out the day with. After another half hour I got a second run. I picked up the rod and bent into it and this fish did not stop, it was a hard fighting carp. Now things start to go bad. Two rowing teams stop dead on my other rods casted out. They were too far out to shout at but close enough in to mess with the fish. To make things worse a lady that is in a rowing boat by herself comes in really close. My brother and I tell her that we are in a tournament, that we have lines out, and that I am fighting a fish. Then she starts screaming at us to tells us to reel in our rods. Then she goes on to swearing at me, and asking where the line is with the fish. I tell here it is right in front of her. I realized that she isn’t going to calm down, I lower my rod to my left, dipping my rod tip into the water. I then continue to tell her to just go across our lines, she moves really slowly over our lines. At last she finally finishes going over my rods and the one that has the fish on it. I can now lift my rod and fight this fish properly again. It’s not over yet, I still have to watch out for the school rowing teams that are still over our other lines. I barely bring the fish close enough in when even more boaters move over our lines. The fish is finally within netting distance, but she does not give up and still was fighting and swirling close in. After a close in battle, we finally landed her. Right away we can tell this fish is bigger than the last one. Again without wasting time I unhook the fish and put it into the sack so the marshal can weigh and confirm this fish. We weighted the fish and it was a 25lb+ common. I was really happy with that fish and after all I had been through to land it.
It took me a little bit longer for the next fish. This time it was a 16lb+ common. After that everything slowed down. I just remember lying next to my rods just hoping for another fish for our team, but hours went by. Thankfully Austin gets the next fish, it is a nice 21lb+. Sadly the day comes to an end, and that was our last fish of the tournament.
We were really proud of what we did that day. We pulled out some good fish, from a peg which blanked the day before. Now that the tournament was over, we headed back to the hotel for the ceremonies and awards. With the results updated we placed 4th, beating the good majority of anglers that were there. We were really proud of what we did. This is was our second year in a row placing in the top 5 teams. For me this was one of my most memorable and best fishing trips so far. But there is still much more to come from me.