The vast East Dallas reservoir, Lake Ray Hubbard, is more known for its recreational activities (sail-boating, jet-skiing, water-skiing, and swimming), than it is for its excellent fishing. Those who do fish the lake know it has healthy stock of sand bass, hybrid stripers, catfish, and crappie, but the real secret of the lake is its exceptional largemouth bass population. Several “Share-a-Lunkers” (bass over thirteen pounds) have been pulled from the lake, including a fourteen pounder that now makes her home in the Bass Pro Shop fish tank. The impound is fed by the east fork of the Trinity River and for those who attempt to dodge the many stumps and land mines of the north end of the lake to fish this area, the rewards can be great. With this in mind, my brother and I took my trusty sixteen foot aluminum “Bass Tracker” up to the mouth of the river in search of ole’ bucketmouth.
I had purchased the used boat from a “Fin and Feather” store that was located in Fort Worth. The boat came equipped with a thirty horse engine and a foot-guided operational trolling motor; but more importantly, it was small enough to navigate the nooks and crannies of the narrow Trinity. The drawback of my fishing vessel was that the rivet-welded hull was not made to take the pounding whitecaps generated by a twenty-five thousand acre reservoir. Considering the pros and cons, we decided to pull a “Lewis and Clark” and took our initial excursion up the river.
Spring time had arrived and the fish had begun to spawn up and down the river, so the time was right to make a score. Taking the boat north of the Route 66 viaduct and then passing the Shores Country Club, we slowly plodded our way through the stump infested terrain on a calm wind-free day. Passing a line of humming high tension wires that guarded the entrance of the river, I could make out the entry way. “There it is,” I said, “Are you ready to go in?”
“Let’s roll,” my brother answered.
I cut the engine at the mouth of the Trinity and threw the trolling motor down. “I’m going to work us up the river and we’ll cast the reeds on each side,” I said. My brother and I each tied on spinner baits and began casting, but I could not get the boat to progress up stream because the current was too strong coming from the opposite direction. Lake Lavon (which is connected to Hubbard by the Trinity) apparently had its spillway open and was dumping overflow water into the river causing a strong back current. “I’m going to have to start the main engine because the current is too strong,” I told my brother, “I’ll get us a good ways up and then we can work our way back using the trolling motor.”
Starting up the engine, I navigated our way up into an area of the lake that I could not have imagined existed. The circuitous path of the river was lined with huge cattails and stumps and I felt like I was traversing some type of tropical swamp that one would more likely expect to find in the everglades of Florida, rather than East Dallas. I momentarily put myself in Humphrey Bogart’s shoes, imagining that I was skipper of the African Queen as I took in the sights and sounds of the urban jungle. “I’m going to start here,” I told my brother while cutting the engine. We had gone about a mile up river and would now use the current and trolling motor to our advantage. Casting off both sides the boat, we took in the solitude of the surroundings. “This is unbelievable,” my brother said, “Who would expect to find a bass habitat like this around here?”
“I’m as surprised as you are; but keep it down─I feel a lunker lurking nearby.”
We diligently worked each side of the river, throwing our spinner baits into every possible bass ambush point. “Hey what’s that thing swimming towards that log?” my brother asked. Looking down at the rat-like creature, I spotted the animal swimming towards its nest. “That’s a nutria,” I said, “It’s kind of like a small beaver. Turning the other way, I casted into a small inlet and then heard a huge water-based explosion behind me. “What in the hell was that?” I asked. My brother had a frozen Scream-like face frozen on his mug. “What’s wrong?”
“You’re not going to believe what I just saw.”
“That log that was sitting in the water just swallowed the nutria.”
“Get out of here─you must have had one too many Buds last night.”
“I’m not shittin’ you: That was a ten foot gator.”
I had heard rumors that there were gators in the lake but I had never seen one. “Are you sure?”
“How many carnivorous logs do you know of in the wild kingdom?”
The gator sighting put a new perspective on our fishing behavior. We were more cautious when washing our hands in the water and kept our eyes peeled for any more Jaws-like explosions. The fish were not biting and we began to feel like the gator had spooked all the bass in the area. Upon reaching the mouth of the river where we had entered, I finally had a strike. The bass inhaled the spinner bait and then did an aerial somersault right in front of the boat. After a brief battle, I pulled in a nice three pound bass. Just as I released my fish, my brother hooked onto another bass. Throw after throw we continued to hammer the huge school of largemouth that had congregated right at the mouth of the river. The shad had been pushed to the entrance of the creek by the rushing water from Lake Lavon and we had uncovered bass nirvana. Caught up in the excitement, both of us had completely dismissed the ominous, green clouds approaching from the south. I was awakened from my bass induced coma when a piece of flying debris struck me in the head. “What in the hell was that?” I asked myself as I picked up a piece of hail. Looking up I spotted several large thunderheads exploding overhead. “I think we had better get out of here,” I told my brother, “this stuff looks nasty.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said, “I’ve never seen a school of bass like this.”
As Master and Commander of the ship I decided he had a point. “Let’s catch a few more before the storm moves in.” After a couple of more cast, a thirty mph plus wind suddenly kicked up. I looked out to the interior of the lake and caught a glimpse of some massive whitecaps being thrown in our direction. “That’s it buddy, the party is over: let’s get the hell out of here. I started the engine, turned the boat to the south, and eased my way out of the mouth of the Trinity back into the main body of the lake. Throwing a life jacket to my brother, I suggested that he decorate himself with orange in case we capsized. He now had a truly worried look on his face, “This fishing gear cost me a lot of money,” he said, “You need to get us close to shore so that I can retrieve this stuff in case we go over.”
“I don’t know if you’re grasping the gravity of the situation buddy. If this boat turns over, it’s every man for himself. Swim for the shoreline and forget the stuff─we can always buy more gear.”
“And what about the gators?”
“Best pray to the Cajun gator god to keep us safe.”
The waves began to pound the hull of the boat as I slowly progressed to the south. Every wave that tossed the Tracker made us feel like we were riding the bull tosser at “Billy Bobs.” I gripped the steering wheel with both hands in an effort to keep the vessel from taking a right angle and throwing us overboard.
From a distance, I could see some golfers on the par five, number twelve hole at the Shores Country Club taking in the situation. “Look at those idiots,” I could imagine them saying as our craft bobbed off the top of the waves like the Cigarette boat on MiamiVice. The boat went into a deep swell, I lost sight of the horizon, and out of the blue a six foot crest approached the hull. “Hold on,” I screamed with an image of the Perfect Storm finale imprinted in my brain. The wave crushed the hull of the boat, throwing it straight up to the sky, knocking the front bass seat off its mount and pasting me in the face. Somehow I was able to keep a grip on the steering wheel as my brother was launched to the back floor. Soaking wet, but still afloat, I decided to try and make it to the Route 66 boat ramp. The bilge was shooting out water as fast as it could but we had taken on too much weight for us to travel much further. A sudden reprieve from Zeus allowed the sun to poke out, and the front abruptly passed as quickly as it had approached.
Puttering into the small wooden pier at the Rockwall boat ramp we pulled up to group of young teenagers drinking beer, looking like two drown rats in a tin can.
“Ya’all catch any fish?” one of them asked.
“Sure did,” I said, doing my bestGilligan imitation.
“Wasn’t it a little rough out there?”
“A piece of cake,” I boasted, holding my trembling hands at my side while silently recalling Lake Ray Hubbard’s Perfect Storm.