Keith Rodriguez with a 43-pound Lake Waco blue catfish he caught using a ghost minnow while bank fishing.

Jordan Colvin photo

It’s going to be a cold start to the new year, but if you’ve resolved to exercise and spend more time outdoors, Mother Neff State Park has that combination of things all packaged up and waiting for you.

The park will feature four hikes on New Year’s Day – two in the morning and two in the afternoon. Hikers can choose from either prairie hikes or canyon hikes. The prairie hike is 1.5 miles long and difficulty level is low, with most of the trail being flat and even-surfaced.

Canyon hikers will make their way through limestone gullies to Tonkawa Cave, up the steps to the Rock Tower, and on to the Wash Pond. This route is also about 1.5 miles with a difficulty rating of moderate. The trail has some stone steps and steep drops and is considered primitive.

Mother Neff was Texas’ first state park. The land was donated by Gov. Pat neff and his mother, Isabella Eleanor Neff, for whom the park is named. It was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the mid to late 1930’s, and officially opened to the public in 1937.

Hikers are encouraged to wear proper attire for weather and trail conditions, including comfortable hiking shoes. The terrain is not suited for strollers or wagons, and well-mannered pets are welcome on leashes 6 feet or less in length. You should also bring along any food or water you’ll need.

Registration is at the park’s headquarters, and the hikes begin at the Prairie Parking Loop. Be sure to register in time to make it from headquarters to the trailhead. Shuttle vans are available, but pets are not allowed on board.

Morning hikes begin at 9 a.m. and afternoon hikes start at 2 p.m. Park entrance fees apply – $2 per person for people aged 13 and up, and kids 12 and under get in free.

Lake Waco provides holiday cheer

Lake Waco has been giving out plenty of Christmas presents over the past week to anglers willing to brave the cold, sloppy weather.

Catfishermen are finding monster-sized blue cats on the chow, with fish weighing in the 40-pound class coming ashore, mainly during nighttime trips. The Fish On! Texas Facebook page was plastered with photos, videos, and stories documenting the amazing bite over the past few days, with the page’s admin team ending 2017 with a flurry of big cats.

Keith Rodriguez, John Smith, Andre Bravo, Omel Reyes, and Willie Davis all landed catfish over the past few days that would qualify as a lot of people’s personal bests. Most of the fish fell inside the slot, so they were kept just long enough to celebrate, photograph, and release back into the water.

Rodriguez was fishing with his nephew, Jordan Colvin, last week when he hauled in a whopping 43-pound blue that measured 41 inches in length. “The colder conditions are great for these big blues right now,” he said. “I used a large ghost minnow off the bank in 20 feet of water to land this big girl. When I got it to the bank, Jordan grabbed it for me and got it in because it was barely hooked on the outside of its mouth,” he said. “Of all days to forget my landing net!”

Lake Waco is among a number of Texas lakes that’s part of a Texas Parks and Wildlife program to grow trophy blue cats, which are the biggest-growing species in Texas waters. Several years back, TPWD imposed a slot limit on blues, whereby fish up to 30 inches or greater than 45 inches may be kept. Plus, only one 45-plus inch fish can be kept per day.

It can be frustrating to catch a whopper blue cat and have to put it back, but the past week is proof that the slot limit is paying off with bigger fish in growing numbers.

Lake Waco Santa didn’t forget about gifts for crappie anglers, either, with a number of good catches being reported in the tributaries that feed into the lake. The 185 bridge and Eichelberger Crossing have been especially productive, with both jigs and minnows tipped with crappie bites being top-producing baits.

There’s an increasing number of reports of people catching white bass in the rivers already – and they’ve mostly been females full of eggs.

FishWagon Fish Day set for Jan. 31

Got a stock pond or soil conservation lake you want to load up with fish? Brazos Feed & Supply will host a FishWagon Fish Day on Jan. 31 from 2:30-3:15 p.m. at 1505 LaSalle.

Bass, crappie, sunfish, bluegill, minnows, koi, and more will be available, and there’s free pond delivery with orders of at least 1200 fish, 50 pounds of minnows, or other packages.

Brazos Feed owner Gary Payne says it’s a good idea to call FishWagon (800-643-8439) to pre-order so you’ll be sure to have your fish on the truck that day.

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