Jerry Hiland - Outdoors

Jerry Hiland with a Lake Waco blue catfish he caught Saturday in the mid-lake area drifting cut shad in 35 feet of water.

Jerry Hiland photo

Sitting outside at daybreak yesterday brought back a rush of memories of football two-a-days and morning dove hunts. The air temperature, dragonflies darting through the air, and the occasional flyover of mourning and white-wing doves got my fall itch going.

A lot of people make their pre-season predictions on football teams and players, and I always get in trouble with some of my Longhorn friends for my own annual prediction of their team’s season. This year, I’m predicting they’ll go 9-3. That’s 9 arrests, 3 convictions.

But football predictions are mostly a way for fans to start the juices running, and there are so many variables, such as injuries and off-the-field issues, that factor in to how a team actually performs, that picking Alabama as the top-rated pre-season team is more of an art than a science.

It’s a little different when wildlife biologists put out their predictions for hunting seasons. They make theirs based on variables like population sampling, habitat, forage, rainfall, and other scientifically-based data, and next week’s Tribune-Herald outdoor column will feature predictions from biologists and others in the outdoor industry about what hunters can expect when they get afield beginning Sept. 1.

Generally speaking, late summer rains leading into opening day of dove season translates to better natural forage, meaning birds migrating into the area will find plenty to eat and will likely stay longer. Timely rains also make water sources more widely available, so ponds and creeks that run dry during drought years will be promising spots to set up for ambush.

Sunflower and grain fields are prime hunting grounds for dove, and mid-summer scouting trips to potential spots will give hunters an idea of flight patterns and when the best times are to hunt.

A dove hunt is almost as much a social event as anything else, but most of us still take our shots pretty seriously. I hate the idea of shooting off a box of shells in exchange for a handful of birds, so I usually get some shooting in ahead of opening day to knock the rust off of my aim.

If you live in a place that doesn’t allow practice shooting, there are plenty of ranges around the area that will accommodate you. A quick Google search for “Waco area gun ranges” will yield plenty of results.

Yadon keeps rolling and reeling along

Lake Whitney striper guide Clay Yadon (Reel Deal Striper Guide Service on Facebook) is like Old Man River – he just keeps rolling and reeling along.

“Fishing is still crazy good which is amazing for this time of year. We’re catching limits every day, and we’re catching some good-sized fish in the mix. Yadon says there’s a strong thermocline at about 20 feet, and a lot of stripers are hanging in the cool water below it, but coming up in bursts to feed before returning deeper.

“It’s just a matter of being out there and figuring out where they’re going to show up,” he said, “and so far, I’ve guessed right. When they rise up, they’re eating everything in their way, and if you can keep fresh bait in front of them, you can maintain the feeding frenzy cycle.”

He’s using live bait fishing just above the thermocline over deep structure in about 40 feet of water, and the biggest fish of the week were in the 30-inch range, which translates to about 15 pounds this time of year, he said.

Yadon says the high water temperature (88 degrees) means it’s hard to practice catch-and-release because unless it’s a small fish and you can crank it in and get it unhooked and back into the water quickly, the fish won’t survive, so there’s no chance for culling bigger fish that put up a fight.

Be sure to measure

There have been a growing number of reports and social media posts of anglers catching nice-sized blue cats from Lake Waco, with either live or cut shad being top baits. Did you know there’s a slot limit for blue catfish on Lake Waco, as well as a number of other lakes in Texas?

The Lake Waco slot for blues is from 30 to 45 inches, so you’ve got to return any fish within that slot back in the water, and you can keep only 1 fish measuring 45 inches and up per day. The limit on blues measuring 30 inches or less is 25 per day (by themselves or in combination with channels.) Channel catfish have to be at least 12 inches to legally keep, and flatheads have a limit of 5 per day with a minimum length of 18 inches. Keep a measuring tape handy.

The slot limit was imposed to increase the number of big fish, and it seems to be working.

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