Matthew McNellis, left, caught a nearly 11-pound record-setting largemouth bass with a chicken nugget at Lake Bardwell in Ennis.

Photo courtesy of Highview Marina

Summer isn’t officially here yet as a calendar date, but summertime has definitely arrived. Area schools have parked the buses and turned off the bells. And families are figuring out ways to keep their kids busy doing exciting, safe and productive activities for the next few months.

This being an outdoor column, it would be negligent of me to not bring up the bountiful outdoor recreational opportunities here in Central Texas. Whether you fish, camp, hike, bike, golf, swim, shoot, paddle a kayak or simply sit under a shade tree and watch clouds blow by, our area is ripe with activities that don’t take much time or expense.

Granted, a mid-afternoon in July and August isn’t when most of us would choose to get outdoors. But early mornings and early evenings are good times to grab a pole and do some fishing.

Planning your trips to avoid the extreme heat is only wise. Other tips to keep in mind should focus not only on catching fish, but planting a mindset of outdoor enjoyment into your little anglers.

You can’t make fish bite, and sometimes, you’re going to get “skunked” – meaning you’re not going to catch fish. I don’t know exactly how that term came into being, but it definitely stinks to leave a trip to the lake without reeling a fish in. So if things start looking bad, pull out Plan B – skip rocks, get the phone out and make a video, whip up some sandwiches or anything else that will salvage a boring day. If a kid (or adult) equates fishing with boredom, then it’s going to be tough to get them out on another trip. Experienced anglers know that the bite can turn on at any time, but a wise angler knows when to bail out and go get ice cream.

There are plenty of places within a 20 minute drive of most places in Waco to set up and fish. A number of those places don’t require an entry fee. Lake Brazos features fishing decks and submerged structure nearby to attract fish. Several Lake Waco parks don’t require admission fees (Koehne and Bosque parks are two that come to mind) and are good areas to catch fish.

A successful fishing trip doesn’t have to take all day, and it doesn’t require a lot of expense. Sunfish are plentiful along most shorelines and riverbanks, and a simple rod and reel combo (many of which come with a tackle kit loaded with the basic needs) baited with some night crawlers will typically produce at least enough action to keep people interested, if not enthralled.

Remember that kids under the age of 17 don’t need a license to fish in Texas public waters, and anyone can fish without a license in state parks. Mother Neff, Lake Whitney and Meridian are just three that are within a short drive from home.

Tastes like chicken

You should never be so closed-minded that new evidence can’t sway your thinking.

No, this isn’t about politics or religion, it’s about chicken nuggets.

I tried this “food” a few times, and it always ceased to amaze me. So years ago I decided to spend my money on other things, and I’ve even gone hungry a couple of times when chicken nuggets were the only thing available to eat in the car.

But last week, a story out of Dallas changed my mind about those greasy, fried chunks of phlegm. (Well, obviously it didn’t completely change my mind.)

A guy named Matthew McNellis was fishing with his girlfriend last month at Lake Bardwell’s Highview Marina, and things weren’t going so well fishing-wise. So she suggested that he use one of the chicken nuggets, which the high-roller had brought along to dine on, as bait.

And it worked. The 10.8-pound largemouth bass measured more than 2 feet in length and is a lake record — topping the previous mark of 10.44 set more than a decade ago.

Anglers will use almost anything for bait if they’re desperate enough. I once caught a limit of bass on a package of powdered donuts. It was a good trade – the fish fry was much more satisfying than choking down those stale lumps of sugar and flour.

CAST for Kids to host celebrity pro-am

My life’s work is about education and the outdoors. So when I see an event that combines those two things, I get more excited than a dog spotting a squirrel in the middle of the backyard.

CAST for Kids is hosting a celebrity pro-am fishing tournament June 30-July 1 that will pair up professional and tournament anglers with special-needs kids in a day of competition and fun.

Stay tuned to the Tribune-Herald outdoors for more information.

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