When you’re at the coast, you owe it to yourself to get your toes in the surf and have a seafood dinner. A trip to Washington, D.C. isn’t complete without a trip to see our nation’s monuments, memorials, and famous buildings. And if you’re in the pine thickets of eastern Texas with a travel pole and fishing tackle, you’re bound to get a line wet.

Last weekend, I accompanied my family to Jefferson, Texas to attend a book event promoting Her Texas – an anthology of Texas women that my wife helped edit – at the Jefferson Carnegie Library. She also met with some school kids as part of a summer program – one that includes the stocking of paddlefish in area waters.

When not hanging with the literati, I found myself doing what I usually do when I’m traveling – going out and exploring the place. I had studied a map of the area and knew that Jefferson sat pretty much equidistant between Lake O’ The Pines and Caddo Lake, and figured that I’d at least take a drive and see some sights at each.

I woke up Monday morning and headed for a bait and tackle shop on the highway toward Lake O’ The Pines, and even though I didn’t need anything, bought a crankbait and a few other things for good measure. Della Capps, the woman behind the counter at Herigon’s Grocery, told me the fishing report and best bets for catching something, and I tipped my hat and rolled toward the dam.

When I pulled up at the spillway, several vehicles dotted the parking lot, but at least 50 buzzards lined the guard rail and rip-rap. I took that as a good sign, thinking a lot of anglers probably clean their catch on site and keep the birds happy.

After talking to a few of the anglers who were throwing spinnerbaits and cut shad into the tailrace, I made my way down to the edge of the water and flung the newly-purchased chrome-colored crankbait toward the rocks lining the shore on the other side.

The bait floated for a few seconds before I gave it a twitch, and as soon as it moved, the water around the lure erupted. I gave a crank to bring in the slack and set the hook into the lower jaw of a nice 2-pound largemouth bass with dark coloring and eyes. After a half-hearted photo I took of myself holding the fish, I slipped it back into the water and readied for the next cast.

As soon as the bait hit the water, another fish slammed it, but I set the hook too soon and sent the bait skittering across the water, and by the time I got it back to shore, I had to spend a minute or so solving the puzzle of untangling the line from the double set of treble hooks.

The next few casts resulted in 3 undersized largemouths, and got the attention of the other anglers in the area. I showed them the bait and told them how I was fishing it, and thought about offering to sell it to the highest bidder, but I was having too much fun to stop.

It’s a good thing, too, because a few casts later, as the bait sat a couple of feet from the far shore, a I saw a small splash near the bait and figured it was a little bass or sunfish popping at it. But I set the hook nonetheless, because even a little fish is a good fish.

As I started to crank it in, I suddenly felt the weight of a good-sized fish and saw the line tearing across the water to my left. There was a guy and his daughter about 40 yards down from me, and I started to worry that my fish was headed into their lines, and was even more concerned that it would tangle up in the boulders and break off.

Line was stripping off the reel, so I adjusted the drag to allow myself more leverage, and within a minute or so, I was holding a nice 5-pound hybrid-striper. Again, I took an awkward photograph that was suitable only for proof – and not publication. It’s hard to get a shot of yourself holding a fish that big while balancing on a wobbly rock, and my fellow anglers seemed to be getting frustrated with me catching all the fish, so I didn’t want to rub it in by asking one of them to take a picture.

After catching a few more, the sun convinced me to head back to the house for a cool shower and a nap before the book event. Jefferson’s library is one of only 4 Carnegie Libraries in Texas that’s still serving its original purpose, and it’s a beautiful building, both inside and out.

Jefferson is a throwback to days gone by. Its people are friendly and hospitable, so much that you feel like you’ve gone back and landed in Mayberry. The town is well-kept and vibrant, with a variety of stores, shops, and restaurants (including Riverport Barbecue, which earned a spot in Texas Monthly’s 50 Best BBQ Joints in the World.) The town is so full of historic sites and homes that you can hardly go a couple of blocks without seeing a sign or plaque.

The two nearby lakes are home to a number of guide services, and if you fish Caddo, you’ll probably need one – just to find your way around. Caddo is the only natural lake in Texas, meaning it’s not the result of a river being dammed. A dam was built, however, in the early 20th century for flood control.

Caddo is like being on another planet. There’s very little open water, with about 95% of the lake being covered in cypress and other varied types of vegetation. It’s very easy to get lost, but if you’ve got a local who knows the water, or a GPS system with a fully-charged battery, it’s one of the most rewarding fishing trips you can take in Texas.

Tuesday morning’s trip to Caddo wasn’t as successful as the day before, but I didn’t do as much fishing. At first, I just stood around in awe, looking at the primordial view, imagining at any moment that a dinosaur would wander by.

While I was fishing, I kept a wary eye toward the water’s edge for alligators, which are common at the lake. At first, everything looked like a gator, but eventually my eyes adjusted to the layout and I got more comfortable. There was a lot of surface-feeding activity – mainly by huge alligator gar, which I wasn’t rigged up to successfully catch.

The trip home from Jefferson took 4 hours, which included a couple of stops for fuel and food, and another interesting part of the trip was watching the geography change from lush green grass and pine forests of East Texas to the rolling hills and hardwoods of the East-Central region to the big sky and dry ground of Central Texas.

If your family enjoys history, shopping, fishing, good down-home food, and a laid-back atmosphere with friendly folks, you should put Jefferson on your weekend getaway list.

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