dakota sykes

Dakota Sykes with a catfish he caught while fishing with Tony Montoya recently on a late-night trip. Gizzard shad fished in 10-15 feet of water near areas where feeder creeks spill into the river is the recipe for success.

As promised, many area lakes and parks re-opened just in time for the July 4 holiday, and plenty of people made it to the water to celebrate. I wasn’t on the lake for this year’s Independence Day, but I have spent many of them on the water.

Things can get a little hairy when you combine a whole lot of people with a hot and sunny day, high-intensity celebrating, and a number of boaters who have never or rarely driven a boat before. It can get downright crazy and dangerous.

In fact, there are a lot of folks who don’t know the “rules of the road” for the water. Texas state law requires anyone born on or after Sept. 1, 1993 to successfully complete a boater education class if they’re operating a boat with a motor greater than 15 horsepower, any wind-blown craft more than 14 feet long, or any personal watercraft like a Sea-Doo.

The class costs $20 and is available via direct instruction or online.

Just like on roads and highways, there are standard procedures for operating a boat on the water, and it only takes one person not knowing who has the right of way for an accident to happen.

This summer, Central Texas has seen more than its share of water-related tragedies – in lakes, rivers, and even water parks and swimming pools. Most of these accidents and tragedies can be avoided by using flotation devices like life jackets, cushions, or other Coast Guard-approved gear.

A valid flotation device is required for every person on a boat, and kids under the age of 13 are required to wear one whenever they’re aboard. During the day, if an adult or older teenager is a skilled swimmer, it’s ok jut to have them handy in case someone goes overboard. But at night, it’s smart for everybody on board to wear flotation.

It’s hard enough to see somebody in the water during the daytime – all that’s usually above the surface is the person’s head and maybe shoulders. At night, if you’re trying to turn a boat around and return to the area where a person fell out, they’ll be extra hard to locate. Factor in that the person in the water will likely be stressed or panicked, and every second spent searching might be a second too long.

Also remember that game wardens, unlike most other law enforcement officers, do not need probable cause to pull you over and check you out. They can ask to see flotation devices, fishing licenses, check your live well/stringer to make sure your fish are legal, conduct sobriety tests (a BWI is the same as a DWI), and pretty much anything else they feel like checking out.

A day on the water can and should be a lot of fun, but it’s not a free-for-all. Know the rules, practice safe boating, and have a good time.

Adapt to Texas’ heat to keep catching fish

Central Texas doesn’t have many days of the year when you can’t enjoy the outdoors. There are a few days when the place might be covered in a sheet of ice or snow, and some days are washed out with severe thunderstorms, but even freezing temperatures or the summer’s dog days allow for fishing if you wear protective clothing or avoid the extreme heat in favor of early morning and early evening angling. Plus, some of the best summertime fishing you’ll find is between 10 p.m. and sunrise.

Overnight fishing requires some extra planning and gear, but not a whole lot – a headlamp and bug spray are about the only things you’ll need, in addition to extra precautions for low-light visibility when it comes to footing and keeping yourself from splashing into the water. A flotation device is a good thing to have on hand (or on your body if you’re boating).

When I used to have summers off, we’d head to the lake about an hour before sunset, launch the pontoon boat, get our bearings, and settle in for a stretch of sun-free hours on the water. A pontoon boat is spacious enough to have a designated area for fishing and a kicking-back zone for those not interested in catching fish.

Not only did we have a lot of fun, make a lot of music, and catch a lot of fish on our overnight trips, but usually when we got back to the ramp just before sunrise, we got to see quite a few critters finishing up their nocturnal meals. I remember seeing a lot of raccoons, deer, bobcats, and a few coyotes that were either scavenging or foraging – and several times, we saw bobcats and deer hanging out right next to each other.

Maybe it was like Wile E. Coyote and the sheepdog – after a hard night of predation, they were clocking out and about to go home to sleep.

The point is, you don’t have to be precluded from outdoor sports or spend your outdoor time being blast-furnaced by the Texas summer. Even if you can’t spend overnights at the lake, morning and evening trips will find fish feeding. Shorelines near grass beds and other vegetation are good for bass as well as catfish. Topwater baits around sunrise and sunset are good bets for bass, and punch bait or cut shad are favorite baits for cats.

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