Davis catfish catch

Centex angler Willie Davis with two of the four slot blue catfish four he caught Saturday morning at the Fish On Texas! Toys for Tots tourney at Lake Waco. Davis caught several more that were not eligible for the weigh-in, otherwise he would be wearing the championship belt at breakfast this morning.

On the plus side of Saturday’s Fish On Texas! Toys for Tots fishing tournament at Lake Waco, the temperature was above the 20s — unlike last year. On the minus side, the breezes were well above the 20s when it came to wind speeds.

Weather conditions always factor in to fishing strategies, and as the morning progressed and the winds intensified, more than a few anglers from the boating division (there were three divisons in the tourney — boat, bank and kid) — started to wonder whether they’d have had an easier day if they’d just walked to a spot on the shoreline and flung their lines in from the bank.

I did some first-hand monitoring of the tournament throughout the morning, and I saw that a good number of blue catfish were caught from participants in the boater division, but the most impressive fish fell within the lake’s mandated slot limit. Blue cats caught from Lake Waco that measure between 30 and 45 inches have to be turned back (Waco is among a number of Texas lakes that have put in this regulation in order to build a healthier population of trophy-sized fish) — and while they were impressive to look at, slot fish didn’t count toward catch totals.

Organizer and competitor Keith Rodriguez motored his boat to the Koehne Park area and said that early on, he was finding fish so thick along the bottom that they were fighting over his bait, making it hard to determine when to set the hook. He even foul-hooked one during one of the lake-bottom scrums.

But once the winds hit, Rodriguez says the whole picture changed, and by the time he weighed his fish in, a team that had previously cashed in their chips had already surpassed his team’s total.

The windy conditions were definitely a game changer, whether you were fishing from a boat or on the shoreline, but as anglers are apt to do, most teams came away with something to show.

Competitors came from around the state — some from as far away as Houston and Dallas — and with many of the lake’s parks still closed from last month’s flooding, bank fishermen were limited in their options, too.

Whenever you get a group of anglers together competing for money and prizes, there’s an edge and attitude, but attached to Saturday’s tourney was another element — helping others out. Everybody in the tournament was there to win the prizes and bragging rights, but they were also there to make a positive footprint in the sand.

There were kayaks, high-dollar rod and reel combos, and other valuable prizes and raffle items, but the underlying pulse of the event embodied what the Christmas season is about — helping make the season brighter for kids who might otherwise go without.

Waco and other Centex communities are home to a high number of kids and families living under the cloud of poverty, and the holiday season is an especially challenging time for parents struggling to not only meet the normal monthly expenses but also trying to give their kids some Christmas joy.

Thanks to the Fish On folks and their sponsors, including KWTX, Del Follis at Texas Farm Bureau, Bubba’s 33, Rock Ready Printing, Hooters, Rudy’s BBQ, Ace Fence Supply, Honey’s Roofing, Avila Apartments, Lowrey’s Flooring, Tom’s Burgers, Boen Plumbing, Gutierrez Cleaning Services, and more, those pickup truck beds full of gifts will help brighten the glow of Christmas morning for a lot of area kids.

Tune in to next Sunday’s Tribune-Herald outdoor column for a list of tourney winners.

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