Back when we lived down south of here, mid-July was the time Rachel and I would come spend a couple of weeks with family and friends in Central Texas, and one of the highlights of those times was me getting up early on weekend mornings to go fishing with my dad and his friend Bernie.

The two had perfected the art of catching carp – setting up a line of rods along the old road running into the lake at Koehne Park and packing home-made dough balls onto treble hooks, then drinking coffee and shooting the breeze until one of the poles bent double.

The bait was made from Big Red soda, bran flakes, and range cubes. They’d soak the cereal and cattle pellets in the soda until softened, then form a big ball of dough that smelled so good it made me want to take a bite or two.

The mixture of sugar, vanilla, and grains was too much for the lake’s carp, buffalo, and occasional catfish to pass up, and I don’t think I was ever on a trip with them that didn’t produce at least a few fish.

When I first got invited to go, I thought Dad was joking. Get up before daylight to go catch carp? Those were fish that I grew up avoiding. They were slimy, ugly, and so bony and oily that I’d always heard they were too much trouble to mess with. All the recipes I’d seen for cooking them involved pressure cookers, and I had no idea what to do with one of those potential explosive devices.

But I went along with them that first morning, drank some coffee, listened to some great stories, and waited for a bite. Then that bite came.

I wasn’t using a rod holder, so the pole I had perched on some rocks suddenly went into the air like Evel Knievel jumping over a line of buses and splashed into the water at the shoreline. I dropped my coffee mug, which shattered on a rock, high-stepped it into the lake, and grabbed onto the pole, set the hook and started to reel.

A carp doesn’t fight like most other fish. Unlike a largemouth bass, for example, which will try to fly through the air and fling your hook out of its mouth or wrap your line around a tree stump and snap the line, a carp simply muscles its way around. It’s like hooking into the water equivalent of an angry bull.

While I was busily adjusting the reel’s drag to allow line to strip off without snapping it, I realized I was in for a long fight. The fish was headed out to open water and no amount of muscle or finesse on my part was able to turn it back to shore. I figured that it would eventually take all the line and be gone, so I started making plans to grab on to the line and fight it in hand-over-hand if I had to.

But eventually, the fish changed directions and I had some leverage. I managed to turn its head back toward shore and it sped toward me with the same force it used to get nearly all the line off my reel. I was cranking hard and caught up, and within a few minutes, had pulled the golden fish onto the shoreline gravel.

If fish played football, carp would be linebackers. They’re big, strong, and hard-charging, and once you’ve dealt with one, you know you’ve been through something.

We didn’t keep any of the carp or buffalo we caught, but the memory of catching them is probably a lot better than the memory would be of eating them. Besides, I’d rather eat the bait.

Getting back to normal

Lake Waco has rewarded anglers with good numbers and quality-sized fish since the ramps reopened and folks have gotten back on the water in the past week or so. Guide Michael Houston took a late-week trip with some clients who caught a variety of fish and some nice keepers for the grill or skillet.

“The water temperature is 85 degrees,” Houston said. “Hybrid fishing is good on live shad, with a lot of undersized fish. Whites are very good mid-day bouncing slabs around submerged humps.” He added that catfish are fair drifting cut shad.

I saw some social media posts from area anglers that dovetail with Houston’s report, including a Saturday morning trip Keith Rodriguez took with his nephew Jordan Colvin that yielded a good number of whites and chunky hybrids, along with a few keeper cats.

Helping with a worthy cause

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you probably know somebody with autism, and if you don’t know about autism, Thursday would be a good time to go help some autistic folks out and learn more about it.

Central Texas Helping Hands is teaming up with other organizations – including Fish On Texas! – to host a group of 18 kids for a fishing trip at Waco’s Buena Vista Park.

Volunteers are needed to assist with bait hooks, giving fishing advice, setting up chairs, tables, canopies, and money donations to provide these anglers with gear to keep the fishing flame burning in them long after this event.

For more information on how to help, call Keven Harris at 254-732-4455.

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