Luke Clayton: Return to Lake Ray Hubbard
Outdoors columnist recounts latest visit to the lake that played a large role in his youth
Sitting in my truck at the dock at Chandlers Landing at Lake Ray Hubbard waiting to join guide Brandon Sargent and Jeff Bobo for a morning of catching hybrid stripers and white bass, my mind began to wander back about 55 years. I glanced back toward the dam and reflected upon the distant past when I was a teenager hunting squirrels and rabbits in a patch of woods before the lake filled.
We moved from Red River County to Mesquite when I was a young teenager and a family friend introduced me to a place where I could hunt. I escaped the “big city” of Mesquite by riding my little scooter with a 12 gauge single shot slung over my back.
In later years, I’ve enjoyed many fishing trips here with my friend the late guide Johnny Procell and others. I used to do a lot of trot lining in the upper end of the lake. I have many fine memories of the fun times I’ve had on Lake Ray Hubbard but haven’t fished here in several years. This was about to change as I shook hands with my new friends Brandon Sargent and Jeff Bobo.
This was our first time to meet but I had spent a good bit of time on the phone talking fishing with both these guys. Brandon is a popular fishing guide on the lake that fishes for several species but recently, he’s targeting the lakes plentiful hybrid stripers and white bass using downriggers which is a lethal method of catching the open water schooling species, especially this time of year.
Jeff is also a veteran angler and maker of a popular fish attracting unit called the Bobo’s Thumper which mimics the sound of feeding fish. I was anxious to see this unit in action. I have for many years known that a disturbance on the surface such as a fishing rod churning the water or a rubber mallet thumping the boat will draw the fish in close.
Our trip coincided with a strong frontal passage that moved across the region only hours before we launched the boat, just after daybreak. As any fisherman knows, a sudden change in weather and especially lightning and thunder often plays havoc with a fishing pattern that had been as constant as the Polar star. Such was the case on this particular morning. Sargent’s big guide boat is rigged with all the latest fishing finding tools and as he used his onboard GPS to track to the exact spot he had hammered the hybrid stripers the day before, we were all wondering what the change in weather would do to the bite. A look at the sonar proved that the big mixed schools of hybrid stripers and white bass were still there, holding on a deep submerged ridge. But the fish simply had lockjaw, we trolled with A Rigs which consist of five lead head jigs rigged with soft plastics, we fished the rigs vertically right under the boat and we dropped lead slabs down right on top of the fish but they simply would not bite.
Rather than elaborating further on a fishing pattern that was obviously interrupted by weather I’ll tell you what was biting: CRAPPIE and big ones! Sargent is a multiple species guide and has a passion for catching big crappie. He had several dozen feisty minnows in the bait tank and said these were his insurance, just in case the weather had fouled up the hybrid bite. He buried his face in the GPS unit and motored us to one of his crappie hotspots and said with certainty that we should proceed to load the boat with good eating crappie. He was not wrong!
I love to catch hybrids but was not the least bit disappointed when Sargent flipped on his Livescope and marked a big tree trunk with lots of limbs lying on the lake bottom. “This is one of my hot spots that has never failed me,” says the guide.” We should be able to catch a bunch of crappie here and some chunky ones.” A big school of crappie was hanging above and around the limbs of the tree trunk that had not seen daylight since the mid sixties when the lake filled. The tight school marked the sonar so completely that it was hard to actually make out the shape of the tree. Fishing with a Livescope might be considered cheating a bit but when it comes to catching what might be one of the most finicky fish in fresh water, I will readily use any advantage available!
The Livescope is named appropriately; it gives you a “live” view of exactly what is under the boat. With the scope, it’s possible to target individual fish. For an old time angler like me that used to use a cord with knots to determine water depth, modern day sonar is almost like magic. I spotted a single big crappie marking on the graph a few feet away from the school on the scope and dropped my minnow down to within a few inches of its nose. There was no gentle tap, tap, this barndoor snatched my minnow and made a run for the nearest limb. I could tell he was a good fish by the arch in the Bonehead Tackle rod. Sometimes, when all the stars are aligned, it’s possible to give a fish tangled in brush a little slack and it will free itself. Such was the case and I soon had a 15-inch crappie on ice. For the next hour we proceeded to put together the making of one big crappie fry. Then we decided to use the downriggers and A rigs and see if the hybrids might be in the biting mode. They weren’t! One the way back to dock, Sargent again positioned the boat over one of honey holes and we again began snatching crappie out of the brush.
Through my years of fishing with and writing about guides and pro anglers it was very clear that Brandon Sargent knew his business of catching fish, so well in fact that he had guessed the hybrids might be affected by the severe weather that moved through and had a plan B for us. Who can complain about a big fish fryer full of golden brown crispy crappie fillets! I’ll save the hybrid story for next time IF…. I can resist the great fall crappie fishing!
Contact Guide Brandon Sargent Lead Slingers Fishing Guide Service at 469-989-1010 or connect on Facebook.
To learn more about the fish attracting device, Bobo’s Thumper, call 817-220-2312 or on Facebook.