Episode at Texas’ Lake Ray Hubbard Almost Too Hard to Believe
By Ken Schultz
The American fishing tackle industry holds an annual trade show every summer. I went to it for several decades representing Field & Stream. In 1986 it was in Dallas, and I arrived a day early to join Larry Columbo, who worked for Humminbird Electronics, fishing on Lake Ray Hubbard with guide Johnny Procell for hybrid stripers. An excellent angler, Procell may have been one of Humminbird’s pro staffers, and was specializing in catching these then-somewhat-new fish.
A Good Sportfish in Many Ways
Hybrids, as these fish are often simply called, are a cross between pure-strain striped bass and pure-strain white bass. They don’t get as large as the parent stripers, and they’re sterile. Like other sterile species, they grow quickly because all of their energy is devoted to foraging and none to reproduction. Being sterile, their numbers are maintained by stocking and their population can be controlled based on the need (or lack thereof) to control baitfish populations.
The prodigious appetite of hybrids for baitfish (threadfin and gizzard shad at Hubbard) produces fish that have smallish heads and deep bodies, resulting in a specimen that has a lot of pulling power. Anglers love hybrid stripers because of their aggressiveness and energy, and the species has been stocked widely around the country, mostly in impoundments.
Procell introduced us to speed jigging for hybrids on deepwater humps (he calls it “smokin’”). These mounds exist
in roughly 30 to 40 feet of water. Hubbard is about 40 feet deep at its greatest point, and is a 22,745-acre reservoir impounded in 1968, primarily for water supply to Dallas.
Procell used short, heavy lead jigging spoons (called “slab” spoons by many) on baitcasting tackle, vertically dropping the lure to the bottom atop these humps. In his smokin’ technique, when the lure hits bottom you engage the gears and flick the rod tip to jump the spoon up. You then make a few turns of the reel handle as fast as you can and stop, press the reel’s freespool button, and let the lure flutter back to the bottom, where you repeat the process. It’s a good way to imitate a fluttering, dying baitfish and an effective way to deep jig over structure.
On this day, we’d caught a few hybrids by speed jigging and at one point I got a violent strike and reacted with an aggressive hookset. There was instantly a whip-cracking sound as the rod, a Fenwick baitcaster, broke at the handle. With the reel attached, it shot into the water as if released like an arrow from an archer’s bow. I was dumbfounded and left holding a 5-inch stub of rod handle. What happened was that the rod broke at the reel seat, and the tension (the fish was probably going away when it struck the lure) on the line jettisoned the reel with the rod.
We all cast about and jigged furiously in an attempt to snag the outfit and hopefully recover it and the fish. That went for naught, however, and I especially lamented the loss of the reel, an Abu-Garcia Ambassaduer 5500, which was a particularly good product and one of the best baitcasters of the time.
It was near noon and we were about to head to a marina for lunch when another boat pulled up to fish the same spot. In it was a mutual friend of mine and Columbo’s, Bill Cork, who worked for Plano, the Illinois tackle box manufacturer. We told Cork and his guide what happened, me emphasizing that the violence of my rod breaking could only have been done by a huge hybrid.
About an hour later, as we emerged from the marina restaurant, Cork and his guide were pulling into a boat slip.
“Hey Schultz,” yelled Cork, hoisting a yellow slab spoon. “Is this the lure you lost to that fish?”
It looked like any other jigging spoon.
“Yeah, sure,” I said sarcastically.
He then hoisted up a broken Fenwick fishing rod. “Then this must be the rod you lost.”
“And then this must be your reel,” he said with a mouse-eating smile, pulling out my Ambassaduer.
I was again dumbstruck. Cork triumphantly explained how, not long after we left, he and his guide were speed jigging on that hump. Cork hooked up, and when he brought the fish to boatside, there was another lure in its mouth, and line trailing from that. They pulled the line in and up came my rod and reel.
The striper - about a 7-pounder and not the monster I imagined - had attacked Cork’s spoon and gotten hooked in the mouth, all the while having another spoon in its mouth and trailing a rod and reel.
It’s almost too hard to believe.
Cork gave me the reel and I gave him the lure and the rod, which wasn’t exactly a fair exchange. But he took them home and mounted them on his office wall, alongside a copy of an article about the incident written by Al Spiers, an Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame member who wrote a newspaper column about the bizarre episode.
I should note that hybrid stripers are still doing well on Lake Ray Hubbard; that Johnny Procell still guides there and has caught a jillion of them; and that slab spoons still catch a lot of fish.
Also, I’ve since caught someone else’s rod and reel that was attached to a fish. That fish was a smallish (20 inches or so) striped bass caught near Maryland’s Hooper Islands in Chesapeake Bay about ten years ago, and it was a spinning rod and reel, which may have been sitting in a bank pole, as the fish was connected to a bait hook. The rod tip was broken and the crusty reel was worthless. They are not on my office wall.
Finally, I still have, and occasionally use, that Ambassadeur reel. Thanks, Bill.
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