When I first moved out to Rockwall, Texas and bought my house, which is located right on the eastern shores of Lake Ray Hubbard in 1993, I thought that I had died and gone to heaven. Never in my life did I actually believe that my goal of living along side a lake would be achieved; but here I was at the age of thirty, living proof that your dreams are attainable.
Lake Ray Hubbard is a reservoir located in Dallas, Kaufman, Collin, and Rockwall Counties. The lake, constructed by the Army Corps of engineers was built as a water source for the North Texas region and covers an area of approximately 25,000 acres. The project was started in 1964, impounded by 1968, and reached maximum design extent by 1970. Being within twenty-five miles of downtown Dallas, the lake has become a recreational haven for those seeking to sailboat, jet-ski, fish, or simply go for a swim. The lake also serves as a training ground for aspiring sail boaters and has even spawned an America’s Cup winner. As the years passed and the lake developed, a Bass Pro Shop was built on the eastern shores of the lake.
I myself, being an avid fisherman, was more concerned with exploring the nooks and crannies of the lake in search of fish. I soon found out that the large reservoir offered an ample population of striper, hybrid striper, white bass, largemouth bass, channel catfish, blue catfish, and crappie. My favorite pursuit soon became chasing the large schools of hybrids and white bass (sandies) that roamed the waters. Once I located the circling gulls with my binoculars, I would high-tail it upwind of the birds and drift fish with my favorite slabs. The result was usually non-stop action with fish hitting on every throw. No matter how many times I did this I would become excited like it was my first time that I had dropped a line. The only problem that I had was navigating my aluminum 16-foot Bass Tracker when the winds were high. The thirty horse hand-guided Mercury motor, with a pull cord, was ill-equipped to deal with the white caps generated by thirty-five mile an hour plus wind gust. I would often find myself locating the birds off in the distance and by the time I battled the winds and waves to get there, the fish would be done feeding. In the meantime, I would watch as the fishing guides in their fancy bass boats blew past me and reaped the benefits for their clients. Since I had spent most of my money on my house, I could not upgrade my boat without the threat of death from my wife so I sucked it up.
I had read a fishing report in the Thursday Dallas Morning News that the fish were schooling on the south end of the lake near the power plant and I immediately called up my Uncle Don, who often had the fish-itch much like myself, “Hey, the fish are hitting on Hubbard; are you ready to drown a few worms?” I asked.
“You bet ─ tell me when and where and I’ll be there.”
“Meet me tomorrow morning at six o’clock at the Harbor Bay Marina and we’ll go fish the lake out.”
“What about work?” he asked.
When I arrived the next morning my Uncle was rarin’ to go. We loaded the boat with our poles, tackle boxes, landing net, and last but not least, our coffee thermos. Plunking the tin can into the grey-green waters of the Ray Hubbard, I pulled the rip cord and the nautical lawn mower responded with a purr. “We’re out of here,” I said.
Guiding the boat under the I-30 pylons, we made our way to the south end of the lake where the power plant was located. As soon as we passed through the bridge we were bombarded by three foot white caps being generated by thirty mile an hour southerly wind gust. Water shot over the side of the hull and we were instantly drenched. “This could get hairy,” I said. “Are you ready to risk your life in order to catch some sand bass?”
“Absolutely,” he said.
“Then get ready.”
I grabbed my binoculars and tried to stand up in an effort to spot the birds but was nearly thrown into the water by a violent wave. Sitting down, I peered towards the power plant and spotted the gulls with several boats juxtaposed close to the action. “There they are!” I yelled, “the fish are schoolin’ by the plant.”
“That’s about a mile away,” my uncle said.
“Say your prayers ─ we’re going for it.”
I turned the throttle full thrust and my trusty Bass Tracker bobbed up and down as we slowly chugged along fighting the southerly winds. Fishing guides scattered across the lake had also noticed the action and began zipping by us with their fancy two hundred horse rigs.
“Those sons of bitches just dusted us,” my uncle said.
“That’s all right, there’s plenty of fish for all of us,” I replied.
By the time we arrived the fishing frenzy had stopped and the boats had begun to disperse. I watched as a jovial group of fisherman high-fived each other while taking pictures of the fish they had just caught. As we passed the boat I saw the name “Johnny Pro” stenciled on the side.
“Can you believe that guy will charge those chumps two hundred dollars for a half day of sand bass fishing?” my uncle said to me.
The light bulb lit up!
“Hell, we can do that,” I said, “all we need to do is come out here during the middle of the week when the lake is empty. We can fill this boat with fish, and get paid for it. Let’s go get some cards printed up and start our own guide service!”
The cards were printed and tacked to the bulletin boards of all the local tackle shops, including the brand new Bass Pro Shop. Within a week, we had our first call. An elderly man wanted to go out for a half day of fishing. “What kind of fish do you want to catch?” I asked.
“Don’t matter; just want to catch some fish.”
“Meet us at the Harbor Bay tomorrow morning at six sharp.”
We had landed our first client and excitement filled the air as we prepared the boat for our first guided fishing excursion. “Can you believe that we’re going to go fishing and get paid for it?” I asked my uncle.
“It’s like I died and went to heaven,” he replied.
We gerry-rigged an extended bass boat seat and mounted it to the front of the Bass Tracker. “When that old boy gets up here and we get on those fish, he is going to have the time of his life,” I told my uncle.
The next morning we picked our client up at the pier and headed out into the dark, hazy air. I had come equipped with my binoculars so that I could scan the horizon for seagulls but couldn’t find a single bird. We puttered around the lake for nearly four hours without locating a single school of fish. “Don’t worry, we’ll be on fish soon,” I said as I began to break into an anxiety sweat. “Let’s go grab some of those big, fat, grease-burgers from Snuffers and then we’ll continue to fish ─ we’ll get the burgers to go so that we don’t waste any time.”
“Sounds good to me,” our client agreed.
My uncle and I entered the lakeside establishment and placed our order. “What are we going to do if we don’t get this guy on any fish?” I asked my uncle.
“I suppose we could throw him in the lake so that he can sleep with the fishes like they do on the Sopranos ─ we can’t afford any negative publicity.”
The clerk came out of the grill and handed us a paper bag with the burgers inside. The grease from the meat was already dripping from the oil-stained sack. “That will be ten dollars gentlemen,” she said.
We quickly made our way back to the dock, got into the boat, and continued our hunt. After my second bite from the burger, I looked up and saw hundreds of gulls attacking the water. “Thar she blows! ─ Full speed ahead,” I shouted to my uncle, who now manned the engine. Our client, still seated in the extended bass seat in the front of the boat, grabbed his rod with one hand and continued his assault on the burger with the other. My uncle, grease dripping from his chin and oozing from his fingers, turned to full throttle and headed towards the schooling fish. The engine was maxed out at twenty-five miles an hour when disaster struck. My uncle’s grease coated hand slid off the steering guide and the boat took a severe right angle. I looked up and saw our client flying horizontally through the air like Superman without his cape. “What the F…!” he screamed with a contorted look of horror frozen on his face while still grasping the burger, before doing a head plant in the lake. I turned and looked at my uncle, “What the hell was that?”
“Whoops,” he said, “I guess we don’t have to worry about throwin’ him in the lake anymore.”