Black bass: Two words that strike joy in the hearts of millions of Texas fishermen. And right here in our backyard are many accomplished pursuers of said fish. We located three interesting stories involving fruitful local anglers that will perhaps evoke memories of past wet-line triumphs or even stir the urge to try again.
So read on to learn about: a teenaged Melissa team; an Anna guide/pro; and a close couple from Squeezepenny.
MHS pair is among state's best teams
MELISSA – At the Texas High School Bass Association's state-championship tournament in May, a team of two Melissa freshmen, Kyle Robinson and Myles Miller, took 10th-place out of 229 boats entered. For their efforts the boys split $2,000 in scholarship money — a fine reward for something they clearly love doing.
At this prestigious, two-day tourney on Lake Ray Roberts, Robinson and Miller brought 27.67 pounds of bass over the gunwales of their boat, just eight pounds — or one medium-sized “hawg” — shy of the winners from Montgomery, Texas, who collected $20,000. Miller said if one nice fish hadn't slipped away just as it was being netted, they may have moved up to seventh or eighth place.
At the Millers' home in the Liberty community on July 11, the two anglers discussed their impressive showing and fishing, in general. Robinson said he's been fishing since he was about 6, starting out on his family's 50-acre lake near Blue Ridge. It's still one of Robinson's and Miller's favorite fishing holes. Miller started fishing four or five years ago, when he and Robinson were in the same English class and started discussing it.
“Ever since, we have just been right there for fishing — and we've excelled as fishermen together,” Miller said.
Of course, black bass are the duo's favorite catch.
“I like them because it gives you a challenge,” Miller said. “With saltwater, you can just go out there with a piece of shrimp and you'll catch them. With the black bass, you've got to work for them. Then, the fight is really fun with them.”
“You've got to try to trick the fish into biting something that is not what they're used to seeing,” Robinson said. “It's a challenge.”
Miller is the son of Melissa Middle School principal Jim Miller and Stacy Miller. Robinson's parents are Kyle and Holly Robinson.
The biggest state-tourney black bass Robinson and Miller each reeled in was about six pounds. The bait that worked best? A Whopper Plopper topwater lure, which claimed the three good-sized fish the pair took on Day 2 — two by Miller, one by Robinson — that outweighed the five they took on Day 1.
To reach the state tournament, they had to qualify by compiling sufficient point totals in eight tournaments over the previous year. Fishing in the West region, these competitions took them and their 15-foot Bass Cat with 200-horse Mercury motor to lakes across North Central Texas, including Lewisville, Possum Kingdom, Granbury, Whitney, Palestine and Texoma.
“They're eaten up with it, I know that,” Jim Miller said of the boys' pursuits. “They're always planning something. They've kind of got the fever.”
“They keep Academy in business,” Stacy Miller added.
Each THSBA team is allowed a boat manager, or crew member, who must be at least 18 years old. The boat manager assists in boat set-up as well as netting fish. Filling this roll for Miller and Robinson is Robinson's father, who also fishes competitively.
The pair has only been competitive fishing for about a year, since they became THSBA-eligible as ninth-graders. THSBA rules are quite strict. In part, they include: participants must maintain passing grades; and your team, including boat manager, must tournament-fish together for the whole year — no changing partners.
Both boys said they admire bass fishing pros Scott Martin and Mark Daniels Jr. Neither said they necessarily planned to be a guide, though Miller noted, “I'd still like to fish every single day.” They both spend a good deal of time studying fishing through television shows and online videos.
At the Ray Roberts state tournament, more than 2,300 pounds of bass were caught — all released after weigh-in.
“They think it's blasphemy if you don't release (the fish),” Jim Miller said of his son and Robinson. “They really are kind of conservationists. They want to be able to take care of the fish.”
After weigh-ins the fish are placed in bags filled with oxygenated water then returned to the lake.
Robinson said he likes fishing Ray Roberts best. Miller is partial to Fork.
“Lake Fork isn't a lake where you're going to wear 'em out,” Miller said. “But usually when you get into them, a couple of them are going to be some pretty good fish.”
Besides “hawgs,” their other nicknames for black bass include “swamp donks” and “pigs.” Spring is Robinson's favorite bass-fishing time, while Miller enjoys fall. Both agree that summer's dog days are the toughest for bagging bass.
Do they know the wily bass well?
“You like to think you do,” Miller said, “but you get out there and they don't do what you thought they were going to do.”
He noted the importance of structure in locating black bass.
“In almost all of our tournaments, we caught them in submerged grass,” Miller said.
A tip for new bass fishermen?
“The bass are going to want to hug a log or something like that,” Miller said. “In the summer, they're going to go hug shade. Stuff like that you've got to pay attention to. And you've got to stay focused on them more than you do with catfish. You've got to keep moving your bait, make sure you don't just completely stop it because they'll recognize it.”
How many times will they cast in a good-looking spot before moving on?
“Fifty,” Robinson estimated.
“More than that,” claimed Miller.
At Lake Palestine once, Miller recalled, they spent an entire day in one cove, finally hitting on a bait that worked around midday.
THSBA's mission, per its website, is “to provide a venue where high school students have the opportunity to compete in organized tournaments while establishing strict guide lines and academic standards that will allow our student anglers to excel in the class room and on the lake.”
“I think they said that last year they gave out close to $300,000 in scholarships,” Jim Miller said.
He added, “It was amazing to see how many of these schools have fishing teams. A lot of people don't even realize it's going on or how much goes into it. … It's gaining a lot of momentum.”
Anna guide knows Lake Fork
McKINNEY – Jason Conn of Anna has been fishing for black bass on Lake Fork since 1994. He’s been a guide there for nearly five years and also fishes professionally around the state. He’s appeared on television fishing shows multiple times, as well as numerous YouTube channels, and his Facebook page, Jason Conn Lake Fork Fishing Guide, has 16,000 followers.
At McKinney Grain near downtown McKinney on July 11, Conn, 37, talked fishing — and Fork.
“Lake Fork is the No. 1 bass lake in the nation — I mean, as far as big fish,” he said. “They had a pro tournament out there a couple of years ago … and set a world-record for a three-day tournament: 110 pounds in three days. The old record was 85. If you look up the Top 50 bass caught in the state of Texas, over 30 of them come out of Fork. … I’ve had clients who come here from New York, Canada, the East Coast, West Coast — all over — to fish Fork.”
How well does Conn know a bass?
“About like I know a woman,” he joked. “You just never know. … They’re not the easiest fish to catch. When you go out and you catch a big fish, especially big ones like I’ve caught, it can be rewarding at the end of the day.”
Conn’s three main tournament sponsors are Buck Ration Wildlife Feed, which he has a part in manufacturing through McKinney Grain; J. Earnhart Inc. of Van Alstyne, which builds custom and commercial steel buildings; and Hank’s Texas Grill in McKinney. Other sponsors include Falcon Rods, which he uses exclusively, and V&M Baits. Conn’s 20-foot Triton boat is equipped with a 225-horse Mercury motor and is wrapped in Buck Ration. He’s set to buy a new 21-foot Phoenix this year.
Conn competes professionally on the Texas Team Trail, “probably the best trail in Texas,” he said, noting that its contingency money is quite good. That’s money paid by sponsors to entrants who use their products and place near the top of a tournament field. For instance, Triton and Mercury pay Conn for placing well. Also on the pro side, Conn competes in Fishing League Worldwide (FLW).
Conn grew up in West Texas and has fished since he was 4 or 5.
“Me and my sister, when we were little, that’s all we did,” he said. “Whenever I would wake up, I’d start fishing.”
So how did Fork become so prominent for bass fishing? Conn said one theory is tied to dairies at its north end.
“When it would rain, all the manure would wash off into the lake and that would act as a fertilizer. It helped the grass grow and it was good for the fish.”
Now barns must have concrete floors and manure is washed into sanitation systems instead of the lake.
“That’s one of the reasons the lake has kind of fallen off," he said. "There’s hardly any grass on the lake anymore.”
Another factor, he said, has been fishing pressure on the lake.
“So many people fish it," Conn said. "… There’s probably not the number of big fish there anymore but you can still catch 10-plus-pounders all the time.”
Conn’s biggest bass? Lake Fork 12-pounders — two of them, and he landed them in the same August week.
“I caught them on a drop-shot with a little 4-inch finesse worm,” he said.
Besides Fork and Sam Rayburn, Conn also likes Bonham, Ray Roberts and Toledo Bend.
“I’ve gone down there tournament fishing at Toledo and gotten eighth place out of over 300 boats,” he said. “And most of them are locals that fish that lake every day. It’s a big lake. It’s got a lot of fish in it.”
Conn openly admitted to having a million stories, before recalling one in particular: One time at Fork, when his clients had bailed mid-trip due to the heat, Conn got with a guide friend who was free. They headed to a spot they’d yet to try that day — and hauled in three 10-pounders in 30 minutes.
“We ended up having 48 pounds that day,” Conn said. “Our best five fish: 48 pounds. That’s a bag. You don’t ever hear that.”
Of course, Conn sent pictures to his just-departed clients. They were fairly dismayed.
“I try to do good things for people around Anna,” Conn said.
He offers Anna police half-off on fishing trips and also finds time to coach Anna youth sports. Soon, he’ll serve as mentor/coach to Anna’s new fishing club being planned by Jason Adams. Adams’s 11-year-old son Jamison, who recently made news as national Select30 baseball pick, has fished with Conn.
“He’s just as good a fisherman as he is a baseball player,” Conn said.
Conn’s advice to beginners is to just start fishing.
“In my boat,” he added, “I’ll have three or four different poles sitting on the deck, all with a different bait when I’m searching. I start at the top and I’ll go to the bottom. Or I’ll start at the bottom and go to the top. Depending on the weather, there’s a lot of factors that go into bass fishing.”
During the spring spawn they’ll be near shore, he said, and now they’re mostly in deep water.
“Especially the bigger fish," Conn said. "The big ones come up, they do their thing and they go back out deep. They don’t hang around up there so they can get caught 15 times. The smart ones don’t.”
“Pond fishing,” Conn said, “is the easiest way to fish. A spinner bait or a topwater or a worm, I mean, you can’t go wrong with those three baits, at the right time of year. You can throw a top-water on a pond all year.”
Bass, he noted, “eat just like a deer does, by the moon.”
For this, Conn relies on Solunar Tables that chart the best times to fish or hunt, based on moon and sun position. This theory, that wildlife are more active during these solunar periods of high gravitational pull, is well-accepted by sportsmen. Conn has an app for it on his phone.
“Every morning before I go out, I’ll look at it," he said. "… The thing is not always right, because it doesn’t know the weather. Cold fronts, northers, are always the worst thing that can happen when you’re trying to catch fish. It shuts them off, especially at Lake Fork because it’s Florida-strain (bass). They’re a lot more finicky to weather.”
“There’s lots of different things you can do, just based on the time of year,” Conn said. “The best thing to do is just pay me $400 dollars and I’ll take you out and show you,” he laughed.
For more information on guide trips with Conn, visit fishingwithjasonconn.com.
Love at first bite
MELISSA – They’d been dating awhile when LW Buck finally asked Joann Madding to go fishing with him. She readily accepted.
“It was on down the road a little ways,” Buck said recently, under shade trees in bucolic Squeezepenny, a community just southeast of Melissa proper. “She said, ‘Teach me how,’ and I said, ‘OK.’ … We started crappie fishing and catfishing and then we started casting lures for sand bass. Then we finally broke into lure-fishing for black bass.”
Buck has fished for 45 years — and tournament-fished for almost that long. He and Madding were single parents when they met about 18 years ago through their sons’ involvement in FFA and Rodeo Club at Allen High School.
Buck said he has enjoyed introducing Madding to the sport.
“It makes me real proud now when I can see how much she has progressed," he said. "When she puts a good keeper fish in the boat, I’m real proud. I’m more proud of that than when I catch one myself.”
He distinctly remembers her first bass, a Ray Roberts 8-pounder.
“It was on a bubblegum-colored fluke — pink as it could be," he said. "She’s still got to fish that fluke almost every time we go to the lake now.”
Madding said she went fishing that first time because she knew Buck loved it.
“I was along for the ride," she said. "At first, I was like, ‘This is kind of boring, actually.’ There’s no instant bite at all. Then you get kind of used to what’s happening. Now it’s just kind of in my blood. … We’ve grown into a pretty good team.”
Madding laughed that she handled sandwiches and the snacks.
“And I’ll do the trolling motor if he has to re-tie (a hook) or something," she said. "I don’t like doing the trolling motor, but I will do it.”
Buck had gotten out of tournament fishing in the ‘90s, but a friend coaxed him out of “retirement” for a Lake Lavon tourney in 2000. They went out and won that tournament — and Buck was back in the game. Later that year, he wanted to enter an open tournament at Lake Tawakoni and his friend couldn’t go. Buck asked Madding to fill in — and they won that tournament.
By then — after her 8-pound first bass and a win in her first tourney — Buck knew he’d found a pretty good partner.
“That’s when we started fishing in the couples associations,” he said.
Their first was Couples Association Sports Tournaments, a Texas circuit organization that offered six regular tourneys and a state championship each year. They competed in CAST for about a decade before switching to Texas Bass Couples four years ago. TBC offers a similar format, with this year’s championship at Toledo Bend in October.
“When we get out to Toledo Bend,” Buck said, “there’ll be eight regions from the state of Texas, all combined for one championship. The top prize will be right around $10,000.”
“The tournaments are hard to win,” Buck said. “There’s a lot of good people that’s been doing this. There’s one couple out of Waco in their 80s. They’re still doing it. They can barely climb in and out of the boat but they still go after it.”
What’s special about fishing with your mate?
“Just being out in the outdoors,” Buck said.
He noted all the wildlife they’ve enjoyed seeing, including an eagle that once dove near their boat, snatched a fish then perched nearby to eat it.
“Some days are very long,” Madding said. “But most of the time it’s rewarding, actually. We get to meet a lot of new friends. Then, of course, when we do catch good fish, it’s a good day and a happy time. When we don’t, he goes into depression, and I just go on, thinking about the next tournament.”
Since that first open tourney win, the pair has won another one and taken numerous seconds and thirds. They’ve also posted multiple Top 6 finishes in this region.
Madding and Buck fish a 21-foot Skeeter boat outfitted with a Yamaha 225-horse motor, a Minnekota trolling motor and top-of-the-line fish-finders. They’ve fished Texas from Sam Rayburn to Amistad to Bob Sandlin in East Texas — their favorite bass lake.
“There’s fish from one end to the next,” Buck said of Bob Sandlin. “Back in the day, I had a 28-pound stringer there one time. That’s been my best tournament-stringer ever.”
Buck added that a favorite spot of his — avoided by most anglers — is the stumpy north end of Lake Palestine. Amistad, near Del Rio, they said, is one of the most beautiful lakes they’ve fished.
“They call it ‘Big Blue’ for a reason,” Buck said. “The water is so clear. We could see down 15 feet. You could be fishing along and see bass swimming under your boat.”
Madding’s favorite lure is a spinner bait.
“I like the moving baits, rather than the worm-type baits,” she said.
“A white spinner bait,” Buck added. “If the wind’s blowing and she can get that spinner bait to bite we’re going to have a good day.”
Her biggest bass since her first one has been a 5-plus pounder. Buck has caught two more than 10 pounds in his life — one at Ray Roberts, one at Richland Chambers.
Does Buck now know where to find bass?
“Well, sometimes,” he said. “Some days I wake up and I don’t have a clue. It always amazes me that as long as I’ve been doing this, that I can do so bad sometimes. It’s just part of it. It’s going to happen. You look at Kevin VanDam, one of the best big-bass tournament fishermen there has ever been. He’s only in the money, like, 40-percent of the time.”
Fish won’t bite if the cows are lying down? Myth, Buck said.
“A fish has got to eat every day," he said. "He can’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘I’m going to go on a diet today.”
How about an east wind?
“It brings in the high pressure,” Buck said. “When the high pressure is in, it makes the fishing tough. … We’ll take a north wind over east any day.”
Do bass often strike out of plain meanness? No, Buck said. They most always strike because they’re hungry. Nesting time — when bass get territorial — makes up just a small window in their lives.
“They want to eat (when they strike)," he said. "They’ve got a brain about that big,” he added, displaying the tip of a little finger.
While summer bass fishing can be slow, Madding suggested another difficult occasion: “When snow is on the boat,” she said, noting a trip to Cedar Creek that included a 4-inch layer of the white stuff on their craft.
Buck and Madding both recommend couples-fishing to others.
“Anybody that will listen, we’ll tell them the story,” Buck said. “We just have a lot of fun.” “It’s really kind of relaxing,” Madding said. “Except, if you’ve got four fish in the boat and you’ve got to get that fifth fish it’s pretty intense. But it’s just fishing.”