Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


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First Catch

There's no feeling like hooking your first fish.

By Dyanne Fry Cortez

I caught my first fish at Lake Buchanan more than 50 years ago. It was a family day at my grandparents’ lake house. I was 5, maybe 6, hanging out by the dock where the men were fishing. My grandpa, known to me as “Papoo,” asked me to hold his rod and reel while he took a short break.

Seconds after he walked away, I felt a tug on the line. Much splashing and thrashing ensued. The rod bucked, but I hung on and pulled in a large, fighting catfish. Papoo, returning from his break, was duly impressed. And only a little jealous.

Nearly every angler recalls a special fish: a first catch, a personal best or a fish that’s memorable for other reasons. Read along as a few Texans tell their favorite fish stories!


Christopher Rivas
young angler, Austin

At age 10, Christopher Rivas already considers himself an accomplished angler. One recent catch was a 22-inch red drum in Corpus Christi, “about a month before Hurricane Harvey came,” he says.

He was 3 when he caught his first fish at Oklahoma’s Lake Lawtonka.

“It was a pretty big catfish, I think about 10 inches,” Christopher says. “I was at the very edge of the dock, using a stink bait. It bit, I started reeling it up, and my fishing pole started to bend. I kept on stepping back and stepping back until my line had a lot of tension. I was afraid it might snap, so I took one step forward. The fish started hitting me when I tried to grab it — but I grabbed it.”

His mom snapped a photo, and they left the fish overnight in a creel tied to the dock. The next day, “what I saw in the cage was a skeleton of a fish,” Christopher says. “I think an alligator gar ate the fish that we were going to eat for dinner!”

Randy Rogers
Captain Randy’s Charters,
South Padre Island

“I remember every fish I’ve ever caught,” says Randy Rogers, who has fished most of his life and run a guide service for 30 years. “I think

I remember every fish my clients have caught.”

His first memory, however, is a bass that got away at Eagle Mountain Lake in North Texas.

“My dad fixed me up with a minnow and handed me an old bait-casting reel. I have kind of an engineering-type mind. I sat there and examined it closely. When the line ran out, the handle turned backwards. So I figured when I got a bite, I needed to turn the handle toward me.

“All of sudden, I had a little 1-pound largemouth bass. My dad started screaming ‘Reel it in, reel it in!’ I’m cranking with all my might, but I was turning it the wrong way.”

The fish got loose, and Dad made no secret of his displeasure.

“It was not really a rewarding experience,” Rogers says. Fortunately, his grandfather had more patience.

“He didn’t sweat it, just helped me figure it out. He really taught me how to enjoy fishing and the outdoors — take what you need and leave the rest.”


Mike Willey
performing musician, Hurst

Mike Willey, who grew up in Mauriceville, near the Texas-Louisiana state line, says he can’t recall the first fish he ever caught, but he does remember the first one he caught with his own gear.

“It must have been 1957 or ’58, when I was about 5 years old,” he says. “We fished with cane poles, with a cotton string off the end. This would be like a 200-pound test line. You could winch a bulldozer up out of the water with it.

“My grandfather went to chop some bamboo for fishing poles. He handed me a machete and said, ‘Go pick out the one you want.’ It took me a long time to make my decision. I chopped it down, and he showed me how to clean it up. This was in the fall. We took those poles, and Grandpa put them up in the rafters of the smokehouse. I knew which one was mine, because he had scratched my initials in the base with his pocketknife.”

The following spring, when rice farmers were flooding their fields, the Willeys fished the irrigation canals. Living in Southeast Texas, Mike was used to slow-moving streams. This water was different.

“There was one spot where a couple of canals came together; it was called Eight-Gate Check. If two or three gates were open, it would cause sort of a waterfall. Because the feeder canal came directly from the Sabine River, they were full of fish, and the moving water was highly oxygenated. It was a prime fishing spot.

“I got baited up and put my line down in that foamy, silvery water. It wasn’t long before I got a bite. It bent that cane pole down. My grandfather or uncle, I can’t remember which, helped me pull it in. It was a gaspergou — weighed 3 or 4 pounds, and as long as my leg. I’ll never forget it.”

Karen and Barry Osborn
Elite Anglers, Granbury

Married since 1979, Karen and Barry Osborn are active participants in TPWD’s Angler Recognition Program. As of last fall, Barry held state records for more than 30 species of fish. Karen was the only woman to hold Elite Angler certificates for both freshwater and saltwater catches. (Elite Angler status is achieved by catching trophy-sized fish of five different species.)

Karen grew up in Arizona, and has vivid memories of her first catch.

“I was about 7 when my parents put me on an airplane and let me go stay with my grandparents for a month,” she recalls. “They took me to a lake; I think it might’ve been Possum Kingdom. My grandfather gave me a cane pole, and I caught an appaloosa catfish [a local name for the flathead catfish, Pylodictis olivaris]. I was so excited, and they were so happy and proud of me! Every time I went to visit them, I wanted to go fish.”

Barry doesn’t remember his first catch, but does recall his first fly-fishing success at age 10.

“My grandfather fished with a fly rod. We used to fish all the little ponds around Binger, Oklahoma. There were some huge bluegill in there, half a pound to a pound, about 8 to 10 inches long,” he says.

Grandpa handed over his fishing rod, and Barry landed one of those fat fish.

“He was very excited because I caught a first fish with a fly rod,” Barry says. At the end of the day, grandfather and grandson went home with two dozen bluegill. “He really bragged about how I had put dinner on the table.”


Kyle Brookshear
Toyota ShareLunker Coordinator and tournament angler, Athens

“Competitive anglers say that when you’re fishing in contests, you experience the highest highs and the lowest lows. I had that experience with my very first bass,” Kyle Brookshear recalls. He was 5 years old, growing up in Lavaca, Arkansas.

“My dad rigged up my fishing pole with a black-and-blue jig, and I walked to this farm pond,” Brookshear says. “Within 10 minutes, I caught this giant fish. I had never seen one like it before. I put my pole down and ran all the way back to the house with the fish in my hand. Mom and Dad were real excited. They told me it was a bass, then they said, ‘But you have to keep it in water, so it won’t die.’ I went from being all excited to crying because I thought I had killed the fish.

We put it in a bucket, and I ran back to the pond. It was probably about 3 pounds, but in my eyes, it was a 10-pounder. I let it go, and it swam off to be caught another time.”

Caroline-Sera McGill
young angler, San Antonio

Caroline-Sera McGill caught her first fish last fall at Flat Rock Lake in her mother’s hometown of Kerrville. She was 9, and it was her second fishing trip. Dick Luebke, former director of TPWD’s Heart of the Hills Fisheries Science Center and an old pal of her grandpa’s, helped her bait the line with cut worms and coached her to set the hook when she got a bite. After working at it for almost an hour, Caroline-Sera landed a longear sunfish. She held it up for a photo and threw it back into the lake.

“It was very hard at first, but still really fun,” she says. “At the end, I was just so happy I caught my first fish. I thought maybe I would want to go fishing some more.”

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