IF YOU LIKE big fish stories, you’ll love the one told by Jim Crockett of Brock.
Crockett is a 63-year-old pipeline worker who likes to do a little bass fishing on the side. He was off work on a lazy afternoon last October when he grabbed his rod and reel and headed to his happy place along the shores of Houston County Lake.
“I’ve been here for about two to three months,” said Crockett. “I like to take my lawn chair down by the water in the afternoon and fish after work. It’s a good way to get away from things. It’s what we do to relax.”
Crockett said he and a co-worker, Jesse Mathis, also from Brock, had been fishing from the bank on a small point for about two hours without catching much. It was just beginning to get dusky dark when Crockett’s luck changed in a big way.
“There’s a creek channel out there that winds right up next to an old boat dock,” he said. “The shad show up there just about every afternoon. You’ll see an occasional swirl when the bass start to feed. Sometimes they jump clear out of the water. It’s a pretty good spot.”
Crockett lofted a one-ounce perch pattern Rat-L-Trap into about 15 feet of water and began a slow, methodical retrieve. The angler said his lure was about 10 yards from the bank when he got the bite he was waiting for.
“I knew right away it was big,” he said. “The fish was really strong. I was using 20-pound test line, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to hold or not. It pulled a lot of drag.”
As every good fishing partner should, Mathis had Crockett’s back. Once the big bass was played down, Mathis waded into the water and helped wrestle it to shore. What the two men discovered was a largemouth bass bigger than most fishermen have ever seen.
“I caught a 13.2 pounder out of a stock tank near Weatherford several years ago,” Crockett recalled. “I could tell by looking this one was bigger,” Crockett said.
The lakeside marina—Crockett Family Resort—had already closed for the day, so there was no place to weigh the fish on scales that had been verified for accuracy. Crockett did the responsible thing. He didn’t want to risk killing the fish by holding it overnight, so he weighed it on a digital scale, took a picture and released the bass back into the lake.
The angler said the hand-held scale read 14.1 pounds.
“It was a beautiful fish, really thick and healthy,” he said. “I made a point not to keep her out of the water very long. She took off once I released her. Hopefully, somebody else will catch her again one day.”
The big bass is more than just a new personal best for the casual angler. If the scale used to weigh the bass is remotely accurate, Crockett’s fish may be biggest bass caught from Houston County in nearly 30 years.
According to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department water body records, the lake record largemouth for Houston County Lake is a 15.20 pounder caught in February 1988 by Terry Walling of Tennessee Colony. Only two other Houston County bass topping 13 pounds have been reported since, a 14 pounder and a 13.25 pounder. Both fish were caught during the spring of 1990 and turned over to TPWD’s Toyota ShareLunker program.
Although Houston County has been off the ShareLunker radar in recent years, it is no stranger to Texas’s big bass circles. There was a time when the lake 10 miles northwest of Crockett was regarded as one of the “best little big bass lakes” in Texas.
Throughout the 1980s, Houston County cranked out six- to nine-pound bass almost like a gumball machine. Much of the lake’s early success can be attributed to Florida bass, a strain known for growing faster and significantly larger than native northern largemouths. Houston County was among the first reservoirs in the state to be stocked with Floridas in the early-to-mid 1970s.
Sadly, however, the lake’s heyday occurred before catch and release became widely accepted. Many of the big fish that were caught from the lake during its prime were either filleted or killed for mounting by the anglers who reeled them in.
John Hope of Brackettville guided on Houston County for about eight years from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s. He says he lost count of the number of fish over seven pounds that he put in the boat. His personal best was a 12.8 pounder, but he guided clients to bigger ones.
Hope was widely known for conducting a tracking study on big bass using electronic transmitters to monitor movements of the fish. The study originated on Houston County before he expanded it to other lakes.
“The number of big fish that were caught out of that lake back in the 1980s was unreal,” Hope recalled. “It was almost like somebody was stocking nine- to ten-pounders in there. Trucks and trailers used to line up and down the road and people came there from all over the world.
Some of the big bass were released but a bunch of them weren’t. The fishing pressure eventually took its toll. It’s only 1,300 acres. A lake that size can only take so much.”
Catherine Markham’s family has owned the lakeside marina on Houston County for 38 years. Markham says she was pleased to hear about Crockett’s 14 pounder, but says it didn’t come as a total surprise.
“I think there’s a 20 pounder out there somewhere,” she said. “We still hear about or see quite a few eight- to ten- pounders, but there are a bunch we don’t hear about, either. A lot of anglers around here are pretty tight lipped about the big fish they catch these days.”
Email Matt Williams at [email protected]