LAKE AUSTIN — Alan Bell nudges his bass boat off the main lake and into the narrow creek, choosing a path that will carry us under a concrete bridge that spans the 60 feet of air between the banks.
The sun has climbed above the limestone cliffs to the south side of the channel, the trail of the now submerged and tamed Colorado River. But trees along the intersecting creek form a tunnel that blocks most of the light from above, and we glide soundlessly into the semi darkness.
I can see where the shallow sand along the shoreline rolls over into deeper water and on down to the middle of the creek. That’s where we just caught a 5-pound bass — right at the junction of clear and dark — and that’s where the next one should be waiting.
I swing the lure through a big, sidearm arc, aiming to drop it well up under the bridge, then draw it back along that edge of the drop-off.
But casting the giant plug lures that Bell uses on Lake Austin is kind of an inexact science. Instead of landing cleanly on target, the rainbow trout imitation slams the underpinning of the bridge and drops with a sickening splat far short of target.
I cringe at the thought of having just ruined a one-pound, $200 Deps Slide Swimmer bass lure that can’t be replaced except from the Bell’s private arsenal.
“It’s okay,” he says. “These lures are pretty tough.” But I notice that he is steering the boat back out into the main lake, keeping me clear of any future bridge collisions.
Just beyond the mouth of the creek in a spot fished just minutes ago by another boat, Bell lobs his own big trout toward the shore and immediately sets the hook. “That fish hit it as soon as it hit the water,” he says, the strain of holding the big bass showing in his voice. “You better get the net. This is a good fish.”
And it was. Ten pounds on Bell’s scales. By the end of the morning, we will weigh one more 5-pounder, bringing our three-fish total to 20 pounds.
Bell’s scales have been getting a workout on this lake. Just the week before he toted up his five largest fish at 45-pounds. A day later Bell would weigh a monster 12.44-pounder.
If you’re hoping I’ll identify the secret spot that Bell uses to do this, forget about it. There are no secret holes. Instead what Bell does is avoid the boat traffic, crowds of other anglers and annoying small fish.
The secret, such as it is, is in the lure. Bell uses a big, heavy and expensive lure that requires 8 1/2 foot rods, heavy Calcutta reels and 25-pound line.
“I decided several years ago that I just wanted to fish for big bass,” says the architect/angler who lives just a mile or so from the lake. He drags those lures across the main lake points, selected creeks and certain spawning flats trying to snag one of the mega-largemouths that live in Lake Austin. During that time, he’s seen his personal best bass rise to nearly 13 pounds and he’s accumulated an impressive list of just big, old fish to take pictures of.
“I keep a chart of all the bass I’ve caught that weighed seven pounds and over in this lake,” Bell says. That chart now numbers more than 60 fish, an amazing tally for an angler fishing one of the state’s busiest bodies of water. Summer time fishing, in fact, gets pushed almost totally to after dark.
“I like the glide baits, these big ones, for fishing on the points,” Bell says. He prefers rainbow trout colors, though there aren’t any trout in Lake Austin. The bass don’t seem to mind.
The lure features an articulated body that causes it to assume an exaggerated left-right-left gliding motion when the reel handle is turned. Small bass occasionally hit it but big bass prefer it, especially in spring when the water remains fairly cold and the giants would rather eat a 12-inch fake trout than a 4-inch real bluegill.