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BOB MAINDELLE: Positive news for Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes | Outdoor Sports

BOB MAINDELLE: Positive news for Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes | Outdoor Sports

Take your pick: record fuel prices, rising inflation, the war in Ukraine, Supreme Court staff shenanigans, political division, etc. — there seems to be no end to negative news. Need a little positivity in your life?

Look no further than our two local reservoirs for some good news.


Let us begin at Stillhouse Hollow Lake. Stillhouse, when full, covers approximately 6,429 acres, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Of all of the reservoirs in the Texas Hill Country, Stillhouse stands alone in the abundance of hydrilla growth found there. Although hydrilla is an invasive species, it does provide useful vegetative habitat for cover-loving species like sunfish and largemouth bass.

We have experienced relatively stable water levels for several years now. No flooding or drought — the two things which can typically wipe out a reservoir’s hydrilla crop quite quickly — has taken place over that time span. This has allowed the hydrilla to spread to its greatest extent ever in the reservoir’s 54-year history.

There is no doubt that at its current density the hydrilla growth has correlated with positive largemouth bass growth.

Perhaps no one understands that better than local angler Joshua Gibbons. On Tuesday evening, while fishing with his friend Trey Goodnight, Gibbons caught and released a largemouth bass that weighed 10.1 pounds and measured 27.875 inches.

Gibbons is the owner of Killeen-based Tree Care Experts, and Goodnight works as a job superintendent for Weldon Goodnight Construction and is also a part-time fishing guide. In his role as fishing guide, Goodnight typically focuses on catching crappie from several Central Texas reservoirs.

Gibbons and Goodnight began their efforts around 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

The men were fishing along a vertical stand of hydrilla in about 20 feet of water from Goodnight’s Sling-n-Slabs Guide Service boat, a 21-foot Seapro equipped with a 125-horsepower Mercury outboard and 112-pound thrust Minn Kota Ultrex trolling motor. A Garmin 126SV sonar unit equipped with LiveScope was used to view the underwater world.

The pair was using quarter-ounce Southern Slab red and white hand-tied crappie jigs presented with 8-foot-long Bonehead crappie rods and Diawa Kage reels loaded with 8-pound test Berkley Vanish fishing line.

The jigs were cast out and allowed to fall slowly near the hydrilla. After catching several white bass, Gibbon’s trophy struck his jig around 11 p.m. In the interest of conservation, the fish was quickly measured and released.

This outsized specimen of Gibbons’ was not the only quality fish to come out of Stillhouse Hollow of late.

Every Tuesday evening from March through September, the 3X9 Series conducts a three-hour long evening tournament on this body of water, each drawing approximately 60 two-angler teams.

Currently, eight tournaments into the 2022 season, participants have brought to the scales no fewer than 13 largemouth bass exceeding 8 pounds.

Of these fish, four exceeded 9 pounds, and one, landed by the team of Kacy Henderson and Ervin Woodard, weighed 10.25 pounds.

Things are certainly looking up for the quality and quantity of largemouth bass on Stillhouse Hollow.

That is good news.


Let us now shift our focus a few miles further north to Belton Lake. The lake, according to TPWD, sprawls over 12,385 acres at full pool.

Due to poor recruitment in the 2015 and 2016 hybrid striped bass stocking efforts, and a lack of stocking in 2019, the hybrid fishery has been in a slump.

TPWD redoubled its efforts to improve the quality of Belton’s hybrid fishery. They granted permission to a local organization of volunteers called Belton Anglers Stocking Hybrids (BASH) to purchase and stock hybrid striped bass whenever their own efforts might fall short of their own stocking goals.

On March 31, TPWD stocked 1.2 million Sunshine-strain hybrid striped bass which the organization raised internally at its own hatcheries.

On Thursday, thanks to a surplus of Sunshine-strain hybrid being produced at TPWD hatcheries, Belton got a second stocking of approximately one million fry for a grand total of 2.2 million fry stocked in 2022.

According to John Tibbs, the TPWD’s Waco District’s Inland Fisheries Supervisor, “Hatcheries knocked it out of the park this year with some improved processes and plentiful female white bass and male striped bass broodfish. The best production in several years and I believe a harbinger of good things to come.”

Hybrid striped bass take about three years to reach the legal length of 18 inches, at which time they will typically weigh around three pounds at Belton Lake.

There is evidence that the fish stocked in 2020 and in 2021 are present and growing, and this year’s stocking certainly bodes well for the 2025 season.

That is good news.