Austin American Statesman Outdoor Article April 12, 2012 By Mike Leggett
GRANITE SHOALS — Philip Sanders lifts his rod tip slowly, trying to pull the small barrel weight up through a nest of submerged tree limbs without snagging his smallish crappie hook.
"I think I'm hung on the brush," says the former high school tennis coach. "Now I'm not sure. I think this could be a fish, but if it's a fish, it can't be a crappie. That has to be a catfish."
The green monofilament loaded on the small spinning outfit has begun to move off the point and out toward deeper water.
A shape like a sea monster rolls up out of the depths and flashes a bit of mottled green siding before quickly pulling out line against the drag.
Just like that, this morning outing morphs from crappie venture to catfish struggle. Sanders keeps pressure on the fish as much as he can, but 10-pound test line and a 2/0 gold Aberdeen hook can take only so much.
The catfish is in charge, and only he knows what will happen next.
Sanders brings the long-bodied creature past the side of the boat a couple of times. It's about 15 pounds. Too much. The light line snaps, giving the catfish its freedom in the depths of Lake LBJ.
Nephews Cole Irby of Buda and Chance Snyder of Oak Hill are quick to offer that special kind of angler's support. "Nice going coach," says Irby, with no small amount of sarcasm. "Way to catch that fish."
Sanders has to take it. He is the one who hung the fish, the one who lost it and the one who hadn't brought a net that might have saved the catfish from being lost.
Nothing to do but grab another minnow, rig another rod and get bait back in the waters of Lake LBJ.
Somewhere in all the big bass hubbub of the past 25 years, Lake Lyndon B. Johnson kind of got lost, at least to anglers who thought they had to drive 250 miles somewhere north or south to get to good fishing.
But the 6,300-acre lake fed by the Llano and Colorado rivers always has been a quality fishing hole, especially to anglers who know how to fish around and under the many boat docks and piers. Just over two years ago, LBJ produced its first ever ShareLunker entry — a 13.7-pound bass caught by Horseshoe Bay angler Lloyd Ward.
Still, it might not be the largemouth bass that are the best chance for anglers who want a quality fishing experience without the speeding crowds that can sometimes plague other spots on the Highland Lakes chain.
Over the past few years, Lake LBJ has quietly established itself as a Central Texas destination for crappie, maybe not quite in a league with Granger Lake northeast of Taylor but still quite good.
That's why I couldn't resist when Sanders invited me over for a day of fishing out of his home at Granite Shoals. Over the years, Sanders has placed old Christmas trees and other brush in hidden spots around the lake. That cover attracts baitfish, which attract crappie, which attract anglers.
"I've been doing this on my own for 25 years, and I just decided I'd like to do something I enjoy," he says. "I coached for 10 years, and there's a teaching aspect to this that I like."
Sanders uses the small hooks rigged in a drop-shot bass fishing manner, with the hook and bait dangling above the weight at the bottom. That allows him to drop the weight back down through brush and usually keeps the hooks from permanently snagging on brush and keeps the anglers fishing more of the time. "The most difficult part is teaching someone who doesn't know how to fish a Texas-rig worm and keep them from getting hung up," Sanders says.
His technique is perfect for beginners and youngsters, who can drop the minnow rigs straight down through the brush to the fish. "You have to be in contact with the brush to catch crappie," Sanders says. "If you aren't feeling brush, you aren't going to catch fish."
The four of us use six dozen minnows in about four hours and put more than 40 fish in the boat.
Although about half of those were just under the 10-inch minimum size limit and had to be released, that's still a nice morning of fishing. "That's about a normal day on LBJ," Sander says, "but the size is usually better than that. That's just fishing. I like the challenge of finding those fish."