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Friday, February 21, 2020

Fishing for buffs (buffalo) in Texas

As the twelve month mourning period for my dad zl came to an end a few weeks ago, I had been planning a fishing trip. My original plans to ice fish for big lake trout in either Vermont or New York state were scrapped, as I chose to head down to Dallas for a "do it yourself" trip to fish for buffalo and carp.

Buffalo encompass both smallmouth and bigmouth buffalo, and are locally known as buffs or buffalo carp. The majority of buffs caught here using carp fishing tactics are smallmouth buffalo. Avid carpers from around the globe come to various regions of Texas to fish for buffs that can grow to nearly 100 lbs.

As I have family in Dallas, and had some airline points saved up, coming to Texas in February was a no brainer. My expenses being limited to a car rental, gas, and a fishing license, I took 8 days to give myself enough chance to hopefully land my first buff, one of the last 2 remaining species on my freshwater bucket list (the other being white sturgeon).

Before heading down to Dallas, I put out some feelers for local knowledge. With the help of the Texas fishing forum, I got in touch with a couple people. Finley was very helpful in giving me the lowdown on the few reservoirs and ponds I had planned to fish for buffalo, using carp fishing tactics.

Bob, who I've affectionately coined as "Buffalo Bob", was also kind enough to invite me to fish with him on Lake Ray Hubbard. As it was the prime spot on Finley's list for a good shot at a 20+ lbs buff, I took Bob up on the offer as well.

Bob had forewarned me that he was very new to buff and carp fishing, and that his spot was fished unconventionally to say the least. Bob's spot is actually on the back of his old sailboat, anchored up in a marina on Lake Ray Hubbard. The marina is private access only, and the old sailboat is more of a man cave now.

While Bob figured I may be apprehensive to fish for buffs and carp there, I was more than happy to fish vertically, as I have done so quite often back home, fishing of piers, jetties, steep banks, and docks.

Bob and I figured out a baiting plan for his slip at the marina, which consisted of a mix of boiled deer corn and range cubes.

I landed in Dallas, Thursday before noon. After stopping off at my in laws place in Dallas drop my luggage and rig up some rods, I headed out to meet Bob at his boat early in the afternoon. A short 25 minute drive later, I was in Rowlett, Texas, ready to fish Lake Ray Hubbard for the first time. Bob came of of the gated marina to meet me.

After short introductions, I headed off to check out his setup before bringing out my rods. Bob fishes vertically, straight down off the back of his retired sailboat, in about 25 feet of water. With all the rigging, short rods are in order, especially when trying to land big buffs and carp when fishing alone. Baited with a mix of corn, skittles, and sweet pack bait, Bob started getting nibbles right away. He explained that buff don't run like carp when hooked, something that I had not known. He'd just try to hook them when he figured the time was right, unless they somehow hooked themselves, which can happen once in a while.

After a good 15-20 minutes of Bob missing a good number of hits, I decided to head back to the car to rig up a rod with a more traditional carp setup. With my luck, I got back to the boat to find Bob battling a big buff, which I helped him land. I was a bit upset that I had left, as that could have been my catch, and would have knocked off the target species within the first hour of my outing.

I got set up, and ended up landing a couple small carp before calling it a day at sundown.

We agreed to meet up at sunrise the following morning.

Friday, February 14 2020.

Blistering cold front for Dallas, with temps just below the freezing point to start the day. Nice and sunny though, as a warm front was moving in later on. Sometimes, I wonder how palm trees can survive in that sort of cold weather...

Luckily, Bob's slip at the marina has power, so in addition to the layers I was wearing, I happily accepted to wrap my legs up in a heated blanket until the temperature warmed up.

Fishing was quite successful for carp, I managed to land 6 of 7 carp in addition to a small channel catfish. I kept switching bait between each carp in hopes of hooking my first buff, but no such luck. Was still happy to be carping in February, and fighting fish in open water. Headed home early in time for Shabbat. Though my original Sunday plans were to meet up with Finley and a large group of 25 people out on a public carp "fish in" on Grapevine lake, I decided to fish with Bob back at his slip early Sunday morning.

Sunday, February 16 2020.

Bob and I met up bright and early again. With forecast calling for afternoon temps of 23 C, I was pumped both to have another shot at catching some nice buffs, as well as being able to fish in T shirt weather.

The day started off with me catching a decent carp for Lake Ray Hubbard standards.

Followed by a few more, including what may have been a ghost carp, which is basically a different color patterned carp. Regrettably, I didn't take a picture of it. Again, I kept tinkering with new baits between each carp I caught, hoping to get that elusive first buff.

Around noon, I baited my line with a popup coconut flavored boily. I hooked up not long after. During the fight, I saw a silvery flash under the surface, so I knew it wasn't a carp or channel cat. To my dismay, I wasn't a buff either, turned out to be a blue catfish. Sort of cool to get one on a boily, but having caught giant blue catfish up to nearly 60 lbs in the past, I wasn't that thrilled.

Having gone through my arsenal of a good dozen bait combinations, I decided to tinker further out of the norm. Snacking on trail mix for lunch, I decided to rig 2 peanuts and 2 pumpkin seeds, to what I'll call the Paparico1. Named after my dad's nut company which is now run by my younger brother, and the source of most of the nuts and seeds I consume, I thought it would be fitting.

After over an hour of no hit's on the Paparico2 combo, I decided to switch baits again. As I lifted my rod, I realized I had a fish on. After a nice fight, I landed my first ever buff!

The smallmouth buffalo weighed in at 24 lbs, though I initially thought it was much bigger. They have much bigger girths than common carp, but are relatively short for fish that think. Regardless, I was more than thrilled with the fish, and even had a case of the shakes for a good 30 seconds or so.

After celebratory shots of Don Julio, we got back to fishing. The carp bite died down, and I kept tinkering with my bait. Finally hooked and landed another buff on one of my popup sweet dream boilies.

Much darker than my first buff, but significantly smaller at 13 lbs. Turned out to be my smallest of the trip.

Between the successful buffalo fishing, and good times with Bob, I decided to scrap plans of trying other spots, choosing instead to fish Bob's slip whenever he could. Luckily for me, Bob is retired, and lives nearby. Being a die hard fisherman, and super nice guy, Bob agreed. As we had done the previous week, we pre baited the spot at the end of every outing, ensuring that we' have fish waiting for us the following day.

Monday, February 17 2020.

President's day in the USA, warmest weather forecast of the trip at 28 C. Thought we'd be scorching, but high winds blowing over water with a temperature of 10 C felt quite breezy, and I was fine in a sweatshirt most of the day.

Bob started the day with a nice 24 lb buff.

He hooked a carp shortly after, and while he was fighting it, his second rod got hit. I grabbed it, and hooked into this 18 lbs buff, that looked quite beat up.

I followed up by catching 3 small carp and another channel catfish, while Bob closed the day with another big 22.5 lbs buff.

Tuesday, February 18 2020.

Another cold front with some slight drizzle, Bob and I decided to fish from the inside of the boats cabin. With and electric heater plugged in, we managed to stay dry and toasty all day. I started the day with a big 26 lbs buff, my biggest of the trip up to that point. Baited on one of my spicy Fireball boilies, I did away with the notion that buffalo only like sweet baits, which is a common misconception down here.

I also decided to get measurements, the smallmouth buffalo was 32 inches long with a 30 inch girth. To put that into perspective, my biggest ever carp that weighed 38.5 lbs, measured 41" L x 26" W. Which make these big buffs look utterly obese.

After Bob and I got into a bunch of small carp and cats during a midday feeding frenzy, the bite died down again. Late in the outing, another run on my Fireball boilie. The fish ran into a submerged tree, likely sunken by a crappie angler to attract fish at some point in time. Resisting the urge to horse the fish, I set my reel back into baitrunner mode, put down the rod, and proceeded to tie some more PVA stringers. After a few minutes, I picked up the rod, and was luckily the fish had made it's way out of the snag.

Another nice buff surfaced with my line, but my slip sinker was tangled in a branch about 15 feet up the line. I cringed at the idea of having to handline a fish that size on braided line, but luckily, I was able to snap off the branch, untangle the sinker, and still keep the buff on the line. This big buffalo  weighed 25 lbs, only 1 lb under the previous buff. Identical in length at 32 inches, but about 1.5 inches less girth.

Great way to cap off another fun day and finish what was left of the Don Julio.

Wednesday, February 19 2020.

Temperature dropped to about 6 degrees C, cloud cover intermittent drizzle. Still warm and toasty inside the heated cabin, sort of felt like I was out ice fishing from the comfort of a warm hut. I couldn't manage to get any bites, while bob landed 4 or 5 carp, and a small catfish. One of Bob's carp turned out to be a ghost carp, quite rate for that lake.

At this point, having tried most of my baits, I decided to try my new Paparico2 bait combo. Basically the Paparico1, but added a dry roasted almond.

The move paid off almost instantly, I had another nice buff one within 10 minutes. At 19 lbs and my only fish of the day, I was super thrilled with the outcome of tinkering with new bait, which ended up saving the day for me.

Thursday, February 20 2020.

Last day of my trip to Dallas, figured I'd put in 6 hours of fishing before packing up and heading home. High wind made for a very cold morning, but bite was immediate. First 2 carp I hooked ran straight into submerged trees, as I took a few extra seconds to get to the rods from the heated cabins. Both hit boilies. At this point, I added a peanut to the boilie, and sire enough, another nice 20 lbs buff picked it up.

Noticed a cool swirl pattern on it's other side just before releasing it.

Followed by a small carp.

At this point, I rigged up another Paparico mix, this time peanut and cashew. Well call it Paparico3.

19 lbs buff responded.

Rigged up 2 peanuts (Paparico4)  and another big buff, this one at 24 lbs.

Missed another hit just before packing up to leave shortly before 2 PM.

Ironically, I had finally figured out the buff bite on the last few hours of the trip. Basically, every time I used peanuts in my combo without boilies, all I caught were buffs. If I added boilies, the carp would get them as well.

In retrospect, had I stuck with only peanut after hooking up my first buff that way on Sunday, I may have been able to land a few more and avoid smaller carp. Of course, that's all speculation. Furthermore, I would not have had all the fun tinkering with the varieties of bait I brought along.

Overall, I was extremely satisfied with the outcome of my trip for a variety of reasons.

1) I was able to fish all day, every single day (except Saturday), thank largely to Bob's invite, and his heated cabin on board.

2) I was able to figure out and catch buffalo on my own, without hiring a guide, or even using someone else gear / tactics.

3) I was able to differentiate between the way carp and buffs feed, take baits, and fight. Not to mentioned landing them from a vertical platform, in a tight / confined area with a few submerged trees. Also think I figured out how to target them when they were mixed in with good numbers of hungry carp.

In a nutshell, one of the more satisfying fishing trips I've taken. I left feeling accomplished at having prevailed, knocking off one of the two remaining freshwater fish species from my bucket list. I smashed my initial goal of landing at least one buff in the 20 lbs range, as 7 of the 8 buffalo I caught were in the range, with 4 of them significantly larger. I can only imagine how good the fishing can be if someone were to replicate Bob's setup on a reservoir known to have giant 60+ lbs buffalo, Lake Fork would be a good example.

At this point, mandatory thanks are in order:

1) Thank God for giving me the opportunity, health, means, and knowledge to fulfill yet another amazing fishing adventure.

2) Thank you to my wonderful wife for holding down the fort back home, while I was off chasing these fat females.

3) Thank you to my kind in laws Martin and Tessa for having me over. The dinners were lovely, and Tessa spoiled me by getting up before sunrise every day to brew me a mug of her special coffee to get my day started.

4) Thank you Finley for all your tips on buff fishing around Dallas. Though we didn't get to meet up this time around, we'll have to shoot for next time I visit Dallas.

5) And last but certainly not least, thank you to my new friend, "Buffalo" Bob, for having invited me out to fish your unique, unconventional, yet very convenient setup. From the good laughs, to brainstorming strategies, to deep philosophical conversations, to epic moments of fishing bliss fueled by good drink, you have earned my gratitude and respect both as a fisherman, and all around great guy. Hope we can do it again someday.

1 comment:

Buffalo Bob said...

Nice write-up, Phil...and watch your head!