The real beauty of East Texas’ Lake Tawakoni lies in its close proximity to the Dallas Metroplex and Kaufman County. Lake Tawakoni is a 37,879 acre reservoir located approximately one hundred miles from Dallas, Texas. The reservoir was impounded in 1960 by the Army Corps of Engineers and serves as a major water source for the city of Dallas and surrounding areas. With a shoreline of over 200 miles (stretching through Rains, Van Zandt, and Hunt counties), the lake has become a recreational wonderland offering excellent fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, and mountain biking. Being an avid fisherman, I had fished Tawakoni many times, and on this particular trip I would experience a rather unconventional fish fry.
The land the lake sits on was once occupied by “prehistoric Indians,” and the home to many historic Native American Indian tribes for whom the lake is named after. In the 1800’s the land was settled by farmers and ranchers. Construction on the lake began in the early 1960’s, and was filled by the Sabine River. The plan was to develop the area in a balanced synergy between maintaining the natural beauty of the land, with the recreational demands of the populace.
Beneath the lake are scattered areas of timber that provide excellent cover for the striper and hybrid striper populations. An area of abundant timber called the “Woods” by the local fishing guides is an underwater jungle for monster striped bass. This fishing hot-spot is located directly out of the Holiday Marina on the far eastern edge of the lake. Navigating this part of the lake can be quite treacherous; not because of the protruding timber, but because of the underlying tree tops just beneath the water. Striking one of these trees with your motor can send you flying out of the boat or puncture your hull. Often fisherman can find seagulls in search of busting shad breaking the water in the “Woods.” This activity signals schooling striper and hybrid striper beneath the surface.
I had arranged a fishing trip with my brother Tom and a local guide by the name of Cajun Joe. Joe was well known as one of the top striper guides and tequila drinkers in the Tawakoni area. When we met him at the Holiday Marina at six in the morning, the man reeked of the Mexican sauce. “Good morning fellas,” Joe said, “Ares ya ready to go slaughter some stripas?”
“You bet,” my brother said.
We hopped into his boat and headed immediately towards the “Woods” through the morning mist. “Now once wees get out there, wees goin’ to incorporate a fishin’ technique that I invented called ‘smokey and burn-em’,” Joe said, “This proceedja will involve a certain amount of skill, so listen here carefully. When we find da fish, I will anchor down and we will start da fishin.’ Do not cast your slab in da ‘Woods’, because if you do, you get hung up every time and me want to fish─not babysit. Simply drop da slab directly under the boat and apply the “smokey and burn-em” method. Let the slab hit the bottom, reel up very quickly five to ten feet, repeat, and catch da fish. When you hook onto one, reel like the dickens, because if you can’t turn da fish they goin’ to wrap you up around the timba. I can personally tell you there some monsters down below because I hold most of da lake records.”
At this point I began to get the impression that Cajun Joe was a blow-hard and a drunk, but I was willing to see if he could deliver the goods. Joe pulled out a pint of Jose Cuervo, took a swig, and put us on notice, “We almost there.” He slowed the boat to a standstill and cut the engine. Sitting motionless we examined the glass-like surface of the water. A sudden explosion of busting shad woke us from our trance. “Thar she blows,” he shouted, “Drop ya lines.” We released the spindle on the reel, letting the two ounce slabs hit bottom and began to exercise the “smokey and burn-em” technique. Once my slab hit the substructure, I reeled up it about five feet and then let flutter back down. “Pow,” a sudden jerk nearly knocked the rod out of my hand. I tried to turn the fish but he was too strong and within seconds he had me wrapped up. “Cut the line,” Joe shouted, “and git another lure down there; don’t waste time.” By the time I tied on another slab, both my brother and Joe were doing battle with some monster stripers. “Git the net,” my brother yelled at me as he yanked the fish towards the surface. I reached down and netted what appeared to be an eight pound football-shaped hybrid striper. The action was fast and furious as we had one strike after another and began throwing the stripers in the boat like commercial tuna fishermen. I had lost all track of time but when I finally had a break to look up, I saw some rather ominous looking clouds approaching. “Hey Joe, looks like we have some weather coming this way.”
“Don’t ya worry; it’s a front, and when da front comes approachin’, da fish go a smokin’.”
If Joe wasn’t going to worry about it, neither was I. I put my line back in the water and hooked onto another nice striper. By the time I got him to the top and my brother netted him, I heard the distant rumble of thunder. The sky had quickly turned a darkish green color and the storm was moving right at us at a rapid pace. “Yo Joe, you think we ought to make a run for it,” I asked.
“Not to worry; I done bin doin’ this a millin’ times.”
The fish were still going bananas when a lighting bolt struck the surface of the lake. “I think it’s time to wrap it up,” Joe said.
Joe pulled up anchor and started the engine. He was slowly maneuvering his way out of the “Woods” with his graphite fishing rod sticking straight up between his legs, when a strange electrostatic force field came over the boat. I looked at Joe and the hair on his head was standing straight up. Both his hands appeared to be frozen to the steering wheel and his head was locked in a vice-like hold. I smelled something burning. “Do you smell something,” I asked Tom.
“Sure do; smells like that place where they use to burn dead animals when we were kids.”
“Hey Joe, you all right?” I asked.
Joe’s body suddenly went limp and he fell to the floorboard of the boat.
“Jeez Tom, either Joe is drunk or he just had his last fish fry.”
I tried to pull Joe up, but I didn’t get any response. Joe’s hair was now smoldering.
“Do you think he is dead,” my brother asked.
“If he’s not, he sure has a nice drunk goin.’ “
I rolled Joe over and examined his pale face. “I think he’s cooked,” I told my brother. “Poor Joe; he’ll never have another bowl of gumbo again.” Taking a closer look at his pale face, his eyes abruptly shot open, sending me reeling backwards over the tackle box, and flat on my back.
“Ohooooooo-Eeeeeeee!” squealed Joe, “Dat dry lightnin’ sent me to the big striper in the sky for moment. I saw da white light and I felt real good, like I does when I drink da tequila, and then I heard the voice.”
“What voice, Joe. What did it say?” I asked.
“It said that I be seeing you soon; but not yet─Go back and catch more fish.”
“You said something about dry lighting. What is that?”
“Dat when you see no lightin’, but get a struckin’ anyway. Musta hit my graphite fishin’ pole─me cajones are a hurtin’.”
“Well that was a close call: you had better thank the Lord that you are alive─lets go before we get hit by a tsunami or something.”
Joe took a mighty swig of tequila and started the boat. We puttered back to the Holiday Marina, cleaned the fish, and said our goodbyes. “Joe, that was a great fishing trip and even if you did almost die, I would recommend you to anyone,” I said.
“Well you spread da word young fella; I see you soon.”
The next Thursday, I opened up the Dallas Morning News and turned to the page with the weekly fishing report. There was a picture of Cajun Joe holding what the article said was a thirty-one pound striper: A new lake record.
I guessin’ da big striper in the sky was right─Ole Joe still has some fishin’ to do!
(excerpt from “Gone Fishin”)