Local fishing guide’s clients caught 18,643 fish on catch-and-release trips during 2022
DAVID STONE | OUR TOWN TEMPLE
2022 was a prime fishing year on Lake Belton. Just ask Bob Maindelle, owner and operator of Holding the Line Fishing Guide Service.
“It was definitely a good year,” Maindelle said today. “Last year, I made 171 fishing trips and my guests caught a grand total of 18,643 fish. Every one was released back into the lake. Holding the Line maintains a strong catch-and-release ethic — we release 100 percent of the fish we catch so we have plenty for the future.”
“We have to release,” he explained, “because I take far more than my share of fish out of these lakes, and I’m not the only guide working. You have to see the big picture, and that means being responsible and putting the fish back.”
Maindelle, who lives on the south shore of Stillhouse Hollow, is starting his 17th year as a Central Texas fishing guide.
“I’ve been fishing Stillhouse and Belton for about 30 years,” he said. “I occasionally have customers who want to fish Georgetown or one of the Austin-area lakes, but most of my trips are here in Bell County.”
Bob estimates that 60 to 70 percent of his excursions are on Belton Lake and most of the rest are at Stillhouse.
“The fishing here is excellent,” he said. “There’s really no reason to go anywhere else. We focus on white bass on Stillhouse, and on whites and hybrid striped bass on Belton. The hybrids are a sterile fish and can’t reproduce, so they have to be restocked. Belton is one of the lakes Texas Parks & Wildlife uses to invest their hybrid resources.”
In 2022, TP&W introduced 2.2 million sunshine bass into the Belton Lake waters. Sunshine and Palmetto bass are crosses of white and striped bass. Sunshine bass are a hybrid of female white bass and male stripers, and the Palmetto bass are the opposite — a hybrid cross between a male white bass and a female striper.
In addition to the hybrid striped bass, Lake Belton also is known for large populations of smallmouth bass and blue catfish, he said.
After learning the local lakes, Maindelle launched his guide service in 2006.
While the COVID-19 pandemic was disastrous for many local businesses, Holding the Line and other fishing services prospered — eventually.
“COVID was famine, then feast,” he said. “As a guide, I was a non-essential business so the state shut me down for 40 days. That was tough.”
But once Maindelle got the green light, business took off like a freshly hooked smallmouth bass.
“No one was working, and everyone had these stimulus checks — my bookings went through the roof,” he said. Maindelle’s 21-foot custom-made center-console bass boat is Coast Guard-rated for eight people, but he limits trips to six.
“Four to six is a good-sized fishing party,” he said, “but I often do trips with just one person. Usually it’s someone new to the area who wants to get to know the lakes and get a few tips.”
Maindelle fishes Monday through Thursday mornings, and on Thursday afternoons.
“On Saturday mornings, I conduct on-water sonar training for folks who have bought fish-finding equipment,” he said. “It’s a big part of my business — probably about 10 percent.”
“High-end sonar equipment can help find fish,” he said. “But I also rely on past experiences and signs such as fish-eating birds. If birds are feeding, fish are likely nearby.”
Maindelle offers his clients a variety of fishing-trip options.
“We do a half-day trip that’s four hours, and a full-day is about eight. I also offer ‘Kids Fish, Too’ trips and they are no longer than three, three-and-a-half hours. Kids tend to have a shorter attention span than adults. These trips are geared toward elementary-aged children.”
While bass are generally the target for Holding the Line and its guest anglers, there have been a few surprise catches.
“The biggest surprise was catching a water moccasin in a cast net,” he said. “That was a definite shock. But we also have caught some huge fish. So far this year, we’ve had two anglers catch hybrids over 25 inches. I’ve also had guests catch a number of record fish from my boat, including a blue cat that was well over 60 pounds.”
While Maindelle hasn’t come across any catfish the size of a Volkswagen — a popular Lake Belton myth — he has seen several large long-nosed gar sipping at the surface. And, he has first-hand knowledge of a small, healthy and growing population of alligators in the Lampasas River just above Stillhouse.
“I’ve seen one, they are there,” he said. “But I’ve never seen or heard of gators in Lake Belton.”
Once a person or group schedules a fishing trip, Maindelle begins preparing for the excursion.
“I make sure we have good pre-trip communication,” he said. “A few days before we fish I send an email letting them know what to bring, what not to bring, what to wear and where we will meet. Once they arrive, we have a safety briefing, and I say a prayer for our safe return. I go over some techniques we will be using, and the first hour is usually spent practicing those techniques.”
“Then,” he said, “we fish.”