April 13, 2020
By Lynn Burkhead
With the possible exceptions of rainbow trout swimming seasonally in the Hill Country’s Guadalupe River and redfish tailing on the saltwater flats of the Gulf Coast, the State of Texas doesn’t conjure up very many images of fly-fishing greatness.
After all, the iconic film A River Runs Through It, the 1992 Robert Redford-directed movie based on Norman Maclean’s spellbinding novel, was shot in trout-rich Montana, not the cactus-and-tumbleweed-dotted Lone Star State.
But in a vast state that boasts 254 counties with a wide array of terrain, from sandy beaches to dense forests to Panhandle plains to sweeping desert mountain vistas, there’s more to Texas…and its fishing action…than what might first meet the eye.
And believe it or not, that includes fly fishing too. Texas’ surprising fly-fishing prowess includes several International Game Fish Association world records for largemouth bass, four of them owned by 43-year-old fly-fishing adventurer Meredith McCord of Houston.
And thanks to a big largemouth bass caught recently by the well-known fly angler, it looks like McCord may have broken one of her own records after a late-March visit to the family farm as she and her loved ones ride out the COVID-19 pandemic storm.
Before the March 30, 2020 outing was complete on a 10-acre bass-rich water body known as Lake Ezekiel, McCord was able to add yet another chapter to her illustrious angling career by landing a huge 10-pound, 4-ounce largemouth bass on a deer hair popper.
To catch such a huge bass on her family’s farm is a dream come true.
"My dad (Rick) grew up in the city but was an outdoorsman at heart who spent every weekend he could on this property near Navasota," said McCord, who noted that her dad taught her how to fish and gave her a lifelong passion for angling.
"(He) always wanted to develop the (farm) into someplace that had some worthy fishing on it," she added. "He put in about seven different manmade lakes, the largest of which is Lake Ezekiel. It is a little over 10 acres, is 30 feet deep in the deepest part, and has two islands, different types of underwater structure, and some Christmas trees."
Problem was, the lake was mostly filled with a lot of smaller bass.
"I could go there and have great days catching 60 to 70 bass," said McCord. "But they were all in the 10- to 11-inch range. Still, they were a lot of fun to catch on poppers."
Not long before McCord’s father lost his battle to kidney cancer in 2015, he gave each of his three children directives. For his fishing partner Meredith, it was to try and develop the family property’s water bodies into something more, a project she undertook with help from fisheries management experts at Texas A&M.
"I got serious about that a couple of years ago," she said. "We had to deal with annual algae blooms, the number of fish in the lakes, having the right amount of food for them, stuff like that."
Despite the occasional appearance of a bass north of 5½ pounds in shocking surveys, there weren’t any big largemouth catches to write home about.
Until a few weeks ago, on March 13, that is. That’s when McCord’s boyfriend, Capt. Collin Huff, tied up a green-and-black deer hair Dahlberg Diver, a fly that he used later that same day to catch a 10-pound largemouth.
Already possessing the women’s 6-pound tippet class IGFA world record largemouth mark, thanks to a 4-3 fish she caught at the farm a few years ago, McCord set about trying to catch her own double-digit bucketmouth bass at Lake Ezekiel.
On an outing after Huff’s big bass catch, McCord had a close call when a huge bass grabbed her fly, held it for a few seconds, and came off.
"I don’t think I got the hook all the way in," said McCord, noting that a couple of flies that had been tied up had 25-pound hard mono on them as weed guards. "The weed guards were probably just a little too heavy. You want them to be somewhat stiff but still have some give."
With the pre-spawn bass on Lake Ezekiel laden with eggs and getting ready to go shallow to their nests, McCord and Huff went out on the evening of March 30, full of hope as they fished the prime time days of spring.
As the couple quietly prowled the lake in a small johnboat equipped with a trolling motor, McCord used a 7-weight Hardy Zephrus AWS fly rod, an Abel 7/8 Super Series reel, a Scientific Anglers Jungle Series fly line, and a collection of deer hair poppers to see what the evening might bring.
With Huff’s recent catch and her own near miss in mind, McCord cast the multi-colored deer-hair popper parallel to a weed bed. On the second cast, a massive take occurred.
"I threw it out, gave it a quick jerk, paused, and this thing erupts out of the depths, takes it down, and leaves a huge hole in the water," she said.
McCord said the bass put on a show, quickly letting everyone know the class of fish fighting at the end of the fly line.
"She did jump early on in the fight," said McCord. "When she did, I knew she was at least 7 or 8 pounds."
Trying to protect the 6-pound tippet’s breaking strength, Huff maneuvered the boat away from the weeds so that McCord could get over the fish and successfully fight it.
"She made a run for the weeds, but I was able to keep her out," said McCord. "She ran under the boat and towards the bow, so I had to swing the rod around to try and stay with her. She made another short run, but never quite made it to the reel."
After a seesaw battle of approximately 6½ minutes, McCord had the fish boat side where Huff netted it.
"Anytime you’re fishing with light tackle and light tippet, what happens quickly feels like an eternity," said McCord. "I knew the moment she hit the fly, that she was a good one. Her whole face came out of the water to hit that fly and it was a big sound that she made."
Keeping the bass in the net, Huff maneuvered the boat to the shoreline where a weight was quickly obtained on an electronic scale. When the digital numbers settled, they read 10-pounds, 4-ounces, figures that are likely to give the Texas angler another IGFA record as she sits at #181 and counting in the organization’s record-book database.
"We kept her in the net the whole time, got to shore, and got her weighed on a Rapala electronic scale," said McCord. "I noticed that the scale’s certification just went out of date a couple of months ago, but that should be ok as long as you send it in (to IGFA) and it tests out accurately after the fact."
If the new IGFA record is eventually secured by McCord, it will be another chapter in her ongoing angling career, a pursuit fueled by memories of her late father, the man who taught her to love fishing.
Better yet, McCord’s most recent potential IGFA benchmark came on a lake that holds a special place in her heart, both for its familiar location and the species that was caught.
"This is what I cut my teeth on as a fisherman," said McCord, who admits that she’s not always armed with a fly rod when pursuing bass, a species she loves to catch thanks to her deep Texas angling roots.
In fact, she noted that due to the increasing wind that evening, the thought had actually crossed her mind to pick up a spinning rod rather than a fly rod. But that’s where Huff intervened, convincing her to take the 7-weight out instead.
"In the boat, the conversation turned back to that as the wind picked up," laughed McCord. "I was kind of mad at myself for not putting a spinning rod in the boat, but Collin was like 'No, that's good, this is making you stick with the fly rod.' And one or two casts later, that’s when I caught that fish."
A potential world record fly bass, a lunker largemouth caught deep in the heart of Texas.