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Fishing sanctuary: Local fisherman finds a dream catch at Toledo Bend in Texas

Published: Monday, June 4, 2012 2:10 p.m. CST

HUDSON (MCT) — Someone might as well pen the “gone fishing” sign right now for the day Bob Hermes retires. He’s hooked on the sport.

Though he fished as a boy, Hermes, 58, took up the rod and reel again a few years ago when he was thinking about ways to spend time after he no longer reports to Hermes Service and Sales in Bloomington. Friend and avid outdoorsman Francis Bell suggested he try it. Hermes was hooked.

Hermes, an ordained deacon, was looking for something to take him away from the workplace and religious duties at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Bloomington.

“When I fish, it seems a lot like church. I get a lot of peace and serenity in nature. It’s easy for me to see God outside. I spend a lot of time with him,” Hermes said.

His pulpit is a Bass Tracker fishing boat often seen on Evergreen Lake, where he searches for crappies and muskies with his Hudson neighbor, muskie guide Thad Hinshaw. Hermes bought a second boat with a 40-horsepower motor, which just happens to be the largest allowed at Lake Bloomington, where he also fishes for crappies. He’s competed in the EverBloom Bass Series at lakes Evergreen and Bloomington with friend Doug Gehrig. The pair also hunts big striped bass on Lake Bloomington. Hermes sometimes heads to the Illinois River in search of catfish.

In just a few short years as a certified fishing nut, Hermes has become an angling tourist who couples vacations with destinations where fish are biting. He’s traveled to Wisconsin for walleyes, northern pike and crappie, which are his personal favorite. He’s gone to Colorado for trout, Florida with brother Pat to fish the surf or coastal waters for shark, grouper and saltwater catfish. He also surf-fished in Mexico and went to Alaska to target king salmon.

“I can’t get enough,” said Hermes, sounding every bit the fishing addict that he’s become.

Texas was one adventure he had last year with friend Cory Riordan of Downs and Bell, who arranged the trip. Bell, who is a retired heavy equipment operator from the construction trades, launched a business called Happy Trails Scouts, which seeks out “reasonable opportunities for blue-collar people to fish and hunt.”

Bell knows the Toledo Bend area of Texas from winters he spent in a pickup truck with his boat in tow traveling from place to place to fish. Bell teased them with tales of gigantic crappies.

“He said ‘I want to show you Southern fishing,’” Hermes said. “I said, ‘Let’s go.’”

Hermes had heard other stories of the monster panfish and bass from his father-in-law, Don McCoy.

So off the trio went to the reservoir, where the water depth is far lower than normal. Stay in the marked channel to avoid trouble between the outboard’s propeller and lower unit and massive stump fields, said Terry Brown of Bloomington, a tournament bass angler who has fished on Toledo Bend many times. Brown is one of the organizers of the EverBloom bass circuit and a featured fishing expert and fishing news reporter on the popular website Wired2fish.com. He also writes a fishing column in The Pantagraph.

Bell was back at the place they rented from retired bass pro Bo Dowden, who runs a property management firm when Hermes and Riordan pulled up to their first crappie spot of the trip. Anglers focus on the stumps and

submerged trees. Hermes cast a small jig/spinner and bang, fish on.

“What is that?” asked Riordan, who’d seen many crappies before, but not one like this.

“It was 16 inches long, 11 inches wide and four fingers thick,” said an equally shocked Hermes.

The fish weighed 1¾ pounds. A 10-inch crappie is a good fish in Illinois. Hermes and Riordan tossed back 12- and 13-inch fish in Texas.

Time ran out that first day after 20 keepers. They returned to the spot early the next day.

“We started at 9 (a.m.). At noon, we couldn’t fit any more in the live well,” Hermes said.

They returned to shore, cleaned those and returned to the spot for another four hours. They kept 20 more, bringing their total to 52 crappies ranging from 1¼- to 1¾ pounds.

That brings up another fact that contributes to Toledo Bend’s draw for crappie anglers.

“The limit was kind of severe,” Hermes deadpanned. “You could only keep 50 a person (a day).”

You can’t have fun like that all the time, so Hermes and Riordan hired a guide and fished for largemouth bass, which Toledo Bend is more known for than crappie.

The time of year was early for that species. Their largest weighed about 3½ pounds. Brown said spots where the old creek channels are adjacent to flats are always good there.

“There are some giant bass in that lake. Numbers are good as well,” he said. “I like flipping, casting a jig or spinnerbait and shallow crankbaits there. …It’s a great summer bite.”

When water warmed and the wind calmed, the guide took Hermes and Riordan to open water to chase white bass, which were found when they pushed schools of shad up to the surface, which churned as if it were raining. White bass weighed 2 to 3 pounds, a very good average.

Trips like theirs are why Toledo Bend has earned a nickname of honor.

“They call it ‘the Fishing Hole of the South,’” said Bell.

“If you want to experience a Southern fishing trip, this is the place to go.”

———

IF YOU GO

Happy Trails Scouts, Francis and Terri Bell; www.happytrailsscouts.com or bellfa12345@gmail.com

General 411: www.Toledo-Bend.com

Rentals: Choice Rentals, Bo Dowden and Associates; Gladys Dowden, rental agent; 318- 256-0563 or bodowdenrealestate@hotmail.com

Guide: Greg Crafts, 936-368-7151 or gcrafts@bigfoot.com

Maps: Fishing Buddy Maps, 903-638-6010 or www.hooknline.com

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