ELGIN — “Tie yourself to the mast because you’re going to get a fish right about now,” Sherrill Howery tells his three deckhands on a Sunday morning trip to Lake Ellsworth, Lawton’s water supply lake.
Moments later, as if on his command, two of our three fishing rods bend, indicating a catch. Two Sand Bass on one line and a Saugeye on the other.
Within minutes of leaving the boat ramp, we’d caught four keeper-size sandbass as promised. An hour later, we had a mixture of a couple dozen keeper-size Sand Bass and Saugeyes. All were caught on different-colored lures; no fancy live-bait required. Two at a time was not unusual. After lunch, we had a large ice chest nearly full of keepers.
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“Kind of slow today,” said Howery, a Norman native and longtime geologist.
He has spent decades studying the sport and science of fishing. His approach is rather unconventional.
His fishing endeavors have taken him across the state but prefers Ellsworth. His research includes mapping the lake’s clay bottom in search of humps where insect larvae burrow. The presence of thousands of egrets on an island confirms this is a lake full of fish. Howery estimates the age of each fish we catch to see how well fed it is.
In our boat, no one tries to stay quiet for fearing of spooking the fish away. His boat motor stays running and the propeller turns.
“That’s their dinner bell,” he said of the motor’s sound. “Forget everything your grandpa told you about fishing.”
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Howery drops floating markers on shallow spots he has previously researched and trolls around the marker watching two screens for depth and topography. He meticulously times the release of line on his bait-casting reels to match the water’s depth.
The foundation of an old house buried when the lake was built in the 1960s makes for many catches. Another spot was an old dairy barn. Another was a row of trees near a road. He looks at Google images of the lake when the water was way down to verify the structures.
He’s more than willing to share his knowledge and hotspot location coordinates with anyone. Other boats watch the multiple catches and move in closer to see what he’s doing to get all those fish.
Most anglers want to keep such information close to the life vest, but not Howery. He wants more people to learn his method and enjoy fishing.
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He figures he factors about 14 elements — from entomology to topography to ornithology — into his trips. Word of his success gets around and the requests to go with him are many.
Catching Sand Bass, Oklahoma’s state fish, is his specialty. There is no short supply of them, either. Besides Ellsworth, Lake Texoma, Lake Thunderbird and other state waters are full of the hybrid fish.
A quiet teenager accompanying our early morning trip comes alive with excitement as he reels in a fish. Howery, who formerly coached hundreds of Norman youth in basketball leagues, seems to get the most satisfaction watching others enjoy the sport.
“I want to pass this on to the next generation,” he said. “I’m not going to be around forever.”