Photos by Dustin Doskocil
A lone longhorn gazes out over a farm pond in Mansfield, Texas, as the sun bends lower in the late afternoon sky. The smooth, watery dimple in the landscape reflects the lush grassland that surrounds it. Hugging the shoreline in a well-worn 12-foot aluminum rowboat are Drew Perkins and his 87-year-old father, Al. The pair skillfully sling floating Rapalas and crank baits with ultralight tackle toward the structure-laden shoreline. In the water behind them trails a stringer loaded with the shiny, emerald-green largemouth bass they’ve caught for the table.
This is stock-tank country, a landscape dotted with low spots dammed to store rainwater for livestock. “Stock” refers to the livestock the ponds support, and “tank” denotes the storage-oriented nature of these relatively small bodies of water. Although the Perkins family no longer raises cattle, they do maintain a handful of stock tanks for fishing. In fact, hundreds of these private stock tanks are peppered around the Texas countryside, and fishing them is a popular pastime.
In the case of the Perkins family, each stock tank is loaded with a healthy population of crappie, largemouth bass and catfish. Drew, who is in the structural steel manufacturing business, has been fishing stock tanks, lakes and ponds with his father since he was a boy.
“When I was a kid, we used to fish farther west where my grandparents had a cabin on Possum Kingdom Lake,” he says. “We also fished Lake Arlington quite a bit, but it’s all the same sort of fishing — everything from bobbers and bloodworms to crank baits and plastic worms. It’s just a family pastime we’ve always enjoyed. I love it.”
Today Drew has one stock tank on 15 acres of land, and his father maintains three tanks on an adjacent stretch of 136 acres that he farms for hay. They buy fish from a local business. “A stocking truck regularly brings a wide variety of pond species to the local farm supply store,” Drew says. “We buy mainly largemouth and channel cats, but sometimes we’ll add in some crappie and perch. We dump in about 350 at a time, depending on the water level and how many we think are already in there.”
Once the fish are in the tanks, they spawn naturally, about twice a year. And although minnows and other baitfish are sometimes added to the tanks, Drew says fry from spawning runs are prime targets of the larger fish. “I open up the stomachs of some of the largemouth I catch to see what they’re eating,” he says. “More often than not, they’ve got smaller largemouth bass in their gullets.”
The father-son duo has noticed a surprising diversity in the species they get from the hatchery tankers over the years. “Last year we put a load of bass in the tank but soon noticed the new fish weren’t jumpers,” Drew says. “They put up a good fight, but they didn’t put on a show. I did some looking around online and figured out they were a Kentucky species called spotted bass. We could identify them by a small rough patch on the back of their tongues. We’ve also had Florida largemouth bass in the tanks; those are the ones that like to get up on top and dance.”
Drew says the typical largemouth bass and channel cats they catch and keep from the tanks are 3 to 5 pounds — and the hatchery fish can be just as challenging to catch as wild fish. “Sometimes we go out and catch a full stringer in an hour,” he says. “Other days we have to get tricky. There are other outings when we won’t catch a thing. Typically we’re using ultralight tackle with Rapalas or Roadrunner crank baits. We don’t usually use bait, but we’ve been toying around with plastic worms some. My dad’s more of a crappie and catfish guy, so he rigs up his own specialized tackle to catch those. The crappie are getting challenging to catch, so maybe we’ll end up trying bait of some sort to catch more of them. Once we’ve got what we need, we take ’em home and clean them for supper.”
Because the stock tanks are essentially dammed-up low spots that are replenished by rainwater (not natural springs), droughts can be challenging.
“Everything nearly dried up in 2014,” Drew says. “All but one pond dried completely up, and there wasn’t much left in it, either. We’ve had good rains the last season or two, so all of our stock tanks are nicely filled up, and we’ve stocked them with plenty of fish. I think now that we’ve got water back in them, we’d like to add more structure. We’ll probably start chucking some branches and brush in there for the fish and give the small fish a better chance of surviving. All in all, though, I think we’ve got a healthy ecosystem going.”
Drew and his dad fish several times a month, sometimes as often as once a week, in this laid-back landscape.
“I love fishing, and there’s nothing better than eating fresh fish,” Drew says. “And, of course, I love spending time with my dad. At my age not many people get to spend as much time with their dad as I do.”