The clicker on the reel sang a long, high note.
â€śGet it, get it, get it,â€ť fishing guide Manny Martinez shouted as I pulled the rod out of the holder on the downrigger.
The end of the medium heavy Ugly Stik Tiger casting rod looked like an upside-down J as the fish continued to strip line. Finally, the fish tired and allowed line to be reeled back in while I pumped the rod tip up and down.
About two minutes later, the line went slack. Whatever it was, it got off the hook.
It wasnâ€™t long before there was another strike.
Address: 12991 Bernhardt Road, about 20 miles southeast of downtown
On the web: cpsenergy.com or tpwd.texas.gov and search for Calaveras Lake
Entrance fee: Day use, $8 adult; $6 ages 6-15; $6 seniors 65 and older; $7 per boat
From the boat: For downrigging, use gold or silver spoons and soft plastics including brown with gold flecks and chartreuse
From the bank: Best bait is live crawfish available now or live shad or tilapia, which can be caught with a casting net, or chicken liver and gizzards, catfish stink bait and Fishbitesâ€™ Yeh Monn! Freshwater Catfish Bait
Limits: Redfish, three per day, minimum 20 inches with no maximum length
Fishing guide Manny Martinez: 210-386-6695 or fishingwithmanny.com.
This time, the long, hard fight produced a mighty red drum, more commonly known as a redfish or a red.
It measured 32Âľ inches, weighed 13 pounds, and sported a girth the size of a toaster.
We landed four more ranging from 26 inches to 28Â˝ inches over the next two hours while putting around Lake Calaveras downrigging as Martinez kept a close eye on his array of Lowrance displays â€” fish finder, GPS and side-scan sonar.
The smallest redfish that morning was 22 inches, two inches longer than the minimum and relished as a nice keeper on normal days.
But Calaveras was on fire last week, and Martinez believes it will continue to rage over the next few months.
Water temperature plays a role. Reds get active around 72 degrees, and it was 79 degrees that day.
But Martinez thinks something else is helping him and other guides put customers on limits of big reds, including a 37-incher last week.
A guide at Calaveras for 40 years and holder of the lake record redfish at 41 inches, 30 pounds and 27-inch girth, Martinez credits the closing three years ago of the crappie wall, a concrete barrier about 80 yards long and 2 feet wide at the cooling inlet for the CPS Energy power plant.
â€śThe population of redfish improved greatly because of the closing of the wall. (The wall) made it easy to catch them, and people took a lot,â€ť he said. â€śIt was the best thing that ever happened.â€ť
The crappie wall, which allows cooler water from the bottom of the lake into the inlet leading to the power plant, got its name in the 1970s as a premier spot for catching crappie and black bass.
Its design creates a redfish buffet as shad and tilapia form large schools inside the wall.
For decades anglers anchored boats on the wall, sometimes bow to stern all the way across. They also climbed on the wall to fish the other side.
While such activities were never sanctioned by CPS, strict enforcement began after two anglers toted kayaks over the wall in May 2016, paddled up the inlet, and got close to the power plant.
The incident led officials to enforce safety measures.
A chain-link fence topped with razor wire was installed atop the wall and the berms on either side of the inlet. Signs with the CPS Energy logo say, â€śRestricted area, no trespassing.â€ť
Most anglers at the crappie wall kept what they caught, Martinez said.
Some practiced catch and release, but when redfish were spawning or under a lot of stress, some would die.
Martinez recalls sometimes seeing 30 or 40 reds floating on the water. Fewer people are fishing at Calaveras since the wall closed, he said. But those who remain are reaping the bounty.
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department began stocking red drum, a saltwater species that does not reproduce in freshwater, at Calaveras in the early 1980s. The daily bag limit is three with a minimum length of 20 inches and no maximum length, unlike saltwater reds, which top out at 28 inches.
Since 2010, TPWD annually stocks more than 600,000 fingerlings.
Within about three years, they are keeper size. Around age 6 or 7, they top 30 inches.
Martinez uses four downriggers that utilize heavy weights to lower the lines â€” 30-pound fluorescent with a 30-pound clear leader â€” to desired depths. He trolls at less than 4 mph.
He switches out lures until he sees what theyâ€™re biting â€” gold or silver spoons and soft plastics, including brown with gold flecks and chartreuse.
Artificials are not as productive for anglers fishing off the bank, Martinez said.
But bank anglers can increase their luck with reds by using live crawfish, which are now in season.
Other baits include live shad and tilapia caught with a casting net, chicken liver and gizzards, and even stink bait designed for catfish.
Martinez said another catfish bait also can land reds â€” Fishbitesâ€™ Yeh Monn! Freshwater Catfish Bait, which resemble strips of chewing gum.
â€śThis is going to be a super good year for all species, but redfish is the hottest,â€ť he said. â€śWere seeing a lot more big fish and a lot more schools.
â€śCalaveras is the hot ticket.â€ť
John Goodspeed is a freelance writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.