by Anne Bruno
Photography by Matt Conant
While hardly Twain’s mighty Mississippi, Lady Bird Lake has her own cherished secrets. To those willing to commune with her, this lake born of a river also tells a different story each day. One record-setting Austin teenager has listened intently for years, and now has a few stories of his own.
I meet Grant Langmore one week shy of his 15th birthday, after school at one of his regular spots on the lake. He’s been fishing, he tells me, since he was about five. “My mom’s dad got me started with a cane pole, like a lot of people start,” he explains, his kind eyes somehow managing to focus on both the water and me while we talk. “I pretty much liked fishing from the beginning.”
Lean and likely approaching a growth spurt, Langmore looks like a regular high school freshman with a side-swept haircut, but he sounds more like a seasoned guide, the kind you find on a first-class, bucket-list type of fishing expedition.
I tell Langmore that I love the water and that I’ve fished. Once. A long time ago. He nods his head; no judgment, and searches for words that will explain to a novice what feels as natural to him as breathing and as exciting as winning the lottery.
“Basically, you’re matching the hatch,” he says. “It’s all about what and how you present the lure to the fish. You’re imitating whatever the fish you want to catch is eating, figuring out what the bait-fish look like and how they move.”
Acknowledging that both skill and luck are involved in fishing, Langmore says it’s critical to critique every line cast. “The thing is,” he instructs, “these fish are super elusive, but they will tell you what you need to know: How aggressively are they biting? At what? What patterns are you noticing about their behavior at different times of the year? What temperature is the water? Are they more in sun or shade? What’s the depth? There’s just a lot of factors to take in but, like I said, the fish’ll tell you every time.”
“I guess fishing for me and my friends is like what video games are for some people. But this is outside, on the water, and it’s so much better.”
A familiar sight to regulars on Lady Bird Lake and its walking trail, Langmore exploded onto the record books on Monday, December 7, 2015. As the corroborated story goes —corroborated, because facts matter a lot with fishing stories — Langmore, an eighth-grader at the time, was fishing after school off the dock at the Texas Rowing Center with his friend, Augie Gabbay. Finishing up, Langmore made one long, last cast parallel to the dock. He felt something bite and guessed it was big. But until he’d gotten it to the dock, he didn’t know the largemouth bass he’d reeled in was a whopping 27-inch long, 13-and-a-half-pounder. That weight beat the existing record for the lake by a remarkable half-pound.
“The thing is, once you get anywhere past nine pounds, every ounce is actually a really big deal,” Langmore explains. “So, yeah, 13.5 is a very, very big fish. My friends and I fish for largemouth bass and we’re about quality, not quantity. And, of course, it’s all catch and release because that’s really important for conservation efforts, and respect for the sport and the fish.”
Langmore and his friends prefer to use lures called swimbaits, which can be as long as 10 inches and weigh no less than two ounces. According to Langmore, swimbaits have serious following power. “To the fish, swimbaits are like aliens in the water. These bass, you know, they’re curious by nature and the older ones have seen a lot,” he tells me with authority.
“Fishing with swimbaits began on the west coast and it’s starting to catch on here. If you want to learn more about it,” he offers, “there’s all kinds of stuff on YouTube.” Indeed, there is. What Langmore doesn’t mention is that he’s frequently the featured guest fisherman on some of the most popular YouTube fishing channels with half a million followers.
To find out just how big of a deal it is for a 13-year-old kid to catch a double-digit large-mouth bass, I visit Jay McBride at the fishing department of McBride’s Guns. I tell him that when asked about his go-to source for the best fishing advice, Langmore didn’t skip a beat in naming McBride. Not exactly blushing but close, it’s obvious Langmore’s Obi-Wan Kenobi of fishing is genuinely flattered.
As we chat over a glass counter filled with colorful reels, McBride pulls a dog-eared clipping from a stack of brochures on fishing gear. While the well-worn paper attests to the popularity of the story on Langmore, nothing can dull the unmistakable expression of shock on the kid’s face as he holds a humongous bass with both hands.
McBride, whose voice betrays more than a little pride, goes on to tell me what happened after Langmore’s buddy took that photo. To qualify for an official Catch and Release record, he explains, Langmore had to contain his excitement long enough to comply with two of three specific rules set forth by Texas Parks & Wildlife. He quickly flagged down a rower to act as witness for the weighing of the fish with the scale in Langmore’s tackle box; then, a picture of the fish was taken next to a ruler to verify its length.
After carefully getting his history-making catch from the dock back into the water where it belonged, one step remained. The next day, Langmore’s longest-standing fishing partner, his father, John, drove the scale used to weigh the fish to a scale shop in Bastrop where it was certified. It was official. The catch broke multiple records and earned Langmore a Texas Parks & Wildlife Big Fish Award.
Given how rare it is for fishermen to catch one double-digit fish in their lifetime, people were naturally incredulous. “There were some people who had a hard time believing I caught it myself and some people on Facebook said maybe I’d doctored the picture,” he says matter-of-factly. “It doesn’t bother me. I think they realized later that wasn’t true. Most people are really nice. I’ve met so many awesome people down here fishing.”
Records and double-digit catches not withstanding, Langmore relishes the camaraderie in fishing and the chance to share his passion with anyone interested in learning. “One time my dad and I took some family friends fishing and I helped the boy, who was about eight, catch his first fish,” Langmore tells me. “Seeing someone do that is so fun. You just get really excited when they get all excited. That’s a really good feeling inside.”
Standing around holding a fishing pole is the opposite of boring, says Langmore.
An easy kinship exists among those whose love of the outdoors borders on an obsession. Such is the case for Austin-based independent filmmaker Bradley Beesley and fisherkid Grant Langmore.
Though separated in age by 30 years, the two quickly forged a bond over their common passion when Beesley was commissioned by outdoor lifestyle brand YETI to direct and shoot a short documentary about Langmore.
“Grant is a skilled fisherman, especially for his age, and he and his fishing club buddies can geek out for hours on the most minute details,” Beesley says. “But, there’s much more to Grant than that. He loves just being out there, on the water. I love that we both share this over-romanticized ideal about being in nature, on a river.”
In certain circles, Beesley, a self-described “river rat,” is something of a fishing legend himself. His 2001 documentary about fishermen who eschew rod and reel for their bare hands, “Okie Noodling,” (yes, he’s that guy) has been in continual rotation on PBS nationwide since its first appearance over 15 years ago. Subsequent projects depicting offbeat Americana have won Beesley acclaim at SXSW and Sundance, on HBO, A&E, the Discovery Channel and the History Channel.
Turning 60 hours of footage into a compelling seven minutes about Langmore was no small task, but Beesley says he enjoyed every minute of it. “The Catch” screens this summer.
“It’s actually totally addicting,” he maintains. “I guess fishing for me and my friends is like what video games are for some people. But this is outside, on the water, and it’s so much better.”
Read more from the Outdoors Issue | April 2017