By Luke Clayton

Through my three decades of writing about the outdoors, I have fished with and made friends with many “outdoor folks”; guides, outfitters and others that simply share my love for the outdoors. Sharing my experiences via my writing has always brought me great joy but having the opportunity to occasionally help others by sharing a part of their lives with my readers is the biggest reward.

I am about to introduce many of you to Mr. Chris Watson, aka “Catman.” Many of you avid fishermen will know Chris, who has guided at Richland Chambers Reservoir for many years. I hope we can all pull together and provide Chris and his family with a bit of help. He is going through some very tough health problems and will undergo a major surgery in a matter of days.

I first met Chris Watson a little more than two decades ago. Our mutual friend Bob Holmes who has made a career guiding at Richland Chambers Reservoir arranged for me to join Chris on a fishing trip below the tailrace waters of Richland Chambers for hybrid stripers, white bass and catfish.

I remember vividly meeting Chris at the boat ramp just off U.S. 287 and the Trinity River. The area had received heavy rainfall the previous week and the river was rolling. After a brief “howdy” session at the dock, Chris asked me to back his truck down so he could launch. A look at the swift current gave me a bit of a pause. I had never launched in moving water and awaited instructions.

“Luke, I’ll get in the boat and crank the engine when the trailer is on the ramp. When you begin backing, keep backing until my boat reaches the water. I will have it in reverse and immediately back it into the river,” instructed Chris those 20-plus years ago.

The instant I began backing, Chris had the boat engine running. As instructed, I didn’t stop until, through the mirrors, I saw the boat sliding off the trailer into the current. I remember watching and thinking, “this young man knows his stuff, he’s done this a time or two before.”

Chris immediately fed fuel to the engine and pushed the nose of the boat into the current. When I parked the truck and returned to the ramp, the motor was still running, keeping the boat in place for me to jump in. The fishing had not begun but I was already impressed. The boat maneuvering that Chris has accomplished is not recommended for the novice boater. The method of off loading a boat into current is totally safe when performed by an expert but not recommended for novice boaters. Chris was obviously not a novice boater!

We motored down to the junction of where the tailrace waters from Richland Chambers joins the Trinity and then, up into the channel. It’s been a long time since the trip, but I vividly recall the fast-paced action on white bass and hybrid stripers. Chris knew I was a self confessed “catfish nut” and took the time to catch some blue catfish on fresh shad during that trip.

I was not only impressed with Chris’ very obvious boat handling and fishing skills but with his personality. Chris Watson doesn’t have to work at being an excellent host to folks on his boat, it just comes naturally. After that first trip, I enjoyed many other outings with Chris and each outing, whether we were targeting white bass, hybrid stripers, or catfish always resulted in lots of fillets for the fish fryer and plenty of fish catching tips for my newspaper and magazine articles.

If you know my friend, you know that he is built of solid stuff. Chris grew up hunting and fishing the rivers and creeks in East Texas, under the guidance of his dad whose influence helped instill the confidence that ultimately made Chris a great guide and a great man.

In doing some “leg work” for this column, I spent some time visiting with Chris about his illness and the major surgery that will occur in a few days. My buddy is not one to ever ask for help but when I explained to him that my goal was to make all his friends and other sportsmen and women that share his love of the outdoors aware of his situation, he answered with, “Luke, you write your column the way you see fit.”

Mike Houston, a Lake Whitney fishing guide and another of Chris’ good friends, came up with a great way for folks to help Chris and his family during this period of “down time” while Chris is recovering from the surgery. Mike is receiving donations in the form of guided fishing and hunting trips, outdoor-related products and of course, cash. Several thousand dollars in guided hunting and fishing trips have already been donated and Mike only began getting the word out a week ago.

So, if you feel the need to help out, Mike Houston can be reached at (817) 487-7121 or message him through Facebook at Houston Guide Service.

While visiting with Chris a few days ago, he told me he had a guided trip to run the very next morning. Facing major, life-changing surgery in a few days, few folks I know, including myself, would have that much “fight” in them. Chris will recover and be back on the water in a few months. As a matter of fact, I already have a fishing trip planned with our mutual friend Bob Holmes and Chris in early fall when the fish will be on a big time feeding pattern!

Contact outdoors writer Luke Clayton through his website