By Joe Zagorski
(HOLLY LAKE RANCH, TX) –
It started out with the best of intentions, as these things often do. Three fishing buddies got together and decided to make a difference in the health of their favorite fishing hole, Lake Greenbriar on Holly Lake Ranch. That was back in 2008. But who could guess that 10 years later, their act of goodwill would spawn a “fishing club” of 160-some-odd members (emphasis on the word “odd”), representing only a few dozen actual anglers, who would collectively spend more time organizing parties and social gatherings than casting a line?
You’d have to know Russ Thurau, the club’s champion and recently deceased president, plus a few of the other founders, to understand. Russ and his bright-eyed, pickle-balling bride, Marylou, moved to HLR in 2007, 30 years after they married and settled in Dallas, where Russ worked as a corporate pension actuary to fund his true obsession, fishing.
“All of our vacations involved fishing,” said Marylou, who recalls one adventure when the two of them were “dumped” on the banks of a Canadian lake by a float plane pilot for a few hours of fishing. When the plane never returned, they fished until dark and holed up in an empty cabin overnight. The next day, a helicopter happened in and they hitched a ride back to civilization.
“That was typical Russ,” Marylou said. “There was never a dull moment.”
After they moved to HLR, Russ hooked up (yep) with two other avid anglers, Danny Ouimet and Jimmy Pollard. The three hit it off instantly, spending all their free time on the lake. Back then, a mail pavilion stood where the current fish club sets on the east side of Holly Trail. The trio approached Rob James, acting HLR general manager, and asked the Association to buy materials to convert the pavilion into a club house if they supplied the labor. Deal done, the three enlisted another buddy, Randy Shoemaker, who was in the construction business, to oversee the project.
“Everything was donated,” Ouimet said. “Stove, sink, refrigerator, freezer, cabinets…and suddenly, we had a fishing club.”
Jim Mumford was one of the first members. Mumford and his wife, Sue, retired permanently to HLR in 2001. Jim knew a lot of folks on the Ranch and, coming from a wholesale sales background, he also knew how to make a pitch. In a matter of days,
he had drummed up nearly 100 members, all paying $25 per person in annual dues.
The sheer inertia of it required structure. Management. Focus. So, in 2009, a formal list of officers was elected: Russ as president, Jim as vice president, Danny Dorsey, treasurer, Danny Ouimet, sergeant-at-arms, Lauren Shoemaker (Randy’s daughter-in-law), secretary, and Pauletta Lapsley, social director.
“Russ really was the savior of our lakes.” – Pauletta Lapsley, Past Social Director, HLR Fishing Club
Their goal: enhance HLR by caring for the lake and have fun (not necessarily in that order).
By 2010, it all started looking “official.” With the help of Texas Parks & Wildlife, the club conducted a survey of HLR’s lakes. Using the input, they solved a serious algae problem on Lake Greenbriar. Then, with funds from members and the Association, they stocked Greenbriar with 9,000 hybrid bluegills and Holly Lake, on the west side, with 2,000. They solicited waterfront homeowners to install fish feeders to maintain the inventory and instituted mandatory boat and trailer checks at the security gate to prevent “hitchhiker” vegetation from invading the lakes.
And, yes, they began hosting the 4th of July fireworks display, now an annual lakefront spectacle. And costume-themed chili cookoffs. And fish tournaments, four per year, including the “Holly Hookers” ladies’ tournament, followed by fish fries. And free concerts, featuring traveling entertainers recruited over the internet. And, crazy, “Saturday Night Live” talent shows, featuring club members hamming it up – the stuff of tall tales and “fish stories” (not involving aquatic characters).
However, their most celebrated event became the annual Christmas party, often drawing packed houses. Past events featured top name entertainers, including William Florian, of New Christy Minstrels fame, Terry Lynn and the Touch of Class Band, a dance hit combo, and a Vegas magician who amazed members by levitating tables and conjuring bowling balls.
And, who could forget the hypnotist, who got club member, Mike Dalton, to believe his butt was on fire and scoot across the floor on the seat of his pants to douse the blaze? Said Mike, “The only way I knew it happened was that someone shot video of me paddling across the floor. I’ll never live it down.”
Today, the fish club remains a vital part of HLR life. After Russ passed in 2017, Larry Bielak was named president. “It’s the best way to meet people out here and have a good time,” he said. “But now it’s time for new blood to take over.”
Karen Tarrico, acting events coordinator agrees. “Russ left some big shoes to fill,” she said. “Young families moving in have a responsibility to care for our lakes and keep our community alive.”
Still, in the opinion of Dick Gulden, current fishing tournament coordinator, “nothing beats getting out on the lake on a quiet morning, hearing the splash of a lure breaking the surface and anticipating that first hit.”
Nothing, except, maybe, paging through a gallery of memories posted on the Holly Lake Ranch Fishing Club Facebook page, confirming what Danny Ouimet affectionately calls, “a social club with a fishing problem.”
For more information about the HLR Fishing Club, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.