By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON — It’s a Tuesday night at the Stillhouse Hollow Lake Marina, the sporting and social center of northwest Stillhouse Hollow Lake.
There’s commotion on the docks as a group of bass fishing enthusiasts prepare to depart for their weekly tournament, but the overall feeling here is one of calm.
The setting sun casts a white glow on the marina’s surrounding waters, which lap up lightly onto its foundations. The strong breeze paints the lake and the tall, green trees that frame it with an impressionist’s stroke, gracing them with movement.
On the air, the leaves’ rustling mixes with the hollow sounds of feet along the marina’s aging planks.
A row of fishermen line the back of the marina, their lines pitched with hope but not expectation. A professional-looking fisherman with multiple lines and advanced equipment lays claim with quiet focus to the adjacent enclosed fishing area. Several small fish swim in his net below the hole in the marina floor.
Laughter emanates from inside the darkly-lit marina snack and ship shop, where the staff of two mingle with a table of regulars. A lone man leans into his book in the corner.
Less frequented than other Central Texas lake access points, such as the popular Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area, Stillhouse Hollow Lake Marina seems like a hidden gem. Despite its obvious appeal, and adjacent SCUBA school and sailing club, many longtime residents don’t know it exists.
But those two facts go hand in hand, as far as many marina regulars, including Patricia Johnson of Temple, are concerned.
The 40-year-old works at Bartlett State Jail and has been fishing off the Stillhouse Hollow Lake Marina for years.
“I fish at other places, but it’s peaceful here,” she said, stretching out her arms on the bench behind her to absorb the early evening sun. “If you need anything, or if you run out of something, it’s right here.”
Johnson said she hoped to catch something before the night was through, but that the heat was keeping fish at bay. “If I catch a perch, I’m happy,” she said.
There isn’t much skill to fishing, she said, but success is dependent on one singularly important attribute.
“You have to have a lot of patience to fish,” she said.
A chuckle came from one bench over. Johnson’s marina acquaintance, Nolanville resident Terry Randall, 53, launched into a joke about a man who claimed over and over that he didn’t have the patience to fish, but contradicted himself by standing in the same spot on the dock for hours anyway.
Randall visits the marina weekly, he said, fishing for six to eight hours at a time. The best biting is late at night, or early in the morning, he said. The ex-Navy sailor fishes from the marina because he doesn’t have a boat, he said, but has still managed to catch bass and other big fish.
He also likes the camaraderie of the marina, he said. “There are a lot of great, friendly outgoing people here.”
Place to relax
Randall has been fishing at Stillhouse Hollow Lake all his life, he said, and still finds casting his line into the water refreshing. “It’s relaxing,” he said with a big smile, “even if I don’t ever catch anything.”
Johnson cackled from her bench. “If we were fishing for dinner, we’d be starving.”
Ship store employee Lela McGraw, who executes her job more as a marina hostess, poked her head out onto the dock momentarily. She likes to check on the more reserved fishermen, and joke with the more boisterous ones.
The marina can get busy during the weekends, she said, but the 24-hour restaurant — which McGraw said is known for its hamburgers — isn’t ever too crowded.
A lot of people come and stay for hours, just to read, she said.
“It’s nice and quiet,” she said, especially during the early morning or late night hours, and during winter.
McGraw isn’t sure why Stillhouse Hollow Lake Marina hasn’t caught on the way other lake-access areas have, she said. Despite being a native of this area, even she didn’t start hanging out there until she was an adult.
“I think a lot of people know about Stillhouse,” she said, “but don’t know there’s a marina.”
But, she said, “It’s fun out here. We have a lot of fun.”