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High Times and High Tides

Texas Coast Fishing

*****************Texas and Water = All or Nothing***************

 

Leave it to the Hooké crew to keep rolling out footage that makes you want to cash in and grab a prop plane for distant waters!

I had hardly stepped off the light rail from the airport into the pulsing, and sometimes erratic heart of downtown before I was hit up for money (politely though it must be said), startled by a strung out, screaming youth that looked more zombie than human, and eyed up and down disapprovingly by a GQ graphic designer cruising on a longboard sipping an iced latte.

“Welcome back to Portland.” I thought.

I live in Austin, TX a town that is purported to “Keep it Weird”, but as someone who’s spent a few years living on the west coast I think it’s fair to say that the west coast metropolises have a special knack for ramping the character of their cities up to eleven. Proof? Later in the trip when I asked my brother if he ever watched “Portlandia” (a show that probably seems absurd to most folks) he responded that he “couldn’t stand watching it because it hits to close to home.”

Meeting my brother at his work, in the the epicenter of Chinatown, we exchanged pleasantries and I ditched the mammoth rolling duffel full of waders, boots, etc., as well as the giant spey rod tube that had gathered so many quizzical looks from almost every set of eyes I had passed that day.

As a lover of the written word I made the obligatory pilgramage to the “Holy Chapel of the Written Word”, a.k.a. Powells Books, to while away my time waiting for my brother to wrap up his loose ends. A few hours later we were back at his home where I was fortunate enough to spend family time with his gracious wife and two wonderfully energetic and creative children. We even found time to head to the coastal range for a few hours to hunt for chanterelles in the wilderness, an experience that quite honestly deserves its own entry. It was a wonderful time to catch upend reconnect, yet still I found myself constantly retreating to my temporary guest room going through my inventory over and over making sure every thing was in order for the adventure just around the corner.

Leaving the people and population of Portland in our rear view mirror the next day we ascended the highway east along the Colombia river, going against the flow so to speak. With every mile, the chaos of the city (any city, anywhere) faded, giving way to the sanctity and serenity that open sky, water and wilderness are prepared to provide in abundance for those with adventurous hearts. Following the tell tale brown road signs (my favorite color of road signs) to the Deschutes River State Recreation Area we made our way to the tent only area where I unfurled my loaner tent, staked it out, entered, splayed out my fishing wares and comfort items. Stepping out of the tent I walked the 10 yards to the Deschutes and marveled at this fish thoroughfare, this bustling highway of salmon, trout, and steelhead all moving to and fro in this majestic body of water laid out within spitting distance of my temporary residence.

Day 1:  Awake at 5:30 and wondering (for the hundredth time) from the comfort of my down sleeping bag if the fish really were more likely to bite before sunrise. Somebody among my brothers friends that joined us the night before made that case, but the memories were a little fuzzy coming as they did minutes before I retreated to the warmth of the tent I now had no intention of leaving. Still, at this early hour, sitting up straight and taking a swig off the bottle of cold coffee I heard the painful unzipping of my brothers tent and knew that there was no backing out now, the brotherly competition simply wouldn’t allow for it.

The hike into the canyon was dark, with all of us keeping conversation to a minimum, recompense for a night of innocent yet indulgent fun. At some point I remember the sun working its way above the rim as my brother and I were left alone on a particular spot that he is particularly fond of. As he worked his way methodically down the hole I eased my way in to the water, raising my hood over my head and swung the spey rod, awkwardly at first, but finding thirty minutes later that the cast and the rhythm returned quickly despite not having cast a spey rod for two years.

In truth I don’t concretely remember the rest of the day and I blame that squarely on the first steelhead that took my hook early in the day. We’d given up on the spey rods due to high winds (something that would persist the rest of the trip) and opted instead for switch rods with nymph rigs. We were still on my brothers favorite spot watching our bobbers float past when the gentle ticks of hitting the bottom gave way to my indicator suddenly hauling ass across the river and the reel quickly screaming as though it had been startled by a ghost. There were runs, jumps and flashes of every shade of pink possible reflecting off the overcast sky as the wild steelhead and I took turns trying to out maneuver each other. Releasing this world traveling trout I realized I was trembling. Here I was, two hours into a three day trip and already I landed a wild steelhead that by all accounts I should have never encountered.

That single fish alone would have been enough to carry me through the day, if not the whole trip, but fortunately that experience played out twice more that day with two more wild steelhead brought to hand (no nets) and a handful more breaking me off despite my 12# tippet. I slept well that night due to exhaustion, but the flashes, strikes, and broken tippets crowded their way into every dream they possibly could.

Day 2: I somehow managed to convince my brother to sleep in so I could as well, I imagine it was the rum that I carefully steered clear of. After the crazy glow of the previous day I can honestly say that my only hope for the day was that my brother would hook a fish since I was still on cloud 9 from the previous day. To tell the truth I spent a good majority of the day just napping on the grass lined banks, snacking on my cheese, salami and baguette sandwich and enjoying my Pinot Grigio  while silently wishing fish to take whatever was at the end of my brothers line. A good day.

Day 3: Yeah…we slept in again. It was cold and wet on our last day, and fortunately these conditions meant that it was highly unlikely that anybody else would be out on the water. We fished long and we fished hard, my brother especially as I had now discovered the luxurious stress relief that was napping on the banks.

It was while waking from one of those five minute naps (glorious) that I saw my brothers rod tip bend and witnessed him working his way to a boulder and ascending it in order to gain a better vantage point on the steelhead trying desperately to disconnect itself from his game plan. It was a great tussle, but eventually the steelhead hooked him up on a rock instead of him, and like that it was over.

With the sun setting and cool weather sinking in it was time to leave and so we worked our way back down the trail until we were in sight of the parking lot at which point my brother decided to take one last stab. I propped my daypack behind me and downed the last of my food and drink while silently observing my brothers artfully executed casts.

Then this happened.

Out of wine, with the sun setting and my brother still in the water, I decided to make a couple of last casts upstream from him just to while away the last thirty minutes of daylight.

First cast…nothing.

Second cast…BOOM!

A tug of war, and eventually the fish below.

My brother was far to downstream to call, so I landed the fish, snapped a photo and made my way down the ever darkening trail, all the while thinking how dramatic this sudden last minute turn of events would be for this particular post.

Constructing the most dramatic statement I could think of for this particular experience I approached my brother with way to much smiling and joy in my stride.

Walking down the bank towards him (wading in the water) I distinctly remember saying “Now that’s how you end a storeeeeeeee…….” as I stepped off what I thought was the bank into nothingness and proceeded to fall face first completely into the river.

In the seconds before I hit the water though I remember actually laughing at the beauty of this sudden enlightenment the universe threw at me. The steelhead, the sudden dunking, life is never what you expect…best to laugh as it all goes down.

And THAT is how a story ends.

In a way Texas is no different than anywhere else when it comes to the first rule of seeking any sort of adventure, namely, if you desire to venture beyond the well trodden trail you’re going to have to forge your way off the beaten path. Unfortunately you have to try a hell of a lot harder in Texas than almost anywhere else in the United States since it ranks at #45 of states with the least percentage of public land (4% vs Colorado’s 43%). As a matter of fact Texas is probably one of the few states (in my experience anyway) that is not really about how far you can walk to escape the crowds, but more about little known public spots, tenuous personal connections and well memorized gate codes.

Texas also happens to be one of the more enlightened nearby states when it comes to flowing waters and issues of public property. Essentially if it’s a “navigable” river the river and the riverbed are considered public property as well as any islands located in them, a far cry from other local state policies where even setting your foot on a riverbed (no matter how shallow or deep) is considered trespassing. Take that Colorado.

So there’s the crux. It’s there, waiting for you in all it’s luxurious glory, ready to usher you though a scenic menu of mouth watering dishes and eye popping appetizers…BUT…you’ve got to figure out how to approach her.

Enter, stage right, the shuttle and the beer.

Both are common, almost none-descript items that are seldom given much more than a thought in this modern age. Yet when it becomes obvious that using ones vehicle to arrive at a given destination, only to float a few miles or more results in us ending up at a terminus far from our original point, simple, relatively over looked items like a vehicle and a cold six pack suddenly take on a new weight. They suddenly become the gateway to new unexplored (by us anyway) lands, to new runs, unseen rapids, herons and fish that lurk just outside of the publics attention.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve managed to access two long stretches of water that would have been incredibly difficult (if not logistically impossible) to explore thanks to the following:

  1. Figuring out via personal conversation and hours on the internet (Google Maps!) where to be.
  2. Knowing incredible people that want to make amazing things happen for you. Read: Selfless.
  3. Realizing that a gift of gratitude is worth far more than its price. Who doesn’t like gifts?

Anyway, I promised friends that helped get me on these waters that I wouldn’t reveal the locations, but in truth it really doesn’t matter where these fish were found. There are amazing, semi secluded spots you’ve never seen all over, whether they are here in Texas or on your local waters. Miraculously it doesn’t take a lot to discover these spots for oneself, and in all likelihood they’re probably just a friendly shuttle and a six-pack away.

Tomorrow is the grand opening for what is sure to be one of the most amazing fly shops in central Texas. Here is the information from their Facebook page!

Saturday, September 16th –
GRAND OPENING EVENT
at 103 N. Brown Street

Living Waters Fly Fishing now has a new home at 103 North Brown Street in Round Rock, Texas! Come out and celebrate with us! Lamppost Coffee (awesome local coffee shop) will be serving coffee when our doors open and there will be plenty of Round Rock Donuts. Matt Bennett with Fly Geek Custom Flies will be fly tying in our new fly tying loft – if you have never watched Matt tie a fly, get ready to be impressed! There will be live music from acoustic guitarist Chandler Hansen throughout the day as well. Gano’s Smokehouse will be serving up BBQ lunch plates at noon ($8 and $12 depending on the plate). TPWD Game Wardens will also be on site with the Operation Game Thief trailer! There will also be three rounds of prize drawings – you do have to enter the free drawing in store, but you don’t need to be present to win! Factory reps from Simms, Ross, Abel, Scientific Anglers, Umpqua, Fishpond, Hatch, TFO and more will be onsite to help answer all of your product questions! Prize items from Simms, Fishpond, Ross Reels, Scientific Anglers, and many more! It will be a shindig to remember, so come help us fill the new digs with fly shop family!

EVENT SCHEDULE:

9:00 A.M. – Doors Open/Round Rock Donuts/Lamppost Coffee

11:00 A.M. – Prize Drawing Round 1

12:00 P.M. – Lunch on site by Gano’s Smokehouse – $8 for Sandwich Combo and $12 for a 3 Meat Plate.

2:00 P.M. – Prize Drawing Round #2

4:00 P.M. – Prize Drawing Round #3

6:00 P.M. – Doors Close

I’ll be swinging by first thing in the morning so be sure to say hello and hit me up for some stickers!

 

It’s hard to get any three people to agree on doing anything anymore it seems, especially when two of them are not only husbands but fathers as well. If my direct personal experience is to be trusted(?), our lives are split and fragmented into so many thousands of tiny bits on a daily basis that finding more than a passing moment, much less an entire day, to focus one hundred percent on each other and a shared experience seems almost nostalgic in this day and age of dings, pings, and constant status updates.

Fortunately for me, I came of age well before even the cell phone was a thing (I was born in 1971). In fact a majority of my life was spent on road trips and adventures where being accessible in any way shape or form simply wasn’t a thing. In my more recent years  I’ve embraced the smartphone for the amazing things it can do (water flows, photo editing, chess) but definitely realize that the trade off is losing that freedom of simply being invisible and unconnected. Luckily there are still a few places where it’s still possible to lose a signal and you’re able to get in touch with nature and the friends that surround you.

 

Recently I pulled into one such signal free sanctuary, Pedernales State Park to meet up with friends Nate and Niall for what was supposed to be a leisurely waltz between pools below the falls. With the oppressive heat still lingering like an unwelcome guest we made our way from pool to pool with little luck. Eventually we made it to one of my favorite spots on the river, a sun drenched stretch hardly knee deep and consistently full of shifting sand bars, roving gar and cruising, distracted carp.

Three weight in hand I stalked the familiar “flats” keeping an eye out for a carp on the hunt. Surprisingly enough it only took a couple of minutes to find a cruiser, cast the fly immediately over its shoulder, strip once and suddenly feel the pull of the animal universe on the other end of the line. After a full summer of them being few and far between it was an immensely satisfying feeling to once again hold a carp close and take in its off brand beauty.

Laughing from the small but immense victory, Nate and I headed down river to hook up with Niall and evaluate our situation.  At this point it was either a quick walk back to our cars via a secret trail to escape the relentless heat and humidity or set out on a 200 yard trek though head high weeds and relentless thorns to show them one of the most magical fishing spots I’ve ever discovered, far back in the nooks and crannies of Pedernales SP.

Ever the troopers they both decided to forge ahead into the thicket, partly because of curiosity but also likely due to the fact that I purposely understated the difficulty in getting there. I’d made this trip before under similar circumstances and therefore was wearing pants, unfortunately my short wearing co-horts didn’t know what they’d signed up for but still braved some intense bush whacking none the less as we set off into the thicket.

Eventually we stumbled out of the brush and onto the stretch of river that I’ve christened “Eden” due to its immense beauty, fishy as hell waters, and capacity to somehow how make one feel isolated yet fully connected to the cosmos at the same time. I’ve had this feeling countless times fishing here alone and I was glad as hell that I was here with friends that deserved to get their own read on the place after putting in their time foraging ahead through the thick of things.

Eventually everyone seemed to find their own space, spreading out and casting at their own rhythm. While Nate and I both had moderate success, it was Niall that eventually tapped into the beat of the river and managed to land an incredible bass that was easily the fish of the day. Having given Nate and Niall space by moving far upstream I missed the epic battle, but honestly I prefer it that way. I’ve written my story on this stretch of water before, now it was their time to create their own narrative, I’ll just hand it down.

Thank you Nate, Niall, the Pedernales and all the aquatic life for the amazing day.

An epic disaster. There’s no other way to put the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey. With the population of Texas and the amount of people hit by the hurricane it’s not unlikely that anyone, anywhere in this country might know friends or family that suffered through this tragedy. If however you live in Texas it is beyond likely that either you or someone you know, be they family, co-worker, or simply the staff of that coffee shop you love in Port Aransas (here’s looking at you Coffee Waves). It’s also likely that if you live in this state you know somebody that volunteered their time to help those effected or hooked their boat up to their truck and headed down to help rescue folks rom the flooding waters (like the folks at Go Outside Expedition Co. and MANY, MANY, MANY more).

There are countless articles that will surely be written about this storm for some time to come, but there’s one unique story that I noticed through my work/blog/social media connections that I’d love to share with you, the readers.

I don’t know if it’s only because for the first time in my life I’ve lived in a state that has suffered such a monumental calamity, but in addition to the AMAZING work of organized relief efforts and courageous individuals there has been a HUGE cry of support from Texas-based businesses. These are people who live here, work here and play here in Texas, be they the Yeti monolith (Austin) or up and coming companies like Sight Line Provisions (Austin). All of the following just happen to be businesses I personally know that contributed all proceeds of one kind or another to Hurricane Harvey relief and as such should be remembered as local businesses that helped fellow citizens out, putting philanthropy for profit. It’s not that a massive check from Amazon isn’t appreciated, but when your dollars spent locally directly feed back into your community those dollars can pack much more of a punch, with a lot more love behind them.

Already happened:

Yeti (Austin): donated all sales (heard it was 1.5 million) on 09/01/17 to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

Gruene Outfitters (Gruene): inspired by Yeti, donated all sales ($11,500) on 09/01/17 to Salvation Army in the Gulf Coast area.

Epic Bars (Austin): donated $400,000 worth of product (food) to Central Texas Food Bank.

The River House ( Gruene): took all sales from 09/01 ($3,500) and donated to relief efforts. (P.S. Their deviled eggs are to die for.)

Ongoing:

Howler Bros (Austin): donating all sales from limited edition T-shirt to hurricane recovery, $50,000 already raised before Sept. 1st.

Sightline Provisions (Austin/Dripping Springs): already did limited run and $1,300 donation, now donating 50% of all new limited edition bracelets to relief efforts.

Sea Level (Corpus Christi): doing a run of limited edition t-shirts with 100% proceeds going to Corpus Christi Food Bank

Whole Earth Provision Co. (Texas staple): previous employer I love that is now undertaking a fund drive for the Houston Food Bank

I’m sure there are many local Texas companies that I’ve missed here so please feel free to comment with information on a brand / company you love or work for and let us know how they’ve helped so we can support them!