Let me set the mood. I have never liked dams, ever.
I love that rivers flow, winding across the landscape on a continuous journey home to reunite with the deep and mysterious ocean. Dams put an end to that wandering spirit. While there may be legitimate reasons for them (electrical power, flood control, etc.) i’ve never been able to see them as anything more than a giant fence corralling the impulses of water.
I’ve never wanted to be a dam, but i’ve always wanted to be a river.
Knowing this, imagine by surprise when a recent recon trip put me on the backside of one of these monstrosities and i found my distaste slowly morph into a mild reverence for something i’ve deplored for so long.
The first time i paddled around the river below the dam i was in a constant shock. The water was so clear you could see easily four feet into it without any distortion. Dipping dry fingertips into the water it felt cool to the touch, a fascinating feeling considering that the weather was triple digits and merciless.
It took a bit, as it always does, to start seeing the shapes moving in the shadows, but eventually i could make out a fish here, another there. Before long i saw the first school of footlong bass cruising the shallows, followed by a second school of carp working the limestone floor below. Suddenly i couldn’t help but notice that they were everywhere, hundreds of fish swimming in schools, moving with such synchronicity that they seemed to share the same mind. It felt strangely like floating over the largest aquarium you’d ever seen.
What followed that first day felt like a dream, especially after having a string of fishing trips that were wonderful in many ways, but had produced little, if any, actual fish.
On this day i managed to get a couple of bass (above) on the 4WT that jumped on cue as the other angler on the water glanced over to see what all the commotion was. Bluegill made the obligatory catch, before catching two special red ear (above), a fish that eluded me for months during last year’s Texas Hill Country Contest.
The final flourish on the day turned out to be the greatest battle, a 10.5″ red breast (below) that slashed through the water before bulldogging me in the plant-life suspended from the depths. It never ceases to amaze me the bend that a healthy and vigorous sunfish can put in a 4WT rod.
It was an amazing day in a lot of ways, not only because of the fishing, but also the cool unpopulated water, the cypress trees flanking the banks and the unending revolving door of Herons and Egrets. I knew i’d have to return soon and share this thick walled Eden with my family.
Days later i made that return with my family along eager to see what i had been gushing about for the last few days. Setting off for what would unanimously turn into our new favorite “Secret Spot” we probably looked as well provisioned as Columbus, paddling a flotilla of watercraft that included me towing a float tube with more food, drink, and luxuries (camp chairs, hammocks, etc.) than you could shake a fly rod at.
It was a great day with a few small fish caught, but a lot of quality time spent with my wife and son. It could have ended there and i would have been happy, but there was still one final explanation mark to be put on the day thanks to the Fates.
I had seen them on the previous trip, after all it’s hard to miss 2-3 foot long fish breaking the surface, they were big carp working the top of the weed beds along the shore. I had cast continuously to them days before and received nothing, not even the faintest hint of interest. Spotting one on this day, as the sun was setting and time was getting short, i cast his direction with no expectations.
With the fly landing ahead of him, and off to the side, i stripped slowly three times before pausing the sacrificial fly directly in front of the beast.
“I think it sees the fly.” spoke the internal monologue.
“It’s turning it’s head!”
“It’s lips, i saw the pink!”
…breathe dam it!…
“Did it take my fly?!”
If you want to hear the play by play of the next 25 minutes, stroll on over next time we cross paths, for the “Directors Cut” we’ll probably need a beer or glass of wine.
Suffice to say, paddling against a strong current, having a giant fish pull you and your paddle board around, all while being run into your backing multiple times and getting bull dogged, all on a 4WT is a hell of a lot of fun.
The excitement of the experience was doubly so because it was shared directly with my family. Of course they know i catch fish, but to have them there for THAT fish, getting to be a part of the madness as it unfolded, and seeing such an enormous fish like that up close made it by far the most special fishing experience i’ve ever had. All because i got to share it with those closest to me.
Imagine, all this below a dam. I’ll be back, and likely with a little less contempt.
P.S. Thank you Liza and Paolo for all the help making it happen.