photo by Nathan Peck

Well, it’s happened once again. Here in Texas it was another unbelievably dry summer with little to no rain causing most of our waterways to dry up, leaving their limestone river beds naked and exposed like bleached fossils from an ancient time. Naturally this did not bode well for vast swaths of our local fish population and in turn any angler wary to stress a fish further while it’s already hanging on by a thread. Fortunately in the last few weeks we’ve received some significant rain that is once again breathing life back into our waterways, meaning that the fish, flush with vim and vigor, were once again on the move. Time to hustle.

As is true anywhere, certain rivers in Texas are more susceptible than others to the various moods that the weather and its cohorts can impart upon it. In my mind (and locale) the Blanco River is the epitome of this, sometimes a raging source of destruction as it was in 2015 and at other times a hapless trickle that would barely register as a creek on most peoples radars. It’s the bellwether for local environmental trends as well as a trusted friend since it lies on my work commute from Austin to Gruene and is what one might call a “frequent watering hole” of mine.

Weeks beforeI had visited the park only to find a series of muddy, unconnected pools of water little more than a foot deep. Upon returning, post rains, with my good friend Nate, we launched our Native boards from the now waist deep bank and paddled hard and far up a healthy artery of water that was rife with possibilities. The company was great, the flows were prodigious and everything in sight seemed to be radiating an intense green as though the saturation levels had been bumped as high as they’d go.

The paddle upstream turned out to be a bit much since two and a half miles is a good distance any day, doubly so when you’re paddling against a healthy flow. In retrospect I probably hadn’t completely filled Nate in on the distance we’d be paddling but I knew exactly where it was we were heading since I’d glimpsed this pool just out of reach on a previous paddle. At that time back during equally healthy flows I saw what promised to be a pool of epic proportions but had come on it close to sunset with darkness looming, forcing me to turn back without exploring its grandeur. Now, after a few hours of paddling and portaging, we were finally there, standing on the low water crossing, water flowing over it, staring at a massive pool of possibility framed on one side by a gravel bank and on the other by limestone cliffs that had to be at least 50 feet high.

photo by Nathan Peck

Directly above the low water crossing was a bottle necked riffle that we approached cautiously and carefully, a mere 20 feet wide at the most, flowing clear and fast with only a downed tree to break up the monotony of the flows. I cast slightly upstream, expecting the white wooly bugger to drift close to the downed tree on it’s way downstream and luring out any shy bass lying in wait. Instead I saw movement in my peripheral vision that seemed to be rocks in the riverbed tumbling over themselves from the head of the rapids. The shape bolted downstream through the riffle with unwavering speed and intent before crushing the Wooly Bugger, oblivious to the fact that it was playing out this heart stopping scene less than ten feet away from the nervous, shaking person on the other end of that line. It was an intense fight as I struggled to land the bass on the 4WT rod while simultaneously trying to recall what weight leader I had on the end of my line, and therefore just how much room for error I could afford. It turned out to be the biggest Guadalupe Bass I’ve ever personally landed and damn near brought me to tears with the way the entire thing had played out in order to hold that fish, ever briefly, before returning it to its home.

Minutes later Nate cast in to the same body of water with a larger streamer and managed to get out a few words along the line of, “I think this streamer is too big,” before said streamer was inhaled by a Guadalupe that was in fact hanging out below the downed tree aforementioned. It was glorious. I demurred at his offer to take my turn casting into the magical waters, partly because the magic had already happened for me and partly because I wanted to see it continue to manifest for him. Two casts later it happened again for Nate, big bass, big fight…things were getting weird.

Suffice to say this day was beyond reproach. Paddling even further upstream through deep gin clear pools framed by statuesque limestone cliffs, a cool breeze at our backs and sunny skies overhead it was hard to not feel like we were traipsing around some remote, exotic locale instead of a body of water just miles from the interstate corridor.

The scenery and weather alone made for an idyllic setting that any sane person would gladly appreciate but adding to the charm was that all this time the bass were coming at our flies like torpedos, seemingly oblivious to us, our watercraft, or really anything much at all.

I’m pretty sure I had a bunch of lousy days of fishing leading up to this but strangely enough I can’t seem to recall them with any sort of clarity now. A day full of clear skies, clear water, healthy flows, voracious fish and a good friend to share it all with seems to have that effect.

Grab a friend, a rod and get out there. Now!

photo by Nathan Peck