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As always, a ferocious mix of photos, art, and words that will either piss you off or bring you hours of knowing smiles, courtesy of Southern Culture on the Fly.

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The news was sad indeed. My grandmother had encountered increasing health problems and finally passed to the other side of the veil early last week. A wonderful  grandmother in many ways, one of my favorite things about her was the way she actually got my teenage, offbeat and ironic sense of humor in the early eighties long before sarcasm was mainstream (yeah i’m looking at you hipsters!) In addition she also had AMAZING cooking skills, and somehow managed to find a way to live with a die hard fisherman for decades without visibly (to me at least) being upset with his constant desire to be on the water.

The day after the news i was driving alone through the north half of Texas, all of Oklahoma and the vast majority of Kansas. It was a fourteen hour trip (one way) of reflection that only allowed me time to cement the obvious, namely that all life is transient, loved ones should never be taken for granted, and any time spent with children (even if they think they’re not enjoying it at the time) will probably provide them with cherished moments that they will take to their grave. (For example, my aversion of fishing in my youth that turned into an addiction many years later.)

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After a whirlwind 24 hour stay that felt like a waking dream, seeing extended family i hadn’t seen in many, many years and a small town that has changed dramatically in the decade since i’d been there last, i spun the Element southward, leaving the Land of Frozen Water, planning to return home, but feeling an increasing need to pause somewhere along the way for some quick down time to process the onslaught of emotions i’d been bombarded with.

Hours later, i was propped up in a hotel bed in Tulsa, Oklahoma and locked into their WI-FI searching for information on Broken Bow in southeast Oklahoma, a trout fishing destination that i’d heard many people rave about over the years. It took no time to find reviews and pinpoint directions to Broken Bow, but the generated enthusiasm was short lived when i read that floods in December had wiped out fishing spots and fishing shops along the Bow, shutting the entire park down for the foreseeable future.

Fortunately in my research something else did pop up, although with far less fanfare and information, the Blue River Public Fishing and Hunting Area in south central Oklahoma. For whatever reason, information on the Blue River fishery is almost non existent, though i was eventually able to discern that there were healthy flows and they did indeed stock the river with trout on a fairly regular basis which was more than enough reason to invite myself to her strange and unfamiliar waters.

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The backwoods drive in had me worried i’d made a huge mistake, especially when i pulled into the local convenience store to find that they no longer sold fishing licenses as the internet had purported. Grabbing a gallon of water i strolled the grounds looking for a cell phone signal in hopes i could register for my license (very, very slowly) online since the nearest physical license would require a one hour (each way) drive that i simply didn’t have time for.

Eventually i found  a signal, paid my nominal fishing fee, and wandered along a trail into one of the most magical fishing experiences i’ve ever had. The Blue River was truly unlike any body of water i’ve ever seen. Not really your basic contained river, it’s more like an endless network of massive creeks flowing in and out of each other, with falls and plunge pools punctuation the beginning and end of every aquatic sentence along the many miles of trout stocked water.

Hiking and fishing as many of the miles of trails that i could manage in my painfully brief stay i was constantly shocked by the seemingly endless cavalcade of falls and whitewater that were not only scenic post cards in the making, but also full of energetic rainbows that got more naive the further you traveled along the trail and away from the highway.

The best part of the experience? There was not a soul in sight. It was exactly what i needed, hours spent among the trees and open waters, with nothing but the calm stillness of nature. Falls, clear water, conifers, ducks, hawks and trout seemed to offer their respects, keeping chatter to a minimum.

With the memories coming on heavily in the silence, i cried, as much out of sadness that my grandma was gone as out of the happiness of knowing that she was back with her husband, the mad hatter that somehow imparted in me the love of fishing decades before it would become so much to me.

I love you both. Thank you for all the memories.

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Want to go and experience trout fishing in Oklahoma?

Websites:

Blue River Public Fishing and Hunting Area – The official state run Facebook page with a wealth of information on stocking dates, stocking sites, directions and more.

www.blueriverok.com – One of the very few sites with information on what is otherwise a difficult to research trout fishing haven.

Camping: 

Camping sites are on a first come, first serve basis and are shockingly (to those of us from Texas) FREE! More details on camping can be found at the www.blueriverok,com site mentioned above.

Oklahoma Fishing Licenses:

www.wildlifedepartment.com/license.htm – There is no spot anywhere close that sells Oklahoma licenses, so we recommend buying and printing them up before setting out.

Distance:

From Austin it’s a five hour drive, which isn’t that much if you think that northern New Mexico and the Cimarron are 14 hours away. For those in north Texas (Dallas and Fort Worth) it’s so close that you need to make it happen, if you haven’t already.

 

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A wonderful video on knowing what you want, going for it, and watching everything fall into place.

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Somewhere in small town Oklahoma i swooned over the idea of owning this unique vehicle.

FYI: Want to see more vehicles that might cause you to consider throwing your fly rods in and driving off into the horizon? Maybe you have a photo you want  to share? Then visit us on Instagram at www.instagram.com/diefische to see more photos, or add the tag #fishridedaydream to one of your photos to share it.

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After a few windy, shaken hours of pushing ahead, the Element crested the hill and started to descend into the Texas Hill Country that houses the Frio River, audibly breathing a sigh of relief. In a fit of celebration it signified its enthusiasm by lighting up the empty tank light, causing immediate consternation and stress among it’s passengers, especially yours truly who knew there was a good half hour of nothingness to go before hitting anything resembling civilization. Sinking the weight of my body into the steering wheel, i envisioned myself half physically pushing the car along and half willing it along the asphalt trail sprawled out in front of the dashboard.

It was the first of a handful of small but frustrating, unexpected twists and turns in our family’s three day trip to Garner State Park, an escape of sorts that has become an annual pilgrimage for us. The focus was once again, as it has been in the past, was some serious family time in the outdoors, and trout…ideally lots of trout.

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Garner State Park lies on the Frio river, one of the coldest, clearest, and most scenic rivers that flow through the Hill Country here in Texas. While it’s mostly thought of as a “Tubing River” by the throngs of people that float the cool water in the middle of our sauna like summers, it’s also an amazing bass fishery in the summer, and a well stocked trout fishery during the winter months thanks to Texas Parks & Wildlife.

For any first time visitor to the Frio, it’s easy to scoff (as i did initially) at a body of water that looks to be less than a few inches deep across its waistline. Wading in, one will quickly find themselves with water over the waders just a few feet from shore. The water is so incredibly clear that there is truly no way to tell if the water is six inches deep or six feet deep without wading out into overhead water of paddling across its glossy surface. (The photo below is a shot of the river bottom. The camera is one inch below the surface and the rocks are easily six feet below though you can’t tell it from the photo.)

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Camped as we were on the north side of the park, a drive away from the southernly stocked section of the park, i was fortunate enough to be required to paddle one of our two watercraft down to the trout stocked pool on the south-side of the park to meet up with my wife and son who would be shuttling the other boat that way with the car.

Setting off alone and gliding the boat into the small but ferocious flows, the current (around 130 CFS) quickly sucked me in and dictated the course for the day which was essentially “Downstream. Quickly.” It was amazing, to put it mildly.

It was once again proof that in an overdeveloped and privatized state like Texas there were still ways to see this states most scenic aspects just by hopping in a floating craft and letting her guide you along some of her most beautiful routes.

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In two days of fishing (in a family man sort of way, which is to say “less than normal”) i never caught the trout i was looking for (though i did mange to catch an unseasonably hyperactive bass during the float (below), the only fish of the trip, and a hell of a lot of fun in the higher flows.) Having been stocked back in December there were very few trout left (50 or less of the 1,000 by my estimate), and those that were still there were seemed to have figured out how to avoid fools like me with aplomb.

Fortunately for anyone that can find the time, a fresh batch of 1,000 just went in today (1/22) and another batch will be dropped in on 2/12 for all those lucky to break away from city life and make their way to this jewel in the hill country. So if you have a watercraft and unused sick days, i suggest you get there soon.

Just be sure to top off the tank when the opportunity strikes.

If you want to go:

Closest town:  Leaky, Texas which now has at least two 24 hour gas stations. The local grocery store Leakey Mercantile is your one stop shop for any forgotten provisions.

Campgrounds: Garner State Park sits on the bank of the Frio river and provides both tent and RV camping as well as screened shelters.  There are numerous other RV sites and summer rentals in the area and any Google search will point you in the right direction.

Other visitor information: There are a handful of restaurants and stores in the area, but hours are spotty at best during the “off-season” winter months so i HIGHLY recommend calling ahead to see if what you want is open between Thanksgiving and spring break.

Important Note: The park will be closed from 10 p.m. on Feb. 8 until 8 a.m. on Feb. 10, 2016. – from the TPWD website

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Stuck as i was in the “Black Hole of Commerce” that was the holidays in retail, i missed a lot of wonderful things that you might already be privy to if 33% of your work load doesn’t fall on one month. One such thing i totally missed was the new issue of Southern Culture on the Fly which is always a special treat. In addition to the amazing photos they always run, there is a special sense of “WTF?” that happens every time i read this e-rag, thanks in large part to their unique sense of humor, something that the world of fly fishing sorely needs.

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Every year for the past seven or so years i’ve signed up as a member with the local Guadalupe River Trout Unlimited in an effort to take part in their incredible program here in central Texas. In a nutshell, the group collects dues and stocks a portion of the Guadalupe river outside of  New Braunfels with some impressively sized trout. Every one of the years i’ve signed up, i’ve opted to sign my son up for free with me, in hopes that some day i could share my accumulated knowledge of these waters with him.

Seven years later, after this summers “New Mexico Epiphany” where he decided he’d like to fly-fish and immediately succeeded in landing both stocked AND wild trout in one day, he was pleading with me to take him fishing on the Guadalupe. When i informed him that i had in fact signed him up every year in hopes of sharing these local waters i got that watery eye look that let me know that he and i were sharing a mutual admiration and affection that every parent should be lucky enough to experience.

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Had this been any of the previous three or four years, with languid flows slowly creeping through the porous rocks and cracked banks, i would have taken him that instant. However, flows had been hovering around 600CFS for weeks, and personal experience during that time had quickly shown me that the river that seemed like a tamed puppy at the 50-100 CFS i’d come to know, was an uncaring, unflinching, fist of power when cranked up to 600 plus CFS. Hell, i’m about as stubborn as they get, and even i remember standing in the river, half way across, feeling the force of the current forcing me to slowly stumble backwards, with the water eagerly lapping at the top of my waders and thinking “No fish is worth dying over.” before carefully working my way back to the bank, with beads of sweat dripping into my eyes.

Fortunately, a few days after that the flows had dropped to around 300+, and mutual dreams were made as my son and i made our way to the Guadalupe in search of trout TOGETHER for the first time ever. After a brief stop at Cabela’s to pick up an inexpensive pair of waders for Paolo that fit his feet but were otherwise sized to fit someone five times his weight, we arrived at the river, baggy waders in place, and grins bouncing back and forth like some crazed tennis match of smiles

I immediately managed to land a few trout as well as my first rock ever (which felt like a struggling turtle as it came up, and YES, i’ve caught one of those and would know) while waiting for him to get comfortable at the mere thought of standing in water without getting wet which he thought was pretty amazing (do you remember what a strange feeling that was the first time?)

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After a couple of hours of top notch casts by Paolo, trying a few different spots, and still no trout on the hook for him, we were ready to call it a day when i took him to one of the spots that i know best. I was a little hesitant since even for me this spots depth pushed the vertical limit of my waders to the test, usually creeping over the top in aquatic celebration as they absorbed into my otherwise dry clothing. Needless to say my sons clothing was in jeopardy, but i was far to eager to put him on fish, in spite of his reassurance that just hanging out together was all he really needed to make the day complete.

A short while later, tight against the bank, slipping on underwater cypress roots, with extremely technical side casts needed to be made under the low hanging branches, i realized that in my desperation to put my son on a fish i’d put him in a position that was a pain in the ass for an established angler, much less someone who had angling days in the low single digits. Feeling bad for adding so much pressure to the situation, i asked if he wanted to go. As he turned to answer i saw the indicator plunge and yelled “STRIKE” as the rod was lifted, as were the corners of his mouth.

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Seconds later, he landed the beautiful trout in the top picture and smiled with joy as i snapped a photo of him and his first Texas trout. Immediately upon releasing the trout safely he misplaced a foot, went slightly horizontal and experienced the power of a healthy river filling his waders (fortunately i made him wear a wading belt much to his chagrin) as i reached out without thinking and grabbed him by his shoulder straps and threw him on the bank thanks to the kind of strength that only comes in moments of crisis such as these.

It was a little hairy to be sure, and an hour or so later, after buying dry clothes at Target and settling in to a warm booth at the Huisache Grill in New Braunfels for fried food and comforting drinks (wine and root beer) we reassessed the day and agreed on two cardinal rules for what we hope to be a lifetime of shared fishing adventures.

  1. We don’t wade in up to our chest anymore.
  2. Fish together as much as possible.

Other than that, the rest is just details. We’re both hoping that they can all be worked out over the next few decades during endless hours on tree lined banks awash in the sound of flowing water, augmented by the laughter of two anglers enjoying time together.

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