Two days off in a row. It’s something many people take for granted, but in the retail / management world it almost never happens. After recent store floods absconded with my day off, it was an absolute pleasure to recapture that day, pack the Element and head to the Hill Country. The recent rains that had soaked much of Austin as well as my store fortunately meant that flows were once again back at Pedernales State Park, my favorite fishing spot in Texas and one that you should absolutely check out if you’ve never been there.
Arriving at the campgrounds to find my favorite spot taken, i quickly opted for one spot over in hopes that it had sufficient trees for me to try braving the elements and imaginary danger by sleeping in my ENO hammock. I’m sure this seems absolutely rediculous, but for whatever reason, the lightest and thinnest of tents is like some sort of safety blanket to me, protecting me from not only scorpions, snakes, and other creepy crawlies, but also lions, tigers, bears, and all sorts of other things that bump in the night, where the exposure of a hammock causes me to feel like i’m going to be hauled off in the middle of the night by bandits riding on the backs of grizzlies.
After quickly setting up camp, i headed down to the base of the falls and started flogging the water like a madman. Working my way down from the big pool at the base of the falls through some fast water and down into some of the more secluded pools i was bummed to continuously feel nothing on the other end of my line. It was shocking to say the least that all this gorgeous water was flowing with nothing playing in the flows, but memories of the last few years reminded me that these waters and flows have been more or less non-existent for the last few years and now there are is a ton of water but few survivors to enjoy the opulence temporarily provided.
Making my way back up to the narrow chute of whitewater at the very base of the falls, i was flabergasted to catch four bass, in a quick 30 minutes, each getting progressively larger in size, like some Russian nesting doll operating in reverse.
Reeling in the first and smaller of the bass (above), he quickly became a streamer fly for a much larger bass easily four times his size that was trying to inhale him with aplomb and vigor. It all happened so quick that the larger bass actually had my smaller catch halfway in it’s mouth before i jerked the little guy out of the maws of death just as he surely thought himself to be bass jerky.
On the very next cast, i managed to land the fish in the title image that seemed like a powerful adversary as he used his moderate but impressive girth (this is after all the Pedernales, no the Colorado river, so sizes are all relative) to bend the 5WT a decent amount and get me fairly excited.
However, as mentioned above, the fish seemed to strangely expand in size with every tug, and it was the fourth fish that thoroughly rocked my world. With the Clouser dropping like lead, and the line suddenly going taught in the whitewater, i figured that i had hung up on some of the debris that surely washed down during the recent flood. As the bass bolted into a side pool with obvious intents on cutting the tippet on an obviously sharp rock submerged just a few feet below the surface i struggled to try and apply the brakes, digging the butt-less end of my 5WT into my hip and quickly feeling two thoughts at the same time; 1) I need a 5WT with a fighting butt. 2) These flows and this fish in particular were rapidly making me feel under gunned.
Snapping a photo of the bucket mouth, releasing him, and watching his wake part the water above him, i felt eternally grateful for the exciting moment that we both shared. It was a feeling that continued for the next couple of fish less hours before sunset and through out the less than remarkable day that the following day would bring. Oh well, it’s for moments like that bass tearing my line off the reel that we all fish for, and at least i got to have one. It’s also a painful / pleasant reminder of how wonderful and productive our local waters can be if we’d could just get out of this drought…
Oh yeah, i’m finally over my tent / hammock fear, so i’ve got that going for me.
I am so incredibly thankful for my job at Whole Earth Provision Co. downtown and the amazing people that i work with. How many other jobs get to turn fun new product they receive like the Yeti Hoppers we just got in stock into fun photos like this? I’ve worked a lot of jobs and i can tell you, “Not many.”
P.S. If you’re thinking of picking one up you might want to smear some hurry on it, there’re only ten in stock until next month (and Yeti.com doesn’t even have them yet!)
As fall starts to slowly lurch forward for most parts of the northern U.S., many of us (especially here in Texas) are starting to daydream of cooler weather, increased fish activity, long sleeve flannels, beanies, and flasks providing a little interior warmth from the wet/cold drizzle or snow. As everyone knows, there’s nothing better to chase a shot of firewater than a playlist of eclectic country songs of whiskey and heartbreak, and die Fische is here to help with our second playlist entitled “Shoot Dang” now available here via Spotify. Y’all come back now ya’ here?!
Well, now that the report on the three week Colorado trip has come to an end i can finally report on what i’ve been doing since then, unfortunately it’s not pretty. Well Colorado was an endless menagerie of water and fish (even if only trout species) my return to fishing in Texas has been marred by incredibly uncooperative conditions. With temperatures soaring into the 100+ degrees and creeks and rivers drying up, i’ve regrettably spent more time holed up in my air-conditioned den banging away on the computer reliving heavenly days of wanderlust and trout than i have on local waters. Fortunately, despite the setbacks, the little amount of time i’ve spent on the water has provided me with some unique experiences that while sporadic and barren, have still continued to motivate me to get out and about.
The first experience i had after returning from Colorado state, was heading out to The Narrows on the Colorado river where i spent more time dragging my paddle board through the shallow sand and gravel bars than i did fishing. It was while fishing there with a sinking line in a deeper than average pool that i hooked into a fish that started to tear my line up and down the pool causing me to think i had hooked into a three pound bass. Shockingly it turned out to be a small white bass, a real brute for sure, but a fish that i only would expect to find in this stretch of the Colorado river during spawning season (March). It was an amazing find, but after weeks of multi-fish days in Colorado state, i paddled away feeling depressed that one fish, ONE FISH, was all that i had managed after hours of work.
A few weeks later my family and i headed to a local sunday hotspot to grab some breakfast tacos and made our way down to the Barton Creek greenbelt to wander around and get some exercise. Lazily exploring the dry as a bone stream bed we crested a berm and were immediately thrust into an amazing display of artistic fortitude. Ahead of us were hundreds of cairns blanketing the creek bed, causing it to look like some Frankenstein cross between a natural phenomenon and an art gallery. Rock upon rock, upon rock…the only word i could utter over and over was “magical”.
Over the next couple of weeks i managed to explore varied waters, but due to high heat and low flows the nibbles and bites were so few and far between that the three fish in this post were the only fish that i caught in a month of sporadic fishing (although each one of them was truly a pleasure to catch and land.) And still the thoughts of all those high water trout lingered.
The carp (below) was by far the most rewarding fish of the last month if only because it was the most difficult. With flows at Pedernales registering at .5 CFS it’s been incredibly difficult to sneak up on fish submerged in water not much deeper than their shoulders. After a couple of hours of casting and spooking some fish i managed to spot a carp trying improbably to work his way up the weak flows into a pocket of deeper water just a few feet upstream of him.
Casting a brown Wooly Bugger upstream to meander down through the meager flows i was shocked to see the carp go for the fly with a brash confidence as i gawked and set the hook quickly. What followed was an incredible fight on a 3WT that repeatedly had me feeling like i might loose the carp before remembering that thanks to my last few days in Colorado i was sporting 2X tippet that could easily handle a 10 pound fish.
Many days later, after all these fish were caught, the water started to fall from the sky in an unnerving way. On what should have been a day off for fishing i was bummed to find that not only did the store where i manage flood, but muddy and murky waters in all the local creeks and rivers meant that fishing would be out of the question for the foreseeable future.
Three days after the torrent of rain, i returned to the special spot on the Greenbelt that had housed the aforementioned Hall of Cairn. Standing on the bank gawking at the still flowing torrent (photo below) i observed that the garden at the peak of the flash flood would have been below ten feet of water, without a doubt it was no more. At first it seemed sad to lose something so creative and wonderful, but then it dawned on me that this was a white sheet of paper, a clean slate for all those rock art pioneers that took part to start anew, including me. This was the in your face opportunity i needed to close a chapter on Colorado and stop comparing that adventure with the one that laid at my doorstep.
Sometimes we’re capable of hitting the “reset” button ourselves, other times we need the universe to strike us so violently and suddenly that we end up standing on muddy banks staring at muddy whitewater and suddenly thinking “Aha…”
As for now? I’m done chasing the demons of the past. Now I’m focused on the ghost fish of the future tense.
Those fly fishing adventure junkies over at Motiv fishing are at again, this time beating the waters around Papa New Guinea searching for epic bass. Thank you to Costa del Mar for continuing to help bring us these insane adventures that inspire us to get out there and fish outside of our comfort zone!
“Into the Gorge”
Trying to get a few last hours of sleep in our small camper along the Gunnison river, i was suddenly awaken by my father, his outline bathed in an ominous glowing ambience provided by a sudden strike of lightning, his words indiscernible over the loud crack of thunder that ripped open the sky before dumping a deluge of water onto all our fishing gear spread around the outside of the camper. It didn’t take long to run out and tuck it all under the camper, and even less time to fall back asleep, but that’s only because i didn’t know what the onslaught of moisture meant for our drive the next day into the heart of the Gunnison Gorge, it’s a good thing too, because had i known i wouldn’t have slept at all.
The next morning as the six clients (John his wife Pattie, Alan, Greg my father and i) loitered around the van, the guides (Patrick, Stuart, Steve and their assistant Tom) seemed to be taking their time corralling us and boarding the bus. Oddly enough, as we turned off the main highway out of Delta, and turned onto the dirt road, their already soft tones came to a halt, like birds before a storm, sending off warning signals, but for what i had no idea. A few miles further Steve (our driver / guide) stopped in the middle of the innocuous looking dirt road that was freshly bathed in rain water, stepped out and locked the hubs on the four wheel drive van. Hopping back in the seat and giving the monster gas, Steve caused the giant white egg to move forward. No sooner had i started to form my question “What was that…?” than we started sliding in odd and mysterious ways on the strange “mud” that due to the nights rain had become a cross between ice and soap, causing an already difficult four wheel drive to take on a whole additional level of fear. Suffice to say that any ride where gravity’s downward pull on your vehicle is halted not by brakes or friction (two things i will never take for granted again), but by catching a muddy rut broadside, bringing you, your compatriots and a two ton vehicle (plus a ton of gear) to a tenuous stop inches shy of a 200 foot cliff, will be a quiet ride, since all riders will be so busy trying to remember to breathe that words will be surely be kept to a minimum.
Pulling into the parking lot i almost jumped out and kissed the ground before noticing that folks were already heading down our mile and a half decent down, down, down into the heart of the Gorge. Hoisting my 75 pound pack i started slipping and sliding down the trail that felt like it was coated in chocolate pudding, sliding an extra three feet with every step taken. As my steps progressed, i started running through the inventory and wight in my pack, making sure to curse each and every item for the undue exhaustion it was causing.
In an effort to save my dad and i some money from having wine brought in by mule the day before, i had thrown two Bota Box wine bladders in my pack, obviously not expecting this sort of death march down to the river. As much as i love wine, i have to confess that those two bladders were cursed under my breath with every sliding footstep, and every article of clothing in my pack was accused of crimes of treason. Of course, once we got to the water all was forgiven and i pardoned both the wine and the clothing, assuring both of them that i would make their extra weight well worth my while, especially that damn wine.
- On the morning of day two, this immense stonefly (below) was found climbing up one of the boats and passed around so that all could see what these monster trout were feeding on. After that my size 20 nymphs seemed like shallow attempts to convince fish used to double cheeseburgers with bacon to change their diet and be tempted by mouth watering grains of rice.
- Forced relaxation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in fact it’s pretty damn nice. After fishing hard for hours and pulling over for a wonderful lunch in the shade of the river edge foliage, it’s a little hard to get up and tear up the water in the worst part of the fishing day (high noon), especially when you know you have hours of fishing left. Not to say i didn’t do that, but it’s still nice to know that you’re expected to use your PFD like a pillow and stare up through the gnarled branches of the Juniper trees and doze off for at least 15 minutes dreaming of the last few hours and those that lie ahead.
- If you hike drinks into a remote float like this, you are like the King Midas of the trip. Totally worth breaking my back for an hour or two, just to be able to offer our group something usually taken for granted back in the “real” world.
- ALWAYS BRING A NET. In my confusion as to what this trip might be, i somehow imagined us always fishing from the boat and using one net. This is almost never the case. Numerous times i was dropped off on my own and hooked numerous fish that were lost because i couldn’t get them to hand, mostly because of intense flows and lack of a net. You’d think i’d learn, i left a net behind on a high mountain stream on this trip and paid the price, and i didn’t bring one on my guided steelhead trip a few years back and yet STILL managed to not bring a half pound net while simultaneously being sure to drop an extra pound of vino in my pack. No matter what trip you are undertaking, i can’t stress enough, always…always bring a net. (At least for fast waters.)
- Fish are tougher than you think. Time and time again we’d be heading down some class III rapids (above) and i’d make a half ass cast into a pool only to feel an immediate tug and suddenly find a trout and myself bound together by some 2X tippet and working our way down a run together in what one of our guides called “A trout relocation program.” This was absolutely my favorite expression of the trip.
“Best. Day. Ever.”
Waking slowly and downing some grade “A” campfire coffee, i packed my bags and was escorted across the river by our guides and their raft, within easy sight of our camp, but fishing wise on another planet. Working the inside bank, i rather quickly landed a few browns that put a decent in the 5WT and once at hand looked to be around 12-14 inches.
Working my way down the river, to where the pool i’d been fishing bottled into a healthy run of whitewater and small pockets, i managed to hook the 16″ fish (below) from a hole that was obviously ripe with fish. Shortly after, a second fish about the same size was pulled from the same hole when i noticed a deep pocket behind a larger rock.
Making the cast, i visually followed the indicator as it crested over the rock and then quickly dove out of my site, like a shy actor at Cannes avoiding the paparazzi. The reel quickly began to hum as it tore into the backing with a wild ferocity as both fish and line took off downstream leaving me with a 5WT that suddenly was feeling like a wet noodle fighting the fish and flows, and a reel that was more naked than i’d ever seen it. As any fisher knows, time in a fish battle is relative, but i swear that it was somewhere between 5 minutes (real time) and 15 minutes (fishing time) before i managed to coax this handful of joy from the whitewater. Escorting him back into a slow flowing pool, i sat down and watched this amazing fish for a good while before he broke off into the current on his own volition, leaving me alone sprawled out on the bank, eyes to the sky in utter dismay at the fish i had landed. After that fish (caught early in the day) i was so relaxed that fish after fish seemed to come to my fly easily, two things that i assure you are not common for me.
Strangely enough the fish that made the day wasn’t even close to the biggest for me, he just happened to be the one that i was able to land. The next was dug up in a slow pool, and worked to the boat where it immediately became obvious he (of she) had a few pounds and at least 8 inches on the above fish. Shaking and nervous i asked our guide for the day, Stuart, to row me to the bank where i might be more comfortable fighting the fish of a lifetime. Working the fish in to the bank i looked down through the waters glare to see it looking up at me with knowledgeable eyes that sent a chill up my spine, and then…”SNIP”…it was gone. I had been played like a sucker by a pro. I swear that fish knew EXACTLY what it was doing as it built it’s reserves for the inevitable bolt that would snap my 2X so quick and cleanly that i honestly felt zero tension in the rod as the tippet gave way. Fortunately i was still riding high from the previous fish, and i found that Stuart was far more upset at loosing the fish than i was, sub-conciously telling me it was every bit the trophy fish it looked to be before it decided to leave me alone on the bank.
Later in the day after an incredible lunch provided by our guides (chicken salad and Pringles rule when you’ve been fishing for five hours straight) i had a glass of wine and dozed off under the aforementioned juniper only to wake and find that the group had all waded down stream. Slowly rising i heeded to the contrarion in me and headed upstream to some heavy whitewater, looking once again for the pockets that had brought me so much success earlier in the day. After a few smaller fish (20 inches) i finally hooked into a serious rainbow that shot across the current causing me to shake like Jello in a waterbed before once again being taken into my backing. The size of the fish (32 inches plus, pinky swear) combined with the flows of the whitewater immediately drew up flashbacks of my steelhead on the Deschutes into my muscle memory. As the fish tore downstream, leaping like it was trying out for Cirque du Soleil, i quickly made my way down the bank, glancing around at my incredible surroundings, and back at the fish jumping and fighting with an athletic vigor. With the closest guide 75 yards downstream, i called out for a net before feeling an odd chuckle welling up inside. A few moments later i truly felt everything in my small universe come together, the experience of wilderness i was knee deep in, the adventure of it all, the isolation, the mountains, the Juniper, the weeks away from humans and their inadvertent treachery, the cool water, the fish…EVERYTHING came together and i laughed and laughed a manic laugh that was the most celebratory sound i’ve ever made in praise of life…true life.
Of course the fish got off before the guide could make it there. Doubtlessly, that was as it should be. Even the loss made me laugh, and that felt right. I don’t want to sound corny, but i have never been happier and closer to the spastic dance of the cosmic wheel than i was at that moment.
There is so much more, and if you want to hear it all, buy me a drink. I’d love to share my best day ever as well as the information absorbed with each and every one of you. (A pinot noir will surely get you the story of the golden eagle, a whole other post.)
Final thought. Go do it. You will never feel the same afterwards.
Also, always carry a net.
If you want to go:
Closest town: Hotchkiss, Delta and Paonia, Colorado
Fly shop: Gunnison River Fly Fishing not only has a fly shop and camping on the premesis, they also were the guide service that provided me with three of the best days i’ve ever had on the water via their amazing guide service that i can’t recommend highly enough. (Note, they had no idea who i was and i received no special service because of this blog, which is how i prefer it.)
Campgrounds: As mentioned above Gunnison River Fly Fishing provides camping services via Pleasure Park. The Berau o fLand Management has an adjacent property called Gunnison River Forks that also provides camping as well as hiking access to the lower stretch of the Gorge.
Local foods, drink and other visitor information: There are some amazing wineries in the area, with Terror Creek Winery in Paonia being our absolute favorite. While the food options in this area of Colorado are stretched a little thin, the Flying Fork in Paonia provides top notch food and service that you would usually equate with a town 100 times the size.