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Category Archive:   dF Feature


Although I’m old enough to know better than look backward, it seems like just the other day I was writing about the amazing flows that seemed to abound here in the Hill Country with our incredible spring / early summer rains. Unfortunately, it only took a couple of dry, face-melting months of heat to completely derail what was shaping up to be an epic fly fishing season.

After spending the last two months more or less holed up in the house going stir crazy from the 100+ heat I finally felt the need to visit my good friend Barton Creek even though I knew it approaching this old friend would be painful. I’d checked in on her occasionally on her during quick non-fishing visits and knew things were rapidly declining, but I had no idea just how bad it was until I descended the Hill of Life and witnessed the dam that was normally overflowing with hippies, frat boys and water, now dry, still, and devoid of any sign of life…party people included.

Wandering about 100 yards upstream over dry, barren rock and sand, I found what is normally an 8′ deep pool reduced to about a foot or two of water  with red horse, catfish, bass, sunfish all packed into tight quarters that brought to mind all the folks moving to Austin and settling for similar tight confines in one of the infinite amounts of condos that seem to spring up like mushrooms throughout the city.

It was a mixed blessing to be sure, the wondrous joy of sight casting in clear water barely knee-deep combined with the “Oh Shit” realization that if we don’t get some substantial rain in the next couple of weeks our fishery will have to start all over again as it did 8 years ago when Barton Creek (and many other waterways in TX) were nothing but dry, dirty exposed bones bleached by endless drought.

Those small pools, deep and unfishable as they are during normal flows, turned out fish after gullible fish that ran the gamut. Longear, bluegill, green sunfish, Guadalupe Bass and even my first Rio Grande of the year (that I can recall anyway) were all laced throughout the many shallow pools connected with only the most tenuous rivulet of water between them. It was a cornucopia of fish, miniature in magnitude but a kaleidoscope of color none the less.

Later in the day, after working my way downstream towards Sculpture Falls, it was a much different story as the fish all somehow seemed much to high brow and educated to fall for something so basic as a hook wrapped with feathers, thread and dumbbell eyes. I’ve fished these pools for over a decade and I can tell you that something about these pools and their tenants make them FAR more difficult to catch than many of the “most difficult trout fisheries” I’ve fished over just as many years.

So when I did the “one last cast before I leave” with the white micro popper, casting the line in the narrow window between the overhanging grape vines and the water’s surface, the popper landing softly against the far bank and barely settling in before disappearing in a flurry of whitewater exploding in all directions, sending a shockwave of adrenaline running down the line, to the rod, my hand, and eventually my brain, it all came together.

“Yes.”

Who knows, October is historically one of the rainiest months in Texas, it’s possible that two days from today we could all be talking about the damage that floods have done to these fisheries. Still, at this point we’re sitting on that precipitous needle between current definite drought and a possible (and historically likely) flood looming around the corner. All of which is to say, go now friend. You can’t control the past and you likely don’t know the future, so get out there while the getting’s good.

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.

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.

In relation to the population of Texas, there are very few folks out there that are committed to not only fishing, but fishing in a manner that allows future generations (many times their own) to enjoy these waters decades down the road. Because of the blog I’ve been fortunate enough to have met many people over the years that align with my personal belief that limited resources mean that selfishness should take a back seat to personal satisfaction and greed, at least a majority of the time. In a nutshell, catch and release will enable you to bring others back to experience the same awesomeness you have.

One of the first people I ever met via the blog that cared as much about not just the fishing, but also the fisheries is Winston Cundiff. Back in the day he was the only person that showed up at Barton Creek, in the midst of the now legendary Texas drought, bucket in hand to help me transfer sunfish, bass, and catfish from ankle deep pools into the deeper pools below the falls after an alarmed call to arms on the blog.

In the interim years he’s gone on to become not only a passionate angler, but also an official member of All Water Guides which is one of the premium guide services in the Austin area.

Thanks to my new job (buying at Gruene Ouftfitters) and one of our key dealers, Patagonia I was fortunate enough to hook up with him on a recent float trip for Texas fly-fishing Patagonia dealers that once again found me hooking with him on his jet boat, zipping up and down the lower Colorado River in search of bass, and much to his chagrin, gar to satiate my desire for catching a prehistoric dinosaur on the fly.

The water was stained for sure, but the flows were just enough to enable us to barely make it up some incredibly shallow (mere inches deep) riffles. In all actuality the conditions made for what should have been a skunk of a day, but through perseverance and luck we managed to land a handful of bass that were of average size (2.5 lbs?) but still a pleasure to fight on the 6WT’s we were armed with.

Regardless of what we caught, it was a blast just to hang out with folks from Patagonia, Sportsmans Finest and Bayou City Angler that are all people just as passionate about fly fishing as we are at Gruene Outfitters. The Texas fly fishing community is gaining strength and will only continue to do so…be a part of and contact any of these fine local folks for information on how to grab a rod and get out there! We’re all in this together!

www.allwaterguides.com

www.grueneoutfitters.com

www.bayoucityangler.com

www.sportsmansfinest.com

A huge thank you to Patagonia for walking the walk and talking the talk and making this whole thing happen!