Category Archive: dF Feature
Up until the end of this year, a lot of the things that i once took as givens were suddenly and strangely turned on their heads. Every thing from giant retail chains closing up shop to media / business tycoons being elected to office seemed to be a giant pie in the face to the reality that i’ve known. In the world i’ve known since being a cognizant toddler big businesses got bigger and politics was the exclusive sandbox reserved for career politicians, that’s just the way it was.
The biggest example of this new found reality though has been the winter here in central Texas, or more accurately the lack of it. Every season for the last decade at least, winter in these parts has meant being resigned to fishing trout stocked waters in waders and thermal outerwear as the sunfish, bass, etc., are more or less inclined to hibernate until March. But as noted previously, this “winter” has been anything but the norm.
The first sign that things were “off” was when i realized that after fishing for trout on the Guadalupe twelve times, i only needed waders on two back to back days, other than that it’s been nothing but wet wading these cold waters on days that i honestly was overheating in a short sleeve guayabera. The second sign that strange things were afoot, was when i realized that i had caught almost as many sunfish as trout in the same waters on the same flies. (As a side note, in years past i might catch one or two sunfish for every 50 or so trout caught over a three month period.)
Curious to explore the limits of this excruciatingly warm winter (80˚ in winter?!) i hiked down to Barton Creek (my local warm water sanctuary) recently with a Tenkara rod in hand to test the limits of warm water fishing in January as well as trying out Tenkara fishing for the first time.
Settling in on a favorite gravel bar i worked my way as far into the deep pocket as i could given the uncharacteristically high flows of 200+ CFS. The curiosity paid off though as i landed sunfish after sunfish out of several adjoining pockets, with every one of them insatiably inhaling small clouser minnows and putting a deep bend in the simple and nimble Tenkara rod.
Truth be told, i was pretty happy fishing that rod, on local waters for sunfish, but still in the back of mind i knew it wasn’t right, after all this was the sort of fishing that should be happening the other nine months of the year. I guess all of this could be the harbinger of the future, where things we know to be true no longer have any basis in reality. My hope though is that this all is some strange anomaly, some sort of massive mind fuck, and that things will soon sort themselves out and we can have at least a few things that we’re sure of. Personally all i really want is a clear definition between the two seasons we have here in central Texas, a cold winter of trout and months of brutal heat, sunfish, bass and more.
As for the rest? I care immensely, but you have to start somewhere…as for me i’ll start with the seasons.
On a previous trip to the Lower Colorado river while unloading i was approached by a groundskeeper that cruised up on his riding lawn mower, stopped, cocked his eyebrows almost painfully and asked if i didn’t get lonely fishing by myself. I remember making some vague comment about working retail and constantly being surrounded by folks, whether customers or employees.
As i mouthed the words though, i really started to wonder whether i really was enjoying fishing by myself any more, or if i this just one of the my few lingering convictions left over from years ago. A few hours later while experiencing a possible partial stroke down river, and then shortly there after chasing a lost and floating paddle 200 yards downstream on foot, i decided it was time to read the subtext in the groundskeeper / fortune tellers words, and invite a friend on the next excursion.
Nate is a recent convert to fly fishing, and someone who pitches himself 110% into everything he does, whether it’s work (we manage a store together) or slightly addictive hobbies like fly fishing. Being new to the sport, Nate still has an enthusiasm and level of excitement for “Just being on the water!” that many seasoned fisherman i know seem to have lost.
Never was this more clear than on a recent trip to the Lower Colorado that started with us shuttling our boats with two cars from Big Weberville to Little Webberville, in order to float downstream for hours, take out, and instantly be reconnected with our transportation. It was a far cry from putting in solo, paddling for hours upstream, only to float downstream for an hour (against the wind…always) and find myself all to quickly meeting back up with the journeys departure point. Using two vehicles to alleviate the hours of paddling that would be better spent fishing felt live moving up one rung on the evolutionary ladder, we had evolved into shuttling monkeys, now more needless paddling
Sliding the boats in the water, all sun and smooth, flowing water, the day seemed like a blessing, a treat from the fates for branching out of my comfort zone and sharing it with another human. It all seemed so right, flowing waters, slightly overcast skies, and rock solid companionship.
Then the winds came, and not the “Boy that’s annoying, my backcast can’t unfurl!” sort of winds. I am talking forty mile an hour, knock you over on a sandbar, and blow your craft away gales. As is my custom i raised a middle finger to the sky, and screamed epithets to the blustery void that would make make a trucker blush. Feeling comfortable that the universe was aware of my frustration, even if it didn’t give a rat’s ass about it, i looked over at Nate, and saw him grinning from ear to ear.
Immediately i felt foolish for my tirade and smiled myself, it was good to be out here, winds be damned.
photo by Nathan Peck
Paddling with a certain sort of lightness and levity we made our way downstream finding many fish, although they were all on the smaller side. There would be no “record fish” on this trip, but truly that all seemed secondary to the adventure at this point as we discovered riffle after riffle where our light rods were test again and again.
Later in the day with the obtrusive power lines looming malevolently in the distance down stream, i informed Nate that just beyond that was the take out point. Paddling headlong into the blustering winds he quickly made ground on me, so much so that when i turned the final corner he was a good 100 yards plus downstream as well as downwind.
As he past up the take out ramp, and almost set off on an unknowing set of class I rapids that would catapult him another 100 yards downstream i finally got his attention with screams and shouts that doubtlessly put the locals on edge.
When he paddled back up to our exit ramp i was now standing on, he looked at me with an air of frustration before pronouncing that “This isn’t the ramp we put in on, why are you stopping here!”
Quickly after reminding him how a shuttle system works and that this was the whole point of us bringing two cars, a huge grin spread across his face that was simultaneously embarrassed and cheerful.
Occasionally fish are the stories, but other times it’s just as likely to be the landscape, a chance encounter or possibly even misfortune. Sometimes it’s just as simple as enjoying the moment, a good laugh with a friend, and a smile.
photo by Nathan Peck
It started with the stag.
After writing my previous article, wherein i found myself relating with a baby deer being chased by a coyote (read it here) i set out for Barton Creek (my local haven) to try and re-discover my passion for fly fishing as well as a sense of self that has been missing for a while.
It was a glorious day punctuated with hiking, swimming, sunfish and bass. Late in the day, on one of the few uncrowded stretches, with the sun beginning to dip behind the limestone cliffs, i was switching flies when i heard what i thought was the splash of children or dogs coming downstream from around the bend. Looking up, and expecting some minor nuisance, whether two legged or four, i practically lost my breath as a giant stag, taller than me, charged energetically down the main channel of the creek, just a few feet away, sporting a rack that looked more like an elaborate chandelier than a set of horns. After passing by, it quickly stopped 20 yards downstream and glanced back at me as if noticing me for the first time, and then suddenly it bolted into the thicket.
It felt like the most dramatic, and staged signal life could throw at me. It couldn’t have been any more obvious, i needed to have the renewed confidence of that stag. No more being chased around by doubt and coyotes.
Hoisting the YOLO board onto the car i suddenly noticed that i was casually (and curiously) taking my time in my driveway. The plan was to hit the lower Colorado near Smithville, a place where i seem to be one of the only people that continually strikes out on this reportedly fertile water. Add to that the fact that i’ve had the worst luck on this stretch of water (four broken rods, one broken reel, and a broken Hobie Mirage drive) and it’s not to surprising that every bone in my body was subconsciously trying to keep me at home, far from broken rod tips and getting skunked. But recalling the Lesson of the Buck, i set off, psyching myself up the entire way and trying to convince myself that this time would be different.
In classic fashion, three quarters of the trip involved paddling against the current just to enjoy a disproportionate amount of time floating and casting into the shadows of the bank. I paddled earnestly until my arms turned to rubber and i couldn’t paddle anymore, and located a nice gravel beach that though devoid of shade, allowed me to rest.
On the paddle up i had caught nary a site of any fish other than the ubiquitous red horse, but upon launching downstream i immediately spotted drum, carp and bass working the waters around me. But with the current strong (being released at Tom Miller dam) I floated a spell before stumbling on some slack water where i immediately spotted a swarm of gar schooling around in the shadows.
As many of you know i am a long time aficionado of the gar, but it had been months since i’d had the pleasure of dancing with this scaly beast. Much like fishing in general, i’d been starting to doubt my devotion, but all of that was about to change. With the first cast a gar powered past a few others and cocked its head to sink its teeth into the fly, jerking it back and forth and quickly applying tension on my line. As the gar raced with my line and went airborne over and over, the passion for fishing sparked and emanated throughout my body for the first time in weeks.
That passion only grew as gar after gar was caught and released, with me eventually finding myself with the most foreign of thoughts, that “ten plus gar was enough” and moving onto something different. It turned out that a large white popper (seen in the title bar after hours of torture) would be the ticket to bass after bass. Any cast that involved that fly, and a little structure on the bank seemed to result in dishoveled water, a brief second of chaos, and a Guadalupe bass coming to hand full of vim and vigor.
Floating downstream and landing fish after fish surrounded by the sound of nothing but the breeze and the call of birds was unreal. It felt good to be back in a place with passion and purpose, a sphere where i felt competent, and comfortable. It also felt good to be alert and present in nature and in tune to all the glory it provided.
Mostly though, it felt good to be the stag splashing down the stream of passion with a ebullient smile on my face, and no coyotes in pursuit.
It was an odd scene, on the Pedernales the other day, one that was accentuated by quickly moving bits of muscle, flesh and fur rapidly parting otherwise tranquil and stoic plants. Within seconds i caught sight of a young, spindly leg deer, being pursued with intense energy by a coyote, each of them coming within feet of me in the heat of the chase, apparently both of them more concerned about the possible future between the two of them than some dude waist deep in water waving a stick.
As the deer dove in the river and swam for the opposite shore, the coyote turning and retracing it’s own footsteps, i couldn’t help but feel not only astonishment at having witnessed this raw nature so closely, but also a feeling of intense empathy for the deer.
I’ve been that deer for the last few months, constantly alert and anxious, feeling that uneasy feeling that something that wanted to do me (and my psyche) in was right around the corner.
Maybe it’s the fact that the summer around here always seems to drag on far to long. Maybe it’s that i spent to much time on trout waters in Colorado and New Mexico this summer, knee deep in cool waters and cooler nights. Maybe it’s the house renovation that has turned my life upside down? Maybe it’s the years of drought followed by a seemingly endless onslaught of water.
Regardless, lately i’ve had this nagging feeling that all the focus and energy i’ve had in the past almost exclusively for the art of angling is now being spread thin amongst many other interests such as snorkeling, biking, hiking, photography and paddle boarding. It’s a little unsettling for a person like me, an addictive personality used to having a narrow focus for years at a time (music, skating, surfing, etc.), but i think at the ripe age of 45 i might actually be starting to grow into my own skin and realize that my identity (and obsessiveness) doesn’t have to be tied up in the same thing.
Fear not though, i know the passion is there. I have a feeling it’s just calmly treading water like so many freshwater fish around here, waiting until the soul sucking heat of summer and the flesh carnival it brings to the water passes and normalcy is restored.