Category Archive: dF Feature
Fishing is like a great deal of life, when you’re landing fish it’s great and grand, but when the bites are not forthcoming. It can take a Herculean effort just to make it through the day. Since the beginning of this year, i’ve been plagued by all kinds of frustrations, ranging from prolonged illness to multiple fish-less days on the water. Much of it i’m sure can be chalked up to the exhausting battle going on inside my head and heart as i prepare to write a new chapter for myself. After eleven years at my current job (which i do love) i’m trying to find something new that can bring my work and my passions into some sort of accord, all without making my family suffer just because i’m driven enough to chase a dream.
Being so wrapped up in the endless loop of worrying about the future, (my last day is in August, so i’ve got a while to figure it out) i was elated to have my good friend Brittan insist that we meet up and fish for some trout on the Guadalupe. If you’re ever so wrapped up in your thoughts that you find it hard to maneuver, it’s a good idea to set a fishing date with friends, nothing motivates like the fear of letting a fellow angler down.
After grabbing the ubiquitous breakfast tacos (for immediate consumption) and kolaches for the packs, we parked and hiked down to what i surely feel is one of the most scenic parts of the Guadalupe trout waters. While working a large pool there with a slow-moving strike indicator, i watched in disbelief as the bobber ticked, ticked, ticked along the surface before plummeting with gusto, the bobber looking as surprised as i was to find we had hooked into a handsome trout. Landing the trout and smiling like a wanted criminal for Brittan’s shot, all i could think was “Well hell, it’s about time.”
Later in the day, after much walking, exploring and a countless amount of unfruitful casts, it was Brittan’s time to shine. With family obligations looming, he announced that this was absolutely his last drift through a pool, where he had just spotted the outline of a good sized trout. Casting to the top of the pool, the indicator plopped on the water’s surface as i stepped in close and randomly interjected…
“How cool would that be if on your last cast you caught that…”
Before i could finish the sentence the words stopped and we both gawked in amazement as the fish turned its head and inhaled his fly. Grabbing my net, i lurched forward and ensnared the improbable catch, while simultaneously noting that the world i’d been living in for the last month or so was quickly balancing itself out.
Smiling and happy, we said our good byes, and Brittan made his way back upriver with a certain lightness in his stride that indicated the fish had done its job. Curious as hell, i made my way slightly upstream to quiz an angler that we had seen pull five or so trout out of a nice pool in rapid succession. To my surprise (kind of) it was Jimbo, a gregarious gentleman that oversees the trout stocking program on this river; he very obviously knew exactly what he was doing. Jimbo was kind enough to offer not only his fishing spot, but tips and tricks, and ultimately his rod in an effort to try to get me on some trout. It was probably only thirty minutes or so, but Jimbo crammed a days worth of guide knowledge into one half hour’s endless stream of advice that didn’t manage to work while he was watching, but did pay off immediately after he left, with five fish coming to the net in quick succession.
The high i felt was incredible, it truly felt like i was back in form after weeks of almost fishing depression. The joy was so great that even three of the worst, most thoughtless young anglers didn’t ruin it completely when they gathered around me and started fishing this tiny pocket that was no where big enough for even two friends to fish together. My first reaction was rage, and the impulse to impolitely ask them just what the hell they thought they were doing. But sitting on the bank for a minute, untangling a wind knot, i not only felt sorry for them, hacking at the air with their rods and sending any observant fish fleeing for cover, but i suddenly felt the same feeling wash over me that i had felt back in December at my job. It’s that moment when you know you’ve accomplished some inner desire, or some indescribable goal.
First you feel an almost tangible calmness emanate from your chest. Then the audible stillness takes over, the mindless chatter of problems and worries out of your control overtaken by the massive sound of nothingness. You smile, you step back and you wish those around you the best of luck, you snip off your fly, tuck it in your box, reel in the line, and set off for the next adventure.
Thank you to everyone that has ever given me a compliment or helped in any way with keeping me on this path (both the blog and life, they truly are one and the same). I love doing this blog for all of us. I’m nervous as hell about what the future holds, but i promise that whatever it is will only help make this blog (and by extension, me) better. -Danke
“What would you prefer, quantity over quality, or quality over quantity?”
It’s an age-old question that can be applied to any aspect of life: cigars, fine wine, football championships or maybe even Seinfeld episodes, the question is only skewed by ones innate interest. For most fishers the question usually has fish lodged firmly at the center of the question (though i expect for some anglers cigars, bourbon and ex-wives are close behind.)
While recently in the throes of holiday/retail/management i was fortunate to have two good friends pry me loose from the tedious daily loop and drag me out for what would turn out to be two completely diametric fishing experiences that posed this question to me with all the subtlety of a maddened hurricane, which is to say, not much.
The “sure bet” excursion turned out to be exactly what i expected, a plethora of fish with little to no fly changes. Egan had been fishing the Llano in Castell for hours already, with my exhausted bones pulling in around 10AM. As astute readers / anglers know, Castell is one of the yearly spots for the Texas Parks and Wildlife trout stocking program and probably the most scenic trout fishing in Texas other than small stretches of the Guadalupe.
After making a few inquiries we were reassured that they did stock the day before but apparently there had been a major blunder with the stocking. The idea was to drop a 1,200 of the 2,400 trout on both sides of the first crossing, and then head down to the next two crossings to drop off an additional 600 at each river crossing. Details were vague, but what i do know is that for whatever reason (inexperience, delivery method, etc.) all 2,400 trout ended up on the down water side of FM2768. By the time i showed up it was obvious that catching these 9-12 inch fish was going to be like shooting fish in a barrel, or so it seemed by watching Egan (hereafter known as Sensei Midge).
I had strike after strike, after strike but couldn’t set the hook on any of the 30 or more chances i’d been given. Half in seriousness, half in jest (a great way to approach most things in life) i said to Egan “Great, that black witch put a curse on me.” (The “witch” being a vegan co-worker that whole heartedly disapproves of hurting any creature and did in fact indicate the day before that a spell might be placed on me.)
“Yeah, that happened to me in Mexico” Egan instantly replied without a trace of sarcasm or shock at my loose conviction that magic was accountable for my frustrating performance.
Without hesitation he assured me that the curse was obviously on my rod and reel and not me. Offering his nymphing rig (a whole story in and of itself that i hope he’ll write) it took nary five minutes before a small farm raised trout was set firmly on the fly and quickly coming to hand. It was actually during that tussle that he looked over, my tackle in his hand, and he held up a small fly ringed in thread and flash, but absent of hook and barb. Not surrendering the idea that a curse had been actively applied, i stared at the hookless hook and wondered what it meant, or if it meant anything at all.
Note: That day a fellow local angler called and complained about the problems with the stocking. Within hours TPWD showed up and stocked the downstream crossings.
The flip-side adventure happened just a week before, with longtime fishing friend Brittan on Lake Bastrop. After a luck filled bass hunt a few weeks before, i was chomping at the bit to share the excitement with somebody else.
What should have been a Bass-a-Palooza of epic size quickly turned into a wind-blown escapade where we spent more time battling the virile winds and spotting “must return to locations” than we did fishing. Luckily Brittan’s temperament is similar to Egan’s, something akin to “Hey, you caught 20 fish or none, but as long as you’re on the water it’s all good.”. Since i’m also rapidly adopting this life outlook my hunch is that the fact that we are all married with kids, but still full of gonzo fishing energy that can only be used when responsibility is narrowly avoided has a lot to do with this philosophy.
I never caught a fish that day (Brittan caught one bass) but the true highlight of the day was sitting on the inside of a cove, more or less protected from the wind, feet dangled overboard, with the sun beating down and conversation bouncing around from subject to subject but always ending up back on the question of where these fish were and how they could be caught.
We were obviously there at the wrong time of the year, so conversation tended to drift towards the hypothetical, with future bass and carps spots being discussed ad nauseam, something that didn’t seem to bother either one of us since we were chilling on boats, the sun peeking around the random cloud, feet draped into the cool waters.
Having experienced the two extremes, copious, duplicate trout on one hand, and elusive largemouth bass on the other, i wished for more of a balance. On one hand catching freshly stocked fish felt like cheating nature, while alternately, experiencing barely a nibble in the remote wilds was the kind of stuff that could turn one off of fishing all together.
With thoughts like this racing around my cerebellum, i hopped in the car and decided to head by Bastrop State Park to observe the changes after the ravaging fires that consumed this area back in 2011. There’s nothing i can type that will put what i felt into accurate words, but suffice to say, if you’re feeling bad about something as ultimately meaningless as an “off” day, visiting an area of true tragedy will very quickly help you put your problems into perspective. Hiking the trails trough what used to be pine tree canopies, i was aghast at the blackness, and the shadows of what was, surrounded by death, with tiny spots of pine saplings sprouting.
Basically, some days on the water are amazing, others not so much. As for me, i lean slightly to quality over quantity, but that’s assuredly only because i’ve been afforded that luxury after years of fishing, but ultimately i know it doesn’t really matter. The secret is to be content regardless of the hand your dealt on a given day, there will always be another chance. If you’re unsure of that thought, just head to Bastrop State Park and scour the trails looking for the irridescent green, pine saplings sprouting up here and there amidst a sea of black, they’re eager to try again, they know the secret.
Note: This post is not about fishing, at least not in the normal sense. Instead it’s a love note to two wonderful people, a rock, two very special cypress, a river and the fleeting signs of it’s inhabitants.
This Thanksgiving i was dumb founded to have my wife insist on an adventure instead of a Thanksgiving meal (which was especially odd since she’s an AMAZING cook that really enjoys it). While the thought of her mouth watering dishes were mouth watering, the chance to get out with her and my son on a perfect day (70 degrees and sunny, slight breeze) was far to enticing, especially since i’d been sprawled out on the couch and sick for days (thus the lack of posts).
Packing up the car for all the necessary items for an evening of hiking and picnicking, we made a b-line for our favorite spot at Pedernales State Park to celebrate an evening of thanks. Hiking in to our special limestone island we made camp and laid out the Thanksgiving dinner: cornichons, artichoke dip, truffle cheese, hummus, sea salt crackers, pinot grigio infused sausage, blue cheese, and a mixture of veggies washed down with sips of Prosecco. As enjoyable as the food truly was, it was overshadowed by the all of the reds, oranges and yellows that the tress and my wife were decorated in, announcing with great vibrancy that fall truly was here.
With the sun setting, and the day drawing to a close, thoughts turned to the hike back as my wife leaned over and told me to “go fish”. Knowing that by the time i strung up the rod and dealt with the odds and ends as well as hiking to a good spot the day would be far gone, i instead asked if we could hike back and sit at the top of the stairs a little bit, where all of the falls and the pools would be readily viewable.
Striking a meditative pose on the brick semicircle, i watched the lower pool intensely, noticing every small bass taking bugs, gar catching their breath, and largemouth chasing baitfish to the surface before inhaling them in a breath of gluttony. I eyed the likely spots predicting what sort of fish would strike on various parts of the water and found myself strangely correct more often than not.
My wife, concerned that i felt like i was missing out softly asked me again if i wanted to go down and fish.
“I already have.” I responded, and we strapped on the packs and headed back to the car.
It was true, i felt like i’d experienced a wonderful day of fishing, without ever once even wetting a line.
It’s odd, but occasionally the best fishing is when you’re not even fishing.
Sometimes just spotting that small ripple, two hundred yards away, that nobody else noticed, it’s concentric rings expanding and fading in perfect formation is enough to make you smile.
Thank you to my wife and son for the absolute best Thanksgiving ever.
Chapter One: I Am a Snowflake
With my float coming to an end, Shady Grove and the Oktoberfisch event it was hosting were just a few paddles to my left, i remembered the small creek nearby that i had noticed from shore earlier in the day. Strangely enough, i hadn’t seen anyone paddle up it, likely because they were all after Guadalupe bass, and it was pretty obvious that this backwater creek with its swampy, trailer trash feel was a little to low brow for the Guadalupe, but perfect for one of my passions, gar.
Paddling up the small tributary i was starting to feel like a unique adventurous soul, scouting odd waters for even odder fish. It was becoming pretty obvious to me that i was a special, unique snowflake until i rounded the corner and saw a familiar figure on a Diablo.
“Gabe?” i asked with disbelief.
“What’s up man? I’m looking for gar!” Gabe replied as my ego, and it’s corresponding snowflake melted in the Texas sun.
Chapter Two: Behold, the Public Access
It had been years since i’d been out to the magical spring fed waters of the South Llano. Back then it seemed the same as most other rivers in the Hill Country, amazing water and fishing, but questionable and sometimes outright scary access, usually with super friendly hand painted signs with uplifting messages like “We shoot first and ask questions later!”
The reason (other than the fishing) i was back was the Fredericksburg Fly Fisher Club’s annual Oktoberfisch festival. In addition to the usual vendor booths, stellar classes, films, etc. they were running shuttles as part of the event. Locating a driver and loading my boat, i hopped in the trucks cab and prepared myself to brave some sort of scene where i might be trying to slip my boat into the water as dueling banjos played in the background.
Being accustomed (after 11 years) to the Texas mentality when it comes to water access, i could never have dreamed up what i saw instead. To the casual observer, it was a bridge with some exotic features, but in reality it was so much more. This was a temple to Poseidon, a concrete homage to Tiberius. This was a structure for any in central Texas that feel that the water is the most enjoyable respite from the brutality of the heat, and the suffocating oppression of the day-to-day. This my friends was a bridge built with the explicit purpose of providing the public with not only access to the river via the steps and boat ramp, but also the ability to float through it easily if coming from the upstream direction, intent on downstream missions and fish. In short, this is the fly fishers Xanadu, i highly recommend it friends.
Chapter Three: Six Degrees of Pat Cohen
After being shocked to the core by running into Gabriel Langley (of the blog TheFlyRiverTurtle) on the creek, we hung out for most of the evenings Oktoberfisch festivities, all the while running into various friends that were awesome to catch up with. After food and wine (for me) we agreed to float the upper stretches the next day and try to make our way to the source of the South Llano, hundreds of interconnected springs and buffeted by a wide and inspiring staircase of falls.
Hooking up that next day, we discussed the plan and headed out for what i imagined to be the an endless tug of bass on my line. Surprisingly, all i could manage were average size sunfish after average size sunfish. Eventually i did manage to land a smallish bass (above) in a backwater area, but clearly the fishing wasn’t going to be the highlight of the day, no matter how well-intentioned it was.
While the scenery was drop dead gorgeous, with long pools joined by fast flowing tiny water containing herons and egrets, as well as limestone cliffs standing at attention along the river, laced with buzzards and hawks, it was the camaraderie that really made the day complete. As any usual reader knows, i’m a fairly anxious personality that loves being around mellow folks, and Gabe was that in spades. Even though we never made it to the falls we were looking for, we had a great time on the water, alternating between tons of private space and close-knit paddling conversation.
Taking out our boats, after hours of paddling and chatting about our mutual appreciation for all gar, Gabe blew my mind by showing a bunch of flies that he had gotten from the infamous up and coming fly tier Pat Cohen. If you’ve never come across one of the many articles on this phenomenal talent, let me set the scene. Shaved head. Big burly beard. Massive spacers in ear. By all appearances he should be in a punk rock band, but luckily the lack of conformity he emits is not only personal, it’s also evident in his insane and individualistic fly tying skills (check out www.rusuperfly.com).
Looking through Gabe’s box of Pat’s flies was like stumbling through the Louvere in waders. There was so much beauty and brilliance it was almost overwhelming. High on this fly tying art, i was blown away when Gabe gave me a gar fly, tied by Pat. I’m not sure if it will ever be used since it’s a freakin PROTOTYPE GAR FLY FROM PAT VIA GABE, but until i decide, it will live on my straw fedora fishing hat where it receives praises daily from folk that don’t even know what it’s beauty is capable of.
All in all the entire weekend was unreal, an absolutely mind blowing experience, and one i had just for paddling up a creek i thought nobody else had, looking for a fish i thought nobody else wanted.
If you want to go:
Closest town: Junction, Texas which got its name from the fact that it sits at the junction of the South Llano and the North Llano rivers.
Fly shop: the closest is The County Flyfisher Shop in Fredericksburg, Texas which is a unique shop experience in and of itself (in a good way.)
Campgrounds: Morgan Shady Park sits on the bank of the river in Junction and provides both tent and RV camping. South Llano River State Park is a few miles up river and provides tent and RV camping as well but with the addition of endless amounts of hiking trails to explore.
Other visitor information: Texas Parks and Wildlife in partnership with the town of Junction have done an amazing job of supplying not just access to an amazing river, but clean, safe and stress free access. Check out TPWD’s paddling trail site for more information on paddling this river as well as many others in Texas.
I also highly recommend picking up a copy of Texas River Bum’s “South Llano River Pocket Guide” that is an indispensable guide to this majestic river.