Category Archive: dF Feature
Every one of us has that special body of water nearby that we covet as though it were an original and obscure limited edition pressing on virgin vinyl by our favorite band. For me and many of my fellow local anglers it’s Barton Creek here in Austin, TX.
With cooler temperatures and school back in session (a big deal when you are located in the same town as the University of Texas), the party crowds are thinning out and the local waters are quickly falling back into the hands of the curious and adventurous. Surely this isn’t limited to Texas, i imagine it’s a time of the year that many anglers look forward to, an actual chance for undisturbed waters and fish after months of trying to avoid the cooler toting crowds.
In an effort to avoid the throngs of beer swilling revelers and their migraine inducing drum circles, i stayed away from one of my favorite spots for most of the summer. Just the other day though i shuffled on down the Hill of Life (below), cautiously keeping both ears alert for any sound of off beat djembes echoing though the valley. Fortunately all i heard was the beautiful white noise of water tumbling over rock and onto (and into) itself, a sonic affirmation that the creek was alive and flowing.
The fishing was good, with a few healthy and zealous bass putting a hardy bend in my 2WT. Not neccesarily the kind of fishing day that might expand from humble and fun to epic and legendary in my mind as that day fades into the past. Really though it doesn’t matter, the fish were just playing a secondary role, the main draw of the day being the ambiance provided by a wealth of cool air, cool water, lush greenery and the complete absence of humanity and its debris.
Solitude, water, white noise and fish minutes from home. It surely can feel like nirvana, but really it’s just fall on your favorite small water. Time to rig the lightweight rod and reacquaint yourself with yours.
When the fishing goes sour there are only a handful of activities that can placate an angler. For yours truly when fishing alone it’s usually been a hammock, wine and a good book (usually a Gierach). On days spent with the family around water i’ve found that much to my chagrin my nature has been to dam and alter water flows, especially when my ten year old son is in the vicinity. Every time i’ve started to build the rock strewn diversions i’ve had the immediate guilt of altering natures flow causing me to feel painfully similar to a developer bent on damming a river with visions of “progress”, entitlement and dollars swamping reason and right.
Two of these hundreds are mine (the cairns that is).
After coming across the “Valley of the Cairns” (see previous post and above photo) a few weeks back i’ve found myself plagued by an incessant drive to go vertical instead of horizontal. The desire to balance rocks has always been a random indulgence for me, most likely due to the fact that i grew up obsessed (as many kids have) with Legos and the desire to build the biggest most magnificent creations i could with my limited collection of blocks, but lately it’s become the sort of activity i look forward to in much the same way i do fishing, or hammocking (yes, that’s a thing, REI even has a site on how to do hammocking responsibly.)
While i’m still definitely a newbie, i’ve been working on my chops and hope to head back soon to the area where the “Valley of the Cairns” stood before flooding laid waste to the temporary installation and throw up some balancing acts that might inspire others to drop what they’re doing, grab a rock, and turn their complete attention to the delicate act of working so intimately with mass and gravity. Strangely enough, there seemed to be perceptible styles in something so basic, and it appears that mine is loosely based on trajectory, exaggerated balance and asymmetry (see below.)
Mine, on Bull Creek.
While i absolutely find fly fishing to be the perfect zen activity for me that is both calming and relaxing (or sometimes just a chance to drown out the chattering monkeys in my head) it’s nice to have another option when the heat is to much, the fish are turned off or you just need to not focus on something other than fish for a minute or two. In times like that, i recommend bending over, grabbing a stone that holds promise, and working your way up, one rock at a time.
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.
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.