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July had been a whirlwind of travel that started with family obligation in Denver but quickly ratcheted in to high gear with retail shows in Orlando, Dallas, and eventually back in Denver to neatly bring things full circle. It was a cyclonic tour of long days in convention centers and late nights in hotel rooms camped out with to-go containers, red wine and endless work orders to place until I eventually drifted off to sleep in the early morning hours just to wake and do it all again. It was a ton of fun, and thoroughly enjoyable, but also exhausting as hell. So much so that it barely registered on my last trip that I was walking down another jet bridge to another location until I was suddenly enveloped by a menagerie of slot machines, every single one flashing brightly and screaming for my attention, my pocket book and probably a little bit of my soul.

“God damn.” I thought. Finally I was here in Reno, making my way between slot machines and empty gazes with just a single waterproof pack weighted down with nothing more than a change of clothes, a rod, reel and a few basic fly fishing tools and the obligatory Gierach book to while away the time and help me enter a zen state should any unforeseen hiccups occur. Meeting my wife and son at the bottom of the steps for some tender hugs and kisses (they’d gotten there a few days ahead of me to spend time with her incredibly supportive aunt, uncle and sister) I was able to stroll casually by the baggage claim with my loved, my bag and a smile. Simplicity.

Driving into Lake Tahoe proper and getting the first view of Lake Tahoe I was floored by its (literal) awesomeness, something I’ve only felt at very particular places like Crater Lake, the Black Canyon, and Arches National Park. Though this astounding body of water is the largest high alpine lake in this country, and only second in size (for lakes) to the Great Lakes it was strangely enough denied National Park status in the very early 1900’s. In the 60’s the area hosted the Olympic winter games which brought a lot of attention and development that continued until the 80’s, with lakeshore development exploding as well as casinos, hotels and theaters especially along the 1/3 of the lake that Nevada has claimed stake to. For a romantic / naturalist like me it seems like a tragedy that this unique, translucent jewel was never afforded the title and protection that it should have received long ago, but things are what they are and I was determined to make the best of the crowds (or at least avoid them as much as possible) while also trying to find a special moment in time and space to escape them completely.

The time with family was incredible and I loved every minute of it for sure, but the nagging cry of the flowing waters and local trout were calling ceaselessly from somewhere just beyond. It was while waiting in cue at the ABSOLUTELY AMAZING local breakfast haven The Red Hut Cafe that I got my first cell phone signal in the area and realized that the one fly shop in the area, Tahoe Fly Fishing Outfitters,  laid a mere few hundred feet up the road while simultaneously hearing it would be a 45 minute wait before a table would be available. Perfect.

Strolling in to the well filled shop to inquire about the fishing a thick map was slid onto the counter and a finger placed to where I should go for summer trout fishing. Without my glasses I was at first confused by the location the finger fell on the map as it seemed to be a three dimensional crater on a two dimensional map. After a few minutes of confusion it became clear to me that the “crater” I had seen was really just a spot on a thick map that had been recommended so many times over so many years that an actual welt had slowly ground around this suggestion. The shop employee (whose card I lost…Rob?) was incredibly helpful in helping me figure out possibilities even though transportation to and from said spots was still an issue since we had no rental. Still, the information had been gathered along with the suggested flies and some floating

Making my way back to the Red Hut for our breakfast, armed with local knowledge and a selections of dry flies I was hopeful to somehow get my ass transported twenty miles away to fish for these trout that had obviously provided enough good days that they had worn a thumb print into the depths of a local map. Fortunately in an unforseen twist of events my sister-in-law offered to lend me her new, very much loved and cared for Volvo with which I was not only able to ascend one thousand feet into the ether, but to do it in class.

Landing in the valley I exited the mothership and fished for a good mile plus up the stretch of the Carson river that is known as Hope Valley before it dawned on me that there was no way that this shallow, almost non-flowing stretch of river with nothing more than two inch fingerlings was the well worn spot on the map that I had expected. The loss of direction, both geographically but especially fishing wise seemed trivial until I realized there was zero signal in these mountains. As a child of the 80’s I still have the where with all to find my way around without technology, but that’s not to say that I don’t occasionally shit my pants when the signal goes blank and the tank reads empty.

Driving downstream I was excited to find myself on a wildly rapid descent through a valley that seemed to swallow not just me and the car, but the entire sky and earth into a tightly focused piece of scenery framed in a giant “V” by towering mountains that almost seemed to fall in on themselves. The road, and water found me at 7,000 feet but peaks at 9,000 to 10,000 (Hawkins Peak) loomed large above and provided a sort of gravitas as I hung out in their shadows.

Leaving the car and making my way down the bank I immediately felt myself feeling like I was waltzing through some sort of hybrid of Eleven Mile and the Cimmaron River. Initially the trout seemed to be eager to inhale the larger attractors I had tied on but couldn’t seem to wrap their mouths  around the meaty cocktail I was throwing at them. Eventually after seeing to many strikes with nothing to show I switched up the attractors for size 20 Elk Hair Caddis and immediately hooked into the beautiful specimen above (which I am pretty sure is a Lohantan Cuttthroat Trout, but please correct me if I’m wrong).

Working my way downstream it was an unending cavalcade of medium size waterfalls, plunge pools and white water that tumbled over and over on itself, dropping 1,o00 feet over a four mile stretch which in case your wondering is a seriously freakin’ steep descent. Still the trout didn’t seem to mind inhabiting this aquatic staircase, and really I didn’t mind them catching them either. It was in fact a transcendent experience, small technical water with tight casts, quick drifts with fasts mends and faster strikes, all experienced without encountering another bi-ped that might unintentionally destroy the fragile illusion of solitude that this canyon and its supporting cast provided in abundance.

Eventually, as it always does, the time ran out and I hopped into the rocket ship to head back to family, friends and the crowds of Lake Tahoe having a strange sense that I left something back in the canyon…the cell phone…the hemostats…something. It wasn’t until I was working on my second glass of wine at the Blue Angel (sooooo good) that it dawned on me. I love nature, and when I experience a place like Arches NP, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, or possibly the Carson River I am so overcome with a sense of rapture, that I think a small part of me (a carbon copy, a series of atoms,  a shadow, fill in the blank) remains. Regardless, a part of me is there.

Yes, it could be utter bullshit. If however, you visit the Carson (which you should), and run into an angler about 6′ tall, wearing a guayabera, a fedora and fishing a 7’6″ 3WT just shoot me a text. Doesn’t hurt to be cautious.

I had hardly stepped off the light rail from the airport into the pulsing, and sometimes erratic heart of downtown before I was hit up for money (politely though it must be said), startled by a strung out, screaming youth that looked more zombie than human, and eyed up and down disapprovingly by a GQ graphic designer cruising on a longboard sipping an iced latte.

“Welcome back to Portland.” I thought.

I live in Austin, TX a town that is purported to “Keep it Weird”, but as someone who’s spent a few years living on the west coast I think it’s fair to say that the west coast metropolises have a special knack for ramping the character of their cities up to eleven. Proof? Later in the trip when I asked my brother if he ever watched “Portlandia” (a show that probably seems absurd to most folks) he responded that he “couldn’t stand watching it because it hits to close to home.”

Meeting my brother at his work, in the the epicenter of Chinatown, we exchanged pleasantries and I ditched the mammoth rolling duffel full of waders, boots, etc., as well as the giant spey rod tube that had gathered so many quizzical looks from almost every set of eyes I had passed that day.

As a lover of the written word I made the obligatory pilgramage to the “Holy Chapel of the Written Word”, a.k.a. Powells Books, to while away my time waiting for my brother to wrap up his loose ends. A few hours later we were back at his home where I was fortunate enough to spend family time with his gracious wife and two wonderfully energetic and creative children. We even found time to head to the coastal range for a few hours to hunt for chanterelles in the wilderness, an experience that quite honestly deserves its own entry. It was a wonderful time to catch upend reconnect, yet still I found myself constantly retreating to my temporary guest room going through my inventory over and over making sure every thing was in order for the adventure just around the corner.

Leaving the people and population of Portland in our rear view mirror the next day we ascended the highway east along the Colombia river, going against the flow so to speak. With every mile, the chaos of the city (any city, anywhere) faded, giving way to the sanctity and serenity that open sky, water and wilderness are prepared to provide in abundance for those with adventurous hearts. Following the tell tale brown road signs (my favorite color of road signs) to the Deschutes River State Recreation Area we made our way to the tent only area where I unfurled my loaner tent, staked it out, entered, splayed out my fishing wares and comfort items. Stepping out of the tent I walked the 10 yards to the Deschutes and marveled at this fish thoroughfare, this bustling highway of salmon, trout, and steelhead all moving to and fro in this majestic body of water laid out within spitting distance of my temporary residence.

Day 1:  Awake at 5:30 and wondering (for the hundredth time) from the comfort of my down sleeping bag if the fish really were more likely to bite before sunrise. Somebody among my brothers friends that joined us the night before made that case, but the memories were a little fuzzy coming as they did minutes before I retreated to the warmth of the tent I now had no intention of leaving. Still, at this early hour, sitting up straight and taking a swig off the bottle of cold coffee I heard the painful unzipping of my brothers tent and knew that there was no backing out now, the brotherly competition simply wouldn’t allow for it.

The hike into the canyon was dark, with all of us keeping conversation to a minimum, recompense for a night of innocent yet indulgent fun. At some point I remember the sun working its way above the rim as my brother and I were left alone on a particular spot that he is particularly fond of. As he worked his way methodically down the hole I eased my way in to the water, raising my hood over my head and swung the spey rod, awkwardly at first, but finding thirty minutes later that the cast and the rhythm returned quickly despite not having cast a spey rod for two years.

In truth I don’t concretely remember the rest of the day and I blame that squarely on the first steelhead that took my hook early in the day. We’d given up on the spey rods due to high winds (something that would persist the rest of the trip) and opted instead for switch rods with nymph rigs. We were still on my brothers favorite spot watching our bobbers float past when the gentle ticks of hitting the bottom gave way to my indicator suddenly hauling ass across the river and the reel quickly screaming as though it had been startled by a ghost. There were runs, jumps and flashes of every shade of pink possible reflecting off the overcast sky as the wild steelhead and I took turns trying to out maneuver each other. Releasing this world traveling trout I realized I was trembling. Here I was, two hours into a three day trip and already I landed a wild steelhead that by all accounts I should have never encountered.

That single fish alone would have been enough to carry me through the day, if not the whole trip, but fortunately that experience played out twice more that day with two more wild steelhead brought to hand (no nets) and a handful more breaking me off despite my 12# tippet. I slept well that night due to exhaustion, but the flashes, strikes, and broken tippets crowded their way into every dream they possibly could.

Day 2: I somehow managed to convince my brother to sleep in so I could as well, I imagine it was the rum that I carefully steered clear of. After the crazy glow of the previous day I can honestly say that my only hope for the day was that my brother would hook a fish since I was still on cloud 9 from the previous day. To tell the truth I spent a good majority of the day just napping on the grass lined banks, snacking on my cheese, salami and baguette sandwich and enjoying my Pinot Grigio  while silently wishing fish to take whatever was at the end of my brothers line. A good day.

Day 3: Yeah…we slept in again. It was cold and wet on our last day, and fortunately these conditions meant that it was highly unlikely that anybody else would be out on the water. We fished long and we fished hard, my brother especially as I had now discovered the luxurious stress relief that was napping on the banks.

It was while waking from one of those five minute naps (glorious) that I saw my brothers rod tip bend and witnessed him working his way to a boulder and ascending it in order to gain a better vantage point on the steelhead trying desperately to disconnect itself from his game plan. It was a great tussle, but eventually the steelhead hooked him up on a rock instead of him, and like that it was over.

With the sun setting and cool weather sinking in it was time to leave and so we worked our way back down the trail until we were in sight of the parking lot at which point my brother decided to take one last stab. I propped my daypack behind me and downed the last of my food and drink while silently observing my brothers artfully executed casts.

Then this happened.

Out of wine, with the sun setting and my brother still in the water, I decided to make a couple of last casts upstream from him just to while away the last thirty minutes of daylight.

First cast…nothing.

Second cast…BOOM!

A tug of war, and eventually the fish below.

My brother was far to downstream to call, so I landed the fish, snapped a photo and made my way down the ever darkening trail, all the while thinking how dramatic this sudden last minute turn of events would be for this particular post.

Constructing the most dramatic statement I could think of for this particular experience I approached my brother with way to much smiling and joy in my stride.

Walking down the bank towards him (wading in the water) I distinctly remember saying “Now that’s how you end a storeeeeeeee…….” as I stepped off what I thought was the bank into nothingness and proceeded to fall face first completely into the river.

In the seconds before I hit the water though I remember actually laughing at the beauty of this sudden enlightenment the universe threw at me. The steelhead, the sudden dunking, life is never what you expect…best to laugh as it all goes down.

And THAT is how a story ends.

Freshwater. That’s been my bag since the beginning. There’s something about the diverse, yet limited amount of options that somehow matches not only my personality but my fishing style as well. Put me in a 20 foot wide, 60 foot high canyon in the Rockies and I’ll barely blink. Drop me anywhere on the coast though and you’ll instantly see the panic set in, there is just SO MUCH!

Still, after working the last few months in the fly shop at Gruene Outfitters I’d heard so many seductive stories of salt water adventure that I eventually loaded the Honda Element down with rods, reels, and the paddle board in hopes of heading south and tapping into this lifestyle that has ignited passion in so many of the people I’ve met over the last few months.

Though I’d visited the coast twice with a rod, both times were 12 years or so ago when I was about as new to fly fishing as you could possibly be. I still was confounded by how finding a fish in this seemingly endless expanse could happen, but felt much more confident this time, armed as I was with the choicest of saltwater flies and tips and tricks picked up through hours of conversation with salty folks at the shop.

It was a quick 30 hour trip that in every way a micro adventure. Although I was only there and awake for 22 hours (8 hours of driving) I managed to take part in the following:

  • hooked a sea turtle by accident and landed it (released safely)
  • landed a crab on a clouser
  • paddled along the cuts with pods of dolphins
  • car camped on the beach
  • studied the stars until I fell asleep with the after image of them shining behind my eyelids
  • learned two new constellations
  • witnessed a menagerie of different crabs
  • waded carefully through softball sized jellyfish
  • caught my first redfish

It was an incredible experience, a relatively short drive yet still an otherworldly adventure. I may not have caught any one of the sizable fish that my ears have been peppered with over the last few months, but there was a definite allure that I can only imagine will magnify and grow in my head, heart, and tales until I return again.

P.S. I also endured constant 30MPH winds that at the time seriously shook me and my patience to my core, blowing me every which way on the paddle board despite the anchor that simply surrendered to the gusts and dragged limply along the waters bed. In light of the weather of the last two days and those still to come for the Texas coast I’ve turned my disdain for those gusts into a bitter sweet memory of calmer days. On behalf of the blog i’d like to wish everyone on the gulf coast and along Texas waterways a safe next few days, minimal loss and a quick recovery. -eric

Balance. It’s a wonderful thing in life to find and try and maintain, but (for most) it’s never permanent, life is far to complicated for that. Personally I’ve always tried to keep family, work, fishing and this blog in harmony (in that order), but when one of the four (work) requires more attention, somethings gotta give, and in this equation that can only mean the blog. Fortunately I’ve recently started to find my groove at my new dream job and now find myself spending more time being productive and less trying to figure out how to maneuver through my work day, so the scales are finally starting to balance back out.

Gone are the days of “Stress Fishing” where one feels that an hour on the water is so needed that the 60 minutes spent fishing actually starts to feel like an anxiety inducing job in and of itself. Instead, i’m back on the water, relaxed, relieved, and more than a little curious. Working in a store with a fly shop (Gruene Outfitters) i am constantly hearing (or over hearing) about spots from co-workers or customers, something that has re-kindled a desire in me that i originally started this blog with, the exploratory side of my nature that wants to expand and search out new waters to share with you, the reader. Once again I’m back into my old habit of late nights with a glass of wine, a little blue cheese, and time spent pouring over Google Maps, honing in on hunches and pricing together bits and pieces that i heard throughout the day. One such late night ritual brought to my attention some public access on the upper Guadalupe at a location called Nichols Landing near Spring Branch, just south of Blanco.

That very next morning as i pulled off of highway 281 i was expecting the typical Texas river access spot, something along the lines of a poke in the eye and a kick in the crotch. To my dismay i pulled in to a legitimate county park, complete with parking, Port-A-Potties, and families enjoying themselves in the cool river waters. The vibe was instantly relaxing, and glancing around at the stone and sand shores, huddled in the shadows of huge bald cypress, i knew i had found something special, regardless of the fishing.

Dragging the Versa Board a small way over the rocks, from the parking lot to the shore i took a second to appreciate the lack of a boat ramp, knowing it likely kept the less curious at bay. Paddling upstream i was dumbfounded by the scenery, the trees, the sky, the water all seemed to be present in perfect unison. Being as it was a short while after sunrise, i immediately started to notice 2-3′ long gar lined up in pods along the banks, apparently waking up groggy after a night of wine and research?! Every one of the first three casts resulted in quick chases and gar brought aboard as much to their dismay as mine. One even performed a spastic somersault dance with its bony snout alternatively smacking against the boats deck and my thigh multiple times before conducting a perfect backflip into the waters from whence it came.

The initial paddle is along a stretch of housing, all though the houses are set rather far back from the river and only observable in a couple of spots, unlike the lower Guadalupe where you are practically in people’s back yards. It doesn’t take long however to reach a stretch of water that last many miles heading up to Guadalupe State Park, a stretch that for the one low water crossing, feels as wild and free as i imagine it  has for millennia. It was along this stretch that i portaged up the longest stretch of rapids i’ve ever encountered in Texas, a good 50 yards of rocks and whitewater that at the 90CFS i encountered it at made it hard to get up and down, but would be navigable at the 150CFS which is the norm for this time of year.

After the portage, i came upon a junction where Curry Creek enters from the right side of the river, some slightly still backwater that i was hoping might house some largemouth. Paddling up the creek, it was quickly clear that the water here was so shallow that fish would spot me coming from a mile away. Never the less, I did spot one of the more amazing sights i’ve ever seen in Texas, a towering limestone cliff about 40-50 feet high with a giant wedge cut vertically out of it, reaching back 20 feet and topped with a 10 foot thick cap on top that gave it sort of a cave/condo look that any Austin developer would die for. The photo (above) simply doesn’t do it justice, it is massive.

Around that time the upstream winds started barking and howling turning my leisurely downstream float into a headlong paddling battle that unfortunately has become all to common. In between strenous sessions i took some time stop and work some of the holes i’d noticed on the way up. Of special note is the pool that housed a myriad of long nose gar, anywhere from 3-5 feet. It was mostly sight casting and landing 3 foot specimen, but as you might expect, every time i stopped to switch a fly or untangle a line, a 4-5 foot gar would surface, gulp air, and be gone before I even had the backcast unfurling. Still, so many of the three foot gar were landed that I eventually stopped casting to them. One in particular seemed to tire of me trying to cut the gentle rope strands from its mouth, scissoring back and forth with its jaw agape it landed its teeth squarely on my hand drawing blood, always a sign it’s time to move on.

On the way back, somewhere around 3-4PM, the top-water bite finally turned on and it was more or less non-stop panfish and bass all the way back to the car. As much fun as it was, it would have been infinitely more enjoyable if i had something something lighter than the 6 and 8 WT rods i had brought in hopes of big gar. Still, you take what you can get, right?

On a final note, approaching Nichol’s Landing i was suddenly surrounded by a crowd of tubers and folks relaxing and enjoying the day. Eventually one spectator yelled out that they saw a lot of bait fish jumping a mere 20 feet in front of them and their awning, camp chairs and flailing children. I felt on the spot, and they vocally mentioned they’d never seen a person fly fish before so what could i do but entertain? I cast, thinking how hopeless and stupid, but expected it was that I at least try. The fly hit. The water caved in on itself, and my fly disappeared only to be replaced by a three-pound largemouth that faded left, faded right, jumped two feet in the air and bucked the fly free.

My audience tried to take responsibility by claiming that it wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t been watching, but i knew the truth. If there is one thing fly fishing has taught me over and over again, it is to always expect the unexpected, and never stop wondering what’s around the bend.

Want to go?

Nichols Landing – Paddling information for this location.

Guadalupe Canoe Livery – I have not used them, but if you want to float Nichol’s Landing to Hwy. 281 they will shuttle you for a fee.

Blanco River State Park – Located about 15 minutes north of the Guadalupe, along the Blanco River this is one of two state parks that you can choose to camp at.

Guadalupe River State Park – Also located about 15 minutes from Nichols Landing this is an incredibly beautiful campground and also a possible starting point for those than want to shuttle between here and Nichols Landing.