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There are so many benefits of bringing together your personal passion with your professional life that it’s hard not to make the analogy of heaven or nirvana. In a perfect symbiosis such as this, one fuels the other and vice versa.

As a decade long fly-fisherman i’ve always hoped to merge that aspect of me with the outdoor store manager that has been my role for decades. Since taking my new job as buyer (etc.) for Gruene Outfitters i’ve had the wonderful fortune of falling into a wide array of wonderful adventures that would likely never had occurred had i stuck to the safe and familiar.

One such adventure arose recently after sitting through a line showing for Simms with the excellent rep. Eric Kraimer. The showing (where product for next year is shown by him and pondered over by me) was held on the shores of Lake Bastrop that coincidentally happened to have his bass boat (circa the 80’s?) sitting close at hand.

Ending the meeting he asked if I was interested in some late afternoon fishing? Graciously accepting the invitation we loaded the boat with the sparse but important tools to suck the marrow out of the next few hours before sundown.

As someone who has spent a LOT of time paddling my kayaks around this lake, working hard to make it from shore to shore, it was pure joy to zip from spot to spot in minutes though there was definitely the catholic / white guilt of having it a little to easy.

The first two cast really were the short story in and of themselves. Cast one was a strike without a hook up, but the second cast landed with the Mr. Minnow popper landing within a hair’s breadth of the grass 20 feet out from the bank. There was an awkward silence after the popper hit the water that was immediately punctuated by what seemed like a toilet being flushed in the reeds as a decent size largemouth sucked everything in front if it through its gills and in the process inhaling my popper.

While it was a great fight, the real excitement of the day was hooking up with someone who was not only passionate about fly fishing but full of stories and thoughts that tend to only come out while fishing for bass, at sunset, while motoring in and out of endless possibilities.

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.

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Act I:  

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.

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Act II:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Luck and good fortune can be measured in many ways. For some it’s winning the lottery or inheriting crazy money. For others it’s finding fame via social media or possibly even landing on reality television.

For me i felt like the luckiest bastard alive when I recently was fortuitous enough to spend two separate vacations in Colorado this summer fishing my brains out for trout, and exploring many waters i’d never even heard of, much less fished.

One such water was the upper reaches of Taryall Creek within the Lost Creek Wilderness area in central Colorado. My angling parents, my son and i all spent a couple of days using my parents small and humble pop-up camper as a home base for some small water fishing that alternated between tiny browns and wildly impressive fighters.

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Day one was filled with endless amounts of small browns taken 10 feet from our camper, in the Tarsal that flowed through the magical campgrounds.

Day two was an odd, yet wonderfully succulent event as we climbed over fence ladders that welcomed us to private waters upstream that entitled our group to miles of shoreline and fish without anyone else cramping our style. Most of the day was spent guiding my 12 year old son on some wild waters with not much to show other than a few occasional missed strikes. At some point, with his frustration rightfully growing, he decided i needed to fish and catch something just to lighten the mood for the both of us.

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I realize that this sounds like complete bull shit, but within minutes i cast my 7’6″ 2WT rod nymph rig into a deeper hole and suddenly felt a (relative) leviathan doubling my rod over as it shot from bank to bank. As the fish cut back and forth across the whitewater all i could think of was the 6X tippet and the tiny percentage of a chance that i had of landing it on such a small and light rig. Luckily my son took command of the net and landed the fish tenderly and gracefully, and together we made it happen.

A few minutes later, still high on the success of our teamwork, i spotted a larger trout held tight in a feeding lane close to shore, in the shade of an evergreen and pointed it out to my son. With the intensity level rising to a fever pitch we snuck downstream and worked our way back up with me giving every tip i could summon in hopes of some sort of chance of things working out.

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And like that it happened. One cast by my son, and one shocked dry fly inhaled, and one massive trout in the net with us tripping over ourselves trying to snap a photo to prove that the most absurd of the absurd had actually happened. While we trying to snap a photo it tossed the hook, did a belly flop and reacquainted itself with the water and was gone in a flash leaving both my son and i in shock at just how much had gone down in the last 30 seconds. We didn’t get the photo of the fish, but the smile on my sons face tells the whole story.

The next day began with my father and i wandering upstream from the campsite and exploring some of the trails along the creek that were either lightly trodden, or simply hidden to thwart off those that couldn’t commit to a true adventure.

While the private waters were absolutely magical and wonderful in many ways, we both hiked out of the upper stretch of public waters agreeing that we had literally stumbled on some of the most scenic and amazing fishing waters that we had ever seen. Pockets, riffles, and giant stones seemingly placed haphazardly by gods filled the waters bed and provided one with a myriad of options to work the countless seams that bounced from rock to rock.

The private fishing is great if you can swing it, but if not, just walk. The truth is always just around the bend.

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