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Category Archive:   Texas Rivers


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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.

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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.

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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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAphoto 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!”

Wait.

Nope.

Wait…still nope.

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAphoto by Nathan Peck

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Wow.  Apparently the collective prayers, wishes, and rain dances of millions of people over the last five years have all been answered at once.

If ever there was a state of extremes, Texas in the last five years or so is it. After years of dry and depressing drought we can’t seem to make it a few days without finding ourselves in the endless loop of “possible flash flood” alerts coming at us from every direction.

With all the local creeks and rivers flooding and fishing near impossible on any water, i decided to make the rounds and see what my favorite waters looked like under the most extreme conditions in recent memory.

The first stop was Pedernales State Park, by far my favorite water (next to Barton Creek) and a spot that i’ve seen in many incarnations over the years. However, as someone generally looking for the best “fishing option” i’ve never hit this watershed up during heavy flows, obviously opting for fishable waters rather than flooded ones. With nothing to lose however, i pulled into the parking lot, stepped out of my car and heard the raging hum that one might otherwise hear standing on the tarmac of a big city air port. The roar was mesmerizing, and i wasn’t even close.

Pedernales Falls DryPedernales flows 10-100 CFS in the past.

IMG_0979Pedernales flows at 20,000 CFS on 06/02/16.

Coming around the bend in the trail, to the lookout i was floored…absolutely floored and shocked to see the falls i’ve known over the years turned into something that quite honestly was beyond comprehension. The normal 10-100CFS i had staggered through probably 100 times before had been completely drowned out and replaced by 20,000 CFS of water elbowing its way downstream pummeling everything in its path.

 

Planting myself on one of the few exposed rocks i just sat there and tried to comprehend the sheer power unfolding before me while simultaneously wondering how long it might be before this torrent would be fishable again.

In hopes of fish i drove to Mansfield dam, a favorite haunt, but one that likewise was completely shut off due to flows in the 40,000+CFS range flowing off the bottom of the dam. Because of the amazing flows and the fenced off closures i could only snap the photo below (behind a fence a long way from the flows), the angle of which shrinks these amazing flows completely. With three flood gates open, and each the size of a small house you can only imagine the chaos that was being manifested below the dam.

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Eventually, full of desperation to simply wet a line i ended up driving around most of Lake Travis, finding park after park closed due to the fact that the lake was 5-6 feet above the norm with no sign of things changing any time soon. Eventually, after an hour of driving i managed to find one park (Sandy Creek Park) that was open but with a large part of it (including the boat ramps) off limits. It was here that casually stepping over a knee high guard rail to look for a casting spot (and expecting to find terra firma on the other side) i managed to surprisingly tumble into waters well over my head, ruining another iPhone. After trying to dry the phone i managed to regain my composure somewhat, decided that technology was fleeting and then went on to make my first cast of the day with my 5WT and felt it suddenly snap in half.

Awwww hell.

Don’t get me wrong, i truly appreciate the crazy flows, if nothing else it’s a nice change of pace. Still, i love fishing because it helps me find a calm center in myself that i normally struggle to locate. It’s a little hard to find that zen when fences, flooding waters and “CLOSED” signs keep you from the thing you love.

Fortunately there’s one other thing that fly fishing has taught me that if i can practice might actually see me through to calmer waters.

Patience.

Be careful out there y’all,

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In reality i probably shouldn’t have been out wandering the shores of my beloved Pedernales. I had spent the previous week with an illness that found me slowly slipping back and forth between 14 hour days of sleep and walking around my work like a zombie trying to keep busy just so i wouldn’t notice how miserable i really was.

While i was lucky enough to acquire many wonderful traits from my parents, i was also unfortunate enough to inherit a healthy dose of stubbornness that causes me ignore the advice of others (“Go home and get some rest!”) and do what i think i need to do (“Strap on a 20 pound pack and head out to wade in a raging river and try and catch some fish dam it!”) despite the fact that i really probably should have waited for the illness to leave and the flows to get back down to something resembling normal.

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This scenario played itself out recently when i hiked into the lower waters of the Pedernales with all intents of breaking up the monotony of the sleep/cough/zombie shuffle. Although flows were only hovering around 250CFS that’s enough of a flow in this shallow riverbed  to turn the water into heavy flows from bank to bank. Pools that had previously been waist high and wadable were now over head high and full of such powerful flows that simply trying to stand your own was a chore.

Making my way along the shore i eventually found temporary reprieve in a small pocket out of the main current. Working the ubiquitous black Wooly Bugger through the mellow waters i felt a sudden tug that i figured would likely be an eager sunfish trying to scarf down a quick meal.

As the line went taut, i struggled to catch a glimpse of the sunfish only to find myself playing tug o’ war with a small gar that seemed a little peeved to have been fooled. I oohed and awed over the fish, snapped a couple of quick photos while informing him/her that he/she was my first gar of the season, a noble title to be sure, but the fish just kept eyeballing me without any discernible change in attitude.

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Shortly after that spotted, and needle jawed wonder, i turned and headed back to the car, sweating, exhausted and seriously wondering if i could make it back to the car without passing out. Maybe everyone else was right and i should have stayed at home?

Not that there was ever really any question of course, the great thing about stubbornness is that it not only makes you want to prove everyone else wrong, it also makes you want to prove yourself right.

Exhausted but smiling, i made it to the car, returned home, laid down and immediately fell into an incredibly restful sleep where i dreamt of flowing crystal waters, lines tearing into backing, stalwart cypress, endless sand, majestic black spots and radiant, prehistoric golden scales glistening in the sun.

Maybe stubbornness isn’t always bad after all.

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Pulling into Colorado Bend State Park, the expectations were running high indeed. With the drought of the last few years, the flows where the Colorado River flowed into Lake Buchanan had essentially become non existent, physically cutting off the white bass from their natural inclination to head upstream and spawn. Fortunately with all the recent rains of the last six months, much of Texas is seeing life move back into areas that they once called home. Chief among these are the white bass and the fisherman that chase them, both once again calling Colorado Bend SP home.

If you’ve never fished for white bass before, it can be summed up rather succinctly by stating that “It’s all or nothing.” Traveling in schools as they do, if you’re fortunate enough to find one, you’ll probably find many more. Because of this, one persons skunk on a particular stretch of water one day can easily be someones double digit bonanza just 24 hours later.

While there are many spots around central Texas to wade in hopes of finding some of these white magic bullets, Colorado Bend State Park is one of the classics. However the drought of the last few years has kept the flows from being enough to facilitate the bass making it from the lake up into the river. Fortunately, this year the rains have been kind and the white bass are once again moving up the Colorado again which meant it was time to cash in some favors and spend some time alone with just water, fish, a rod and myself.

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The first sign of abundance happened as soon as i pulled into my campsite and placed a few random items on the pot marked and weathered picnic table. The wind whipped into a furry and instantly sent a stove, a sleeping bag, two boxes of flies, and various other items over the edge of the table and scattered them on the ground as though it wanted to play a round of Pick-Up Stix. I’m not sure why, but i just chuckled and laughed at the chaos, possibly because i was on the beginning side of three full days of fishing. One thing is for sure, i was not laughing about the wind long after that, and certainly not at the end of the trip, after being buffeted by 30-45mph winds non-stop for three days solid.

While a steady wind is nothing short of nerve wracking, a steady flow of water can be absolute bliss and that’s where the river delivered, showing no signs of ebbing over the three days i spent moving up, down, and across its gripping current. While the heavy flows would have kept lesser fish wary due to the one inch visibility, these fish were here, they were horny, and more than anything else they were hungry.

How hungry? Despite the chocolate milk consistency of the water, double digit fish within an hour were far from uncommon. While my new 7’6″ Winston 3WT was complaining out loud with every gust that blew the water upstream, it definitely doubled over in laughter with every hook-up and bolting bass caught despite the ceaseless buffeting of the wind.

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After a couple of days of way to much sun and wind on the river i headed out to the Spicewood Springs trail in the park eager to see it once again full of flowing water. It’s a small but heavenly creek full of waterfalls, verdant plant life, and crystal clear spring waters. Many years ago, when water was still abundant, my family and i had hiked this trail and the sunfish and small bass were plentiful to a degree that i now realize was a blessing. Now, using the two weight, three inch fish that had obviously never seen an angler were caught and released quickly. Back on the river, 20-30 fishermen were casting uncomfortably close to each other in muddy waters, but here it felt like fishing in Eden, despite the small size of the fish.

The last day was more white bass, more sun, more wind and more frustration about the two things (in addition to the wind) that had been plaguing me since i pulled in to camp that first night. One was the incessant rumbling of a tractors engine that was blown upstream by the endless wind. The other was that i had lost my waterproof camera of 5+ years in the first evening of fishing, lost (i imagined) in the muddy waters of the Colorado while grabbing a fly box.

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Breaking camp, i headed out on the dirt road only to hear the tractor hum that had plagued me for days approach, and feel the anger caused by this audible abomination to nature swell up in me. At the peak of frustration i realized what they had been doing, using an auger to plant a plethora of trees throughout the park. Smile.

So inspired was i by the fact that my frustration had turned out to be something so wonderful, i actually made a choice at the moment to embrace the positive aspect of every seemingly annoying setback. After stopping in the park rangers station a couple of times over the last few days to inquire about my lost camera only to be disappointed, i decided to make one last inquiry based on this recent turn of events.

Standing there inquiring about an “orange camera” i noticed the park ranger smiling in a peculiar way that had me wondering what was going on. When she returned with the camera my desperation / exaltation must have emanated from every pore.

Turns out that a young angler named Will had found my camera in his campsite (the one i initially took before moving sites) and turned it in that day. Turning around, i headed back to the small trailer that Will and his grandpa were camping in and was lucky enough to encounter them walking up the road to take a break from slaying the fish. I practically tripped over myself offering Will gifts and praise, grateful as i was for his honesty and virtue.

If you haven’t been to Colorado State Park yet i suggest you head there ASAP, it’s an amazing place with some incredible fishing . If your lucky, the wind and muddy waters will be long gone, but i’m sure the fish and positive vibes that Will tapped into will still be there for you to enjoy.

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