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Category Archive:   Warm Water Fish


It wasn’t even midnight on my last day of work at Whole Earth Provision Co., the ink still wet on the day when the text from Winston came late in the evening,

“Want to fish tomorrow on the LCR?”

Winston is one of the most unique people i know, harnessing both a fiery intensity and endless curiosity to everything, seemingly all the time. Being a somewhat more laid back introvert its stimulating just to be in his presence where you can practically hear the hum radiating around him.

When he’s not saving lives as a paramedic north of Austin, he swaps the ambulance for a jet boat and buzzes clients up and down the Lower Colorado via All Water Guides here in Austin. Working along side some of the most knowledgeable guides on the water he’s got this water dialed.

Suffice to say, if you get a text from a friend like this on the first day of your month long vacation, asking if you want to sled up and down the Colorado, you’ll want to say “Yes.”

 

photo by Winston Cundiff

The only other time i’ve experienced a jet boat was once on the Deschutes while fishing for steelhead with my family, where we flew up some up amazing class three rapids, still one of the most thrilling things i’ve ever done. Here on the Colorado though i constantly found myself shaking my head (and bracing my feet) as we jetted up stretches of shallow waters that were barely two inches deep while traveling at warp speed. Adrenaline hit for sure.

Early in the day we ended up at a weir and cut the engine in order to start floating casually downstream while waiting for the other All Water Guides to show up with their Yeti ambassadors aboard. It didn’t take long to land a handsome white bass and just a few moments later a nice largemouth which immediately set our expectations much to high, as we’d find out later.

Hours of this perspective felt unreal.

To cut to the chase, the rest of the day was fruitless, with hundreds (?) of casts going unnoticed, or at the very least being ignored. Eventually we switched roles and i found myself on the sticks (oars for those not in the know) and constantly being coached on how to position the boat, work the current, and set the boat up moves ahead as though playing a chess game. In all honesty, being given the chance to row a boat that many in the scene refer to “The Most Bitching Boat in Austin” was an honor of far greater reward than any fat ass bass could provide.

Eventually the Yeti crew arrived with David Mangum and his crew in tow, but unfortunately, as mentioned, things had long since shut down. I wish the day had been more amazing, with 5 pound bass constantly being netted for our visiting ambasadors, but that wasn’t the case. Hopefully they each found something amazing about the experience to take home with them despite the difficult day. For me i just enjoyed catching up with a good friend, learning a new skill, and taking in the glory of the day.

Just one day into my time off and here i was lying across the bow of the boat, watching the ospreys circling high in the sky, soaking in the sun and humming a tune we all know…

Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream…

David Mangum casting like a pro at my camera!

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I’m pretty sure we all have those peculiar waters that we simultaneously loathe and revere. For me one of those bodies of waters is the San Marcos, specifically the stretch between Martindale and Staples near the wonderful town of San Marcos.

If you’ve ever spent any time on the San Marcos, you know how magical it can be. It’s a spring fed river whose beginnings bubble up from Edwards Aquifer in downtown San Marcos and run for a mere four miles before joining up with the much more temperamental Blanco river.

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If you could somehow take away the private houses and development that line its shores, appearing like teen age scrawls on a Van Gogh painting, it is truly timeless and sublime stretch of water. Rushing rapids are followed by braids of water covered by canopies of endless amounts of bald cypress along with many other plants and trees that call this river home. Long slow pools play hosts to a variety of turtles, egrets, herons, king fishers and the like, all of them hunting, stalking and subsisting on these luminous azure waters.

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It was the same stretch that i had ventured on years ago with another good friend, and once again i felt the pull, the need to make the float and try to understand this river that seems to mystify me so.

My friend Nate and i put in at Highway 1979 after briefly leaving one of our vehicles down below at highway 1977 further downstream and then consuming some amazing local barbacoa tacos. As we made our way back to the starting point we experienced a small town traffic jam (above) that involved 20+ heads of cattle and an aging farmer that rightfully waved us down and indicated that he was more concerned about his cattle on the road, than us making our float trip in the allotted amount of time.

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In a sign of the times (and not the best, i might add) it appears that “Put-In” and “Take-Out” areas that had existed just a few years ago are now a thing of the past. Water access at both our put-in and take-out were virtually non existent, an uncomfortablle trend I’ve noticed with every new “Bridge Development” that happens in this part of Texas (and i imagine the bigger picture.) Instead of pulling under the 1979 bridge, where there used to be access, we opted to pay and park at Spencer Canoes right across the river which provided at least an allusion of safety, all though there seemed to be nobody around (which makes sense since it is the off season.)

The focus of the trip was obviously to catch fish, and glancing around, every bend and braid seemed to be the logical holding spot for the biggest Guadalupe bass known to man, or at the very least, a small sunfish. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but once again i threw the kitchen sink (floating lines, sinking lines, massive streamers, micro poppers) and nothing seemed to be effective despite glancing all around and seeing waters that seemed to scream “FISH!”

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After three hours of paddling and getting zero bites, we rounded a bend and i went through all the motions that i had for the last few hours, except, this time…there was a bite. Sure it was just a sunfish (above) , but it was a relentless little bastard that easily fooled me into thinking i had a three pound bass on the other end of the line. Within the next handful of casts two more equally sized sunfish came to hand for me while Nate was also landing serious sunfish.

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Then, as quickly as it started, it likewise came to a definitive stop with nary a bite seen again. Realizing we were just a little more than halfway through the float we ushered our crafts onto a gravel bar and broke out the wine, meats and cheeses. Leaning back on my camp chair (which doubles as my seat on the Versa Board) with the wind suddenly picking up drastically, i watched the clouds start to hustle, scurry, and meld into each other in a hurried and very un-cloud like way.

Knowing how far we had to go, and noticing that the wind was shooting straight upstream at about 30MPH and aware that we had hours of paddling to go, i sipped down some Pinot Grigio, turned to Nate and mentioned that this was a lousy fishing trip, but a wonderful paddle.

The shock to my system wasn’t so much that i said it, but that i REALLY and TRULY meant it.

Despite the fish, i was truly happy, likely because of friendship, clear water, blue skies, cheese, salami, wine and good conversation. Just goes to show that sometimes it’s not even about the fish.

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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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How do you say “Enough” to something you’ve been longing after for so long?  After years of traipsing through dry, cracked and barren stream beds looking for the odd spring fed waterhole, wishing all the while for a respite from the drought, the water has finally arrived, and in epic proportions.

Words like “excessive”, “bounteous” and “copious” pepper my thoughts as i listen to the rain collide with the lakes, rivers and creeks that are constantly rising and falling as they struggle to find a balance that their banks are comfortable with. Even while thinking these words well fishing, i’m careful not to say them out loud for fear of ending up back in a drought due to an ungrateful attitude.

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With all my usual stomping grounds roaring wildly with muddy flows, i found myself returning to one of the few places helped dramatically by all the rains of the last few months, Lake Travis, and more specifically Pace Bend.

I hadn’t been back to the lake since it was a largely waterless pool, and was astonished to see it full to the brim for the first time in many years with fresh waters lapping against distant shores. Heading straight to one of the larger coves, Mudd Cove to be precise, i made my way along the banks, 5WT in hand, and was bewildered to see a three foot alligator gar swimming just a couple of feet away from me. Staring closely to confirm the species i felt my muscles suddenly tie themselves in knots as my body seemed to quickly register the fact that i have yet to land an alligator gar and therefore blew the three foot cast by somehow managing to wrap the fly around the rod as the gar swam off, rather peacefully it should be noted, to deeper waters.

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Regaining my composure, i went on to land numerous smaller bass, and even a nice medium size long nose gar that put up an amazing fight for a gar of its size. Still, that botched alligator gar attempt is the thought i can’t seem to pry out of my mind many days later.

Much like the aforementioned flows, after you’ve spent years wishing and dreaming for something to be a part of your reality, you can’t really get upset because it doesn’t manifest itself exactly as you pictured it. Maybe the flows weren’t EXACTLY what i envisioned, and maybe the gar DIDN’T end up on my line like planned, still…it happened (or almost happened.)

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Either way, i’ll take the possible over the impossible, the high flows over the non-existent flows, the possibility of fish over the lackluster alternative. And in the mean time i’ll try to hone my wish fulfillment skills and try to come up with something a little more middle of the road that will benefit all of us.

Until then, fish what you can, when you can, and envision the best!

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