It is by its very nature odd to find a rainbow trout in Texas (outside of possibly the Guadalupe Mountains in west Texas). They are a species that are much more accustomed to higher altitudes and cooler waters such as the Rockies or the San Juan Mountains.  Yet it’s shockingly nothing new to find a rainbow nestled in a deep limestone cut on the Guadalupe River as they’ve been stocked in these waters since the mid 60’s when the Lone Star Brewery was entirely responsible for this curious diversion. Back then a novel distraction, trout on the Guadalupe have evolved into a mainstay thanks to the local chapter of Trout Unlimited (GRTU) as well as Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) and the waters are now officially known as the southern most trout fishery in the United States.

Obviously I can’t speak for the fish, but I imagine that even though these trout are farm raised, somewhere deep inside of them there’s a 40,000 plus year old DNA strand going off and alerting them that Texas waters aren’t their native home. But like many a trans-plant they’ve eventually become an element of the local scenery, being stocked by humans in ponds and rivers across the state, usually as a quick fix for winter fishing entertainment. In almost all of these waters they eventually perish as the air and water temperatures rise (if they haven’t already been consumed as food for humans, ospreys or stripers) but down here on the Guadalupe they can actually subsist and survive thanks to the cool, tailwater conditions from Canyon Lake.

The call of this exotic is why I, and many others, spend so much of of our days from December through late March working the upper stretches of the lower Guadalupe (yes that makes sense, trust me) scouring the water for that incongruous flash of spotted, pink paneling that gives the rainbow away. In most years this means a whole lot of wading across and back, too and fro in search of that special seam that has the trout nestled in its bosoom. This year however has been an excessively wet season bringing absurdely high flows (currently 1,200CFS) that have meant limited movement for bi-pedal humans, but also more or less unrestricted migration for the trout. The flows are so high that even guides with rafts are having to work extra hard just to keep clients still on the honey holes instead of getting whisked away downstream.

On a couple of trips recently I found the rare spot where I could fish more or less from the bank, mostly staying on actual dry land while only occasionally stepping one or two feet out from the banks before feeling the force of the current threatening to take me out with any errantly placed footstep. Nestled in close, out of the danger zone, I crimped on two of the heaviest split-shots in my kit well above the two tungsten nymphs and lobbed the entire two-ton fiasco well upstream in a slightly awkward side roll cast. It took an hour or so, but after endless adjustments on the strike indicator and minute alterations in my casts the indicator alarmed me by suddenly dipping below the surface as though even it was caught off guard by something deep and mysterious. It was the first fish of the day, a quick fight that went by the play book. A few casts later though it was a second fish that I strangely seemed to connect with.

The battle lasted much longer than usual as the trout repeatedly attempted to make a b-line downstream from the relatively slow pool we encountered each other in to the rapids that lied directly below, a run where it could use the waters pressure to easily snap the 5X tippet it found itself hooked into. It was a ceaseless game of bluffing as the trout fought to see what it could get away with while I found myself constantly wondering exactly when a three pound trout might be able to utilize the current to achieve the five pound breaking strength it needed to unnervingly set itself free.

It was an unusually long struggle to be sure, with time stretching out exponentially as every second passed. As I reeled the trout in close only to have it run on my time and time again I was sure I caught a glance that seemed to say, “I don’t where I am, I don’t know how I got here, but all things being equal I’m pretty content if you’d just get this damn hook out of my mouth.”

I couldn’t relate to the hook problem (except in the most metaphorical of ways) but as a military child vagabond, I still occasionally look around and wonder how after decades of being shuffled around this country (at phenomenal rates, first with parents and then solo) I ended up where I am. It was that exact felling that I felt at that moment, knee deep in cool waters, draped in the empty limbs of bald cypress, the sun setting as it does almost anywhere, and confused me tied into this trout. It was a slow dance of two non-natives, bewildered and confused, but also content and happy with just being in this moment and this space, it’s a good place to be. Minus the hook of course.