The April sun burned hotter than usual on the back of my neck and the tops of my feet as I made my way across the baked expanse of cobbled Texas riverbed. There was reliable water, not so long ago, where Bluebonnets now confidently sprouted from between the rocks with no fear of drowning. I had been profoundly unprepared for this little expedition. In posession of neither sun gaiter, wading boots, nor net. But there I was, making my way alongside another trickle of skinny water, as precious to me as the blood coursing through my veins, in search of a deeper pool and, perhaps, a dance with one of its residents.
I used to wade fish in these outdoor sandals often, but a few slips resulting in toes thoroughly banged-up by Hill Country granite and limestone have changed my mind about protecting my toes. Not to mention the fact that a fellow guide and friend is now down a toe or two courtesy of a Texas river. I’m not sure when the invincibility of youth finally transitioned into the vulnerability of middle age for me, but I’m starting to think I was a late bloomer on that front. There’s a reason my father used to say I “go at everything like killin’ snakes!” I’m just trying to make sure my current perception stops short of paranoia and lands somewhere around prudence, or at least practicality. But in this instance I had a couple of unexpected and precious hours that I was determined to waste wisely, prompting me to throw caution to the wind and wade in sandals. (wow, did I really just say that?)
I had been on my way home from meeting my friend, Sam Hasty, so he could help me get the 3rd brake light on my truck capper/rooftop tent hooked up. He had mentioned that he knew his way around 12v. But I didn’t know exactly what that meant, so I showed up with a sorry little roll of tools and a rookie harness with crappy taps I bought online. I soon discovered, as he playfully scoffed at my meager collection of crap, that he was a verifiable pro wiring wrangler who had owned an auto accessories business in a previous life! As I made my way back through Hill Country, ahead of schedule thanks to his wizardry, I recalled a particular stretch of water I had been wanting to look in on.
Those who know me well know that if I see fishy-looking water, I want to be able to fish it. And if I see non-fishy-looking water, the perceived challenge means my desire to fish it increases exponentially. Ergo, my truck, the Zen Fisher, usually looks like a fly shop exploded inside, with all necessary gear for my frequent and varied fly fishing whims. Here at home, the joke goes that I would fish a puddle. That joke used to refer to a storm drain until I caught fish in a storm drain, then it wasn’t nearly as funny. So yeah, I like to be prepared to get a cast over just about any water I come across. You know, just in case. I even have a 10-piece glass 3wt I ordered from Japan so I could fit it in a small shoulder bag for those stealthy urban missions.
The day before, however, I had completely emptied and scoured the bed of the Tundra in anticipation of the light install and had taken nearly everything out of the cab as well with the view of getting tackle reorganized as I transitioned from trout to warm water. So as I stole glances from the windshield to do an inventory of the dash, floor, and passenger seat, I assessed the following: 1 old Sage Bluegill rod I call 7-11 strung up with sinking line for Sandies and a handful of flies on the dash next to my wire scorpion from Big Bend. No net, but that was probably okay in this case. No hemostats, either. Hmmm. Oh yeah, there were needle nose pliers in the ridiculously unnecessary toolkit I took to Sam’s.
I pulled over, hopped out, and made my way to the passenger side to grab the rod and dig out the pliers. But as I reached for the flies, I realized I had no way to carry them. I thought about just taking the rod with the fly that was tied on, but it would be a long walk back if I lost it early. I rummaged around in the back seat to see if there was an empty fly shop puck floating around. Nope. And I didn’t really want any new holes in my hat. That’ll teach me to clean out the truck! I was about to wrap them in a napkin and shove them in my pocket when I spied a can hugger shoved in the door cubby. Viola! I stuck the little menagerie of flies in the foam, folded it into a makeshift fly wallet, flipped down the brim of my hat for a little additional shade, and set out.
I had a bit of a hike ahead of me and the going was a little slower than usual as I made my way down the trail and then picked carefully through the stones and across skinny snakes of water and soft sand. I stopped to check a smaller hole along the way and scored a Guadalupe Bass (“Guad” as they are known in these parts) to play, but the bigger shadow I spotted there spotted me too through the clear water and moseyed on before I could get a cast to it. I had to keep my shot a closer and strip a little faster as the fish were cruising more mid-column so the sinking line was really not the best tool for the job. That’s okay I’m not opposed to a bit of self-imposed (purposefully or not) limitation to keep it interesting.
I continued my somewhat hamstrung approach until I had arrived at the honey hole that had initially inspired this little misadventure. I was able to entice a few Guads and a catfish (that’s what I get for fishing sinking line!). I hold no grudge against the catfish, per se, but they sure make a snotty mess of leader and tippet! All in all, it was good fun and the pleasure of relaxing waterside and dancing with a few natives had me congratulating myself for the associated effort and ingenuity.
From the moment I arrived bank side, I had seen the rather large shadows of some Common Carp cruising the hole. It didn’t appear they were feeding, so I had ignored them initially. But as I looked closer, I began to think they might be in the mood for a snack after all. For one, a couple had hit the top—maybe not, but maybe eats. With about 15 minutes left before it was time to hike back to the truck, I decided to pull a fly through the mess of them, testing a few different retrieves.
The 3rd time was the exhilerating charm as I came tight on a healthy river rocket that put a deep bend in that little 7’11”. I played the fish through a few reel-singing runs. Then, due to the conspicuous absence of a net, landed it by bringing it into a shallow eddy. I propped my phone against a rock, started the video, and did a quick pass by the lens on the way back to the water for a safe release. Just as I suspected, a lovely time well-wasted. And all the more special because this was a spot first introduced to me by my friend Sam. In fact the only improvement I could imagine would have been sharing the experience with him…even more so if he happened to have been in possession of a net!
Lately, as client opportunities have ramped up and I’ve been working on preparations for summer guiding in CO/NM (for both of which I am grateful), I’m working to remember to MAKE time—to read, to write, to fish, to take a walk, to sit still and watch the birds at the feeder. But I’m not always so great at making time. Once in a while, despite my worst efforts, grace comes by and blesses me with an unexpected sliver of that ever-elusive and precious gift. So, no matter how prepared I may or may not be, may I endeavor to always TAKE it with a heart full of gratitude. At the very least, I’ll land a little peace. And if a fly rod is in the picture, I might just land a sight more. #carpdiem
Great story. Fun to read and inspiring.
Nicely done. I enjoyed listening to it. Where was this little skinny water area with a sandy bottom?
Thank you. 🙂 A Hill Country River 😉