I’ve been following the work of JP Ross for a while now. I first ran across his Muir pack rod, a 7-foot-5-piece fiberglass 3wt, several years ago when looking for a backpacking companion to chase wild and native trout deep in the backcountry. I’m a sucker for a lightweight glass rod, and I still plan to get one in my little paw at some point.

Anyhow, I digress. My recent pursuit of a rod to practice for Fly Fishing International’s Certified Casting Instructor Exam lead me to call the shop with some questions. To my surprise, the man himself answered the phone and we had the first of what have now been quite a few great conversations…mostly about fly fishing and a little about life (it’s all the same, you know). When you run across a kindred spirit it just sorta goes that way…like old friends who’ve just met.

I now have nearly every rod he makes—on my wish list—not just because the designs are solid, but also because I resonate so much with his philosophy around the importance of spending time outdoors. He builds these tools not just for precise execution, but with a view to enhance the experience of the caster. He’s a ZenFisher for sure. Buying 6 or 8 fly rods, however, is a bit much all at once. But I had to start somewhere. And when I read a little about his new rod with a split personality, The Peacemaker, I surmised it was the perfect tool for my trip to the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado.

The planned fishing excursions included both chasing native fish in creeks above 9000ft, where conditions can be tight and technical, as well as hiking up even farther to fish the Alpine lakes that feed some of them, where I wouldn’t have the benefit of a paddle craft or float tube for better access. So what makes The Peacemaker the perfect rod for this scenario? Well, it’s not really a rod, it’s rods (plural). While it can be ordered in either an 8ft 3wt in 3 pieces (803-3) or a 10.5ft 4wt in 4 pieces (1054-4), it can also be ordered in a configuration where both rods share the top two sections. Add one butt section with grip to them, and it’s the 803-3. Add a section with additional stripping guides and a different butt section instead, and it becomes the 1054-4. After fishing both configurations for a few weeks now, my mind is kinda blown. And I’m no stranger to high-performance fly rods.

The Peacemaker Sidekick (3wt) paired with a Ross (no relation) Colorado Reel

The shorter 3wt has become my new favorite creek rod for the sort situations I’ve been fishing recently. Since I’m packing it in to waters unknown to me, I take a reel spooled up with 3wt line and an additional spool with 4wt line. If the conditions call for shorter casts, I use the WF4F (weight forward 4wt) to load the rod in a little closer. If, conversely, I’m in a situation with crystal clear high-mountain runs packed with wary, wild quarry and nowhere to hide, I string up the WF3F and the thing becomes a monster of accuracy at distance. Seriously, I can place a dry fly right in the pocket at the head of a run from farther than is even legitimately fishable.

Not exactly the easiest wading scenario, but soooo worth it

I learned that the hard way as I failed to hook up on several solid eats in a row when casting far up a narrow canyon where closer access wasn’t really practical. But that just wouldn’t do, and I am not easily dissuaded by impracticality. I wanted to make sure the misses weren’t just my poor timing. So I said a little prayer, put the rod between my teeth, and using the full compliment of hands and feet, shimmied across a slim ledge of slickrock alongside the pool to gain another 10 feet or so. Yup. That was the ticket. The next drift produced as solid take and set and brought a beautiful wild brook trout to hand. So it seems my fishable distance with this rod is limited only by the physics of the set with an 8-footer, not by our (my and the rod’s) ability to place an accurate cast. Sweet.

In theory, the 10.5ft version sounded like a dream for the alpine lake game. And it is in practice as well. But it did take a little adjustment to get into the rhythm and adjust my casting arc and pace to the pace of the rod. Sort of the way that a paddle craft has a terminal velocity. No matter how hard you paddle, your top speed is ultimately dictated by the specs of the boat. This rod asks, no, insists, that you go easy and SLOW THE HECK DOWN. Maybe he should have called it “The Pacemaker!” Nope, it doesn’t like to be pushed one little bit, but that’s just fine, it doesn’t need to be. It’s the poster child for letting the rod do the work. Relax into it, and long stable loops are like breathing. It can certainly handle 4wt line, which I’d recommend for light streamers and nymph/indicator situations and will be putting it to that use in the wide, braided rivers of Texas Hill Country soon enough. But I’m just smitten with it strung up with WF3F for dries on still water.

The Peacemaker 10.5ft reaching out to touch someone at a remote Alpine lake

I have distance for days and the most delicate presentation with the long leaders used in those situations. In this case, the extra rod length also makes setting the hook more feasable at distance. It’ll pick up a truckload of line, too, which means the fly spends more time on the water (you know, where the fish live) and less time in the clouds (you know, where I live). While I haven’t used it in this application (yet), I imagine the extra foot-and-a-half over the standard 9er will make it a great kayak fly fishing rod as well. While the shorter rod is still my creek darling, casting this longer configuration is downright addictive.

2.5 mile up a mountain hunting trout at 12,500 ft

We recently traversed the 4×4 access road up to a trailhead at 11,000 ft and then hiked the additional 2.5 miles of distance and 1500 ft of elevation up the mountain to a cluster of alpine lakes. I hiked with the 8-footer in hand to fish the creek as we ascended while the 2 sections of the 10.5-footer were strapped to my pack so I could make the switch at the lakes. The sections are a little long for what I typically prefer in a “pack” rod, but the versatility is worth the larger form factor to me in that sort of scenario. Is this an Appalachian backcountry rod? Probably not. But it wasn’t designed to be. JP has built his brand on small stream rods for the short game and has plenty of options that fit that bill, namely the Muir and his Beaver Meadow series in carbon and s-glass. The Peacemaker is another animal entirely.

Ross isn’t just a rod builder, he’s a rod designer. And “designer” is an important distinction to note. There are lots of “builders” who wrap and build rods on blanks they purchase from other manufacturers, which is cool. But that’s not the case here. These tapers and composite applications are designed and developed by JP, manufactured, and then wrapped/built in his shop. Not only did my fly rod sections show up beautifully appointed with my requested and preferred down-locking reel seats in burled wood and coordinating agate stripping guides, JP took it upon himself to add my name to the 10.5ft butt section and “Fisher of Zen” to its 8ft sibling. Nice, thoughtful touch. My understanding is that he designed the longer rod specifically for a canoe float on an Adirondack river where conditions called for dapping. It has since become a go-to rod for many anglers (like me) as they have continued to push it well beyond its intended purpose. I’m not sure if that’s because they want to see what it can do or because they just don’t want to put down a rod that puts such a goofy, nearly embarrassing grin on your mug every time you cast it.

Winner, winner, fish for dinner. (JK, I’m mainly a catch-and-release sort of gal)

It was a bit on the chilly side, but was still a great day to visit the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. The park is full of native FL wildlife—and one old hippo (we’ll get to that). The staff and volunteers were quick to point out that the animals at the park are all some sort of “rescue” and are unable to survive in the wild, so it’s much less like a zoo and much more like a sanctuary. I certainly love to explore wild, out-of-the-way places, but a slightly more “domesticated” trip of this sort can also offer some great context and the opportunity to see wildlife up close and personal-like.

Seeing the native birds…flamingos, spoonbills, pelicans, and herron of all kinds…even a few birds of prey (osprey, hawks, owls and eagles) up close was certainly a treat. I was particularly keen to spend some time in the company of one particular, unassuming bird fisher. I don’t really have a spirit animal, but if I did, it would be the Green Heron. I find them particularly fascinating. Come to think of it, perhaps a post or show dedicated to this little wonder is in order.

But of all of the day’s views, I was most overwhelmed and smitten by the “fishbowl.” The spring that is the headwater of the Homosassa River bubbles from the bottom of a “bowl” of stone that is 189 by 285 ft wide and 55 foot deep. And it is teeming, 365 days a year, with various fresh and saltwater fish. And by teeming, I mean likely the most fish I’ve ever seen in one place at one time in the wild. The 3 spring vents in the main bowl discharge, on average, 0ver 65 million gallons of water per day fed by a 270 square mile springshed. It was almost as if the specie-specific schools of fish were dancing as they slowly undulated and circled past and around one another with the occasional flash of a mangrove snapper showing it’s side standing in as the disco ball. I could have watched, from the underwater observatory or above, for hours.

As we moved along down the trail along the river, making our way over to the other side of the park, we spied a few manatees resting in the warm, shallow water. The spring and portion of the river along the park are roped off during the winter months to provide safe haven, especially for manatees, away from the crowds of tourists and local folks looking to party in the crystal clear water. We were also on hand at feeding time and learned a little more about these gentle beasts in residence there.

The last stop of the day was to to see Lu. The park’s resident hippo is one of the oldest in captivity. His given name is Lucifer, but I’m guessing the parks department didn’t really think of that as a “family friendly” name for the resident of a public park. He’s over 60 now (most live to 40 or 50), and is the last remaining “exotic” animal from a stretch in the park’s history when it was a commercial attraction filled with them. He’s also Florida’s only non-human legal resident. Under state ownership, the decision was made to re-home all of the non-Florida native exotics to rescues and sanctuaries. But Lu was the most popular animal at the park, and local residents started a petition to keep him. The creative way around the “native-only” park rule was to grant him Florida residency. So the governor at the time did just that.

Notably, though the park is also home to the Florida Panther, Lu, as you can see from the park signage, is the one that represents a bit of danger.

Thanks to my pal, Linda, for the above-water pic of the fishbowl. 🙂

Sometimes you just need a good paddling. And this past weekend was a beautiful one to get out on the water. So, we made plans to roll the #CariVan to the Little Manatee River State Park and then on to the Myakka River State Park a little further south. Two rivers, not an hour apart, presented with an entirely different landscape. The upper part of our run in The Little Manatee, save it’s clear, light-iced-tea color and slightly different vegetation, could have easily been a creek or river in Michigan or Southern Indiana. A little more like Michigan, I suppose, with the sandy bottom. The lower part of the run opened up a bit and became less tree-shrouded with wider, more even depth, slower flow, and the compliment of grasses and large areas shaded by lilypads. And while the water was thick with turtles, freshwater crab, mullet, and even offered up bluegill when tempted by a fly cast, we hadn’t a gander of a gator for the entirety of our 6-mile float. I’m also happy to say that we passed our first test as a two-person crew paddling the tight, technical flow and turn of the upper river with nary a fuss or fault. But then again, we already knew we made a good team.

We then headed south towards Sarasota, pulled into the park just before dark. Once at camp, I immediately started a substantial fire so that the perfect coal bed was ready to prepare a hobo dinner and eat it by the light of my trusty old candle lantern. Myakka, Florida’s only designated Wild and Scenic River, is all but owned by the American Alligator. In fact, the canoe livery there doesn’t supply the river at all, only the upper lake. We really wanted to explore the river to the south by water, but with only inflatables in our personal arsenal and guaranteed difficulty seeing the multitude of board-threatening underwater obstacles in the dark waters, we opted against paddling through the alligator-infested waters. This time.

Instead, we pumped them up and paddled around the lake a bit. I won’t lie, the 12mph winds made for a good workout on an iSUP! And as for the gators, the shallow area of the lake certainly had its share and we were more than happy to give them a wide berth!

A while back, I reached out to ULA Equipment about building a custom pack for me based on what has become their Dragonfly Pack. At the time, an earlier version with slightly different specs and dimensions had been released as their “Everyday Pack”.

My idea was for it to be “one pack to rule them all.” We were full time on the road touring (drives and flights) AND hiking/exploring, so I wanted a pack that could go from travel pack to daypack to backpacking pack to gear hauler. It had to be light, tough and versatile! A tall order, for sure. I have a bad habit of asking a little too much from my gear in general, but living in a 200-square-foot Airstream didn’t really accommodate having 4 different packs. It needed to be oversized daypack/ultralight backpacking pack sized and also be able to haul over 20lbs safely and comfortably for music gear sometimes and extra water when exploring arid landscapes. Oh, and it needed to fit under an airline seat since my guitar counts as my carry on when touring so my “personal item” has to handle everything else for quick trips when not checking baggage.

As it turned out, their lead pack designer was already working on something in that vein. I made a few tweaks. Heavier fabric, removable padded/pocketed hip belt, heavy-duty compression up and down both sides, and load shifters to snug heavier loads against my back (now standard on the new, larger volume version called the Atlas Pack). Some folks think load shifters only belong on bigger, framed packs. I just like being able to snug the load in against my shoulders in all but the most ultralight short hike situations.

So about a week later it was in my hands and quickly on my back. Within the first month or so she was stuffed under an airplane seat and drug around New York for the Brooklyn Americana Music Fest and trekking all over the Southwest…from Santa Fe to Moab to The Grand Canyon and more. Overall early impressions were pretty great.

There are several things I really dig about the pack, and a few annoyances as well…there is no perfect pack. True to ULA form, I love how comfortable it carries, even when loaded. The “modular” frame system that consists of removable foam sheet and aluminum stays that can be taken in and out of the “laptop sleeve” gives you several options for support and back panel rigidity. Nice. Frankly, though, there is enough material/rigidity in the back panel/sleeve itself to accommodate all but the heaviest loads and/or long trail days. The loops to add a bungee across the front are certainly welcome when it’s time to dry out wet gear. The integrated top pocket is great for accessing wallet, phone, snacks, etc. while traveling by air or when taking a rest on a hike. That said, unlike the original Everyday prototype, it shares volume with the main pack body, which gets frustrating when you are left robbing Peter to pay Paul as you move gear around to get the most efficient load.

The hip belt is removable, but unlike many ultralight packs with a removable 1″ webbing belt, this is a legit, padded option that fastens pretty quickly and easily with two attachment points on each side. This makes integrated hip pockets as well as true, secure load transfer when carrying heavier loads possible. I just leave it off when I want to streamline it as a travel pack or for day hikes where I’m carrying a lighter load. The hip belt pockets are also nice added volume for quick access while trekking (snacks, tools, headlamp, etc.) though they could be a little deeper as far as I’m concerned. They are certainly big enough, but if I had it to do over again, I’d make them a bit bigger and choose a lighter fabric than the VX50 of the pack body as it’s pretty stiff for a zippered pocket.

I love the access of a panel-loader, especially for travel, but it isn’t the best option for overstuffing on an overnight hike. Top loaders shine there. It also restricts the size of the front mesh pocket on the sides where it meets the perimeter zipper and across the zippered top (necessary for securing items in the stretch pocket while traveling but a bit of a pain on the trail as it’s not very “overstuff friendly”). I also get a little more nervous really ratcheting the compression as it seems to put a lot of pressure on the water resistant u-shaped panel zipper. To ULA’s credit, though, it has yet to fail me despite the apparent strain.

One of my favorite features are the oversized 4-way lycra stretch side pockets. These babies are CAVERNOUS when in use, but shrink down to near nothing when empty, allowing them to be entirely out of the way when using as a daypack or travel bag. In fact, though the design allows for internal water bladder carry, I found I could load my slim 1.5L Hydrapak bladder in one of them and balance out the other with a couple of repurposed 1L disposable bottles for ease of refill and to avoid the risk of a leak soaking the contents of my pack body when needing to carry lots of H2O. Speaking of the side pockets, the heavy-duty web compression straps go all of the way down the sides of the pack INSIDE these pockets. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t make that choice. The combination of structure provided by the stiffer VX50 and the fact that this safety gal always carries components of the “5 Cs of Survival” (more on that another time) even on a day hike, I haven’t really needed to compress it much. Also, the straps become a hang-up hassle when stuffing things in the side pockets on the go.

It’s always a risk when you try to design something to serve so many purposes. Often it ends up serving none of them well. Not in this case. All in all, my nitpicks are just that…especially when I was demanding so much utility from one pack. I made my wish list knowing it was probably asking too much, and this little pack just said “hold my beer.” In fact, though she pretty much amounts to a customized Dragonfly pack these days and there is now even that larger version called the Atlas, I call her the “ULA EveryWay” because she does so many things so well.

Card games have been a part of my social life since I was a baby. Literally. When I was born, we lived in a travel trailer at the Holiday Rest campground on Raccoon Lake. Evenings and weekends brought out all the older folks to sit around under the strings of cheerful, plastic owl patio lights and play cards. Spades, Hearts, Poker, Pinochle, Rook, Rummy, Euchre. The cheap beer flowed and ashtrays propped up slow burners orphaned by a good hand…or burned out by a streak of them. The story goes that I did some of my teething on someone’s classic Zippo sitting around the glow of one of those lakeside gatherings.

After we moved to a little rental cabin a few miles away, we’d go back to visit our old neighbors…and play cards. When I was 3 or 4, mom and dad bought their first house, and started attending church. The impromptu picnic table matches were replaced by a nice couple or two over for dinner on a Friday or Saturday night with cards after the kitchen table was cleared…and after pie, of course. Usually Euchre or Rummy. Many of these couples were older than my parents with kids that were grown or old enough to stay home alone. That was fine with me. I typically preferred the company of adults anyhow. I would pull up a stool, watch & listen. It’s how I learned to play, and how I learned the art of good-natured trash talk.

My aunt gave me a deck of cards one year for my birthday and showed me how to bridge shuffle. I carried them with me everywhere and wore them (and my poor mother) out practicing. That first deck of my own was Bicycle brand, and I think they were the narrower Bridge size to accommodate my tiny paws. I’ve had many decks since…even some plastic jobbies for outdoor water resistance. But ultimately, my loyalty is with Bee’s Diamond Back “Club Special.” The linen finish makes them slick but not slippery, the full 2.5” width makes the proportions just right, and the red is just deep enough not to be garish. Jackpot. Make no mistake, it’s life’s little pleasures that make it “Casino Quality,“ friends.

The day called for a little more wind than you’d want on the open water, so when I arrived at the spring to meet my guide, Captain Duane, he said our day out was gonna be what he referred to as “sporty.” I can only assume that meant, given the forecast, that this would be more of a fish-targeting mission and less of a pleasure cruise. Fine by me. After all, he calls his charter service “Windsplitter,” so I figured I was in good hands.

We idled through the crystal blue water toward the river, careful not to disturb the manatees seeking refuge from the cold snap in the warmth of the spring. Once out of the no-wake zone, the small, shallow-drafting skiff was pointed westward and out the river to the flats. With steady winds in the 11-12mph range, I quickly learned just what “sporty” meant. I was glad I to be wearing my little packable rain jacket/windbreaker, and downright thrilled when that little jacket, instead of my shirt, was instantly soaked as the bow came down hard in the chop. Surprisingly, given its light hull, the little Custom Gheenoe LT25, dubbed “Awesome Sauce,” handled the rough surf like a champ.

We ventured about 10 miles out from the 7 Sisters Springs, which is a few beyond John’s Island, the water-accessible homes and fishing shacks, and where the river breaks into and around tidal waterways and outstanding islands, oyster bars and mangroves. We were playing the tide, which the Northwesterly wind had delayed but not entirely detained. As we awaited that magic hour around high tide when the redfish come into the shallows to feed, we drifted the flats trying to pick up a stray trout. After some close calls fighting extremely shallow water and wind, I was finally fighting a respectable if not write-home-able spotted sea trout. A great size for eating. If you’re squeamish about that sort of thing, don’t look at that last pic!

Finally, the tide had come in enough and we headed a couple of miles back in to start threading the backwaters stalking reds. We found a hole in a bend that looked pretty fishy, so we gently dropped the anchor up current to try our luck. The bite was slow which was even more maddening as we saw the occasional wake made by an sizable fish in the shallow coastal water. But just as the wind, which had calmed a bit, began to pick up again, making me wonder if it was near time to move on, something besides the bottom gave a tug at the end of my line! Once on the hook, this sweetheart put up quite the fight. It was readily apparent that we’d have to pull anchor and make chase as it took off around the bend, reel drag whining in protest, me grinning and grunting through the delicate tug of war that requires you pull hard enough to keep the fish but not so hard as to break a line or pull a knot. As Capt. Duane scrambling to get us loose to follow, the line went slack and my heart sank. But the fish had just come back our way for a second and then the match was back on. We made our way around the corner, spooking the few remaining reds in the hole as we went by. The afternoon sun had parted the morning’s deck of clouds by now, and as the red came to the surface with the flash of a giant shiny penny, I swear I teared up a little. So beautiful. After bringing the fish to the gunwale a few times only to spark another run, it was finally in the net and in the boat. I could breathe again.

A nice, 26-inch red drum…just barely inside of the top end of the slot for keepers. I think the assumption was that I’d be adding it to the cooler, but I just couldn’t. Dinner was already on the table with the trout I had kept earlier. This would have been more than we needed, and keeping such a beautiful specimen was just more than my rapidly beating little angler’s heart could take at that moment. This species can live upwards of 40 years, and I suspected this one had a bit more livin’ to do. So a quick pic as it “drummed” in my hands, a little re-acclimation to it’s watery home, and then grateful send off.

The time was nigh to make our way in via a couple of stops in route to see if we could snag another. No more bull reds, but a little snook rounded out the day and amounted to what they refer to as a “grand slam” around here…trout, snook & red in the same day. Back home saw the fillets blackened on the cast iron, cradled in a tortilla with a little fresh slaw, and accompanied by a local IPA while I spun fish yarns fireside. A few hours on the water, a few fish on the line, one good fight, one delicious dinner, and a boatload of fun. I’ll take it. Thanks Captain Duane..

Well, I was gonna make stuffed bell peppers for dinner, but an evening by the campfire was calling, and so was my new Firebox Stove Titanium Nano! So I just chopped everything up and made a skillet out of it! I’m sure using cast iron (even a small dutch oven like this one) is pushing the bounds of intended use based on weight, but it worked like a champ…in this case, I used the Trangia burner so I could just relax and control the simmer a little easier than wood.

I’ve only had this thing a week, and I’m totally blown away by how strong, portable, versatile, and LIGHT it is! Every dang detail of this baby is so well thought out. You can tell it was designed by someone passionate about creating a great tool who has spent tons of time using and testing it in the field. I’m a big fan of multi-purpose gear, and while this is obviously for the purpose of cooking, I love the multiple fuel and set-up options that mean I’m ready for any food prep situation we may find ourselves in. From boiling water for a quick cup of coffee or backpacking meal while hiking or on tour, to prepping more substantial meals at our basecamp or van-camp site, to throwing it in my daypack along with a little skillet in case things get fishy and have the option of a shore lunch.

I like gear, sure, but it’s been a while since I was this stoked about a new addition to my kit! Stay tuned for a future, more in-depth discussion about the HUGE Nano as I put it through the paces.

A lovely Spring sunset lights the web of a bowl-and-dolly spider somewhere in the Hoosier National Forest. The forecast called for rain but we were given reprieve, if temporarily. So another campfire was in order. The moon in the southern sky put on quite a show…the pic, as always, does it no justice. It was the thin toenail-shaped beginning of a waxing cycle but with that halo glow that almost suggests a lunar eclipse.

The clouds where doing their part to paint the canvas of twilight as well while the treetops provided a foundation that seemed to simultaneously prop it up and anchor it down. As a pair of Barred Owls called to each other over the song of the frogs and the whippoorwill sang in the distance, we caught a glimpse of the big dipper before those clouds made their lazy way across the sky to obscure our view and turned our attention back to the glow of the fire dancing at our feet.

And then, marshmallows…I swear they taste better roasted on a stick you whittle yourself.

If you’ve spent much time with me, and especially if you’ve had the chance to spend any time surveying my outdoor gear, you know that I’m a big fan of things that serve multiple purposes. In fact, I’ve often said that if a piece of gear can’t do AT LEAST 2 things, it’ll have a hard time earning its way into my pack. So it’s no surprise that I find myself pretty smitten with the lowly bucket. And while the 5-gallon manifestation is certainly a classic, I am drawn to its cousin nearly half that size. Why? For one, that size is just…well…handy. And the weight of it full of water (about the heaviest thing I carry in it) is about the max I wanna schlep around the homestead.

I was first introduced to the joys of this 1/2 pint wonder when I opened my first gourmet shop and one of the suppliers sent liquid product in these food-grade pails. They recycle, sure, but I always prefer UPcycle when possible. And once I figured out all of the things they were good for, my lifelong love affair commenced.

Case(s) in point: Just the other day, I used the same bucket for 4 different tasks. First, it was to hold the collection of sandbur (or sticker bur, if you prefer) grasses I had dug up from the yard. It may take me months or years, but I am determined to eradicate them and their little demon seeds. If for no other reason (and there are plenty of other reasons, trust me), 5 minutes of weed whacking and I look like I’m covered with miniature mines that take time…and considerable pain…to remove from my clothing. Texans are hearty people, and it’s no wonder…everything in the out-of-doors here is trying to hurt you.

Secondly, I noticed the recent storms had relieved the resident mesquite and oak trees of a few dead branches and deposited them underfoot. So, I grabbed my trusty bucket and made a turn or two around the property. Next, it was time to fill in a little sink hole. What do you think I used to fetch the dirt? Yup, you guessed it. And finally, that sage bush out front needed some extra liquid love, so I put my little friend to one of its primary uses. A small list of chores complete, and aided in every one by my baby bucket.

Nature has its beauty, as you and I well know and seek out at every opportunity, but there is also a beauty in the utility of simple tools to dispatch simple tasks. Speaking of which, I think some of the prickly pears have tunas ready to harvest. Now, where did I put my little bucket?

The nice thing about wade fishing a river is that, in those moments, there is nothing else. Naught but the kiss of the sun, the caress of the breeze, the song of the water. The worst I may face is the errant gust of wind, a fly stuck in the brush from a lazy backcast, or a surprised serpent (always vigilant on that one).

I continue to be amazed at the resilience of the flora in these parts. The ability to grow up and flourish…seemingly with so little support from the earth or sky. The plants here are not typically as lush as back home in the Midwest, but they are hearty and beautiful in their own right. And I love how often I am pleasantly surprised as I encounter unexpected blooms—there seems always to be something blooming in this part of Texas.

Fly fishing here is different as well. The water is often wide, clear, and shallow, so sighting and stalking fish takes a slightly different approach. When I get too close or too clumsy and see the silhouette dart across the bottom, I often feel like those undercover agents on TV who talk into their earpieces to say “mission aborted, I’ve been ‘made.’”I don’t really mind. One of the main reasons I fly fish is to slow down. To hone patience. To court calm. So when I spook my quarry, when I throw a tailing loop and knot the living hell out of my leader, when I backcast into a sticker bush to find a magically and instantly woven web of tangled tippet with a tiny fly in the middle—I simply take a deep breath and set about the task at hand. I walk on, I untie, I untangle…for as long as it takes.

And the likely bonus of a blown opportunity? As I walk or wade along to find the next honey hole, over the rock or around the river bend, I might just stumble upon another unlikely oasis of blooms in the middle of the stones or squeezing out from a crevice in the granite. I’ll admit, I find some parts of our home planet more “homey” than others. I’m so grateful that I have had and continue to have the opportunity to seek and find so many of them.