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

© 2022 Cari Ray, Fisher of Zen

May is metal health awareness month, and Pat Kellner, the guy behind Texas Freshwater Fly Fishing, asked me to put some thoughts together on the pursuit of fly fishing as it relates to mental health. Rather than a treatise on their connection, what flowed on to the page were some prime examples of how the sport offers opportunities for the sort of mindfulness practice that can pay big dividends in our daily lives. It’s a long-held belief of mine that, if we let it, the pursuit can be immeasurably beneficial to mind, body, & spirit. Sometimes by offering low-hanging fruit like fly casting and drawing us into nature. Sometimes by offering situations that border on tedious or frustrating, presenting us with the choice to get bogged down or to rise above. Like most healthy choices, it gets easier with practice. Mastery is never about your relationship to anyone or anything else, it’s always between you and you. And step one to is to GET PRESENT, so let’s start there…

With a busy Texas trout season drawing to a close, I finally had a chance to sit down and crack open “Not all Trout are Geniuses,” by fly fishing author, Mark Usyk. From the first chapter, I was drawn in…not only by the vivid storytelling, but by the easy, conversational tenor of his writing. And I was sure I needed to convince him to  come on the podcast.

As he joined our virtual meeting from his den, he was accompanied by Masters of the Universe and Star Wars action figures, Kermit the frog,  and an 18-inch statue of the Incredible Hulk holding a trout plaque. So yeah, I knew this was going to be good.

We’ll talk about the release of his third book, a little about fly fishing, and a fair bit about the path of transformation from hot rod builder and and cell tower climber to published outdoor author.

Climbing into the driver’s seat perched high upon the lifted frame of our rental Jeep, I used my thumb to clear the dust from the gauges. Once strapped in, I stomped the clutch and fired her up. It had been several years since I had driven a stick, so as we began to roll along the washboard that serves as street in the old mining town, I might as well have been 15 again whiplashing us through the gears on the way back to the cabin.

We were in the 4 Corners area for the first time and planned to stay the entire month of August. One early lesson was that I will never again visit that part of the country without a 4 wheel drive vehicle. We had taken the #CariVan so we’d have a place to sleep on camping excursions, but there were just too many places we wanted to go that were high clearance 4×4 only, and the spot we had in mind for this outing was just such a place.

Recently, we pointed the nose of the #CariVan toward the venerable Pedernales Falls State Park deep in the famed Texas Hill Country. Growing up in Indiana, I thought that we Midwesterners had the corner on the unique pronunciation market, but my time in Texas has reminded me that every locality has it’s quirky versions. So, for the Texans listening in, that’s PERD’nales. Now, where was I? Oh, yes. It was the first crisp, sunny day off in a couple of weeks and we were looking forward to having our boots on a trail again.

A few years ago, Robbin Voight said yes to a 14-day rafting trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Well, she actually said yes 2 years before then, but we’ll get to that. A while back, I wrote my own account of seeing it from the South Rim for the first time. You can check that out HERE. Contrary to what you might think, not all outdoor adventure is reserved for 20-somethings living the van life. It’s for folks like you and me, too. Some of my favorite outdoor adventure stories are those of ordinary folks who’ve had extraordinary experiences. And this one would certainly qualify. 

In the course of our interview, we’ll also get to all of the reasons she considers that trip to be life-changing. She’s even been kind enough to share a few of her in-the-moment journal entries with us. I’ve posted them along with the episode over at We talk a little about impetus, a little about an average day on the river, and a lot about Zen of being disconnected from what one river guide referred to as “the fake world,” and immersed in the beauty that abounds in the real one. 

A couple of years ago, we were awarded the unique opportunity to spend the Christmas holiday along the US-Mexico border just in time for a government shutdown spurred, at least in part, by a political dispute over that very border. Feeling the gravity of that situation as we explored the ruggedly beautiful terrain and the river that runs between our countries offered a unique vantage point from which to contemplate the situation.

The following piece was written shortly after that trip. Much has changed since it was penned. But our current challenges seem only to have widened existing fissures and opened up fresh ones—between countries, states, neighbors, and even families. It is with a little melancholy that I entertain the idea that the upshot of this message might be evergreen.

JP Ross is thoughtful guy. I’m not talking about the “oh, isn’t he nice?” kind of thoughtful, though he’s probably that, too. I mean to say that from what I can tell, he approaches everything he does with focus and a great deal of thought. As though it matters. Because to him, it does. He’s also a rod designer and builder who believes, passionately, that a fly rod is more than merely a tool to catch fish, it’s an instrument of zen. Which is probably why we hit it off from the start.

My interview with him meandered from a doctor’s office parking lot in Utica, NY, where he was first introduced to fly fishing as a child, to his experience owning a fly shop and designing fly rods, and ultimately, to a discussion about the human and Devine forces that compel him. Terms you don’t often hear in conversations about fishing came up—like happiness, belonging, and believe it or not, even enchantment.

I stood at the open slider of the #CariVan feeling the late afternoon sun warm the back of my neck between my hat and my shirt collar. As I worked to clear the Tetris level that was getting my gear to fit into my favorite pack, I wondered for a moment if this little excursion was even worth the trouble. It was a fleeting thought born of the traditional values one picks up as a young angler where the proportion of the effort is weighed only against the size of the catch. Old habits die hard, I suppose. But this outing would be nothing like my youthful pursuits f   or either glory or groceries. I had a very particular goal in mind, driven by curiosity more than conquest. The plan was hatched last time I had visited this favorite TX State park, and I was bound to see it through.

In this installment, I have a heart-to-heart with Kate and Danielle Nolan of DNK Presents, Brown County Bikes, and a nonprofit called Live Adventurously. Like Episode #4 of my recent conversation with fellow van camper, Stephanie Burks, there wasn’t a set agenda for this interview. I wanted to just allow these ladies to talk about what they are passionate about. And believe me, there’s plenty. But the main thread that runs through our exchange is a focus on empowering and educating others, especially women, to embrace their sprit of adventure and self-reliance. To reconnect with themselves be immersing themselves in nature. Sound familiar?