In this post I will discuss the basic fundamentals of a nymph rig for catching trout in not only the Guadalupe, but also any tailwater and freestone river that holds trout. You can take this rig anywhere, make a few fly adjustments to match the local bugs, and expect to be successful. This is all due to that a trout’s diet is primarily sub-surface, consuming nymphal forms of mayflies, caddis, midges, and numerous other aquatic insects. Occasionally the fish will rise to the surface during a hatch or spinner fall, but to continue feeding in between hatches the fish must also take advantage of what is right in front of it.
Being that this is the Guadalupe, and a tail-water, and coming from a guide standpoint, the nymph fishing will tend to be the most productive. I can hear the roar of the streamer crowd now, and yes, streamers will work on the Guad. I will discuss streamer fishing for trout in a future post. Dry flies occasionally work too, in the right conditions. But again my experience tells me that nymph fishing is the most effective throughout the day. To cast this nymph rig you do not need a giant heavy rod. A 4 or 5-weight rod with a matched floating, weight forward or double taper line is all you will need. I recommend at least 9-10 foot length rods to help with mending line at a distance.
First thing first, start with a fresh leader. There are usually some big fish in the river and it would be a shame to lose your fish and all your hard work put into your rig on an old, weak leader. With the flows possibly being higher this season I will pick a 9’ tapered leader, but choose your length according to the overall depth of the area you will be fishing. Depending on flow rate and clarity I will choose between a 3x-5x tippet strength. If the water is higher and a little off color then I can get away with the heavier 3x and when it is low and clear I will use smaller tippets like 5x. Carry extra tippet material in those same sizes to extend your leader back to length after fly changes or snags.
Weight and depth are the next two important things and having the right amount can be very critical sometimes. You need just enough weight to get your flies into the strike area quickly, but no too much that you are snagging on the bottom. This will change with the speed of the current and how quick we need the flies to get down. In fast water I will use more weight just to get down quickly in the swifter flows, even if the water is shallow. In slower water use less weight so you’re not dragging an anchor. Carry an assortment of split shot sizes so you can adjust to different conditions. Depth of the river and the depth of the fish will also play a role in your weight selection, too. If you are using a strike indicator then this is an easy adjustment by sliding your indicator up and down your leader to get the right depth. Then adjust weights to make sure your flies are near the strike zone, but not snagging on bottom. If you are not using an indicator then this is done more by feel and experience. With all this being said, depth and weight are two things that I adjust first, and often, before I change fly patterns. On my guide trips I tend to use smaller weights, like size 6 shot, and add and subtract those small amounts to fine tune my speed of getting down.
Fly selection is the next step to rigging, and again, here we are talking about nymph fishing. Most often on the Guadalupe we use a tandem nymph rig, which involves two flies; an attractor and a natural. These two, or more, flies are spaced apart about 15-20” apart in a standard nymph rig. The attractor does exactly what the name implies, attracts attention. I want the fish to definitely see this fly first. It doesn’t always have to be flashy or brightly colored, just enough to get the fish’s attention. The fish may not eat this fly, but now that its eye is looking in our fly’s direction, then along comes the natural fly behind. The natural is the fly we’ve matched to the hatch, or know the fish are eating, and this is also the fly I change most often. The natural is usually smaller than the attractor, and tends to be more bug-like. I also catch more of my fish on a well-matched natural. I could go on and on about exact flies, but that is the challenge of our sport. Besides, local fly shops, like Action Angler, will have the most up to date flies and current bug activity on the river. Asking a few questions and buying a few flies at the local fly shop can go a long way to your success!
This has been a basic overview of a nymph rig for the Guadalupe. There are many other resources out there that dive deeper into the nymph rig with specific knots, indicator preferences, fly selections, and construction, and to become a well-rounded trout angler you should become familiar with all. Nymph fishing may not be as glamorous as a rising fish to a well-placed dry fly, but it can be effective and have its’ own cult following. After all you are still attempting to “match the hatch” and what’s available to the fish.
As I began writing these articles the upper Colorado/Llano River Basins were devastated with slow, steady rain on already saturated grounds that funneled into the Llano and Colorado Rivers. Homes, boats, docks, and all manner of property was destroyed. The river raged through the Highland Lakes chain and into Austin, where water shortages were becoming rampant. Lake Travis filled to over 150% capacity overnight, beginning at a deficit of 85%. But such is life in the Texas Hill Country. As I have said many times before, it is feast or famine with the rain in the Hill Country. Floods break droughts, and the droughts give the flooding a pause. The loss of life and property can be unimaginable and heartbreaking. With the increase of population wanting to live on the waterfront and development too close to the watershed sometimes it can be devastating. The Highland Lakes dams were built to control the damaging and deadly floods caused by rain events such as these. The dams got a good workout last month, and so far have seemed to be doing their job well! It is hard to imagine what would have happened to cities like Austin, Marble Falls, or even Kingsland, had the dams to control the rampant flooding not been there.
So what does the upper Colorado basin flooding have to do with Guadalupe trout season? Nothing. However, the same steady rains that flooded the Llano and Highland Lakes also fell in the upper Guadalupe watershed. Although the rainfall totals were less than they were a few miles north, they were steady and are slowly bringing up the level of Canyon Lake. The lake was only a couple feet below the 909’msl conservation pool level. Although not as much rain fell as did on the Llano, the Guad caught enough to bring this level up slow and steady enough to not disturb the thermocline (bottom layer of the lake where our cold water is discharged for the lower river). It has been several years since we have seen a nice steady flow rate going into our stocking period and “trout season” here on the Guad. This year is shaping up to be another higher than average flow year, and that in turn means better fishing all the way down to the lower stretches of the stocked zones. It’s time to dig out the waders, brush off the 5 weight, and get your nymphing game on point. It’s Trout Time in Texas, y’all!
Before we go any further any further, I would be derelict to not mention anything about safety in the river with these possibly higher flows. GRTU, our local Trout Unlimited chapter’s website sums it up best so I have attached it here.
Wading Guidelines for the Guadalupe River
Wading in any moving body of water depends on the Experience, Knowledge and Judgment of the individual and the Risk that person is willing to assume.
Remember to wear and utilize safety gear such as: felt or studded wading boots, wading staff, wading belt drawn tight at the waist for waders, and inflatable pfd’s.
The general guidelines apply:
• Flows below 100 cubic feet per second (cfs) have slow current and the river is accessible to most anglers.
• Flows below 200 cfs have moderate current. A few areas may create fall down potential.
• Flows between 200 to 300 cfs can be undertaken by most experienced waders. There are still areas that may be too swift or deep to wade. Inexperienced waders will have to be aware.
• Flows between 300 to 550 cfs should be undertaken by only those who have experience wading swift water conditions. Preferably, you will have knowledge of the river bottom and would have local knowledge of the river previously. Much of the river will still be too swift and too deep to wade safely. The potential for being swept off your feet is high.
• Flows above 550 cfs are unsafe to wade.
Remember the Guadalupe is a fast flowing river. A fast current can be very deceiving and carry you down river.
Always be cautious and wise about the river and its hazards.
Stockings of trout have happened and more will continue in the next few months. Over the next few weeks I will be putting out more of these blog posts discussing several things you should know about fishing the Guadalupe. In my next article I will get down to rigging, and will start with basic nymphing. Future articles will be generalized and include topics of other trout catching rigs, fish fighting and handling tactics, river access and etiquette on a crowded river such as the Guad. In the meantime, know the flows, carry a wading staff, be safe and go catch some fish!
Day 4 started back under the Utley Bridge. It was beautiful morning, no wind and a stable air mass. It is a nippy 39 oF, but the sun is warming things up quick. Everyone’s expectations for the day were high.
This time we did the 15 mile downstream run to the fisherman’s access in Bastrop.
While Okey and Alvin set our shuttle I get to hang out in the boat and sip my coffee, while watching the sunrise, and the baitfish nipping at midges. Across the river a whole pack of coyotes were announcing their shift change. Say what you want I think coyotes are cool.
When we finally get started I tag a nice largemouth right away. Okey follows up with a really nice Guadalupe. Then despite what the weatherman promised the pressure changed again and the breeze turns into another blow, and the freaking bass bite shuts off again.
We worked hard for every bass that we boated.
In the afternoon yet again I hook another unknown, unseen sea monster. The creature clamps down on my crawfish pattern, and then ran like heck to the bushes. This time I was prepared with 0X tippet and triple checked knots. I palm my reel trying to slow this beast down, and this time the hook just popped out.
Let me tell you boys’ and girls’ sea monsters do exist and they live in the Colorado River in Texas.
So I guess in summary over 4 days of fishing in 3 different water crafts, we made a whole lot of fly casts, battling 4 days of bass unfriendly high pressure systems Despite which we still caught some bass – smallmouth, largemouth, and their native Guadalupe.
We saw some incredible river scenery which is a lot different than what we have but still sort of familiar. There was a lot of wildlife -- deer, fox squirrels, red tailed hawks, ospreys, bald eagles, herons, egrets, and a lot of other water fowl. Oh and there were turtles too, tens of thousands of turtles.
And we ate some great BBQ, (a whole lot of BBQ.)
If you like to fish for smallmouth bass you will absolutely go nuts over Guadalupe’s. They don’t get very big but they are a flowing water river bass similar in body shape and attitude to our smallmouth, except with a different paint job. It might be blasphemy to say but I think they fight harder too.
In fact Guads are so close to smallmouth they will naturally hybridize, and the introduced non-native smallmouth bass genes are dominate. A while back it was pretty much thought that the Guadalupe’s were on their way to being lost. Texans feel the same way about their Guadalupe’s as we do about our native brook trout. The State of Texas has done a good job bringing Guadalupe’s back from the brink.
What is even crazier still is that that the largemouth bass are native too. Largemouth and Guads evolved to share the river, and they don’t hybridize. Figure that one out?
When it comes right down to it the rivers in the Texas Hill Country offer some great bass fishing from little spring creeks to the much bigger Colorado River. Throw in some striped bass, white bass, and a host of other strange warm water critters that will eat your fly and Austin is quite the warm water fly-fishing destination.
Compared to West Virginia standards, Austin is a really big city that is still rapidly growing with prosperity. Everybody wants to live there.
It has this funky mixture of cowboys and hipsters. There is something going on music wise every single night of the year.
Their traffic is horrendous, with the most courteous drivers I have ever seen.
Everyone must run their own BBQ, as you smell intoxicating hardwood smoke and grilling meat everywhere you go. I think BBQ must fuel the soul of Austin.
Their catch phrase, “Keep Austin Weird” is kind of true.
I saw two guys dressed as super heroes riding their bicycles covered in white twinkling lights through the traffic on South Congress Street. Now that might have had something to do with being close to Halloween, then again it might have been their regular commute to work outfits.
Yeah Austin is sort of like that. And I kind of want to go back….
Today we are back on the Colorado River fishing with Alvin Dedeaux with All Water Guides.
We start at the Utley Bridge about 25 minutes downstream of Austin on the highway FM-969. We jet upstream in Austin’s cool Hog Island Boat Works river boat that is half jet boat and half drift boat. Up on plane it skips over some low water riffles that are barley wet.
After a quick upstream run of 7 miles, it turns into a drift boat and we start back down the river. For once the put-in and the take-out are truly one and the same.
A high pressure bass unfriendly cold front with winds gusting to 30 mph has arrived. Alvin warns us our chances are grim.
Right near the start some unknown unseen river monster grabs Okey’s crawfish on Alvin’s 7 weight and it bends the rod to the cork. The creature streaks away diving for a brush pile. I dig for my camera in the dry-bag and as soon I find it the monster breaks off. Once again I sure hope that wasn’t a bass.
With the cold temps and howling wind the bite is slow. We both are getting them on streamers and crawfish patterns – beautifully marked Gauds and their largemouth river cousins. The hot fly for me was a C.K. Baitfish, a fly those Texas bass had never seen before. Okey stays consistent on the crawfish pattern.
We all fight the wind (especially poor Alvin on the oars) but our numbers start to climb. Soon we have exceeded the total of the last two previous days.
For variety Okey hooks and then loses a big gar. Then a few cast later he lands a catfish on the fly (a first for him.)
Much to the protest of my elbow I throw a sink tip fly line on my 8 weight all day. Later back in our rented Airbnb apartment in Austin I thought my elbow was going to just dislocate when I popped off my elbow brace.
I have known and done outdoor adventure trips with Okey for over 30 years now. No amount of coaxing could convince him to massage my shoulders and elbow while I soaked in a hot bubble bath.
I had to settle for a handful of Advil and shot of Tequila.
Day 2 dawns with Okey and I on the San Marcos River about 45 minutes South of Austin. The San Marcos is one of the most beautiful and mysterious river I have ever been on. It is born several miles upstream of our put-in all at once from a giant spring in the town of San Marcos. Its water is the color of turquoise. It is a small meandering little river lined with big Cyprus and Pecan trees. It is choked with woody debris.
We are fishing with Judson Cole (Hell ‘N Back Outfitters). Judson’s raft is a nicely outfitted bright lime green Super Puma. It is narrow and perfect for the smaller San Marcos. I must admit I got a little bit of boat envy. That narrow boat would be perfect for the Top Gauley or the Down Elk.
Judson insisted I leave my fly rods in the car and we fish his Echo six weights that were really perfect for the nature of the San Macros. The bad case of tendonitis in my casting elbow did not object to the lighter rod.
We are into fish immediately right at the put-in.
Within 30 minutes Okey and I boat a smallmouth bass, a largemouth bass, a Guadalupe bass, and a smallmouth-Guad hybrid. In addition we are into smallish sunfish continuously.
Before 11:00 a.m. I feel a breeze on the back of my neck and I can literally feel the barometric pressure change.
Sure enough the breeze turns into a blow and we never catch another fish the rest of the day.
Trout on the fly are push overs. I can catch trout under the worse conditions. Not so for bass on the fly. They are moody and sensitive to change.
We have a nice river side sandwich lunch complete with comfy camp chairs, a folding table, and Halloween Cookies. I provide the ice cold Lone Stars.
We finish early and since we are in the neighborhood I take Okey for a stroll around the historic downtown section of Lockhart with an early dinner in Blacks BBQ again.
This time I order only the brisket.
A couple of springs ago I had a work conference down near Austin Texas. At the end of my work week my fishing partner for over 30 years, Okey from Parkersburg flew down to meet me for 3 days of chasing Texas Bass on the Fly.This time Okey had the work conference and I just showed up to fish.
My little niece who lives in Austin graciously offered to be my Airport Limo driver. She was quite the spectacle standing at the bottom of the escalator in luggage claim holding up a sign that read “Hook-em” (her nickname for me.). She was all decked out in her welcome to Austin outfit of cowgirl boots, blue jeans, and an Austin City Limits T-Shirt.As part of that welcome to Austin package she whisks me off in her Toyota Prius at damn near the speed of light to the famous Black’s BBQ in Lockhart, Texas.
Black’s is essentially the holy shine to carnivores everywhere. The smell of burning animal fat overlaid with the post-oak and pecan hardwood smoke made me want to tear off all my clothes and go running through the woods howling.I had the brisket with a couple of burnt ends, the extra spicy smoked sausage, pork spare ribs, and some of my niece’s smoked turkey. Everything was great however the brisket was extra special. The brisket really transcends metaphors, (maybe meat orgasms in my mouth is the best I can do!)
With a distended belly and a serious case of the meat sweats I am dropped off at Lost Pine Resorts near Bastrop, Texas (the site of Okey’s work conference.)
The next morning Okey’s work week is over before noon, so for $80 we rent a canoe with a shuttle for a six mile paddle on the Colorado River from Bastrop River Company.
I absolutely love paddling a canoe although they are not the best craft suited for fly casting. Okey and I made the best of it and we took turns steering from the back while the guy up-front cast my L.L. Bean 7 weight armed sometimes with poppers and sometimes with streamers.
The Colorado River rises up in in New Mexico and then flows some 900 miles across Texas all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. It is considered to be in the top 5 bass rivers in the U.S. It flows essentially clear over a gravel and sand bottom with high clay and limestone bluffs lined with huge old oaks, Cyprus trees, and prickly pear cactus. Great Blue Herons, snowy egrets, red tailed hawks, ospreys, and giant fox squirrels are everywhere.
The skies were cloudless and the sun was directly overhead. In hind sight it was probably not the best time to be starting a bass river trip.
The fishing was tough, and the Colorado was not living up to its reputation. We make lots of fishless casts without a bump. Several fishless hours pass, and I start worry that we didn’t pack enough beer.
I sink a chartreuse Clouser minnow alongside a brush pile just like the hundreds of other brush piles we had already cast to. Suddenly some unknown, unseen river monster clamps down on my Clouser and with unstoppable power turns and rushes back under its brush pile breaking me off in the process. I am shaken and disappointed with the encounter. I can’t imagine it was a bass (at least I hope not), a big channel cat or their local drum called a Gasper Goo perhaps.
Finally along a rocky shady bank I boat four of those beautifully marked chunky Guadalupe Bass in almost five casts. Thinking the bite has suddenly changed we trade places and Okey gets one more before the take out.
I put that first down as warmup. Our spirits are still high.
We end our first day of fishing back in Austin at a great Mexican Restaurant with our plates piled high with fajitas, a super Grande margarita a-piece on the rocks and a really attractive Mexican waitress who must remove her jeans each night with paint thinner.
I wanted to share something with you that I'm pretty excited about. This past Friday (December 11) I took two of my favorite clients with Horizon Bank on a float trip on the Lower Colorado River (LCR). About ¼-mile from the takeout one of the anglers hooked a big Guadalupe bass that I quickly netted. We started taking pictures of the beautiful bass when I notice an odd growth up near its dorsal fin. Upon examination I discovered a tag covered in a layer algae, which I gently scraped away.
That’s when the light bulb came on in my head and I realized this is one of the fish tagged in this recent Texas Tech/TPWD Guadalupe bass study that All Water Guides has been involved with. I took a bunch of pictures for documentation—as well length and weight—before we released her.
On my way home to Austin I called Matt Acre, a graduate student at Texas Tech, one of the biologist who have dedicated the last 2-years to this study. I told him the story including the location and he could not believe what he was hearing. He stated that the particular type of tag was only used on 200 bass between Austin and Columbus Texas. He said there are literally thousands of Guadalupe bass every mile of LCR, so the odds of us catching one with a tag was astronomical. There are Approximately 100 river miles between Longhorn dam and Columbus—talk about a needle in a haystack!
Here are a few pictures of the fish. The clients could tell I was pretty excited—to say the least. This is one more unique story from the experienced guides at AWG who have a lifetime of knowledge and experience on this gem of a fishery.
Hope your weekend was as good as my clients and mine.
All Water Guides friend Brandon, owner of Sea Level Apparel wrote up a quick blog post about the striper fishing he got into after the floods and before the trout on the Guadalupe River. I asked him to tell me a little something about himself as an introduction. "when i'm not running SeaLevel, I fish" he replied, a complicated and profound man of many words it seems.
Striped Bass and The Other Guadalupe River
By: Brandon Fox
One doesn’t immediately think of the Texas Hill Country when this fish comes to mind. The blistering cold winds and rocky shorelines of the mighty northeast are usually first to thought, along with surf rods and funny accents.
Snapping out of that, lets head south. Way south. To 30 minutes outside of San Antonio. Here the Guadalupe River flows from its headwaters near Hunt, TX down to Sattler, TX where it forms Canyon Lake, and thus a tailrace fishery below its dam. While the main attraction here are the rainbow trout that are stocked by both GRTU and the state of Texas, there is a fishable amount of striper lurking in the deeper pockets. This summer, heavy rains rose Canyon Lake levels and forced the flood gates to be opened, washing in hundreds of striper in the up to 7000 cfs flows. The flows then dropped, and the striper became stuck in the deeper sections, providing you and I with some awesome fishing to be had.
When targeting these things, I usually bring along heavier gear intended for saltwater. A 7 or 8 wt rod will do just fine, matched with an intermediate or full sink line. Leaders do not have to be anything fancy, and a 10 pound tippet will usually suffice. If fishing an area with boulders or submerged trees, you can always bump it up as necessary. As far as flies go, if the striper are feeding, whatever fly you throw will probably get hit. Some favorites of mine are the Casey Smartt’s Deadhead Minnow, OR Matt Bennett’s Lunch Money fly. As always the super trusty clouser minnow will work as it does for just about anything. Striper are a predominantly dark, harsh weather species. Cloudy and rainy days are usually the best bet, along with sun up and sundown being other key feeding times. Sunny, bluebird days may be great to fish in for you and I, but the striper most often shut down in settings like this. You’ll see them cruising around, but getting a strike is another story.
With the exception of a few 30+ pound fish lurking around, the majority of the fish in the Guadalupe Tailrace are small; we’re talking 15 inches or so and under. However, as you might know, striped bass are natives to saltwater, and they know how to bring a hit. In feeding mode they will charge a fly with abandon, strike with vicious intent, and fight above their weight class no matter how big or small. So - find a dark, cold, stormy morning, and go make yourself miserable for a few hours. When you see the splash, the flash of silver, and your backing screaming off of the reel, you’ll find a way to smile.
We used to get out there at the drop of a hat to fish together, but now as middle aged men with wives, children, jobs, lives, it takes a bit more effort. I mean, we fish for a living but to fish for pleasure is rare. On Nov 2nd 2014, I met my old friend Alvin Dedeaux for a day of fishing on the Colorado River in Central Texas. It was the coldest morning of the fall season thus far with a temperature of just over 40° fahrenheit. A much welcomed change for all inhabitants of this region. Alvin and I were to meet around 9am, but an exchange of text messages indicated that we both got out of the house early in anticipation of a day of fishing with an old friend. I arrived at the put in just before Alvin and hopped out of the truck with my coffee to judge how the weather fit my clothes. It was a perfectly brisk morning, and steam was rising from the river like a curtain rising before the show begins. With a deep sigh, I tried to let go of the anxiety brought on by the morning news on my satellite radio. Ebola, ISIS, global warming, pivotal elections all looming as imminent threats, and I think to myself, “Was it selfish to bring children into this world?”
A few disappointed duck hunters were arriving back at the boat ramp from a fruitless dawn with their soaked camouflage and droopy perspectives as we put our gear in the boat. They seemed like solders of a beaten army who’s enemy had escaped unharmed. Our shift was beginning as theirs was ending, and hopefully our luck would be better. After shoving off, Alvin rowed the boat out beyond the grass line before starting the motor and we took off downstream towards the first sign of fish. His boat is a Hog Island Skiff with a jet drive outboard and oars. A rare craft for this region but perfectly suited for the terrain because you can fish and row through productive sections of river, and motor through non productive sections. Alvin and I both prefer to fish moving water rather than the backed up lake sections of the river because moving water offers a little more excitement, and also a better chance of catching the Guadalupe Bass which prefers current to slack water. The Guadalupe bass is at the top of our admired species list. Not only is it the state fish of Texas, but it also offers a fight equivalent to a largemouth of nearly twice its size. Like my friend Riverhorse says “ They’re half sack and half heart!”. I was transfixed and nearly hypnotized while Alvin motored the boat downstream as I stared at the glassy surface of the river over the bow and studied the perfect reflection of the sky as we slid around obstructions and hovered over shallow rocks and sand bottom. My mind was slowly letting go of the world news and other peripheral stresses when Alvin killed the motor and said “Alright, lets fish”.
Alvin and I met around 1991 when I walked into Whole Earth Provision Company where he worked and proclaimed that we would be fishing together soon. He said ok, with a slight hesitant chuckle. You see, previously, upon buying my first fly outfit at The Austin Angler a few days before, I asked the owner Larry “who should I go fish with to learn?” I could hardly believe it when he said “you should hook up with Alvin to fish” because I was already familiar with Alvin and was a fan of the band he played in back in those days called Bad Mutha Goose. I had no idea he was a fly fisherman. I couldn't wait for a random encounter, I had to go find him and force the issue so I went to where he worked and invited myself on the next fishing trip. We ended up going fishing on the gulf coast for reds and trout that weekend, became best friends for life and have fished together ever since.
Within moments of killing the motor, I was hooked into my first bass. It was an average sized Guadalupe, full of spirit and worthy of the name. Shortly after, another came, then another, and another. The fifth fish grabbed the fly with extreme aggression as it passed over a submerged log and took off sideways with surprising speed. I kept even pressure but with a violent head shake the line was broken and it was gone in less than 5 seconds of being hooked. I am presuming that it was a state record, no, world record Guadalupe bass, what else could it have been? None the less, the loss sat me down in front of the boat while the reality of what happened sank deep into my bones causing me to slump. Alvin said “ok then , let me try that shit!” and I handed over the rod and grabbed the oars to row for a while. My depressed state was uplifted quickly as Alvin began to catch fish, also one after the other. Alvin is the Zen master of the sport of fly fishing. He is likely the most laid-back individual you’ll ever meet who only speaks in profound truths. I've seen him upset only a couple times in the 24 years I've known him and even then he was subdued. A certified casting instructor from Joan Wolf’s School of fly casters, he has perfect form and a cast that seems to straighten out further than the effort suggests and always within inches of the bank, stump, weed bed or any other target. Once again my mind was drifting into a blissful absence as he casted, stripped line, and set the hook on a half a dozen fish, one of which was an exemplary Guadalupe worthy of a photograph. After which Alvin proclaimed “Let’s get the hell out of here” as we drifted along the bank through the current and into a large slow pool of the river. And that's how it went; we fished through stretches with current, and we motored through large deep sections without current. Not that the deep slow pools don’t fish. In fact, there is excellent fishing in the slow deep stretches, but you have to fish them slow and deep. We were covering many miles of river that day and needed to keep moving. Every place we stopped to fish looked like a picture out of a fly fishing for bass book. Large rock formations in the river created deep eddies and swirling current gathered debris around downed trees and other obstructions, and with fish in all of it. We were throwing flies of Alvin’s creation. Long colorful rabbit strip flies with dear hair, wool, or synthetic heads and large bobble eyes on them. When he opened his guide box of flies it looked like the entire cast of the Muppets were trying to bust out of it. It made me quite jealous because fly tying is a longtime passion of mine but somehow, I hadn't tied one in forever. Constantly working and having children hadn't stopped my buddy Alvin from tying. I vowed to myself to get busy!
The day raced by which they seem to do when you’re perfectly content. We shared recent stories about our kids, our wives and talked mostly about fishing, specifically for bass. Why they do the things they do? At some point we had caught so many fish that we switched to poppers permanently and were often interrupted by unexpected blow ups on our fly. We also spoke of Austin and its growth over the past 20 years and how it had changed. We remarked at how shocking it was to be in such a beautiful place so close to a major city without any people around us. I mean we saw nobody! Like the river was our own secret. Why? On one hand, we felt lucky that such a resource was ours and ours alone to enjoy, but then a dark cloud moved over that notion. If no one knows about it, then how does one care about it? One doesn't care about it, or doesn't know to care about it. One needs to care about it!
20 years ago, Austin was not in the drought stricken condition it is now, and it also supported a fraction of the human population that it does now. Many small rivers and creeks that Alvin and I used to fish around Austin have dried up, never to flow again some fear. The Highland Lakes and it’s tributaries that we fished were spilling over with water and the dams were regularly open. There were endless striper and white bass migrations to the dams and up the rivers, and the Pedernales River at 71 was always full. All could be due to natural variations in our climate throughout time perhaps and even more likely that we all have something to do with it. Regardless, after a quick study of our recent history it is conceivable that the lower Colorado River could stop flowing, is likely to stop flowing! I circled back on the idea of having children in such an age, and came to realize that our only salvation is to educate children about the urgency to protect and conserve our waterways, about their consumption of water, about their stewardship of the environment and their respect for living things.
My contemplative thought was interrupted suddenly by a text from my wife which read “Status?”. Both of our wives had been watching our children all day while we fished, and so it was time to get back to it. Alvin and I could have stopped fishing hours ago and been plenty happy. It was a day to remember! The River and her bass had been more than kind to us. We arrived at the boat ramp, trailered the boat and hurried to the local grocery store for a six pack, since I had accidentally left the Yeti full of beer in my garage that morning - ouch! The main highway back to Austin looked busy but moving. There is an old county road that meanders back to Austin on the north side of the river. Zen master Alvin said he would take the back road home out of principle, so I said I’d take the highway and race him back to town. Within a few miles back towards Austin I hit a wall of traffic which wasn't moving at all. The Formula One race had just ended and the international crowd had left the race track and inundated the insufficient infrastructure. After a while of sitting still, I decided to turn around and head back for the country road on the other side of the river. I called Alvin, he was almost home.
I recently read a “must do" article for Bass fishing on the fly and watched an older video that put tournament gear fisherman along side a fly guy in the Sacramento Delta. Both were very informative. I thought I’d write up something since I can’t just copy and paste the "must do" article and slap my name to it and my movie-making carrier is a long ways off. I’ll give my take on what I’ve learned in my years of fly fishing for Bass and more recently guiding for them with All Water Guides here in Austin Texas. We seem to have a unique thing going on here in Texas. We target Bass in a manner more similar to salt water fishing than fresh. We row our goofy jet boats as if they were drift boats on some western river. River Bass bring an element of challenge to the table that requires a well-rounded angler. Here are my thoughts…a few of them at least.
1: This is work!
As Brian “Lucky” Porter said in the movie "Zero 2 Hero" about fishing for musky… "You’re not gently presenting a number 14 parachute Adams to a rising trout, you’re doing work.” Now, we're not catching Musky but we do work! I prefer 8wts to 6’s and can realistically expect to hit the bank every 5 feet for hours. We need to put the fly on the bank with S.W.A.T. team like presentation then start fishing it. Once that fly hits the water you need to retrieve it in a "come and get me Mr. Bass manner." Bass in our rivers are aggressive and they want to hunt. When I have anglers on my boat that understand this, we do well, fish practically jump in the boat. But it is work and it’s intense. If you’ve been dead drifting terrestrials with 4wts and haven’t spent much time with bigger gear, ask for a little help. After all it’s just a fly rod and feathers. Line loads the rod and the rod reciprocates that back into the line. I love trout fishing but Bass aren’t trout and our Bass are big, aggressive and live on treadmills. So eat your Wheaties and be ready to do a lot of casting with big gear. Regarding the retrieval, sometimes the fish want it fast or sometimes slow. Find a cadence that you can reproduce. It’s easier to deviate from a constant, meaning if what your doing isn’t working, know what isn’t working so you can slow it down or speed it up.
2: We're fly fishing not casting. Fish every cast.
Just today I had this conversation with a client. He hadn't fished in a year and was rusty. His casts were less than perfect but probably better than most. Again and again he'd pick up a perfectly fishable cast that he didn't think was good enough. There is no such thing as a bad cast on my boat. If that fly hits the water you're fishing, make the most of it. It's become my mantra (I have many) while on the oars, to say, “Fish that cast” meaning exactly that. What you may think is a horrible cast and it probably was (I’m a terrible caster I don’t mind saying it) that fly is in the water and that’s where the fish are, so leave it and start fishing. I think a problem with folks sometimes (and again, me included) is we spend way too much time re-casting a perfectly good and fishable presentation because of what we thought of our cast. As Xienie in the movie "Low and Clear" states, “Ugly casts catch fish too.” After all we’re fishing not casting.
3: They ain't always on the surface.
I’m a weirdo and any one that knows me will not argue that point. I like streamer fishing, not sure why but I do. I don’t fall in the group of anglers that say “nothing like top water action." Don’t get me wrong - it’s a blast, I however would much rather throw big shad patterns on a sinking line any day. To each their own though. I am in the business of putting clients on fish and when the frogs are singing and the conditions call for its poppers…poppers…poppers. The other 99% of the time you gotta do what the river tells ya. Get your head out of the boat and watch what’s happening around you. If you’re not seeing action on the surface go to where the fish are. I’ve had folks in my boat mention “those Bass Masters” and their “glitter boats with all those rods” in a typical fly fisherman manner. What they don’t get is all those rods allow them to, in a systematic manner, dissect the water column. What they also don't get is those dudes catch fish and we could learn a lot from them. When I go fishing I’ve got at least 2 rigged rods, surface and sub surface. I think 2 could easily be 4 though. Surface, sink tip, intermediate and full on get down and dirty depth finders. If having multiple rods doesn't fit the budget purchase some spools. If the fish don’t come to you go get them. If you feed them they will eat.
4. Your confidence fly.
One of my more recent clients while fishing stated, “Winston, I just don’t have any confidence in this fly.” I could have hugged him! It was a good fly, one of my go to flies that always produces. He didn’t like it and that was it, out came the pliers and the fly box. Fish with what you’re confident in. In the subconscious of your deep inner fishing-ness it matters and the fishing will get better. This could be a touchy subject if you’ve hired a guide to fish water that he knows like the back of his hand. I get that and have been there. He’s the guide and who are we to tell him what we want to fish? I don’t think the fish care so neither should the guide. At the end of the day it’s your time on the water. If you're not excited about what you're throwing, our fishing (the actual act of fishing) will suffer. In a professional manner I handed the client my fly box, he picked a fly and on it went. We still got skunked but his whole essence changed by fishing a fly he had confidence in. That, I feel, is as important as fly selection. Listen to your guide but also interact with your guide.
5. Be systematic, be vocal.
I try to always verbalize my ideas with whoever is rowing while I’m fishing and vice versa. This gets the boat working like a team. With clients I try to take a second as the river transitions to clue them in on what lies ahead and open them up to the marvelous thoughts that may or may not be running through my head at the time. I know it’s just fishing but having everyone on the same page really helps. It truly can be a team sport and systematically approaching a section of water and picking it apart as a team is as simple as coming up with a game plan and sticking to it. Fish the water in a manner that will produce more chances of hooking up. Don’t cast over spots 1, 2 and 3 for that fish that "just has to be" hiding in spot 4. Be patient. You never know what bruiser you could be casting over and longer casts have a lower success rate hook set wise. Be systematic, be deliberate and be calculating like the WBD (Weapon of Bass Destruction) you are.
6. Take a break.
Sometimes you get in that grove. Your loops are tight; that fly is kissing the bank and you haven’t hit a tree in an hour… the world is right. Sometimes it’s like this all day; sometimes you lose that magic though. When this happens to me it’s time to get on the oars. I’ve never been able to “will” my way back into the magic. Instead my cast falls apart and I get frustrated and the fishing starts to suck. Take a break. Sit down; tell some more lies about the Yellowstone or throw ice cubes at your buddy if you’re out with one, snap some pictures or smoke a joint. Just stop. Smell the roses (or whatever) and break that cycle. Rest for a minute or 30 and get back after it. We’ve got all the time in the world to fish with focus and intensity and none to waste on being frustrated that our cast has all of a sudden gone to hell. Put the rod down, your muscles will know what to do when you pick it back up. Our brains get in the way sometimes.
7. No trout setting, rod tips in the water.
This could also be a mantra... I’m guilty as all hell about the trout setting thing too especially after I've been guiding a lot and haven't fished much. Rod tip on the water and pointing in the direction of the fly keeps the fly where it needs to be and slack line to a minimum. Whether it’s a popper or streamer it’s all about the initial grab and your strip set. Sure fish will be lost but if your fishing for Bass (or Redfish etc. etc) keep that rod out of the picture for now, it’s made to bend for casting purposes definitely not hook setting. Use that line instead. Tip down, rod butt out in front of you and strip set that hook. The salt guys have been preaching this for a long time and so have we. Once you’re tight, fight that fish in the normal manner. I’m not a huge fan of the rod up at a 45-degree angle all the time; I tend to keep my rod low using lots of lateral pressure on the fish, which also helps when they jump. Oh and Bass jump, it’s a predictable event though. They are deep, then less deep, then lesser deep, just like Tarpon (without the Tarpon) bow to the king of fresh water or Mr. Bass will throw that fly right back at you when he goes maverick. Be aggressive landing Mr. Bass and don’t worry about the reel, if that fish needs to be on the reel he’ll put himself there.
As always take it or leave it, I had fun writing it. Get out there and get you some ditch pickles…
All Water Guides
We're going to be spreading the AWG love and propagating some propaganda in the next 6 weeks or so.
Here's what we have going on.
Sunday Sept 14th
A few of us have charmed our way into positions of Patagonia pro staff-ness, we will be joining Adam and his crew for a viewing of "low and clear" and after the show were going to hang out, Lie about fishing and drink all there free beer. Free beer should be just about all that needs to be said on this one but its not. If you haven’t seen “low and Clear” this is a great opportunity to do so.
Saturday Sept 20th
Rumor is that poor ole Alvin and JT may be off to La La land to get punished by them big reds, in their absence Shea and Winston will be out at Sportsman’s Finest talking up all things on the fly, answering questions (hopefully) and most likely lying a little (we're talking fishing here). No free beer but this will be a fun event nonetheless. Please come say hello. We'll have our boats out and will do a little casting and demonstrations on what we've learned guiding clients over the years.
Saturday Oct 4th
Orvis Fall Days,
Absolutely no story telling! Jef runs a tight ship out their and shenanigans will not be tolerated, that said. We will be there sucking the class out of the joint like a black hole…or something. In all seriousness the Orvis Austin Folks always put on a good event (free beer in the past) with some pretty interesting speakers speaking about interesting things.
Saturday Oct 8th
Orvis Fall days
AWG has been invited up to Plano, we’re really not sure what this event will be like but we're going to be there with bells and whistles. If you're in the Plano area pay us a visit. We will be doing a demonstration much like the one at Sportsman’s finest for the Dallas area folks.
See ya on the water or at one of these events.
So here it is. I’m actually glad my laziness got the better of me as I’ll be able to do this in one sitting versus boring you all to tears with each individual step. I assumed this would take much longer than it did.
After a bunch of research I decided on a SeaArk 1652 MVT (tunneled hull version). 16’ seemed about the right amount of boat, length wise and the wider the better. The decision to go with SeaArk was made after talking to several smaller boat builders in the Midwest, as they all seemed to, at some point in the conversation compare their boats to SeaArks in build, materials, etc. Alvin and JD had already made a couple trips to Currant River Marine (CRM) and under their advice I called Freddy to see what he had available. Long story short I was soon on my way to Currant River Marine in Doniphan, MO with my engine in the back of the Xterra. After a 16 hour drive they hung the engine, we ran the Currant River for a few minutes, and I signed some paperwork. By 5pm I was checked in to a cheap hotel ready to get a zero dark thirty start for the 16 hours back to Austin.
Freddy and the gang were worth every minute of the drive and their knowledge of lower-unit-less engines and boats is beyond awesome. I look forward to my return for a new engine.
Like I said in the previous post, I was going to do the exact same thing to this boat that I had done to the blue one. The SeaArk had a slight V in the Hull and I decided that needed to be addressed first. I had 4”x 4” 90 degree angle aluminium welded into the ribs to create a flat surface to build the flooring on. The flooring was Cedar planks that I sanded, epoxied, sanded, epoxied, sanded, epoxied and then sanded one more time with a final coat of spar varnish for the UV protection. I love wooden boats. My grandfather used to build them. I couldn’t not have the wood floors again, however, they are a huge pain in the ass to fit. I’m a huge fan of brute force and ignorance and in my diving days solved many problems with the idea that if a hammer wasn’t working a bigger one would. Fortunately, I was able to use the same tools my grandfather had used in his boat building; unfortunately his knowledge and experience did not magically pass through the tools as I had hoped it would. He died many years ago and I thought of him a lot while using them mostly during my many moments of frustration in not being able to beat the wood into submission with a larger hammer. The floors look great, however I can see every moment of frustration when my patience (or lack thereof) got the better of me. Guests don’t seem to mind.
Once the side pieces were cut and fitted to the ribs of the boat the rest went pretty quickly. I also can’t help but to think of my daughter, Poppy, who supervised the last boat, she was only a few months old and was pretty easy to occupy. She’s now almost 2 and has ZERO ability to sit and keep my company.
So that’s the floors. I was, at first, going to do lean bars and knee braces however after the first couple trips I’ve found out they aren’t really needed. It’s my opinion that maybe they create a false since of security for the anglers and without them my clients seem to have a better awareness of themselves and their movements while in the boat as long as I communicate my intentions while on the oars which is better for a lot of reasons. Speaking of the oars, I also didn’t have to create the “frame” like I had before. Oar locks u-bolt directly to the gunwales, which I need to move about a foot forward (boat forward) to give the front guy a little more room.
I, of course, have a laundry list of things to do still with rod holders being the first and some sea deck type stuff for the front casting platform (it gets hot) but since the boat was new there was no need to paint and do all that other nonsense that kept me so busy on the last project. Having the blue boat in my past made doing this boat so much easier, mainly because it was new…
Please contact me with any questions that I most likely did not answer. Alvin, JD and I would be more than happy to share what we’ve learned. We all run different rigs each having their own pros and cons.
Dressing for Success: Or at least being able to stay on the water without suffering from heat exhaustion.
While Alvin and JD get to escape the summer heat of Texas, the rest of us will still run trips in the usual manner, however we’re going to be a little more inclined to do “half days” as opposed to the “full day trip” focusing on the early morning and late evenings.
During the next couple months we (as guides and fisherman) expect the brutal heat while on the water and do everything we can to prepare ourselves for it. Many of us guide and have “real jobs” on the side. Our preparation for the heat of the day not only keeps us fishing and guiding but allows us to not need a day off from our ‘day on the water’ to recuperate. Clients that show up dressed for the sun and heat in my experience catch more fish because they are able to fish hard from the first cast to last cast. Sun block, while an important part of the equation, can only go so far.
While on the water whether I’m fishing or guiding during the summer, you’ll find me covered from head to toe in clothing. Big straw hats, Buff sun masks, long sleeve shirts, pants and (yes, gloves). I’ve hyperlinked what I’m wearing in the picture. It seems to counter common sense that wearing so much clothing when its 105 will help keep you cool but it does. With the advances in outdoor clothing these technical garments create a barrier from the sun and “wick” moister (perspiration) in a way that you actually sweat less and what you do sweat evaporates in a more controlled manner. I’m not going to “cut and paste” a bunch of scientific evidence into this article as it is my experience that when I dress in this manner I’m a better guide for my clients and a better husband/father when my day on the water ends and the real work starts upon getting home.
Proper hydration isn’t something you can fix the day of. We all should be drinking water on a day-to-day basis. Bottled water won’t solve a dehydration or volume depletion problem the day of and while on the water, it can actually create serious complications (wearing my paramedic hat now) by flushing out electrolytes that well, are pretty damn important to being alive. As a medic this time of year we see a lot of people that don’t drink enough water on a day to day basis only to have it bite them in the ass after a full day in the sun. I’ve seen some scary cardiac rhythms associated with dehydration in “normal enough folks” that could have been avoided by just drinking a normal amount of water during the days before and wearing appropriate clothing. Shorts and t-shirts won’t cut it.
I think we all could easily drop a small fortune on gear without out a second thought. Personally it doesn’t take much to convince me that some shiny object to replace my perfectly good “older” shiny object is a must have for an upcoming trip (I’ve got a few coming). If you look at clothing as “gear” than it’s easy to justify a couple outfits for the elements. Rationally speaking it makes absolute sense to wear clothing that will keep you in the game longer whether it’s the trip of a lifetime or an afternoon on the Lower Colorado River with us.
See ya on the water!
I started this a while ago; I remember where I was when I stopped typing. This blog post was going to be about a fun trip I had just returned from with Jef and Clay. As I typed it out that Saturday morning Alvin’s early phone call stopped me from finishing it mid sentence. This still will be about an awesome fishing trip to and awesome place with awesome friends, Alvin’s phone call that Saturday morning was the news that Clay had died the night before, it will be a little different than the original was going to be. Over the last 2 years (I guess) Clay had been pretty tied down with school. The paramedic program Clay had completed (I speak from experience) ain’t no joke. I very clearly remember being told early on that if you wanted to complete this 5-semester program, put everything on the back burner, friends, fun, hobbies, etc, etc, I did it and so did Clay. Clay had come through the pipeline and had been working as a Medic, we took a fishing trip that we had been talking about for as long as Clay had been in school.
We were trying to figure out a trip to New Mexico when Jef mentioned broken bow. Broken what I asked? Beavers Bend State park is a quick 6-hour drive from Austin. Jef set it all up and a few weeks after first talking about it we were cooking up IH-35 headed towards Oklahoma. There are people that know a lot more about this place than I do but I’m typing this and “they” aren’t. Maybe they would argue this but there was nothing tricky about this stream. For what it is spillway creek is awesome as was the fishing. This is a man made 4-mile stretch of water with every type of water imaginable, Pocket water, Fast water, slow water, undercut banks, and big…really big fish.
I’ll qualify how good the fishing was with this. The fishing was so good we didn’t take a single “grip & grin” we all had cameras we just never got around to pulling them out, we were too busy catching fish. Clay and I were fishing a hole when the fish started rising; I sat on a rock and heckled Clay as he caught one after another for about 30 minutes. Normally we would have fished it together taking turns, being up there for a few days allowed us to relax from our “pound it” mentality. I’m happy I sat on that rock and gave Clay a hard time. We fished together and alone. We fished Streamers, Dries and nymph’d. The fish were where they were supposed to be and it was magnificent. We fished 3 days and 2 nights. It was cold, ice in the guides cold. The days reached the lows 30’s and the nights dropped down into the teens. The cabins we stayed in were awesomely adequate. We ate like kings every night, then would settle in around the fire for cigar or 2 afterwards.
Clay was in rare form, or I should say back to his old self. Without the stress of school and now employed he was happier than I’d seen him be in a long time and he kept us laughing the whole time. Take from this what you will, Go check out Broken Bow, Ok. Stay the night and bring a buddy. The fishing was really spectacular and we didn’t really work that hard at it.
You are missed Clay,
A little while ago I bought a project and I'm about to start the process again. Last time I had a lot of requests to write a build report and not having the platform to do so I used FB which was me just posting a lot of pictures with out much reporting or content. This time around I plan to use this site and as this begins to take shape write about it.
So…the last project was a Jon or John boat with an outboard jet drive. From now on I’m just going to refer to these boats as Jet-Sleds. My first Jet-Sled (V1) was a riveted Alumacraft 1432 (14 feet long and 32” on the bottom) with an old Evinrude 25 hp.
I really was Just buying the engine for another boat so I really didn’t care if the boat leaked (it did) or what condition it was in (rough). If I could get it for the right price (I did) the engine wouldn't even need to run (it didn’t). I had done enough research and talked to mechanics, friends and who ever would listen. We were confidant that if it didn't run 800 bucks would fix that (it did). The boat was reborn, used for a while with friends then sold when I ruptured my Achilles tendon, which was fine, I wasn’t in love with the boat. She was a handful on the water and in no way conducive to guiding. She did however run like a scalded dog and had a unique look. I plan to fix the “handful” problem with waterline and will most likely shoot for the same look and outfit the V2 Jet-sled in the same manner.
I really enjoyed the last project and tolerated (very well I must say) all the “dude, when ya gonna be done so "WE" can go fish in it” or “dude, your OCD”. This project will most likely take longer. Jet-sled V1 came as a package deal…Boat, Motor and trailer, at present time I have none of what I need accept a clearer understanding of what worked and what didn’t, that and a line on a 40/30 Yamadog.
Stay tuned sports fans I’m looking forward to this project and sharing it on this web sites blog
Enjoy, tight lines and shallow running boats.
One of the many attributes of fly fishing lies in the simple beauty of handcrafted gear commonly found in fly shops. Fortunately some companies continue to make a name for themselves by producing these finely crafted goods and products. Accordingly, whether it’s hand-tied flies or a custom rod, fly fisherman seem to have always coveted these artisan made goods.
Over the years I have had the luxury and opportunity to own many great hand-crafted fly fishing products—no matter the cost or the sacrifice. These cost were always justifiable, usually qualified as, “a legacy purchase to pass on to my grandchildren”, “one-of-a-kind”, “a-dying-art”, etc. When I was younger, single, and childless I could always find a way to afford those expensive aforementioned purchases and never regretted it one bit. Now I’m older, a bit less selfish, and married with kids who always seem to be needing braces, glasses, blank checks for after school activities, and a long list of other expenses. Frankly, it’s getting harder to justify buying expensive fly fishing gear or any gear for that reason. Fortunately, when you buy the best it seems to last forever and I want for nothing—well almost nothing.
For the good part of a decade — right about the time my second daughter was born — I have been wanting a hand-crafted landing net for my guiding. I have made due with a myriad of so-so mass-produced nets that never seem to hold up and always fall short of my expectations. Disclaimer: I am also very hard on my equipment. It’s been said more than a few times, “dude… you could brake an anvil!” As a result I usually am disappointed by mass-produced and poorly crafted gear.
A few months back I asked my good friend Jeff Robuck if he wanted to go on a float on a local river. Jeff was in, however, he made it clear that he wanted to do some wading in order to test out his new net. Once I heard net I was all ears. You see, Jeff is a very talented wood worker, sculptor, and world class craftsmen. How many of you reading this have ever built a bamboo rod, an electric guitar, custom furniture, countless cabinets, etc? My guess is that your answer is along the lines of, “nope”, “never” or “once, but it was a disaster”. Well, in Jeff’s case he has done it all and always better than most. I have friends that are richer than Jeff but few are more talented. When he showed up to go fishing that day his net was one of his own creations, a true one-of-a-kind, beautifully crafted, and most astonishingly, it was the first one he had ever built. I have seen a lot of great nets in my day and this one was a beauty and near perfect. I remember thinking that net is too beautiful to ride in the back of my truck.
We had a heck of a day fishing and his net got a work out — especially when he caught a nice 20” hooked-jawed rainbow. It was that giant fish that convinced Jeff that he needed to build a much bigger second net for himself. On the way back from the river Jeff reflected on the day and all of the great days we have shared in my boat over the last several seasons. All I could do is think about that damn net and how he could craft something that beautiful without previous knowledge of net building, no plans, or a jig to go by. Finally, I had to ask the unthinkable, “Hey Jeff, could you build me a landing net and what would it cost?” His answer floored me, “Yes, I can build you a net, and it won’t cost you a dime.” I insisted that I must pay something. I didn’t have any money but had a hunch that I could talk my wife and daughters into buying it as a Christmas/birthday/anniversary/father’s day gift. Jeff replied, “Yeck no, you take me fishing and I want repay the favor”. He then added, “You can help me build it and then it will have even more importance to you.” It’s funny that Jeff would even think of involving me in this process. On several ocassions he has seen firsthand my poor wood-working skills on more than one ill-fated projects ranging from rod racks to floors for my raft to a bed for my truck. All were laughably none were successful.
On a warm winter day last week and a rare day off I went over to Jeff’s workshop and began my apprenticeship as a “net builder in training”. Upon my arrival he had already traced out a 54” long landing net based on his recollection of our previous conversations. He wanted my input all I could do is smile and reply “it’s freakin' awesome”. From there we proceeded to make the plywood jig that would house the strips of teak and Brazilian tiger wood. After cutting all the components and a dry-fit in the jig it was time to mix up the epoxy and start clamping up the net.
For the next 72 hours time seemed to stand still until I received the text from Jeff containing the image of “the net” out of the jig and ready for routing, sanding, and spar varnish. Fast forward to the day of the Super Bowl (AKA: Floyd Mayweather’s Last Day as a Millionaire). My full-day float trip had turned into a half-day trip due to my client’s kiddo’s frozen hands and feet (remember I guide in Texas — not BC or Michigan — and we aren’t built for temperatures below 30°F). Heading home from the river early I picked up the phone and invited Jeff over for my not-so-famous turkey chili, beers, and the big game. Jeff insisted—as always—on bringing something and I insisted back that we needed nothing. In true Jeff Robuck fashion he didn’t show up empty handed. In walked Jeff with the most beautiful landing net I have ever seen, which turned out to be the best part of the Super Bowl.
In a few years none of us will remember that Superbowl, but mark my words, I’ll remember that Sunday as the day I first laid eyes on my landing net. Like all of you, I will always remember and appreciate those special one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted, artisian-made goods that someone somewhere took the time to build and cared enough to craft. In the end, handcrafted fly-fishing goods are worth every penny and are a longstanding tradition of fly fishing that is worth preserving.
Jeff Robuck might (I repeat, might) build you a net, a bamboo rod, or even a custom guitar for the right price—the price might shock you but the end result will truly amaze you. It’s hard to put a price for a one-of-a-kind work of art that you will enjoy for a lifetime and more.
PS: The Landing net is now getting spar varnished and the clear net attached. Hoping to have it on the boat by this weekend. Fingers crossed!