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.