On March 6th, 1836, an overwhelming force of Mexican troops under the command of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna advanced for their final siege on the Mission Fort in San Antonio. A rag tag group of gorilla fighters mostly mountain men from Kentucky and Tennessee foolishly lost their lives fighting for the Republic of Texas.
For me winter this year has seemed like being under siege by Santa Anna’s army. In a more typical winter I am usually able to get out at least a few days during the December through February freeze up. As most of you know reading this, our winter has been rough. Ice, snow, high water, melt water, and frigid temperatures has kept me garrisoned in my own fort, fending off the advancing forces with alcohol, fly tying, and a ticking wood stove .
The last time I fished was the day after Thanksgiving up on a Lake Erie tributary trying to hook a lake run steelhead on a frigid snowy 16 oF day. This might have been the longest I have gone in my adult life where I have not tortured a fish.
However as I type up this report from the San Antonio Texas Airport, I have my first sunburn of 2014, my first case of painful 8 weight elbow, a big dose of Vitamin D pulsing through my blood stream, and my fingers still smell like Texas Bass. I think I have just repelled Santa Anna’s troops at least for a little bit, and you would be hard pressed to wipe the smile off of my face right now.
This trip down to Texas was not a fishing trip. It was yet another week long touchy feely management meeting to celebrate our record setting profits in 2013, to break bread, to drink lots of wine, to hold hands and to sing Kumbayah with my co-workers from around the world while we all cross our fingers and toes for another record setting year To put it mildly these sort of meetings are not my thing, and I might just prefer being snow bound like the anti social curmudgeon I really am, not bathing or shaving for months in my cabin.
Toward the end of my week the weather report for San Antonio Area looked awesome, think last week of April weather in West Virginia -- complete with blooming redbud trees. While chatting with my boss complaining about our winter, and my lack of fishing time, she graciously offered to pay the last minute change of plane ticket fees, and just like that a business trip turned into an unplanned fishing trip.
So this is how I ended up in an Avis Dodge Avenger headed north toward the Texas Hill Country on Thursday afternoon, while the rest of my co-workers were headed back to the great white North. Now I was not prepared. I had nothing except causal business wear, one pair of jeans and absolutely no fishing tackle. Serendipitously I ended up in the historic district in Gruene Texas (pronounced “green”) where I was able to purchase a pair of fishing pants, and a much needed hat at the local fly shop.
The community of Gruene Texas was so cool I spent the night there, scoring a great steak dinner at the Gruene Gristmill River Resturant right on the banks of the Guadalupe River (America’s Southern Most tail water trout fishery), along with a live music show at the Legendary Gruene dance hall. The music was great as was the funky collection of artists, cowboys, Texas dirty blondes in boots, folk musicians, and German tourist all sipping Lone Star Beer around the glowing cherry red pot belly woodstove that was leaking fragrant pecan wood smoke. The Dance Hall had a long colorful history of hosting many great live performers including some of my favorite outlaw country performers – John Prine, Joe Ely, Guy Clark, Arlo Guthrie, and many, many others. John Travolta had even danced here for his famous dance scene in the movie “Michael.”
Through the magic of the internet, I was also able to score a spur of the minute guided trip on the Colorado River with Winston Cundiff from allwaterguides.com, and Winston hooked me with everything else I need including a couple of awesome fast action 8 Weight Echo fly rods.
Winston was a very experienced fly fisherman, and you would have never known he is on his first year of working as a guide. And as usual everyone has a West Virginia connection, as Winston had grown up in Ravenswood, West Virginia, while his dad worked for Keyser Aluminum. Winston and I hit it off right way as we shared very similar views on rivers, fly rods, politics, and life in general.
Early on a cloudy chilly spring like Friday morning found me waiting at our takeout on the Colorado River just downstream of Austin with Winston for the shuttle bus driver. When Neal, the gnarly old river rat shuttle driver showed up, he greeted us with “You boys doing jumping jacks to keep warm!!”, then he looked at me tugged at his scraggly white beard, and exclaimed, “I bet it has been long time since this one has done a jumping jack!!” Sadly, Neal was right on about that!!
With a short ride to the put-in, Winston was soon pushing me down the Colorado, while I was flipping and bouncing heavy bunny strip patterns back along the bottom to the raft. If you don’t know the Colorado River actually heads up in New Mexico and then meanders some 862 miles across Texas to the Gulf of Mexico near Matagorda Bay. The Colorado River also might be one of the best warm water bass rivers in the US, with largemouth, smallmouth, white, and the colorful hard fighting native Guadalupe Bass all on the menu. I mean where else in the US can you be fly fishing for bass on the last day of February.
The Colorado River (at least near Austin) looks somewhat like a cross between our own Greenbrier River and the Elk River in Clay County decorated with some sub tropical plants, prickly pear cactus, and lots of fishy looking woody debris. It is mostly happy little riffles, with some long slow pools or “lakes” that I would not want to personally row in an up river wind. The variety of bird life was nothing short of amazing – Ospreys, ducks of all varieties, Kara-Kara Eagles up from South America, wading birds, herons, big turkey buzzards, flashy snowy egrets, and even a flock of whopping cranes gliding their way north on high altitude thermals.
Now it is still winter even in Texas, the fishing was slow and the bass were hunkered down in the deep holes, but occasionally I would put my fly in the right place, and I would be awarded with the thump-thump-thump of a head shake from a chunky winter largemouth, or a fly rod bending Guadalupe. If you think smallmouth bass fight outside their weight class, then you have not been introduced to Guadalupe’s. Lord I would like to go back there when those bass are crushing the popper hatch!
So uncharacteristically I opened up my 2014 fishing season on a bass river in Texas. Oh it will not be long now, before I will be drifting nymphs under a strike indicator to Southern West Virginia Browns, or casting Quill Gordon dry flies to Pocahontas County Brook trout, or rowing someone down the Greenbrier River bouncing bunny strip flies along the riprap for our smallmouth bass, with our Redbud blooming in the background too.
In the mean time, winter can simply kiss my bass. Enjoy the Texas Bass porn, as I certainly did!!
Remember the Alamo!!!