And now for something completely different….
I’m honored to be next to host a @onebugisfake aka Brandon Robinson the “Free Agent Blogger” post. You can follow him on Twitter or catch him at his new site appropriately named – OneBugIsFake.com. I haven’t had a chance to properly fish with him yet as our only attempt ended up with me following 5 minutes behind him and @SBixel on a short outing to Barton Creek. But, I’m sure we will one of these days. Not only is he entertaining all of us Central Texas fly fishing bums with his stories, but he stepped up and is organizing Fly Stock, mentioned in a post a few weeks back. Just as a quick FYI, Fly Stock has tentatively moved out to the weekend of March 23 due to our freakishly awful weather and natural disasters over the summer. Enough of the introduction… on with the main event:
The Guadalupe Tailrace
or How to Not Catch Trout
by Brandon Robinson
Few rivers hold as much mystic in Texas as the Guadalupe River. From the Guadalupe River chapter of Trout Unlimited:“Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) determined that the cold water discharges from the dam would displace the native warm water species naturally occurring in the river. Being the stewards of the public resources, they worked to develop a plan for the introduction of cold water species to utilize this new habitat.” This makes it unique because even in the blistering hot summer we have had down here that is now scorching our fall, we still have a small amount of trout fishing available.
The weather and the fishing this year has been a weird from the ball drop. The white bass run was sporadic, the black bass spawn was only about two weeks long, and the spring which normally holds rain, supplied us with tropical storm wind speeds in its place. The summer has been SPF: Sherwin-Williams and all of our water has been drying up, but now fall is here. The only problem is, someone forgot to issue eviction papers to summer. We are still hitting the triple digits. The crickets even gave up waiting on the rain and showed up one night when the temp dropped below eighty (in what seems like a “now-or-never” decision). For a fisherman, especially a fly-fisherman, times are critical.
These two paragraphs come together in this: I am trying to force fall to be here. Fall means trout on the Guad, and logically that is where I was headed. I made plans with my Kayak Wars teammate Dylan to meet up, consolidate, and fish the whole day; dawn to dusk. Dylan and I have a lot in common; both prior-service, both had the same “Summer of Broken Rods”, and we both can look past the fact that he was Army when fishing is concerned. I was looking forward to the trip.
The day came and we were out on the water just after sunrise. The water in the first 3-5 miles downstream from the dam is so cold compared to the air temp that your joints hurt and your muscles cramp, contesting your sanity for putting them through such rude environmental alterations. There is nothing to do but to soldier on: there are fish out there, I think. Dylan was going to use my Cabela’s 6wt since his was down for the count, which also meant he was using my last working reel. That left me with my awesome Eagle Claw Featherlight 6’6”, 4wt. It has quickly become my favorite rod for everything but big streamer fishing. There was a thick fog on the drive to the river, and when we got to the river, she was coated with her own layer. It was as if we weren’t in Texas anymore and had somehow time-warped ourselves in to the mountains of North Carolina, fishing the North Toe or French Broad rivers.
We started casting slumpbusters, he was using olive, I was chunking black. We hopscotched upstream hitting each hole and run as hard as we could. Every time I went a little deeper I felt the water creeping up my leg like icy fingers of death. I was concentrating on my technique, casting flies a little heavy for the Eagle Claw; pounding the bank, letting the fly swing out, and stripping it back along a rock ledge. Nothing, so I cast upstream. I would let it drift back to me, keeping the line tight along both banks, again nothing. Downstream next, twitching and drifting, slowly stripping line back.
Extensive personal research has shown that sinking line is the best option for targeting Guadalupe trout on streamers, but I was stuck with just the floating line reel for the 4wt. I had a rare whole day of fishing ahead of me with a good friend where neither of us had somewhere else to be. No one was going to give up this early.
We fished until lunch with no apparent signs of life. Dylan said he saw a rise, but I saw nothing but a paltry, multicolor mayfly hatch. Neither of us were complaining however, as we ate our cans of spaghetti riverside. We had good friends, a great view, and over half a day left with nowhere to go but up.
We decided to push downstream. We fished the same spots with different tactics as we pushed back through there we started our day. No bites, no ticks, no signs of any life other than suckers and insects. I even tried nymphing. I hate nymphing. I mean, if you like it and it works for you, I am not going to make fun of you for doing it. I just hate doing it. Call it a “strike indicator” all you want, it’s a bobber. You are sitting there watching a bobber. Oh sure, you can try and spruce it up by telling people that “a drag-free drift is an art-form” and “it takes a certain amount of skill to mend your drift.” Dress it up with a different zip-code all you want, but to me it is still ghetto adjacent. Still, I tried it.
I’d like to say the location sucked, that the fish just had tight lips, or that the weather had them bedding down, but if you read Matt Bennett’s write-up on the day after you will see we were just outclassed by the fish. It wasn’t long after lunch however, that the tubers showed up. Tubing is popular on the Guadalupe river during the summer season, and a constant source of irritation to those that fish it. They are just having fun, but that doesn’t excuse their total lack of class. Cigarettes get flicked in the river, along with beer cans, and anything else. They are loud and obnoxious and they generally have a radio so loud, you can hear them coming an hour before you see them.
Dylan and I made a command decision to see if the state-stocked fingerlings had survived by the spillway of the dam. The water is even colder but the fishing is more wade-friendly there, so we struck out. Before we even got started however, something happened to me that has never happened before. From across the water, a Game Warden actually asked to see my fishing license. I guess he didn’t see the fly-rod. He validated my ability to fish through binoculars, then trudged back up the hill with Dylan to retrieve his proof of payment to the State.
With that out of the way we pressed on, deciding to hit the actual spillway first before working downstream. Dylan finally changed over to sinking line and threw rainbow clousers heavily laden with flash-a-bou: hoping to get lucky with a striper bite, while I ate my second can of spaghetti. From all I know about striped bass fishing, he was in a good spot, yet I also wasn’t surprised when they eluded him. This was around 1530hrs and we had been on the water all day, it was shaping up to be a skunk.
I don’t get too upset when Pepé Le Pew crowds my day on the water, normally. For me, the stench of the skunk varies directly with distance traveled, and driving an hour and a half one way in a topless jeep make the skunk a near bio-hazard. My brain couldn’t help but think about the more “skunk retardant” local fishing I could have had. Then this thought crossed my mind. “I could be working, or doing laundry, or worse; I could still be ignorant of the ways of the fly-angler.” My glass, half-empty, was now; plenty full, cool, and refreshing. I drank it up. I still had three and a half good hours of fishing left! With that, I packed up my trash and we moved downstream.
The skunk persisted as I moved further and further down. The noxious smell propelled me towards further downstream and into deeper water, searching for some relief. I noticed Dylan wasn’t in plain sight anymore, but thought nothing else of it. I dumped my vest underneath a shade tree at the point where the river changed from skinny and fast to wide and slow, and pressed on. The only barrier I was having trouble crossing was the temperature of the water and it’s proximity to well, you know. I picked my way through the river, on occasion tip-toeing to avoid crossing the “Shrinkage Barrier”. Finally, I could proceed no further. This was my Waterloo, my “Last Stand at Sabre River”, if you will. I was going to fish the crap out of this section of river.
I was armed with my Poquito, my Eagle Claw with the single-action Shakespeare on it, and one medium flybox, and I wasn’t running from the skunk anymore. The sun was drifting down behind the hills as I continued to fish. I was no longer fishing for trout. That plan had been left for dead long ago. I was fishing for ichthyoids now, and catching limbs. Dylan still hadn’t showed on my six, so I assumed he had given up, and I was about to. One last cast…
A hundred and fifty-ish “last casts” later, and about six different patterns, I switched to a small rust and tan Backstabber. “Last cast”, I muttered, again and again. I heard a splash, and hoping it was a feeding fish I cast to it. I stripped line a couple of times and when nothing happened, I just let it sink. The last bit of my optimism sank with it, as I contemplated leaving or fishing till dark out of stubbornness. A good five minutes of thought went into the decision, enough so that I forgot about the backstabber and the forty-five feet of line, leader, and tippet connected to it. I decided to pack it in. I stripped the line back slowly when I felt the take. Fish and fisherman came to the same conclusion instantly. What happened next can only be described as a near-nuclear explosion.
Everything was happening very quickly. My perception was in clips, my brain cutting observation on the unimportant and diverting that energy to the mission critical issues. The single action reel was hitting the highest pitch I had ever heard from a reel. W hen the fish slowed, that wheel of (mis)fortune was going to keep spinning. That was going to suck, but the rod was my bigger concern as my vision focused on the depth of the bend. The last guide was level with the reel seat, so I flexed my wrist straight. The fish, yet to be identified, broke hard to the right, and before I had a chance to bring my palm to my reel it back-lashed, just as I predicted, but the fish took off again, locking my line down! Now I was entirely depending on the flexible properties of fiberglass to save this fish. Well that, and forward mobility.
Without thinking, I broke through “the barrier”, desperate for slack so I can put this fish back on the reel. Thankfully, I got the room I needed when the fish broke left again. That’s when it dawned on me what this fish might be. It wasn’t going to be a Bow, that’s certain. Before the bird’s nest was fixed, the fish broke right again, heading straight for a submerged brush pile. Trying my best to remain calm, I put the fish on the reel and tried to turn him. I was too late, he was in the pile! The water shook as he thrashed about, forcing me to wade deeper if I wanted any chance at keeping this fish. My eyes were glued to the end of my line when, the head of the monster broke the surface.
Holy Carp! Suddenly I felt a little sick, there is no way this rod has the “umph” to pull this fish out of the briars. I wasn’t quiet as I advance on the fish, keeping the rod tension and reeling in the slack. He heard me and bolted the other direction. By now, I am near chest deep in this water, and the shock was wearing off. I attempted to pull a little Brer Rabbit, trying to turn him away from the area I wanted him to go. That tactic worked and the carp showed signs of tiring. I reeled him in, almost to where leader was about to touch the rod, when he bolted again. I palmed the reel and tried to turn him. This happened enough times that I just quit reeling him in, and started walking backwards. I knew someone else was going to have to net him and now I was really curious as to Dylan’s location. I yelled out, and yelled out, and he finally yelled back. I didn’t waste syllables, yelling “Big fish, need help!” and hoping that was enough to convey the gravity of the situation.
Dylan ran over, grabbed the net, and plunged in the water to net my fish. Finally the battle was over. I was shaking as he grabbed my phone and started snapping pics. It’s funny how one Ulyssean battle can turn a whole day around. My twenty dollar rod and ten dollar reel had been pushed to their limits and beyond, and in the end proved victorious. Walking back to the Jeep, I felt a little taller. My steps were a little smarter. It wasn’t the trout or striped bass I went hunting for, but this was the biggest fish-size vs. rod-size difference of my career, and I came out on top.