Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Paradise Found-Again

I have a proclivity for little places.  I like shallow, weedy, isolated ponds.  I like flowing rivers, clear and alive, changing from moment to moment.  Sometimes, though-you have to get away., and that means big water in hard to reach places.   I've been fortunate to travel to Alaska and Florida and Montana and other distant locations to fling flies.  Last year, in October, I took youngest son Hunter to the fabled El Pescador Lodge in San Pedro, Belize.  Fish were caught, feasting was the order of the day, and Belikens were consumed.  We forged memories to last a lifetime.

October of 2016 brought a rare encore performance-a return to El Pescador.  2015 had been hampered by rain, tennis elbow, and a guide who was older and grumpier than I.  2016 was different.  I opted to choose my own guide, and selected Vincent.  He was assisted by his 19 year old son, Roger, who is an apprentice guide.  The weather was spectacular, and I had a different traveling companion.  This year, my co-fisher and roommate was none other than Tammy Balch, the love of my life.

  This was an Orvis-sponsored trip, hosted by renowned Texoma guide Steve Hollensed.  El Pescador is ridiculously easy to reach these days, with Southwest as well as other major carriers flying nonstop from Houston or Dallas. When you arrive at the major airport in Belize City, be sure to find this dude:









This is the world famous Jett, of Jett's Airport Bar.











He'll sell you one of these:

 which is your first ceremonial Beliken Beer, the national beer of Belize.  Interestingly enough, if you are on the left had side of the jet coming in, the Beliken brewery is the first building you see upon landing in Belize.

Then comes the highlight of the trip-the TropicAir flight to San Pedro.  You fly at about a thousand feet for the twenty minute shuttle over waters so clear you can even spot the odd school of tarpon.

Upon arrival in San Pedro, you are met by representatives of El Pescador, luggage is procured, and you are whisked away in a water taxi to the magnificent, legendary El Pescador.

You'll be met by the elegant Marline,  taken to your rooms, oriented to the schedule of the lodge, and deposited in the screened in porch for a fishing orientation session led by Esa, head guide.
Soon enough, you're in the open bar, choosing libations from a menu of drinks available from the all inclusive package. Dinner follows, and it is spectacular.  The evening meal generally focuses on native Belizean cuisine, and will include fresh caught fish, chicken, beef, crab legs, and lobster.
                                                                                   

 Deserts are special, followed by coffee and perhaps a night cap from the bar.  The only television in the place, by the way, is in the bar.  Baseball is on, usually league championship games at that time of year.

Morning comes a a civilized hour at El Pescador.  If you come from a daylight savings state, like Tam and I, you'll have more than ample time to get your act together.  Belize is wholly in the Central Time Zone, but they do not practice the Daylight Savings Time phenomenon. Enjoy your extra hour, then head to the dining room for a custom breakfast and all the coffee you can drink. By seven, unless otherwise arranged, you'll be met at the dock by your guide, who also is in custody of your lunch and whatever you have ordered to drink. Try the ceviche, and ask for a Beliken beer to crack open when the fishing is done.

Tam had not intended to fish.  She did stay at the lodge one day, lounged around the pool, and enjoyed visiting with the Belizians she met. The last day, though-she determined to fish.  I  yielded her the front of the boat, and Vincent and Roger showed her the time of her life.  She caught dozens of fish on bait and conventional tackle, then decided she wanted to try her fly fishing talents.  To everyone's surprise but mine, she landed a schoolie bonefish on her very first cast....

As well as dozens of "representatives of the species".


She caught mackerel, jacks, look-downs, snappers of several different lineage, and a dozen or so schoolie bones.  I sat in my Adirondack chair, taking it all in.  One of the best days of my fishing career-spent sitting in a chair , dong nothing, in the middle of earth-sea.


I can't recommend El Pescador highly enough.  The lodge, the staff, the view, the food, and oh yes the fishing are truly world class.  We have already schedule next year, and plan to hunt for tarpon and permit.  We may even take a day for an eco-tour to the jungles of mainland Belize.  Can't wait.










Sunday, September 25, 2016

Roots

As we have established, it is my custom to return to the warm gentle waters of Mother Brazos at least once a year.  This year, I had scheduled a weekend floater with Zach and Hunter.  Alas-Zach was in a wedding, and Hunter is in Virginia, stunt gun-fighting at the Virginia State Fair (good work if you can get it).  This left little old me-all alone floating the Brazos.  At least the section below Lake Whitney. Headquarters for my assault was the venerable "Outpost", a vintage cabin just at the intersection of the Brazos with Highway 2114. I've been there before, but this time, I didn't come down with food poisoning.  (that's another story...)  When I checked in, Ms. Jeane remarked that she remembered me-I was the guy who got food poisoning at the local Whitney burger joint a few years ago.  The cabin has been updated, and, to my delight, now offers Direct TV and internet connection.  Heaven on Earth.  The fishing was average , I guess.  There were a number of solid two pound chunks of largemouth, scads of skinny yearlings, and a few really trophy type bluegills that attacked my poppers. I stuck with the Sage Smallmouth outfit this weekend, for no other reason than I wanted to.  It's not as delicate as some of my other rods, but casts like a rocket.  Similarly, I stuck with cork and foam poppers for the duration.  Again, just because I wanted to.  The gas-station cuisine was above reproach.  I had barbecue from Slovacek's in West, and fried chicken from Bush's.  I ate one of the cinnamon roles from the bnb, but saved the garlic sausage for a barbecue at home.  It is digesting as I type this.  The new Diablo Adios performed flawlessly, and is as stable and comfortable a kayak as I have been in.  It's a keeper. If I have any recommendations for the flyfisher on this stretch, it would be to use at least fifteen pound leader.  There's wind, and lots of structure, and you're gonna need a stout line.  I broke a four-plus pounder off twice because of flimsy eight pound mono leader.  Secondly, the ramp at Dick's is long and steep.  If you have a heavy ride, like mine, you might think twice before launching here.  Easy to get in, hell to get out.  You have at least forty feet of elevation.  If you're by yourself, you're in for a tussle.

Let me say a word about Dick's Canoes.  I have provided a link to their website. These are the nicest, most professional people I have encountered on a Texas river.  The cabin was impeccably clean and comfortable.  About four hundred yards south of 2114, you'll find a complex of five or six homes, all with docks and retain walls.  The largemouth fishing on that two hundred yard stretch of the western shore is as good as I have found along the length of the Brazos.  Paddle up, slow down, and fish the structure thoroughly.  You won't be disappointed.





http://www.dickscanoe.com

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Love At First Sight

The summer of 1977 will always and forever be special to me.  I had just graduated college, had been accepted to medical school, and had a cushy summer job back in the old home town.  With my first paycheck from said summer job, I headed down to the local CR Anthony's to pick up a pair of orange and yellow and red and blue  suspenders.  Everybody was wearing them that summer, and I had none.




I sauntered in to the store, and was greeted at the door by the salesgirl, who, it seemed, had also landed a summer job.  I was immediately smitten, and thought she was the cutest thing I had ever seen.  The Anthony's store had no suspenders that day, but I left with a name, and a number, and a future.  Thirty-eight years later, she is still the cutest thing I have ever seen, and I love her more deeply than ever.  Love at first sight, I guess you could say. 

As fate would have it, though, that was not the only life-long relationship I forged that summer.  I had occasion to visit the local First United Methodist Church Women's Bazaar and Garage sale.  In the sale was a low white wooden table, strewn with magazines for sale. One caught my eye-I hadn't seen this one before, and it appeared to be some sort of outdoorsy-type publication.  It had a coffee ring on it, and some random scribbling, but for a buck, I thought I could swing that and help the Methodist Women out in my own small way.  I was immediately taken by an article, "Scratching The Surface", by some Charlie Waterman dude.  Fortunately for me, the magazine had a subscription card still tucked in the binding.  I tore it out, attached a check for the required amount (also a benefit of said cushy summer job prior to heading off to medical school), and dropped it in the mail .  The magazine arrived in short order, wrapped in plastic and new and fresh with no ink stains and no coffee rings to be seen. Except for a short hiatus a year or so later when the publication fell on hard times and missed a few issues, I have them all.  All of them.  I have scoured them, cover to cover, for over thirty eight years.  The mag is about sport-the way I see it.  We seemed to be of one heart, and one mind.  I fell deeply in love, for the second time that summer.  This time, though, it was with a magazine.  Since 1977, I have seen changes in publishers and in editors and in the always-changing bevy of talented writes,but the literature, the art, the wisdom, and the  appreciation for the sporting life-especially the sporting life as it appeals to me, has been constant.  There is no nicer surprise than the appearance of a familiar, plastic-wrapped GSJ showing up in the daily mail.  It is always a surprise, and always a joy.  



So, Happy Fortieth Anniversary, GSJ.  Thanks for being an integral part of my adult life.  Thanks for sharing a vision of how the outdoors should be, how the sporting life should be lived, and for giving me joy and beauty.   Now-about those missing issues from 1978..... 



Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Tiniest Water

Home, they say, is where you hang your hat.  If I may be so bold, it is also where you pop your bug, swing your fur, or drift your nymph.  My home, at least since the end of the Civil War, has been a patch of briar, prickly pear, and scrub oak in the north central Texas plains close to Loving, Texas.  Seems the great-great-great-great-great grandfather (from the Guinn faction of the fam)  picked gray instead of blue,  survived Shiloh with one leg intact, and was rewarded for a losing effort (participation ribbon?) with a quarter section of hard scrabble (Thanks, Professor Graves) farm land on Flint Creek, near the site of the old Warren Wagon Train Massacre in Young County, Texas.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_Wagon_Train_raid

It was here that Great Grandpa Samuel David Stegall (also a Southerner, and the descendant of slaveowners in Tennessee) retreated near the turn of the last century,  married Emma Guinn, raised a family, grew some crops, wrote Methodist hymns using shaped notes, brought in the first oil well in Young County (which still provides $64 a quarter to the family fortune) and lived 'til he died.   The current house, built in 1905, has been re-imagined through the past 110 years, remains a family gathering spot, and is, in fact, what I consider "home".  I've never lived there, but have pored over her hills and creeks and dunes and gullies, man and boy, for my whole life.  I plan to retire here, and eventually, be buried in the cemetery in Loving.

On this patch of land, I harvested my first dove, quail, and deer.  I have avoided snakebites by inches.  I have fought fires, dodged floods, gotten stuck, and have alternately frozen and broiled under the extremes of North Texas seasons.  I and my multitude of dogs have been squirted by skunks, stung by scorpions, and blundered in to beehives and wasp nests.  I have celebrated holidays and birthdays and Independence Days.  My dear, dear friend died here. I courted my wife here, and eventually married off our

daughter here.   All of our registered dogs, since I was a boy, are "Flint Creek So and So", as in Casey, Gonzo, Kelly, Orvis, Nick,  Jake, Disney, Libby, New Libby, and on down the line to Bentley, our current mutt-in-charge.  This is home, if anywhere is.

There is a body of water at my home, located on a ridge high on our property, part of the Flint Creek/Salt Fork  drainage.  My Uncle Allen paid $800  to have her dug, back in the Seventies.  She was originally 18 feet deep, and occupied a third of an acre. In spite of horrible droughts, I've never seen her go dry.  Gerald put a hundred channel cat fry in back in the eighties, and I have put a few bass from Lake Graham and PK into her over the years.  John, who always sat under the pole to shoot doves, once witnessed a giant whiskered maw rise from her depths to ingest a floating decapitated dove head one hot September day and returned with a rod, a bobber, and a hook baited with worms from the cow pasture.  He was rewarded with a six pound channel cat. That fish remains, to my knowledge, the record for this body of water.   When Whitney was a toddler, I took her up to the tank in the pickup, and she and I caught dozens of stunted sunfish.  She baptized them with her trusty water gun, called them "Glitterfish", and we set them free.

So, anyway, I rode up to the tank this morning, carrying a pink ribbon festooned  TFO four weight fly rod and a box with just a few bugs picked for this water.  When I got to the tank, I saw that there was no tippet on the line, just a three foot butt section of thirty pound line.  Undeterred, I knotted on a popper, and flung it around for a while.  One stunted sunfish couldn't resist it, and came to hand.  Nobody else seemed to be interested.

If I had to pick one fly, anywhere, for any species, it would be an olive weighted woolly bugger.  Since I just happened to have one, I clinched it on, and heaved it out past the weed line, just in the shade of a mesquite tree.   On the first cast, a channel cat of two, maybe three pounds, found my offering irresistible, inhaled the little nymph, and gave me a right good tussle for the next two minutes or so.   I took a hasty cell-phone pic, and let Mr. Catfish return to his muddy, weedy, home.







Saturday, January 3, 2015

October 2014-The Spirit is willing, but the weather not so much.....

Ahhh-Bucket list.  We all have one.  Spending some time on the Devil's River was one of my pet projects, and that came to fruition this fall.  Zach and I drove eleven or so hours to the gates of Rye's-n-sons Ranch past Del Rio, then another hour and a half down the Devil's own road before pulling up to a little piece of heaven on earth.  "Drive 'til you come to a big hill.  Believe me, you'll know it when you see it" were Marcus' instructions, and believe me, too-I knew it when I saw it.  At the bottom of the "hill", we were rewarded with a long weekend spent with Marcus Rodriquez of The Guides of Texas.  I knew he could cast, I knew he could paddle, and tie flies, and read water, and tell stories, and teach me to be a better fisher if not a better man.  Now, I can also attest to his aptitude as a chef and grillmaster extraordinaire. The river is as advertised-pristine, clear, diverse, and teaming with life.  The fishing, as seems to be the case with me, was not as good as "last week".  A cold front, followed by a stiff southerly breeze, put a damper on the usually hot October bite.  We each managed to break off really large catfish (6-8 pounds), and landed a dozen or so smallmouths in the 10-14 inch range.  Scattered sunnies and a nice-in-anybody's book three or four pounds largemouth filled out the bag.

This was the first time in over ten years I have been out with just Zach, and we had a great time.  Zach is blessed with great eyesight and outstanding hand/eye coordination.  After a few minutes of flailing around, he regained his casting stroke, which had been in storage since Alaska.  He acquitted himself well, and put his bug in all the right places.  Oh-he can sing and play guitar a little, too.  That's him on the video.

The Devil's is notorious for being rough, tough, and extremely inhospitable.  I can attest to the toughness of our sleeping arrangements.  We stayed at Mr. Rylander's house, slept in regular beds, had central air, satellite tv, high speed internet, hot showers, and a washer and dryer.  We had to get by on our rations of burgers, ribeyes, baked potatoes, and breakfast burrito with fresh hot coffee from the Keurig.  Brutal conditions, but we endeavored to persevere.

Number one, though, on my list of priorities, was visiting the cave drawings.  Marcus affirmed that they were near-by, and only a dozen or so yards off of the four wheeler track.  Off we went-he had neglected to mention that the dozen or so yards were bushwacked down a vertical cactus infested bluff.  Eh.  No hill for a stepper, as they say.  I'll repost the original video of the cave tour later, with Marcus' expert interpretation of the drawings.  First, though-you might want to find some peyote.

I'll also upload some photographs so you can share the rugged beauty of the Devil's paradise.

Photos(by Marcus-he's also a great photographer):

http://tgot.smugmug.com/2014/Devils-River/10022014-Devils-River-Bill-and/n-qRHZz/i-ckdh6vP

The Guides of  Texas

https://guidesoftexas.com

Ryes-n-sons Ranch

http://www.ryesnsonsranch.com

Original music by permission of Zach Balch Band, zachbalch.com

Sunday, June 9, 2013

River of Red-Sometimes, the Red Gods Frown.....







Gotta tell you up front-I absolutely love the Colorado River.  I love Austin, I love Bastrop, and I love central Texas.  Those little rivers-the Llano, the San Marcos, the Colorado-I just effin love them.  I love the restaurants, the bbq, the music, the nightlife, the bluebonnets, the culture-I just effin love them.  Can't help it-I'm a by-God Texan, and this is the Holy Land.  Each and every year, the grand and glorious state of Texas requires that I attend and complete twenty-four hours of so-called continuing education.  This keeps me in good steads with the powers-that-be and allows me to practice medicine another year in the Lone Star State.  So, if I've gotta go to school, might as well be in the Heart of the Hill Country-The Hyatt Lost Pines Resort in Bastrop, Texas, just outside of mother Austin.  This year was no different.  Scott and White Hospital, home hospital of the Texas A&M Medical School, hosts a variety of CME courses through the year.  This year, they hosted a Neurology Update at the magnificent Hyatt Lost Pines Resort, and I was fortunate enough to attend.  In addition to a first class learning experience in a world class resort, I was able to steal away for a day of fishing on the Colorado with renowned fly-fishing guide Alvin  Dedeaux of Austin, Texas.  Alvin is a UT alum, worked his way through school as the front man for a funkadelic 80's soul/protest band known as  "The Bad Mother Goose",  roomed with JT Van Zandt for a while, and is an all-around righteous dude..  Right up front, he let me know that his wife was expecting their third child at any moment, and should the need arise, he and I would make a mad dash back to the boat launch.  I concurred, and commented on the awesomeness of that occasion.  We shook hands and headed off on the beautiful Colorado.   To say the least, Alvin is a cool motor scooter.  His boat deserves some mention-it is a custom twenty-foot fiberglass jon, very similar to the boats used by White River trout guides in Arkansas.   At the stern was a thirty-five horse Evinrude jet motor, and a pair of sturdy oars graced her midsection.


 The plan, it seems, was to motor seven or eight miles upstream, and then row downstream,  dropping bugs and poppers in likely looking spots.   Alas, a late season cold front wreaked havoc with barometric pressures, and a rising river left the graceful Colorado heavily stained and muddied, and the fish seemed hesitant to bite.  Alas, your intrepid angler also seemed recalcitrant to set the hook when they did, indeed, deign to bite.  We did manage to land a few.  All in all, though-this was as fine a day as I've ever had on a river.  Alvin is a fabulous fellow, a great companion, and I really enjoyed getting to know him.  Very few fish came to the net,  and no babies were born as of five o'clock.  Alvin headed home to his wife and new arrival, I headed to Bergstrom Airport to gather the love of my life.  Tam managed to sneak off to fly down to spend the weekend with  me.  Not a bad conclusion to our thirty-fifth year of marriage.  Love you, Tammy-thanks for thirty-five amazing years, and here's to thirty five more.




Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Resolved...

Another turn of the wheel, another trip around the sun.  Another cake with candles, another year with the girl of my dreams.  And another year older.  A few weeks ago, I woke up-early-in a cold sweat, and realized that I was staring right down the barrel at the big 6-oh.  The years fly by, and in spite of my best efforts to stay athletic and healthy and relevant, old age is sneaking up.  Sixty sounds OLD.  God only knows how much longer I have to flit around this big blue ball, and it seems to me that 2012, while a fabulous year for family and career-was almost a complete bust when it comes to fishing.  I have not ventured out since JUNE!!! That's right-JUNE!!!!  Perhaps I can remedy that in 2013.

Big news in my family-and it pertains to fishing, sort of.  My baby boy Hunter is moving to Denver this week.  Hard for me to believe that my blue-eyed, bouncing blonde baby boy, the last of my four, is man enough to move to another state.   It might as well be another world.  He will be following his dream, studying acting and film at the Colorado Film Institute.  Pretty sure this missus and I will find time for a few junkets up there.  Maybe this June, I'll be sharing some trout water with Hunt. 

If I have one item at the top of my bucket list, it would be a late fall trip to the Devil's River.  This needs to happen soon, while I'm still fit enough to take the abuse.  So, this year's guided extravaganza will probably be a brief junket to visit the Devil. 

After fishing twice with Chris Shafer on the Brazos, you can bet your bottom dollar I'll do that again.  And, I am now convinced that a fourteen foot jon boat is the absolute perfect vessel
for flyfishing.  I plan on treating myself to a new one for my birthday on 1/17, and outfitting it with seats, a trolling motor, a front mounted depth finder, and  an anchor system.  I've already got a trailer, but will upgrade to sixteen inch wheels and new tires.  This should be ideal for the tiny lakes that I frequent in North Texas as well as the upper and lower Brazos. 

I had originally pencilled in a return visit to Alaska this year, but that's going to have to wait 'til next year.  2014 is a pink year, anyway, and the pinks were amazing fun on Montana Creek.  Next year, we are going to stay at a bed and breakfast in Talkeetna.   Mid-July of this year will bring another giant family excursion to Disney World.  Maybe I can squeeze in an Indian River adventure during that time period-maybe a tarpon????

As some of you know, running has become a passion for me in my old age. Science shows that daily running can add up to twelve years of meaningful, healthy life to the average American male.  Don't know about you, but I can surely put another twelve years to good use.  Tam and I are going to do the Disney "Wine and Dine" Half Marathon next fall, and my running resolution is to average eighteen miles a week this year.  Looking at last year's log, I trudged just under 700 miles for 2012.  That's down a bit from 2011, a bit under fourteen per week. I need to remedy that disparity.  I did too many two mile jaunts in 2012-they need to be at least four miles.  I started out with a five miler today.  Also, I need to do one long run per month-at least eight, maybe ten.  Life is too precious to waste-I need as much as I can get!

Once again, I was too slow on the draw to get into the Steve Hollinshed Blue Damsel excursion to fish the skwala hatch in early April on Montana's blue ribbon streams.  They do have some openings in April, but that coincides with the Green-to-Green 10k Run in Houston, and I have committed to run that with my wife and girls.  It's a hoot of a run on Earth Day.  The World's Fastest 90 year old guy runs  that race-about ten minutes faster than I can!!!  Maybe I can hook up with Steve and Keith and the whole blue damsel crew in 2014.  And-believe it or don't, I have never fished Texoma with Steve.  He is the absolute master of this amazing fishery-I should take advantage of that.

So what do I expect to accomplish in 2013?  How about a few days, self guided, on the Brazos below PK, and again below Whitney.  Surely I can find the time for that this spring.  How about a few days in the blue ribbon fisheries of the Gunnison area?  How about a trip or two per month on the local mini-lakes, like Loy and Waterloo?   How about a trip with Steve on Texoma?  How about round three with Chris in the arms of God?  We never have hit it just right. How about a couple of days on the Eisenhower arm of Texoma in May-by myself?  And, if it ever rains again, how about a float down the might Red to Carpenter's Bluff?  Don't forget little daytrips to the beautiful Blue and the amazing Lower Mountain Fork. ( If you go, stop for fried shrimp at the Valero station in Fort Towson)

So-there you have it.  Fifty-seven in the books, about to embark on lucky number fifty-eight.  May 2013 bring you luck, and life, and love, and joy.  My prayer is, that for you and for me, this is the best year ever. Peace out.