Sunday, April 11, 2021

Re-imagining Loy Lake

When venerable old Loy Lake was  impounded back in 1933, The Civilian Conservation Corps and the WPA contributed to build a jewel of a park. The park was festooned with hand hewn red rock picnic tables, bridges, and ledges.  There was a red rock tower constructed for who knows what purpose.  On the west end of the lake, there was a forty or fifty foot square platform built right out over the lake.  Photos from that era show scads of swimsuit-clad teens dancing, swimming, and generally enjoying this little jewel of a lake.  The lake, though, has fallen on hard times.  Administered by Grayson County and home to the local stock barns and a rodeo ground, Loy Lake and the park itself have seen better days.  The dance floor burned up, leaving only a few old charred stumps in the water.  Floods over the last ten years did incalculable damage to the park and even gouged up the ninety year old concrete spill way.  The rock dam and retaining wall, however, were spared. Pioneer Village, a collection of historic old Texoma structures, needs ongoing attention and repair to preserve the relics.  The park still sees quite a bit of use for picnickers and other assorted day users.  Each November, the Loy Lake Christmas Lights spring up, and continue to be heavily visited every year. 

I first started to frequent the lake in 2003.  As a runner, I have circled the old trails a million times.  You can cover over four miles in the park without ever retracing a step. The last few years, circumnavigating the trail on the south end of the lake has been more difficult due to damage from the floods of the 2010's. A local Boy Scout troop had built serviceable wooden bridges in the three areas where the trail crosses over Loy Creek. The photos above show the status of those bridges this morning.  About a hundred yards of my trail hike was through mud. I thoroughly enjoyed it-isn't that what trail running is about?  Also, as a  fly fisher , kayaker, and jon boater, I have discovered the old lake's most treasured secret.  It is full of fish.  There are a couple of golden periods through the year that can be other-worldly for bass, channel cat, crappie, and many species of sunfish. By mid-May, though, the lake becomes choked with moss and goop.  The fishing can still be good, but constantly battling slime seems to take some of the fun out of the whole deal.  The current recorded lake record for largemouth bass is a shade under eight pounds.  I have caught a couple that exceeded that mark, and I know a guy who took a nine pounder out of the honey hole.  (He put it right back).  I caught a channel cat of about ten pounds on a mop fly and a four weight glass rod a few years back.  People who fish the lake, particularly fly fishers, don't talk about it much.  Perhaps I've already said too much.

Recently, Grayson County ceded ownership and management of the lake to the City of Denison.  I am optimistic that our city government will administer Loy Lake with the same excellence and passion that we find in our other magnificent parks.  And, as a Denisonite who has as much experience in and around Loy Lake as anyone over the last eighteen years, I felt compelled to offer my thoughts on what the future could hold.  

First, there is a matter of philosophy.  Our community is blessed with a world class park for all sorts of athletic endeavors.  Texoma health Foundation Park, or THF, is spectacular in every sense of the word.  Waterloo Park, another stunner of a lake entirely within the city limits, recently pulled off a major coup by  obtaining the rights to the old Katy Railroad Bed.  A gorgeous concrete path has been poured from Day Street to Waterloo, and then on down south to Loy Lake Road. As I write this, the longest self-supported bridge in Texas is being placed over Loy Lake Road down past the Armory.  It is spectacular. 

Concrete surfaces, though,

are death on an aging runner's bones, especially feet, ankles, and knees.  And this brings me to the philosophical point I mentioned above-Leave Loy Lake as natural as possible.  We have miles of  paved trails in this town.  Leave a little nature for the trail runners and mountain bikers. 

As for improvements, I have a few ideas.  First, let's start with the boat ramp.  It is primarily used for kayaks and jon boats (no gasoline powered motors allowed on the lake). A double concrete ramp, with a rough surface, of course, would be ideal in my opinion.   Caliche and gravel are ok, but would require constant attention. A courtesy dock extending twelve or fifteen feet would be very helpful.  Most importantly, though, would be a giant sign advising "No Parking On The Boat Ramp". Here's a shot from this morning-a lovely young couple had scaled the dam and were fishing halfway down.  They left their

car here.  Right smack dab in the middle of the ramp.  Don't do that. 

Speaking of scaling the dam, it can be a difficult proposition if the water is high.  Here's what it looks like today:

Those stone steps are about eighteen inches wide.  That's a pretty good balancing act for an older dude with a fly rod in his hand, or a runner in a hurry to make a time.  As I see it, there are two options to make access easier for hikers, runners, fishers, or anybody else.  First, and obvious, is a second stair case.  This is the area that was ravaged by floods a few years ago, to the point of ripping up the spillway.  So, any structure would have to be either indestructible, or expendable and easily replaced-a simple wooden staircase.  There is another access to the dam at the end of this retaining wall-

but that path is rough and unimproved and frankly snaky.  And adds a hundred yards to your carry for picnickers and fishermen. Nevertheless, cleaning and repairing that path is a good option. 

Now-how about making the lake more usable for landlocked anglers?  Adding a couple of piers around the lake would certainly be beneficial.  Maybe middle of the dam and here on the south bank.  And, wouldn't it be cool to drive up some summer evening and find kids hanging out on a fifty by fifty deck, built right out over the west end, down from the pavilion?

Finally, let's talk about the health of the water itself.  I've always heard that the levels of mercury and sulfur from the old timber operations make consumption of fish from Loy Lake to be a dicey proposition. The weeds and moss of summer cause the lake to lose much of her charm as the summer wears on.  And, the siltation from a hundred years of floods and droughts have cost the old girl much of her depth and clarity. There are ways to fix these issues-I just don't know what they are. Perhaps the best thing we could offer the lake is expert management from water, fish, and wildlife biologists to insure the old girl stays healthy and vibrant for another hundred years.  

These are my ruminations after a morning of exploring the park.  Others will have different, probably better ideas.  We have an opportunity, with a little imagination and foresight, to make this beauty sparkle again, and for a long, long time. We owe Grayson County a debt of gratitude for the gift they have given us, and for their stewardship over the past eighty-eight years.  Now the ball is in the city's court.  I expect they'll make us proud. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Colorado. Only in Texas.

It seems like I go to a lot of trouble, and expense, to catch a few smallish fish in far off places.  This past Sunday-a very hot, very steamy, very still early June Sunday-is a prime example.  This was a day with Bert, though, and that made it special.  Bert is my son-in-law, husband of my younger daughter, and father to Huck.  He is a fine, smart, hard-working Godly man, and we love him dearly.  Though he has been around for eight years, and married to Taylor for six years (?) we had never fished together.  It was his time-in fact, his destiny-to share a boat with the father-in-law.  We headed for the legendary Colorado River, taking off from the Little Webberville boat ramp.

All Water Guides, out of Austin, are the brainchild of Alvin Dedeaux.  This trip, we were paired with Jeff.  Jeff, it seems, is a fellow Levelland Lobo.  He's also a college professor, graphic artist, fly-tier (or also tie flyer), father, coach, baseballer, and a host of other descriptions.  And, if I may add, he is a wonderful fellow with whom to spend a hot June morning in a jet boat floating on a river.

As we drove to the launching rendevous, I had told Bert that, as many times as I have fished Central Texas Hill Country rivers, I had never actually had a red-letter "banner" day.  Brazos, yes.  PK-yes.  Texoma-yes.  Belize, Bahamas, Alaska, Montana-hell yes.  But not Texas.  Not in the pristine flowing jewels that make Hill Country fly fishing so unique.  I've caught fish, even large fish, but never had "one of those days".  I felt certain that this particular morning was going to be different.  The stars were aligned for a great day on the river.

Bert did great. For his first time fly fishing from a drifting boat, he was amazing.  He was accurate, he was deft, and he put the fly/popper right where Jeff told him.  Alas, my fishing ESP was sadly incorrect-we caught few fish. Bert did manage a couple of nice Guadalupe bass (the official state fish of By-God Texas).  I caught a few bass, representative of the species.  (which is a polite way of saying average).  I caught a two foot gar, which rewarded me with a couple of jumps. I had a really nice gar on for a while, including a couple of jumps, but long-range released him at the boat. We did "leader" him, so that counts, at least in Belize....

Full moon, high water, heat, etc-lots of excuses.  Not many fish.  Ack.  Someday, I'll strike the mother lode like almost everybody else on these
 amazing waterways.  Pretty sure I'll be ringing Jeff and Bert up again for round two, hopefully this October.  For now,  though, I am thankful for meeting Jeff, for having Bert for a son-in-law, and for being a small part of the fly fishing community.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Father and Sons-2019

"This" said Dr. Graham, "Is my very most special place".  For Moonlight, he was referring to his ancient medical office, full of vintage equipment and pills and potions and a giant oscillating fan to stir the sweltering summer air.  My very most special place lies hundreds of miles south southwest from my gleaming modern office-El Pescador Lodge in Ambergris Key, Belize.  Last October, I got to share it with my boys.  By some vagary of chance, we were able to cobble together enough time to jet across the gulf to the tiny Central American country.  Over the next several days, we ate some lobster.  We drank a few Belikens.  Zach caught a tarpon, Hunter a huge snapper and was marooned in a torrential downpour for his trouble.  We all caught scads of bonefish.  Zach and Hunter got world class casting instruction from international angler-at-large Cameron Davenport.  They eased in to the delightful Belizean culture, and were as enchanted with our guide Vincent and the lovely young staff at the lodge as I have been.  On Thursday, Hunter and Zach boarded the little TropicAir plane and flew inland, where they toured the Mayan ruins, eventually climbing to the top of a two hundred foot tall pyramid in their flip-flops. I had the guide to myself, and he and his apprentice took me to the very far north end of the island.  We motored through an ancient Mayan canal, and I stood with my left hand in Mexico and my right hand in Belize.  And, ho-hum-I caught a nice permit.  I also learned a new word-"pocket biscuit".  Belizeans don't carry a sandwich to lunch, they carry a "pocket biscuit".  It is a most satisfying word, and this was a most satisfying week.    So, click above for the music, then click below for the pics.

My fervent prayer is that I have instilled in my boys a love for the outdoors, particularly fly fishing.  And, I pray that they can someday share their very most special places with the next generation.  Maybe this guy.

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Lou Gehrig of the Flats

Late October marked my third visit to El Pescador.  Tammy in tow, we landed at Belize City on an early Saturday afternoon.  United was faster and more efficient than the other carriers, and I really liked the schedule.  We took the delightful Tropic Air shuttle to San Pedro, and were soon met by Ricardo and whisked away to paradise.  After a Beliken and a snack, we attended the orientation session overseen by Head Guide Isa. After dinner, we made our way to our room to rest up for three full days of fishing.

We were delighted to draw Captain Vincent and his son Captain Roger for our trip.  We knew from experience that they were first rate guides and delightful boat companions.  They had us on fish early and often.  For the first time in three years, I actually saw permit, and was able to get a shot at them.   Here's a photo of me with the crew and an average sized fly caught permit-my very first.

You have heard me disparage my casting.  I am better suited to forty-foot snap shots to targets on flowing rivers.  This week, though-I got the fly where it needed to be, didn't panic, and was able to "strip strip strip" on the strike rather than raising the rod tip.  Consequently, we had success.  We had success that I never dreamed possible. I will report that Roger gave me the best tip I've ever had: "No Lefty Kreh".  Helped a lot.

The resort, as always, was immaculate.  The food was impeccable, and the staff was incredible.  Rather than bore you with details, my friend Jimmy and I put together a short little film.  The film includes scenes from our day trip to the Mayan pyramids on the Laminai River-an excellent and modestly priced excursion from El Pescador.  Here's the clip:

Did you catch the cameo from Ernest Hemingway?  Could you tell where I broke my rib? The Iron Horse, Lou Gehrig, holds the record for most grand slam homers in the pre-steroid era.  He never quit playing due to injury, and neither did I.  Since I am steroid free as well, I was able to join him in an exclusive club-Grand Slammer. 

Guess you know where I'll be next October. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Leviathan-relatively speaking.

Every once in a while, you set the hook, and something unexpected happens.  Instead of the usual slashing modest run of a sunfish, there's this solid, immovable thud of a hook set.  Instantly, you know that a very large fish is on the end of your line.  On this occasion, I was floating Loy Lake in the jon boat, looking for water deeper than seven or eight feet.  I came to realize that there was no "edge" to the weed line-weeds completely filled venerable old Loy Lake, and there was precious little open water.  I did find a few seventeen foot deep holes, stashed in my failing memory for summertime jigging.  Today, though, I was tossing mop flies in to the unrelenting weeds and slime.  After a few hand-sized panfish of uncertain lineage, this dude hit.  He bore down in to the weeds, and was reluctant to come out to play.  Fortunately, I still had a saltwater fifteen pound leader affixed from my trip to Belize in October.  The terminal tackle was up to the task, and the leviathan was wrenched from the weedy depths.  I had no net, since I was perch jerking, and finally wrestled the beast to the edge of the boat and was able to hoist him in to the jon with be left arm.  Oye.  Six, maybe eight or even nine pounds, the old cat was slimy and discolored from his life in the sulphur infused weedbeds of Lady Loy.  The fly was down deep in his gullet, so I cut the leader and heaved the old boy back in to the friendly confines of Loy Lake. If ever I am fortunate enough to land a permit on the fly, I can't imagine that the emotion will be any different from this fish.  I was shaking, trembling, and totally spent from my encounter with this unexpected combatant.  Six weight, thick weeds, no net, (no real camera) and a totally unexpected victory over a sly old Denison denizen convinced me that I was done for the day.  I scooted back to the barely serviceable ramp, winched the boat back on to the trailer, and headed back to the homestead on Maurice.  (some people call me the Space Cowboy...)

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


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.