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| Guadalupe River Chapter
Trout Unlimited Newsletter
P.O. Box 701864 /
San Antonio TX 78270-1864 / (512) 261-4409 / firstname.lastname@example.org
|President||Ray Chapa||(210) 680-0912||Carl Bohn||Shelley Marmon|
|VP Chapter Affairs||
|VP Fisheries||Scott Graham||(512) 847-6222||Oscar Dupre||Jim Roberts|
|VP Membership||Scott Thompson||(830) 931-3900||Dave Gutweiler||David Schroeder|
|Secretary||Karen Gebhardt||(830) 980-7580||Hylmar Karbach Jr.||Marian Tilson|
|Treasurer||Michael J. Scott||(210) 496-6911||Doug Kierklewski|
|Newsletter||Richard Stanley||(713) 784-0443||Ex Officio: Billy Trimble|
|TU Liaison & Mailings||Bob Tuttle||(512) 261-4409|
By now most of you are aware that our past president George Spalding has accepted a job offer in Georgia which led to his resignation. The GRTU bylaws state that the VP of Chapter Affairs will replace the President if a vacancy occurs for any reason.
Being the VP of Chapter affairs and a board member for some time, I hope I can fill the shoes of GRTU President with honor and provide ample leadership like others have done in the past. I will fill out the remaining time of George's term, which will be one year.
Many issues face us after the disastrous flood of this past July. The board will have met by the time of the October meeting and we hope to present a plan of action concerning the reconstruction of the trout fishery in the Guadalupe River. We ask for patience from our members since this plan will not be an easy and quick solution to those that want a trophy trout fishery overnight.
Currently pending are the cleaning up and reopening of the river outfitters on which we rely for access. If assistance is needed we hope you can volunteer your elbow grease when the word goes out. Also pending is the river cleanup of debris by contractors hired by the county. Another item to consider is the damage done to the hydro-electric gear at the dam itself and its repair schedule.
The actual stocking schedule of the river will depend on those issues above. The overall concern is the safety of everybody in the river, whether fishing, tubing, kayaking, etc. We do not want to endanger anyone needlessly.With your support we can reconstruct the trout fishery and be back roll casting in no time.
Although George Spalding's term as President of GRTU was cut short because of career and family obligations, the impact he made in the year that he held the office will felt forever.
When we were at the negotiating table with GBRA and the pressure was at the breaking point, George was an unmovable rock. We could not have had a better person at the helm in that critical time for this organization. He had a firm grasp on the details and stayed focused on our goals and resisted every attempt by GBRA—and there were many—to move us towards their goals.
On behalf of the negotiating team, I am taking this opportunity to thank George for what he did:
THANKS, GEORGE, FOR ALL YOU DID FOR GRTU!!Billy Trimble, Past President, GRTU
In previous writings to this Newsletter at the start of a new fishing season, I usually dwell on what a wonderful year of fishing we should enjoy and how everyone needs to get their lease access renewals in soon so you can fish as soon as the leases open.
Unfortunately, the flooding of late has put our stockings on hold for awhile this year. We are not exactly sure when the leases will open and the stockings will occur, but rest assured that the Board is making every effort to get our members and our fish on the river as soon as possible.
Last year was one of the best fishing seasons in memory. We had good flows throughout the year and an incredible holdover rate from the previous years. We had expected even better this year—then the rains came. Being at the mercy of the Mother Nature and being that the Guadalupe is a product of Texas’ unique geography (aka the Hill Country) when we get a copious amount of rain over the Guadalupe
watershed, flooding is always the result. The flooding was bad for landowners along the river, and for the fish we stock the rains usually mean higher lethal temperatures in the river. This year was no different. We can lobby GBRA and TNRCC all we want, but sometimes Mother Nature has other plans.
You will notice a change this year with the application; hopefully you will find it easier to fill out. Secondly, in this newsletter only the national application is present because we do not want to start taking money for the lease access program until we can give our members an estimate of when we will be able to fish. We feel this is only fair to our members who have been so supportive of all our efforts. To date, we do not have a good idea of when we will be able to stock…or fish.
Thank you to all our members for being so supportive. Please know we will get everyone fishing as soon as possible. I will keep all of you up to date as to how things are progressing with the lease access via e-mails. If you have any questions, please call me.
Scott Cash Thompson, VP MembershipReturn to Top
The recent damage to our river has made me stop and rethink just why I spend a portion of my week on the river. Yes, I love fishing, but since I am a new flyfishing person there are many times when I catch "0" fish. Yet I continue to spend more and more time on the river.
The serenity of our river puts things into a better perspective for me. It is a time to enjoy the steady flow of the river, the wildlife, and the people I have met on the Guadalupe.
I have met and fish with women and men who love to share their knowledge, fishing secrets, and "honey holes." The most wonderful part of this is how our friendship has grown outside the banks of the Guadalupe to lunch together, fly tying together, and fishing trips together. There are so many funny stories to tell perhaps a few are in order:
The best story I have to tell is on my fishing buddy, Marian Tilson. We took my daughter with us one afternoon to Kanz. It was late in the day and we had to fish around all the tubers so it wasn't serious fishing. I walked down stream and Marian stayed near my daughter. After hearing the flurry of activity and splashing of water, I turned around to see Marian falling into the water, her arm outstretched holding on to her net. I headed that way only to hear Marian say, "I still have it." Well, what she still had was the fish my daughter had caught. And if you know Marian you know that one way or another she will hang on to that trout.
Another fishing tale was the time Marian and I were fishing Potts at dusk. My daughter happened to be with us then, too, and we all seemed to keep switching around rods as my daughter got tangled up. Marian ended up with her old rod and a "fish on." As she stripped the line the rod came apart and she just pulled that fish in with her hands and the fly line. Marian is so driven when there is a fish at the other end of her line.
Sometimes fishing is very hard on the river. It seems no one is catching, at least not with their rod. One afternoon this past season at Cedar Bluff, I was just going through the motions along with several other members. Tom and I were chatting and wondering what to try next, when all of a sudden I turned around to see Tom trying to net something in the water. A trout had literally dropped from the sky. An eagle had caught the trout and lost its grip right in front of Tom. The next thing I knew Tom was holding his net out saying, "I'll catch them one way or another."
So for me, fishing on the Guadalupe is really more than just catching fish. All the more reason to do all we can to upstart our river again. Sometimes just sometimes the "fish on" is just a bonus to all I have experienced as a member of GRTU.
By Karen Gebhardt, Secretary, GRTU
Return to Top
The weatherman could not forecast it, and no one was able to quite imagine it, but a rainstorm of epic proportions stirred the Guadalupe into a raging monster belying the civilized disposition that man had tried to impose on her. But the river was only behaving normally considering the incredible 30 inches of rain that fell over 6 days this summer. Now that the river has lashed out, what sense can be made of it?
First, the “flood control” project, a.k.a. Canyon Dam and Reservoir, has limits for the prevention of floods. People believed they were safe from flooding when they built below the dam. The unfortunate people in the Horseshoe Falls Estates subdivision were hit with the overflow of the Canyon Lake’s emergency spillway. Many homes were destroyed in the vicinity of Horseshoe Park. This area is an operational zone and no houses should have ever been located there. Floods of this magnitude are rare, but will happen periodically, and not much can be done to stop them.
The lake should have been designed with additional flood outlets, and the emergency spillway would have been used as a means of last resort. Erosion from the overflow dumped a pile of rocks in the river channel affectionately known as the “Plug,” and this obstructed the flood releases from the dam a short distance upstream. The function of the flood control outlet failed as a consequence of the “plug” and had to be shut down for almost 6 weeks while a channel was dug around the obstruction. The plug also led to the destruction of the GBRA power generating plant as water backed up and flooded the plant. According to a letter sent by GBRA to FERC, the repairs are anticipated to take at least a year, requiring the replacement of all equipment in the facility. The backup of water also flooded the flood control outlet, which created a strong current in the now-submerged riprap bordering the stilling basin and causing the rocks to wash into the basin. These loose rocks could have caused damage to the structure, as the powerful currents caused the rocks to swirl about and wear away at the concrete lining.
The brand new “canyon on the hillside” is about as ugly as you can get. How does one go about fixing it? What will be the effect of all that rock in the river? What will be the cost of repairs?
The second calamitous flood within four years is also pretty ugly. All that debris washed into the river. All those folks were flooded, again.
Just when things seem to be headed in the right direction, the loss of the trout fishery is ugly. In the scheme of things it is also pretty minor. The loss was much more a result of the warm water temperatures from the overflow than the magnitude of the current. This is a consequence of nature and the weather, and we will deal with it and rebuild.
Dare I say this out loud: What happens to the so-called recreational pool which is the main feature of the Comal County Commissioners and GBRA contract? Up to two feet of flood control pool were to be used to enhance in-stream flows below Canyon Dam for summertime recreation. The Corps had agreed to do this, but now that the lake has overflowed, will this agreement be in jeopardy? If the lake were two feet higher at the beginning of the rains, it would have caused the reservoir to come up about another foot. On the other hand, the reservoir would probably have to been at least 15 feet lower than normal to prevent to prevent an overflow from this 400-year flood.
After driving up and down River Road and surveying the damage, it appears to me that the flood event was similar to the magnitude of the 1998 floods from Third Crossing on down. Above Third Crossing, the flooding appears worse than the 1998 floods. But I am pleased that the river came through this better than I expected. Most of the trees that were lost occurred at pinch points where the waterway narrowed or the gradient was steep.
Another good thing is the dam itself held up very well to the overflowing lake. The same could not be said of Medina Dam, which caused great concern.
The river habitat could actually improve. The aforementioned hillside erosion sent rock and gravel down the Guadalupe, which could be of benefit to the benthos and the structure habitat of trout. The Horseshoe Falls dam was washed out and lot of the rock filled in the channel, which reduces the volume capacity of the channel. If you think about a normal flow on a summertime day, the water released from the generators warms as it flows downstream. After about a day, the water has lost its cooling power. Now the river channel perhaps has lost some of its volume below the plug, this means the same volume of water flows further downstream before warming up. There also could be a few new areas to wade and fish.
The GRTU contractual agreement for doubling the minimum flows for the trout fishery would not be impacted by this event. However, until the disposition of the lawsuit is finalized, the contract will not go into force.
Perhaps there will be less construction in the flood zone and some of this area could be set aside as public access. For that to happen, FEMA and the Corps are going to have to offer the people a reasonable buy-out of their property. TPWD should also step in and see if it can convert some of these areas to public access.
GRTU has an opportunity to help remediate the river and help those affected by it. The course of action has not yet been decided, but we are going to be as helpful as possible. The trout fishery will be back and GRTU could lead the way in the recovery getting visitors back to the area and helping the local economy.
We all know that the Guadalupe can run fast, its holes can be surprisingly deep, and its rocks are slick. But we ignore all this if the fish are hitting and we've had the excitement of a tight line. I fall into this category. On a gorgeous fall weekday, I had the river practically to myself, so I headed for Lower Bean's. I left $3 and a note with my license plate number in Mr. Pruesser's office. He was a good man who loved that property, but he had no time for trespassers. And we all understood that his brother-in-law was the sheriff. I never knew if this was true, but it was three bucks well invested. I stopped at the gate. Sure enough the key was in the "secret" place under the rock to the left of the gate. I wondered if Russian spies ever left messages there.
Lower Beans was empty but for a few head of cattle who were not much interested in me or my truck. I rigged up quickly, and got into the chilly water. Thank goodness for modern technology. Our forebears were able to catch trout in great quantities (if those old sepia-tone photos are any evidence) without much technology besides wool, rubber, and bamboo. I missed having a companion like my father-in-law, Jim Anthony, who has taught me the trout waters of New Mexico; my colleague Dave Agerton and his son Mark; my friend Hal Moorman from Brenham; or my Alaska fishing buddies. But there was also something good about taking in the deep blue sky, white limestone, and green water alone.
I love to fish dries but the early hour dictated streamers, so I tied on a small wooly booger with a brass bead-head. I ventured just a couple of yards from the bank. After a couple of casts to get a sense of weight, distance, wind, and water flow, I launched the line downstream about forty yards. It drifted just past a point where the land jutted into the river. A brown trout hit that fly and hit it hard. When he felt the pressure of the line and the fly in his lip, he careened across the river towards the stony ledge on the far shore, and then downstream towards the rapids. I was at a bad angle. If he got much further I would be retrieving a 5 weight line and pile of useless leader. I needed to get closer to the middle of the river to keep the line straight and taut, and to keep the rod at a good angle. There seemed to be a lot to manage—the fish, my feet and my balance. Why hadn't I checked the water flow before driving out here, as Dave always does? Was there some reason no one else was fishing? Anyway, I ooched and scooted as best I could while giving most of my attention to the fish, who rewarded me with a couple of appearances. He looked like a good fish, maybe 17-18 inches, with beautiful gold and red spots in the morning sun.
Then the inevitable happened. My right foot landed on nothing more than rushing water. I tried to use the rod for balance while keeping pressure on the fish. The weight of my overstuffed vest shifted. Why do I pack all that stuff? I could see the edge of a submerged rock just inches away and tried to stretch to it. That took weight off my left foot, which meant trouble. Both feet went out from under me. My mind was racing with thoughts of the fish, big rocks, and whether I had secured the wading belt tightly. Would I bob like an inner tube, or sink like a Mafia victim with waders full of cold water? For the next 50 yards the water was pretty deep. I found myself swirling around, looking downstream, then abruptly towards the far side of the river, around back towards the car (what did I do with the keys?), and finally downstream again. It was an aquatic pirouette. Amazingly the pressure was still on the line, but the brown was well into the rapids and headed for a sunken tree limb.
The belt was doing its job fairly well. I was getting wet all over, but the waders hadn't filled completely. As I came to the rapids I dug in my heels. I nearly flipped, stumbled a bit, but caught my balance and righted myself. During all this I was most interested in not damaging the rod. It was intact, but the line was now limp. The brown had broken off in the limbs of that cypress. I had nearly joined him in there.
Heading back to the bank, I looked at the truck and realized I had not packed a towel or change of clothes. After all, I was just fishing for a half-day. I leaned the fly rod against the Toyota, pulled off the wading boots, lowered the suspenders, and extricated myself from the waders. Water poured out of the waders. I had worn jeans over some fleece. I wasn't cold in the water, but now it felt pretty uncomfortable. I had left the keys on the rear tire so there was no problem getting the truck opened and started. But what to do? I swung by the office, hoping to catch a glimpse of Mr. Presser and maybe borrow a towel, but he still wasn't around, and my three bucks was still under the jar on the table.
I drove into New Braunfels with the heater on full blast and went to the outlet stores that had just opened for the day. I picked one and waded in—slosh, slosh, slosh. An eager young salesperson asked what I needed. I said, "Everything." He looked at me for a moment and said, "Yeah, you do." I established my headquarters in a fitting room, while he brought me a towel, running shoes, socks, underwear, jeans and a shirt. I specified the cheapest this discounter had in my size. "You need a belt?" he called out. "Nah, the old one is fine," I replied. Until I put the soggy leather belt on. "Okay, a belt, too." He brought me a plastic shopping bag for the waterborne clothes.
By the time I finished it was just after noon. I thought about heading west one more time to try to find that brown, but decided to head back to Houston. The dunking didn't discourage me from future outings, but I'm careful now to bring a towel and change of clothes. And I always cinch up that wading belt! I still wonder what happened to that brown. I can't wait to return to Lower Beans when the devastation of the recent flood is behind us and take a look. Just in case. And I'll miss Mr. Pruesser; he loved that land.
(I said after breaking my leg while
Catching the Big Trout of the Gunnison.)
I do a considerable amount of fishing. I fish for bass, bream, crappie, stripers, and other warm-water fish. However, my favorite is fly fishing for trout. Since we have only one trout stream in Texas, I have to travel quite a distance to reach other trout waters. Most of my trout fishing is done in New Mexico, near Cimarron. Occasionally, I’ll travel to Colorado to fish the Gunnison River or to Oregon for steelhead on the McKenzie and cutthroat on the Willamette, but most times it’s the Rayado. It’s only a day’s drive from my home in Woodway, Texas.
In early May of 2002, my youngest son, Joe, and I loaded all our fly fishing gear into my F-350 four-door diesel pickup and headed for the Gunny, as the locals who live nearby call it. We were looking forward to the cool Colorado mornings and, not so hot as Texas, days. We left at 4:00 a.m. and arrived in Cedar Edge, Colorado at 8:00 p.m., just a piddling 16-hour drive. Not overpowering to us Texans who are used to traveling long distances anyway.
We would stay with my son’s father-in-law’s first cousin, Jerry Cadell and his wife Martha. Jerry is real big on Mountain Man stuff and “reenactments” as well as being an expert gunsmith. Jerry was going to be busy all the next day getting ready for the Gateway, Colorado Volunteer Fire Department’s Annual Dynamite Shoot. Joe and I had brought our rifles along, but decided that ours were already sighted in close enough for the distances we’d be shooting, so we took off to the little town of Hotchkiss to do some trout fishing at the fork where the Gunnison meets the Taylor River. (The Dynamite Shoot is another story—edited from this because of length.)
Normally that time of year, you can’t wade the Gunnison because of the runoff from the winter snowmelt. However, the snow pack in the Gunnison area was only 20 percent of normal. This was really bad for the farmers and ranchers, but ideal for trout fishermen. We could actually wade all the way across.
I hooked onto an 18” brown on my very first cast. Joe, fishing a little further down got a 16” rainbow. “Wow,” I said to Joe, “This is going to be a fantastic day?” And it was, for we caught and released a bunch of big trout. About noontime, Joe hollered, “Let’s go get something to eat.” This was fine with me since I had nothing but a cup of black coffee for breakfast. I brought my line in and slipped the fly through the keeper ring at the winding check of my custom made Thomas & Thomas 7-foot 4 wt., that I won in the GRTU Raffle last October, and started to climb out of the river. Nothing doing! My feet were firmly anchored in the muddy bottom. Twisting and turning, I succeeded in getting my left foot clear, but the mud didn’t want to give up my right one.
I tossed my rod and reel out onto the bank and gave one final and, unfortunate for me, super twist. Out came my right foot and down on my butt I went, neck deep in the Gunnison. I felt a sudden sharp pain in my right ankle about two inches up the big bone, just above the inside ankle bone knob. “Damn,” I thought, “I’ve sprained it again. I’d already done it twice in the last eight months, fishing the Rayado last September and again in all the snow and ice in March. Actually, both of those sprains were “stress fractures,” but I didn’t know that at the time.
I climbed out on the riverbank, got all my stuff together proceeded to limp to the truck. Joe was already there and signaled his impatience by giving a couple of blasts on the horn. When he saw me limping up to the truck, he jumped out and gave me a hand. I told him I was okay, just sprained my ankle again. He ordered me to take my waders off and stripped off my sock. No swelling evident, but it sure hurt like hell. (I didn’t know it then, but my leg was broken.)
I fished all the next day with a broken leg. Of course I didn’t know it, but being the tuff Texan that I am, I just sucked it up and put the pain out of my mind. Hell, I was catching fish! What’s a little pain when you’re hooking 16”-plus browns?
The next day was more of the same. Caught a lot of trout and fought through the pain until noon, when Joe decided that I probably should give my leg a rest. (Still didn’t know it was broken.)
We took the afternoon off and just relaxed in Jerry and Martha’s den and bragged about the fishing. My leg was beginning to swell and discolor, so we decided to head back to Texas late that afternoon. Somewhere along the way, we took a wrong turn and wound up going over Monarch Pass, which added some 45 miles to our trip home. We drove all night and finally arrived in Woodway at noon the next day. I was really limping by then.
My wife, Jody, noticed the limp and asked if I’d sprained my ankle again. (She was aware that I did it last September and again in March.), I told her I had, but with the brace I got at Wal-Mart, it’d be OK in a few days. That was Tuesday. It looked a little better so I toughed it out until the following Monday morning before going to the doctor. I wouldn’t have gone then if my ankle hadn’t been swelled up and turning purple.
I didn’t have an appointment, but I was the very first patient to show up that morning. When I showed my leg to the receptionist, she buzzed my doc, who also happens to be a very good friend of mine. He came out, looked at my leg and just shook his head. We went immediately to the X-ray room where the X-ray tech shot the film and sent me hobbling on crutches back to a waiting room.
About five minutes later my doc came in, read the X-rays and said, and I quote. “Hey Dumb Butt, you’ve fractured and re-fractured this leg at least twice before. You’re lucky you broke it good this time or no telling how long you’d walk around with this thing broken!” I told him about the September and March “sprains.” He told me in no uncertain terms that those weren’t sprains. Then he queried, “You had a big fish on line, didn’t you! Here, gimme that fly rod. You weren’t supposed to bring that thang in here.”
I didn’t have a fish on when I broke it, but why deny it! Then he asked, “If you knew you could catch another big one like that, but break the other leg in the process, what would you do?”
“Hell, I’d do it again,” I winced. “Please, can I have my fly rod back?” He just grinned and instructed the nurse to “cast” me. She did, and I chose a beautiful “Gunnison Green” for my cast color.
I went back Monday, June 3, in hopes of getting the cast off. Doc just grinned after looking at the new X-ray and said, “Looking good. Don’t see any sign of the break, but let’s give it another three weeks just to be sure. You didn’t want to go fishing until your trip to the McKenzie the first week of July anyway, right?”
“YEA, RIGHT DOC !!!!!”
(Epilog: I got out of the cast on June 21, but tore my posterior tibial tendon in the ankle of the same leg three weeks later. I’m now using a cane and wearing a hinged plastic ankle brace and praying it will heal, “scar over,” on its own so I won’t have to have a seven-inch cut, possible tendon graft and spend three months in a cast. I informed my doc that I was going fly fishing in New Mexico the first week of September, even if it “hare-lipped” the governor of Texas. He grinned and with a big sigh said, “Knowing you, you’d probably be worse off not going, and with the plastic brace I put you in and your high-top wading shoes, your ankle will be immobile anyway. Oh, yea! Here’s your fly rod!”)
I have several good fishing buddies, but the best is my nine-year-old daughter, Taylor. She’s caught trout in New Mexico and specs at the coast. Rigged with a very light bay rod, she can throw a half-oz. popping cork 100’ like clockwork. Last summer, she asked to fish with a rod “like mine”-a fly-rod. So I took her to the upper river, taught her how to roll cast and to catch little spotted bass.
In December, Taylor and I went to Blanco State Park a week after the trout stocking. The river was too high and the fishing was a bust. Taylor was fine with it, and cornered the biggest crayfish I've ever seen—5” or 6". She got him to clamp onto a stick every time and dropped him in a bucket. We took him home, and he lived in the bucket with a sponge filter for a few weeks. My daughter named him Crabby. He ate fish food and carrots and cryptocorne leaves pruned from my African cichlid tank. At Christmas, Crabby moved into a 2-1/2 gallon aquarium.
As the river slowed into spring, trout fishing was good below the dam. Many nice fish came out of the deep hole at Rio Raft. Most of these were on streamers and a sinking line, white bass style. A green oak caterpillar imitation worked at all the leases for several weeks. At Kanz, a 22” rainbow took me down the chute. Holding the rod high, I skated for the far corner of the dam, while the backing on my spool shrank toward the spindle. I made it over the dam, picking up backing, down the bank to the cypress trees and pocket water, where my fish was breathing heavy in a hole. Next week at Kanz, I hooked up a fish that when it jumped, had to be 24”. As it blasted toward the chute, I grabbed the rod with both hands and pulled the hook from its mouth.
On a warm March day, Taylor and I went to Rio. She was sporting her new waders. Holding her hand, I led her onto a rock beside the deep hole. I chummed out a handful of corn, and had her rigged with a wet fly and a fake corn kernel dropper tied from yellow chenille. In the half-hour she devoted to the activity, Taylor caught her first Guadalupe rainbow, a nice 16” fish. Rio has a playground, so while she played with new friends on the bank, I got to fish. It was slow going, so I changed my dropper to the fake corn. Picked up three nice trout on the dropper, and another on the wet fly. Then lost my last cornfly to the deep rocks. Finding Taylor, I asked for the one in her fishing hat. “But it’s MINE,” she protested. Look, when we get home, we can sit down and make seven corn flies. “OK, but they’ll be mine.” I tied it to the tippet and released three more trout before we moved on.
Later, at Kanz, Taylor was peeled from her waders and splashing behind me on the flagstone, while I was swinging nymphs in the hole below the chute. Hooked up a fish. Taylor was just behind me, so I handed her the 4-weight. Well, it turned out to be a 20” rainbow. She’d obviously been watching. Paid drag and palmed the spool, taking in line only when the fish would give it back, and she even bowed when it jumped. After a second run, she brought the trout in and lifted it for me to net. Handling and releasing the fish thrilled her. Back home, she sat in my lap while we tied seven corn flies. She put them on her hat.
When the leases started to close, I finagled a kitchen pass and made it to a white bass run.
Summer came and then the flood. We had fished South Padre in June. After checking USGS flow rates, I decided it was finally time to take the family to the North Fork above Hunt. The river was down there. Taylor and I fished awhile and were into big pods of little spotted bass. We caught more than a dozen fish in about an hour, mostly 8” spots and a couple up to 12”. I tussled with one that outclassed my little creek rod.
Even in the dog days of August, you can find perfect fishing. With another buddy, we waded below the impoundment at Center Point, down a half-mile, and back up. The river was running at twice what I had guessed from the USGS readings in Comfort and Kerrville. It was beautiful, with cold springs every 50 feet or so. Caught over 40 fish if you include the ones that don't count—mostly red-ear sunfish, bluegill, and little spots—and six that did count. Watched my biggest Rio Grande cichlid ever sip a size 8 hook—never saw one before that could. The biggest long-ear I can remember. Nice red-ears. The best was a 16" endemic bass that was every bit of 2-1/2 pounds, and on a short 5-wt. in fast water. Managed to turn him above a ripping chute by clamping on the spool and pushing the 3x tippet well past where I thought it would break. He made a second run when he saw me, resisted with several good jumps, and four or five short runs at the end. Just once, I was able to lift his head above the water and gained a foot or so—but he never let me do that again. I had to swing him by and grab his back to land him. We were both tired after that.
Recently, Taylor called me at work. She was heartbroken, but had bucked up for the phone call. Crabby the crayfish was dead. (They're only supposed to live 18 months.) She told me Mom said that it looked like he had tried to molt but didn't make it. When I got home, there was a crumpled mass in the corner of the little tank. Taylor had laid out a cedar cigar box for a coffin and, on a little piece of flagstone, had painted “Here Lies Crabby.”
A red clay pottery jar in the tank had been Crabby's condo. In the off chance that Crabby had molted and was hiding in his house, I tilted it down as I lifted it out of the tank. Out came Crabby, mad as hell.
Livingston, Montana, August 10, 2002. Clear, dry and warm—perfect conditions on the Yellowstone for hopper patterns and some of the more ridiculous dry fly concoctions the fish of this river will rise to in summer, completely ruining the trout reputation for wariness and selectivity. However, hooking and landing them are different matters.
I left Austin pre-dawn six days ago and stopped for nothing but gas and restrooms until I downshifted into Taos, New Mexico just as a blue storm barged over the Sangre de Cristos. It dumped a load of rain mixed with pea-size hail, dropping the temperature from Texas hot to mountain cool in minutes and setting a good mood for the trip.
A second long day behind the wheel put me through Colorado and halfway across Wyoming to arrive at Pinedale near dusk, my usual hell-bent schedule. For me, the objective of a fly fishing road trip is to go directly to the mother country, Montana. It's a condition I've had for many years now, and rehabilitation seems unlikely.
However, bypassing all those supposedly fine streams along the route weighs on a person's conscience. On the morning of the third day, in a gesture toward reason, I left the pavement to fish the upper Green north of Pinedale. With the Wind River range for a backdrop and the high desert landscape along its flanks, the Green looks as fishy as a page from the TU calendar. As it turns out, the Wind River mountains aren't called that for no reason. The landing net clipped to the back of my vest beat me about the head and shoulders, and any bugs that managed to hatch would've landed somewhere in Idaho. It was a bit breezy. Nevertheless, I tried all my best tricks from the nymph box but turned nary a fish in three hours. To praise the experience, I would have to rely heavily on the shafts of light through the mountain clouds and the purple lupines blooming among the sagebrush. As we say when the fish don't bite, it was good to be out.
So I pushed on toward the summer hell of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Yes, they are fabulous treasures...in May or October. In August they're one long, slow convoy of people who should not wear shorts or own recreational vehicles. And it was as expected, only more so.
As the traffic jam inched from the park toward the north gate and Gardiner, Montana, I realized I had enough daylight for a couple of hours on the Yellowstone before I was due in Livingston, my intended base for three weeks. I bought a license in Gardiner and half an hour later I was knee-deep in the river watching a parachute Adams ride a long riffle, with the Absarokas before me and the Gallatins at my back. In an hour and a half I turned 15 fish, but my timing was still rusty from the off-season and I missed all but two rainbows of modest size. Saddle-sore and bleary-eyed, I had arrived again at the object of my obsession.
Now ends my fourth day on the river. Today I floated with Roy Senter, Montana native, veteran Yellowstone guide, and after 12 years of such annual pilgrimages, a good friend and fishing companion as well.
By 8:45 we were 40 miles upriver from Livingston at the Corwin Springs access; by 9:00 I was standing in Roy's drift boat feeling the pulse of the current under my feet. It was early for the hoppers so I started working the shoreline with the #12 parachute Adams for the cutthroats that hang illogically close to the banks. (It's not unusual to pick up the occasional rainbow or brown in that same unlikely-looking water.) This kind of fishing can be a maddening combination of thrill and despair. The cutts will nose the fly, flick it, roll on it, or simply hang under it and inhale, and they'll do any of the above lazily, ravenously, or with some attitude in between. Making a hookup requires either waiting a beat or lifting the rod tip as quickly as possible. It all depends. It's a matter of staying focused, keeping your nerve and accepting the odds. Or something. I wish someone would write an article on how to hook summer cutthroats on the Yellowstone. I can always use a good laugh.
Right away, fish began to rise to the Adams. After several misses and nicks, I finally hooked up and shortly released a golden-flanked and rosy-cheeked 16-inch cutthroat. As I false-cast to dry the fly I felt a bit of the off-season rust fall away and wondered if maybe I was finally becoming one of the Grizzled Guys Who Know Their Stuff. A foolish thought, of course, as the fish would remind me, leaving me once again qualified to claim only the "grizzled" part of the title. But the fish did their part, rising to the fly willingly.
One day's guided float trip per year is usually the limit of my budget, and the day shaped up to be well worth the fee. There are enough good walk-in spots on the Yellowstone to keep me busy for however long I stay. Roy likes to make several stops along to wade fish the better riffles, and our first pullover was a long, broad run known to hold fish of all four species: cutthroats, rainbows, a few browns and plenty of the pucker-lipped, fly-goobering Rocky Mountain whitefish.
Still casting the Adams, I turned more fish and landed the first rainbow of the day, a modest fourteener, and two cutts of similar size. Thankfully, this wasn't technical fishing. When they're rising to dries, Yellowstone fish aren't terribly picky. Time permitting, I could've fished the run three or four times through with a different fly each time and raised fish on all of them, from a small caddis to a big Turk's Tarantula.
The sun climbed higher and hotter, signaling hopper time. I tied on a #8 parachute hopper and clambered on board as Roy lifted the anchor and leaned into the oars. Shortly we approached a beautiful stretch of pocket water where Roy figured the hopper would bring up a nice fish or two. Predominantly, the Yellowstone is a broad valley river where you key on surface water patterns—seams, edges, riffles and wrinkles—rather than classic rock-and-pocket structure. So the chance for a shot at good structure was not to be missed. In the accelerating current Roy could slow the boat only so much—I would have one presentation chance, two if I was quick, at each pocket. No room for error.
The boat picked up speed as we came alongside the run. I laid a good cast and the hopper settled perfectly on course, rode over the bulge of a barely submerged rock and dipped into the pocket behind. My elevated perspective and polaroid sunglasses gave me a box seat view of the rising shape and the white of the open mouth. As the nose broke the surface, the mouth closed, the fly vanished and I lifted the rod. (I don't care to admit how many times over the years, in fish fever, I've snatched the fly untouched from an open mouth, leaving me, and I presume the fish as well, cussing the miss in our respective languages.) I played the chunky 16-inch cutt as quickly as possible, netted and released it in time to get a few more shots at the run. The second cast brought up another cutt of the same size, quickly played and released. Ditto for the third cast.
I tipped my cap to the river, we drifted on and the fish continued to rise to the fly. At the next wading stop a rainbow I estimated to be around 20 inches hammered the fly, made one spectacular jump and left me with a handful of slack line, a mauled hopper, and a stupid look on my face. But it was a spot I knew I could come back to later in the week by walk-in access. While the cutthroats are beautiful and a challenge to hook, their fighting style is more bulldog than ballet.
About 4:00, the hopper action cooled and I went back to the Adams, then a foam beetle, then a bushy elk hair caddis. By day's end, I estimate I had turned between 80 and 100 fish, hooked or nicked maybe a third of those, and managed to land 15 or so, whitefish notwithstanding.
I'll be here a couple more weeks and spend many more hours on the river, but today will be hard to top. I spent the entire day under the impossibly wide Montana sky in the mighty Yellowstone River catching wild native trout. These are the gifts I drove 1,700 miles to receive. Today is my 56th birthday.
Life is a curious journey. There are no handbooks beyond Dr. Spock; no manuals accompany delivery, no instructions tattooed above the hairline—nothing to prepare one for this journey, especially for the importance of sons and fly-fishing.
I was raised in the hard-rock mining communities of western Colorado, and I’ve always enjoyed trips back to the Western Slope. These trips have continued through all three sons—they enjoyed especially the treks into the high country, even when they were very small. The Colorado journeys became an August ritual and each found something different: Some liked the fishing, others exploring for rocks, others the act of pushing one’s limits.
When Xander, Lynne’s oldest son, was 12 or 13, these trips began to be overlaid with a kind of weirdness. It was very subtle, almost undetectable at first, akin to simply having a newly-teen on board; but the darkness was there. Xander started life with an outsized smile, seemingly larger and brighter than the very sun itself. He had that rare ability to not only see the face the shadow makes, but to express this awareness joyfully. His special insights were welcomed on our wilderness treks, as was his enthusiastic plunge up any trail. However, by his 15th year, the darkening showed clearly Xander’s head-long plunge into his genetic inheritance—alcohol and drug addiction. This delightful, cheerful, interesting, very worthwhile child no longer saw the face but became the very shadow itself: We all did.
Twice he’s been in treatment, a process that involves everyone. The first treatment didn’t hold—he relapsed while on an individual Outward Bound trek to a Colorado mountaintop. By the time he hit his bottom, we each knew clearly and irrefutably the bottom edge of our own envelopes. I could never have been prepared for the pain that was reflected on my wife Lynne’s face during her private moments. No one should ever experience this in one’s child’s life. A time of difficulty, this, exceeded only by Xander’s own. When he was still in his second treatment in Prescott, Arizona, we had a July meeting with ourselves and his counselors. This was a “family” thing, which now meant much suspicion, mistrust and guilt: But if the meetings with the counselors was dreaded, you can’t imagine the anticipation of the two days we were all three to spend with no counselors—visions of Amway room deodorant in some small, hot motel room. Except that my wife suggested fishing the Colorado at Lee’s Ferry—a brilliant idea!
So we did the session with the counselor that Friday noon, which proved, through the solid glimpses of this young man ringing true, a time of strange, other-world beauty, a time I would gladly repeat. Afterwards, we headed north, deeper into terra rosa, beyond the east entrance to the Grand Canyon and even further upstream to Lee’s Ferry—that one spot in Arizona where the Colorado River can be reached by automobile.
The summer heat of Arizona is unique, too: It radiates from all that it touches, making objects glow as if lighted from with in. Perspective disappears—the drive north seemed as if some Hollywood motion picture that we had seen all of our lives was being projected on our windshields. However, I know of no landscape more powerful than the desert just prior to summer’s dawn. The robin-egg blue sky becomes a fine, turquoise dome, set in flat-purple buttes and bluffs, and the eastern sky is pneumatic with the glow of promise (though certainly not a harbinger of the heat that relentlessly follows). It’s a time for the wildlife in the desert to call and gesture exquisitely and for we visitors to quietly wonder at this matin ceremony. This was indeed a special time for the three of us, as we stood in the dawn awaiting our guide’s arrival, a mood that abruptly changed by the rude intrusion of Rick’s aging Bronco with an aluminum boat clattering behind on its trailer.
The dawn promise became even more faint by Rick’s irritation over “our wanting breakfast.” Well, we didn’t—not at all, so we were only a little behind any schedule that Rick secretly held. We arrived at the Lee’s Ferry boat slip—a surprising early morning place, filled with the shouted loading of fishing boats and Grand Canyon excursion rafts, each vying for entry into the Colorado River. We were soon among the “shoutees,” as we bumbled among the seasoned “shouters” and their riverside rituals.
It’s an interesting relationship, shouting fly-fishing guides and their clients: Many of the guides I’ve met apparently think of their clients as stupid, land-locked bottom-feeders—too amateurish or too inept or too affluent or too poor or too something or another. Clients are an affront, even an assault, to these guides and their rivers. Paradoxically, guiding may be the only profession where its members choose absolutely to belong or not: Clearly, love is involved, so why this aggression? I became concerned for the effects of Rick’s anger on Xander’s wobbly re-entry.
We hunkered down from the unexpected chill of Marble Canyon and headed upriver toward the Glenn Canyon Dam. This trip up-canyon reintroduced the wonder from the dawn—a graceful gliding that was surprisingly intimate with the desert-varnished canyon walls, which were flirting audaciously with the newly risen sun.
Rick spotted a gravel-bar recently made by the spring flooding experiments (a smashing success, if what we experienced is an indicator!) and he securely beached the boat. We were to fish the bow and shadow of the leading edge of this gravel bar, as well as the downstream riffles. I love tail-waters—second only, in my experience, to the glacier-fed lake and river combinations of Chile and Argentina. The Colorado River in Marble Canyon could prove the best tail-water of them all—certainly if judged by siting alone.
We each went to the stretch of water Rick directed. Lynne and I truly enjoy fly-fishing—even in these circumstances, but our focus began to wander as we gradually became aware of an unexpected, surprising gentleness in Rick’s manner. I don’t know why Rick instinctively knew about this badly-winged child, as he guided Xander’s first experience with scuds and nymphs, but he was instructive and informative in a way that left dignity and confidence intact. We could not have duplicated this with Xander— never, for too much history would interfere. But Rick certainly was perfect, as was Xander’s fishing. Not only did he land the first fish, he skunked us in size and quantity. And these were really wonderful, healthy wild trout!
We owe much to Rick and his insightful guiding. We fished that bar and another, and on the second day (with no pretense of breakfast interfering) we were early enough to get onto the choicest gravel-bench of them all—the one immediately down-stream from the Glen Canyon Dam itself. The fishing was superb—difficult at first, before their lie was fully understood, but we caught many, many, breaking only for the ubiquitous Subway sandwich at lunch.
Since that July visit to Lee’s Ferry, Xander has relapsed big time. He’s still alive, thank God; clear-headed sometimes, but mostly not. However, there was this July trip to Lee’s Ferry, an anchor point for his mother and I now, when he’s adrift. That July, we returned late each day in an opposite sun from our early morning traverse. There is something redemptive about gazing upward with awe. The skyward gaze is inescapable when the desert sun sets or rises—powerfully so when passing through this deep, craggy, serpentine redness. Shadows lifted briefly, redemption colored subtly a time-out-of-time with a son.
By John Novack
More on the Great Flood
It has not yet been mentioned, but the massive amounts of water from Canyon Lake probably brought some large stripped bass into the lower Guadalupe River. These voracious beasts like to dine on our trout. Catch them if you can, take them home and eat them or give them to a deserving person, but do not practice catch and release on this species. You may, however, release them back in to Canyon Lake if so inclined.
Canyon Lake pool level is 909 ft. above sea level. At the height of the flood it remained over 943 ft. for several weeks until the flood gates below the dam could be opened. Then and only then, did the spillway stop releasing water.
Camp Beans was a mess, with gravel and rocks all over the ground close to the river. Trees were uprooted, and one very large old oak blocked the road mid-way to the campgrounds. I observed only one old time outhouse still standing, which was just behind the main office. At this writing, it is reported that Camp Beans had been sold and may not be open to the public any longer. Time marches on and a classic fishing and camping place is no more.
White Water Sports was nearly wiped out. I saw only one building still standing. The River Road area just south of Sattler was devastated. Structures gone, trees down, mud all over the road. Very sad to observe.
The bridge on South Access just south of the dam has been washed out. It was reported that there were some stranded fish that came down the emergency spillway. Mostly rough fish but none of the river’s trout.
Mrs. Kanz said that part of the little house by the river was washed away and several feet of water entered the house itself.
Gravel Beds for the Redds?
One GRTU member noticed and commented that great amounts of gravel and rocks were washed into the river during the Great Flood. He suggested that this might create suitable spawning grounds for the trout that survived that flood. At any rate, this would be welcome for the trout that GRTU, as well as TP&W, introduce on a regular basis.
Remembering Dick Finta
The following is a compilation of several e-mails that I received from Bob Newman, another long time member of GRTU.
One of our oldtime members, Dick Finta was a founder of GRTU and the one encouraged me to join in 1970. (Actually, he really lived right across the line in Idaho.) Dick passed away in August. He had as much or more to do with the chapter in its first decade as anyone I know.
Dick was a member and an officer and a director for the first 10 to 12 years of the chapter’s existence. He moved to Spokane in 1980 so he has only heard about what has happened to the organization he helped start. He was there financially as well as providing leadership through many of the early years when we first had 20 and then 30 members and then 50. Well, you know the numbers now.
We had meetings where the only difference between the directors meeting and the general meeting was a bathroom break. The attendees remained the same. And Dick was always there. He always pushed for shorter meetings and more fishing time.
Many of the current Honorary Life Members were recruited by Dick. He met them, like he met me, fishing on the river. He was always willing to sponsor a member and then try to keep them involved. He also worked to get kids involved. He pushed me to join when I was 12 and got me put on the board when I was 14. I think he nominated me for my tours of duty as secretary and as VP in later years. He provided fly rods to other kids not just me. He gave me and at least one other youth member each a Leonard Duracane. I still fish it today, although I am terrified that I will break it. When I needed waders, a new pair would arrive along with the materials necessary to tie three dozen of his favorite nymphs to pay him back for the waders. But the thing about Dick that anyone who knew, would tell you first and foremost was the man could catch fish—anywhere and anytime! He was unbelievable, yet he never bragged. He always told people he caught a few. If you spent the day with him you knew that “a few” was a gross understatement.
Chad Oliver used to speculate when he and I were in Colorado together that it was because Dick knew the Guadalupe so well. Then Dick met Chad in Colorado on streams that Chad had fished for 40 years. Chad told me later that Dick was just as impressive on unfamiliar waters. When I lamented my fishless days and the fact that he always had a bent rod. Dick used to say it was just years of experience. But I met his mom in the late ‘70s, and she said Dick had been a natural since he was a kid. But you would never know it from the way he acted.
I can go on and on about him because of the role he played in my life. There is Dick the bird hunter, dog trainer, sailor, cane rod builder, golfer…. Hell of a role model for a kid to grow up around. I would tell you to ask others about Dick, but there are not many of us left who fished with him here. Jim Vynalek and I are probably the only ones left who spent a lot of time with him. I think Doc Johnson would remember him as well as Jim Bilbro. Bill West, Rupert Gresham, and Jim Keeton might throw in a good word or two. Otherwise I can only tell you Dick is what I think of when I think of Trout Unlimited and trout fishing.
Because a review and the remembrance of Dick Finta’s involvement with the early days of GRTU, he has been nominated and placed on the rolls of our Honorary Life Members.
Become a Supporting Member
For a paltry $10 donation, you can be a member of our privileged(?) group. I don’t know what additional benefits you will receive, but it would help the chapter greatly on operating expenses. The help is all volunteer but there are postage, printing, renting of the meeting place and numerous other expenses that must be considered. If you want to be a really big hero, join the Century Club for an additional $100 dollars. After all, it is only money and the donation helps a very good cause.
By Bob Tuttle, TU Liaison / Mailings