Monday, June 02, 2003

Partially because my boss held me at work a bit after I needed to leave, the 3/5 of us who were riding together didn't get out of town until 2. We got to the South Llano River State Park at about 5:30 or 6 (I forget). They informed us that they were out of drive-in sites and that we've been downgraded to a walk-in site. OK, fine. Then, when they hear that we have 5 people in our party, they freaked out. Apparently, only four people are allowed in each walk-in site. They're going to have to put us into the last drive-in site. OK, fine. We set up camp & head down to the river for some fishing. I took about 2 itty-bitty largemouth bass, 2 Guadalupe River bass, and a few sunfish. The other guys (who are much better casters than I) took around 12 fish each in the same time-period. We headed back to camp around dark, and were joined by one of the other guys.

Here's a shot of the lovely Llano (rhymes with "Lando") River.

The other guy arrived late, around 10 pm. We'd just gotten back from a trip to town for chow. The Assistant Park Ranger, a good ol' boy with a bit of a Barney Fife over-anxious attitude (due to his boss being in the hospital, presumably) arrived to bitch about us parking the cars side-by-side instead of nose-to-nose, then to bitch about us drinking beer, despite the fact that they were all in coozies. After our assurance that we meant no harm, Good Ol' Boy Fife went his way.

The next morning, we headed out to look for the place from where we'd be renting our kayaks. We knew that we'd gone too far when we crossed the river, which wasn't supposed to happen. We pulled over and just then, a truck towing a bunch of canoes and kayaks came up after us, it was our kayak guy, who I've since affectionately renamed "Mildly Retarded Drunk Obnoxious Asswipe" (or Mr. DOA, if you wish [changed "Inbred" to "Obnoxious" for the acronym]). He had us follow him down to watch him set a couple of fathers & sons up with canoes, then follow him back to his place (which had a sign that appeared to be camoflauged to assure that no one could find it from the road) to drop the truck and pick up lifejackets, then back down to the second river crossing, which is so close to the headwater springs that it was the first place on the river that anyone could set in.

Here's another shot of the Llano River.

While riding us down to the river, Mr. DOA was polishing off his third Miller Lite since we'd run into him. It was 8:30 in the morning. This was not a good sign. Our plan was to set in at the second crossing and fish while heading down to his place. He assured us that we recognize his place when we got to it, then dropped off after telling us to expect to flip over a few times.

A word about the kayaks. Unlike most ride-on-top kayaks, these were narrow and short (usually these types of kayaks are one or the other, but never both) and seemed to be built with instability in mind. Every single one of us flipped within seconds of setting off. We hit the first deep pool just afterwards. This water was deep, swampy green, unlike what one would expect of a body of water this close to its headwater springs. Anyway, the fish were biting like crazy for everyone but me. I tried four different flies and got nary a nibble. The river had enough current to prevent one from remaining in the same place for longer than a single cast. We hit a couple of short rapids, which were mostly shallow (which was good, because you didn't want to fall out and crack your head in deep water) but which typically pushed our boats into trees or a high bank before dumping us into a deep (at least chin-deep or more) pool.

Me, enjoying a fairly warm refreshment. The grey boat was my craft. I have a soaked towel and water in the backpack, which is strapped on tight. Note that my flyrod has a holder, but that it is in no way secure.

For your entertainment, here's the shot of me crashing in the rapids.

This picture is from moments after the last one, as I'm surveying the rapids that just dumped me into a tiny pool that was way over my head.

We ate lunch when we stopped to drag our kayaks over a road crossing. It was about 105 degrees then. I had taken to putting on more sunscreen every 20 minutes. The heat was intense and the river offered little cover. I had yet to have a single nibble by lunch, while some of the other guys had taken as many as 20 fish (we were all practicing catch-and-release, btw).

After lunch, my luck changed, and I started to bring in some fish, largemouth bass and sunfish (perch and bream), some of the latter of which were nicely sized. We were still taking our time, although we were unsure how far we'd gone and how far down Mr. DOA's place was. There was one section of river that was wonderfully shaded and so rewarding that I rowed back up to the top of it and floated down again. All my luck in the early afternoon was on a subsurface woolly bugger that was brass tipped and orange with gold streamers.

Here's a shot of me in ACTION!

Another ACTION! shot. Note the professional way in which we choke down the warm beer in the shade.

Later in the afternoon, I started using a spider surface popper. The fish couldn't get enough of that thing. I caught the largest bass of the trip by some 6": a 24" 2-lb largemouth that was the largest fish I've ever caught on a flyrod. He fought a bit, but I was wilier. We didn't have time for a picture, because I'd snagged him at the base of his throat and he was bleeding quite a bit. I was worried that getting a shot of him might prolong things too long and kill him, so I let him get a swallow of water, then grabbed his lip and popped the spider fly out, held him up to measure on my flyrod for the other guys to witness, and let him go. Total time: about 45 seconds. We all fished that pool for a while. It was getting into late afternoon, so we figured that we couldn't be too far off from MR. DOA's spot. Then a couple of guys whose kayaks had been taking on water decided to go ahead down to his place.

Here's a shot of the spot that reminded me of the NC Piedmont.

About 20 minutes later, the third guy headed off after them. The last guy & I started about about 10 minutes behind him. I was actually 5-10 minutes ahead of the last guy, who stopped to untangle his leader before going. We rowed aways, and fought the urge to stop and fish some more out of some concern that we hadn't seen the other guys yet. We hit some long, rough rapids (I was riding like a champ by this point) that ended up shooting us under a low iron bridge. The light was starting to get into late evening. A few houses started to pop up on the banks. We passed an elderly couple fishing on their dock who told us that the other guys were only 10 minutes ahead of us, and that we were about 45 minutes off from MR. DOA's place. If we rowed hard, we'd make it before dark.

So we rowed hard. We had to drag our kayaks over a dammed ranch road, and we passed one place where a cement bridge had collapsed into the water. There were a bunch of large javelina or feral pigs crossing there, including one fucking giant buck. Several deer watched us pass, too. We also saw a couple of foxes running through the bushes.

We knew the name of the place: Fox Hollow, but saw no signs for it. We went through another area of houses and docks, including one that we were convinced had to be the place, because there were numerous kayaks and canoes on the lawn, although it didn't have a sign. We stopped there and shouted for anyone, but the house looked wrong (e.g. it was very nice) and no one came out, so we figured that we were wrong. After that place, we crossed a set of rapids where I got turned around and Will's kayak came at me so fast that it nearly ripped my right foot off.

Another long pool. Light was fading fast. Another set of rapids. I turned around and shouted for Will to watch out for the trees at the base of that set. He couldn't hear me. I floated downriver a bit and shouted back to see if Will was ok. Nothing. I turned about, and realized that full dark was upon us, and that the night was moonless. I couldn't see anything back on the river. I paddled back up, calling for Will. He finally shouted back that he'd been tumped and had lost everything. I intercepted his cooler, a shoe, and his paddle. His flyrod was gone, though. He finally caught up, and we decided that we were too far downriver to get back to the last houses. We figured that we'd keep going for a little while.

Another set of rapids. Another long pool. I pulled to the side and climbed up a ridge to see if I could see lights. Nothing. In any direction. We were in the middle of nowhere on an unpredictable river in the middle of the darkest night of the month. Fuck.

Another set of rapids. This one threw me right into the trees and took my flyrod. I spun around to get it, got turned sideways, and then flipped into chin-high water. This time, my glasses were gone, and the bag holding my lighter had gotten ripped. I also took a good thump on the head from the kayak.

Up until that point, I had figured that I could get us out of this situation. I knew that I had the wilderness survival training to deal with whatever. Without my glasses, though, I couldn't see three feet in front of my face, and felt truly fucked. I felt helpless fear that I haven't felt since I was a child. This was the sort of situation where people make bad choices and die. Will seemed almost delirious.

Another set of rapids. Another long pool. Although we couldn't see it, this pool culminated in a dead-end, and some rapids headed off to the left. We pulled up at the end of the pool to talk. Will said that he wasn't doing another set of rapids for anything. I could see a light over the bluff and told him that we should dump the kayaks and head out on foot. We decided that the light could be a house and started shouting for help. Nothing. We sat there for a few minutes, then shouted for help again.

This time, we heard someone shout our names. I can't tell you what that feels like. Maybe after I get some distance.

We hauled our kayaks over the bluff and found that the river made an S shape and that the other guys were with some people just downriver. By dragging our kayaks over the hill, we avoided the rapids and could set in on the other side and float over to where they were.

The people turned out to be MR. DOA and his wife, Li'l Drunk Idiot Bitch. Let's call her Li'l Dibbie. They made fun of us for missing their place. Was there a sign? No, but it had green chairs. Green chairs? Yep, that was the place. No, really, green chairs were what we were supposed to be looking for? Yep, y'all are really dumb, now don't mess up the grass.

MR. DOA and Li'l Dibbie were shitfaced. They told us that we were lucky that they'd headed down to their friends' place. I realized that if I heard their voices again, I was going to break MR. DOA's nose. And possibly Li'l Dibbie's, too. The other guys had been there long enough to go get the truck, so we loaded up and left. We hit the campsite for dry clothes (and spare glasses), and went to town, exhausted, waterlogged, and pissed as hell. It was 11 pm. We found a diner that agreed to feed us, even though they were closing. A little milk of human kindness was decent nourishment right then.

Although we'd been on the river until 10:30 at night, we decided to go talk to MR. DOA in the morning. The idea was that Will and I should be able to take some kayaks downriver to find our lost gear. MR. DOA was a bit upset that we'd awakened him (at 10:30 in the morning), but agreed that we should be able to take the kayaks to look for the gear.

We had to go pick them up from where we'd left them the night before and bring them back to his place to set in. This gave us the opportunity to see which place was his.

It indeed had green chairs. No sign. You couldn't see the lodge from there. Nothing to distinguish it from any other place. Will and I set in and started downriver. We passed the place with the kayaks on the lawn about .25 of a mile later. We passed the place where Will had nearly taken my foot off, and both of us were tumped there.

A couple of long pools and rapids later, we found the rapids where Will had lost his flyrod. It didn't float, so we didn't really have that much hope for finding it. Will went through first and jumped off immediately at the bottom of the rapids. He dived into the water and came up with his flyrod. Apparently, he'd seen the tip gleaming, despite the rushing water. A bit later we found his missing shoes and towel. Pretty impressive.

A couple more long pools and sets of rapids. I headed into the rapids that had knocked me over the night before, and saw my flyrod stuck in the branches of the trees. Score! I pulled my kayak over, and jumped off to look for my glasses, knowing that it was stupid. We spent about a half hour diving into the fast-moving water and the pools on either side. Will finally said he couldn't do it anymore. We headed through another set of rapids and into the long pool where we'd given up the night before. The other guys were waiting for us at the other end. They told us that they'd originally been met by MR. DOA and Li'l Dibbie right up where I'd taken my spill. I was pissed, because if they'd stayed there, I'd never have lost my glasses. I left them there to fish and headed back upstream to look some more.

When I got back up to the place, I let myself float in the current from where I'd spilled. It took me to a spot over on the bank a bit around a corner. I realized that I could half-submerge my backup glasses and use the submerged side to see as clearly as if I had goggles. Doing this, I found my glasses. At the bottom of the Llano River. In fast-moving waters. Yes, you may be amazed now.

I also found a couple of long-lost spinning rods, which I took up to the Ranger Station for karmic balance.

Anyway, upshot is: a good scare, drunken rednecks, things lost and found, and the biggest damn bass I've ever caught on a flyrod.

Another ACTION! shot.

My photo
Cary, NC, United States
reachable at firstname lastname (all run together) at gmail dot com

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