Chasing the Run

I wanted to get away. I needed to get away.

My buddy Kyle and I had talked about going fishing and camping a week earlier, but we weren’t sure if we could this particular weekend because of both our work. I knew this was my last chance until April, and he was booked up through the end of February if we couldn’t go. Wednesday afternoon I called him after I secured my weekend off. He said he was pretty sure he could, so the race was on. We would leave Friday after work for a fast and furious trip…somewhere. All we knew, was we would be camping, fishing, and kayaking.

We decided to head back to the Devil’s River. We had such an awesome time in November, and we wanted to go further up than we did last time. So again, the plans included the mother ship, the big deck boat, to get us up the 9-10 miles, with the kayaks and gear, then head up the Devil’s from there. Sounded similar to our last trip, but this time had a catch. We would be getting there after dark, and would be heading out in the boat that night and get to that one primo camp spot, the “Four Seasons”. We had to give it a name on the previous trip because it was everything you could want in a site, and the Hilton and Hyatt were already names of great spots on the Pecos. We had a Plan B, and C, in case it was taken, but who in their right minds would be out there in all the cold, wind, and drizzling rain. You’d have to be an idiot to go camping in the middle of nowhere in this weather. Oh wait…nevermind. 🙂

We got to the Rough Canyon boat ramp around 8pm. We loaded the boat, got it ready, and dropped in. It was definitely colder once we got moving. But we were determined. We were dressed for the event, but I ended up putting a neoprene ski mask on in the first mile as I worked the spotlight. At one point I looked over at Kyle and told him I hope nobody sees us, because we look suspicious as all get out. lol

We passed Indian Springs and headed around Slaughter Bend. Then, in the distance, we saw a light. A light coming from the Four Seasons.

Noooooo. I don’t want plan B or C. I want the Four Seasons. I guess we weren’t the only ones goofy enough to attempt this.

Disappointed, but undeterred, we turned the boat around and started looking for alternatives in the immediate area. It was amazing, the illusion that was given off by the spotlight on the old water line that was 3 feet above the water. It was perfectly straight, so everywhere we looked with the light, it looked like it might be a good flat spot to camp. Hey, there’s one…nope. Look there, that’s a good…nope.What about…nope. It was definitely playing tricks on our eyes, and the closer we got to each one, it was the same thing…no way. Maybe this whole night excursion wasn’t such a grand idea.

We stopped to reassess the situation. I checked the GPS and we decided to go back a few miles to a cove we knew had a few spots, but it would push us further from the Devil’s than we wanted and we weren’t sure what to expect once we got there.

The spot we chose was at the point of the cove. Very visible to boats cruising by and of course, wind and weather. Not perfect, but it was getting late so we decided to give it a shot. As we looked around with the spotlight, “the hills have eyes” was never more an appropriate title. There were what looked like a hundred pair of eyes all over the hillside. I thought they were goats, but as we got closer, we noticed the horns and their brown color. It was a herd of Aoudad sheep. They slowly moved over the ridge, and Kyle pointed out the “leader of the pack”. A big ol’ dude with huge horns. It stood and watched us until the rest were out of sight.

We beached the boat and got out to have a look. It was semi level, and semi clear. It already had a fire ring, so we knew folks in the past had made it work, so we could too. Motel 6 was the name it was given. The unloading began, and at one trip to the boat after we removed the yaks, I shined my light down to watch my step and a came across a rather large paw print. Way bigger than my fist. I hollered at Kyle to check it out. After closer inspection, we both knew what it was. This is a big mountain lion track…and looked fresh compared to all the other tracks around. We figured it might have been creeping around trying to get close to the herd.

“What do you want to do?” I asked.

“What can we do? Move somewhere else? You know they’re out here.” he said.

“Yeah, true enough. I just feel like a sitting duck down here. Well, let’s get this finished and get us a fire going.”

We knew we needed to be on high alert. Precautions were locked and loaded…I mean, taken, and we continued to setup camp, on a more cautious level.

It was after 11pm before the camp was setup, and a fire going. We sat around for a few more hours talking of fish and adventure. We were where we needed to be. And we were savoring every minute of it.

We got up as early as we could the next morning. It was overcast and still cold with a strong breeze. We decided the night before to stick around the area and fish the heck out of it and do the Devil’s river leg on Sunday. So we jumped in our waders, set up the yaks and hit the paddle.

There was a solid cold breeze, but the fish were jumping and we needed to get on them. We paddled up the cove, fishing the whole way. We caught a few white bass, and a couple of black bass within a hundred yards of the camp.

We kept going until we hit the end of the line. Or so we thought. There was a spring up the canyon that was pushing water down. So we got out to have a look.

There were quite a few small holes in the rock beside the main channel that were pushing up water. More like bubbling up through it. It was interesting to say the least, and we needed to explore what’s up there.

It was mostly skinny water that kept going underground then heading up and making a small, fast moving stream. Every pool we came across were full of bait fish. Well, that’s an understatement. I’ve seen tons of bait fish before, but I can’t ever recall seeing them as thick as they were here. Thousands upon thousands, all in pools twenty feet long. There’s no telling how many times each of us said, “my gosh, look at all those”.

Then we hit a big pool. And it was deep. We were three or four hundred yards up from the lake and it was amazing to see a nine foot deep pool that was crystal clear and teaming with fish. Bass, perch, and of course, a million minnows. It was like it was it’s own mini lake. There was still a hierarchy amongst the fish as the big dogs swam alone along the sides and the minnows huddled together in eight feet long balls in the center. It was quite a sight.

We left everything back at the yaks thinking this was just a hike, so a plan was made. Let’s head back to camp, grab some grub, then come back with my fly rod and Kyle’s small tackle and catch us some bait for catfishing that night. And who knows, maybe something else lurking beneath those ledges.

We fished slow and steady the whole way back. Not a bite. Not even a nibble. Our window had closed, but we continued to try in vain.

We had been gone longer than we expected so breakfast turned to lunch. The rods were redone with lighter tackle, and we finished the necessities of camp we hadn’t had a chance to do the night before, then we headed back up the canyon.

We walked up to the first pool and started hitting it hard. The minnows were tearing up my flies. I mean really tearing them up, and not one of them big enough to swallow it. They were all the size of bass minnows you would get at a bait shop. I started casting and jigging around the big rocks, knowing that’s where the bigger dudes like to hang out, and it wasn’t long before I had a couple of big ol’ sunfish fighting my line. I was going as small as I could, but most my flies are meant for bigger fish since I have long past the days of wanting to catch sunfish with every cast. Most my fly gear consists of 2/0 flies and a 10 weight rod. It makes it a bit odd to be trying to throw a size 12 wooly bugger on it, especially with a thick furled leader, but I was determined to get a few to set on some lines.

But the clear water and open surroundings with little to no casting room posed a problem for me and the fly rod. They saw us coming way before we could see them and were a bit closed lipped about the whole thing. So we devised a new plan. Without minnow traps or cast net, we tried a different method. What say we catch the minnows on a hook. Say what? Yep, small hook, a few yards of line in the hand, and some Berkley maggots in hot pink, Kyle had in his tackle box. Sounds dumb, doesn’t it. Well…dumb or not, it worked. The bite was off on the big fish and we didn’t feel like sitting around camp all day, so we fished, just in a much smaller scale. We had caught over a dozen minnows with this method and I decided I wanted to try something else. Let’s make some minnow traps with our empty water bottles, make a small funnel from surrounding materials to corral them towards the bottles. I think someone did it in an episode of Alone a year or so ago. Yeah right, good luck with that. Holy crap, it worked. Another dozen. We’re set, let’s head back and to camp.

It was getting late in the day as we did the needed chores around camp. Firewood gathered, area picked up and organized, food prepped, rods redone.

Now it was time to enjoy the good Lord’s nightly feature film. The sunset.

I wondered off with the camera up a few ridges to try and get a better vantage point. The beauty of this place is awe inspiring.  A lot of folks see it as a harsh, ugly, and unforgiving environment, but I see it different. There’s a beauty here that can’t be rivaled. The Pecos River is the same way. This place isn’t draped in flowers with full hook ups, a bathroom or soft place to lay thy weary head. This is the last frontier of Texas, running deep in history, dammed up or not.  If you don’t watch you’re step, you will become apart of that history. And it’s getting smaller and smaller as the years progress. One day there won’t be a sunset without a house on the hill…but not today. Today she shows her true self. The one I take with me when I leave and hold in my heart.

Yes, the terrain is tough. Yes, everything out here sticks, stinks, or stings. But it’s beautiful in it’s own way.

While I was gone, Kyle started up the fire, and once I got back, we started cooking supper. On the menu tonight was backstrap and chicken and sausage gumbo. It definitely hit the spot.

We hit the hay earlier than we did the night before. It had been a long day, and we only had one left, so we wanted to make the best of it before we headed home.

We were awakened early that morning with the sounds of splashing. Tons of splashing. It was everywhere…and loud. We both got up to a very dark and overcast sky, but we grabbed the waders and headed to the yaks. The wind was finally calm for the first time since we got there.

First cast…boom..fish on. A beautiful white bass. Then another. Then a black. Then another white. And every one of them were big and hard fighters.

They started slowing down in the immediate area and we watched them running into the main lake. So we chased them. There weren’t any boats out yet, so we had the entire water to ourselves.

The whites were closer to the shores and jumping hard. There were so dang many. I tried to get a shot but only seemed to get a bunch of ripples.

Then we started seeing the striper doing the same out in the deeper water. So of course, we headed out. I decided to use my fly rod for a while just to see what I could catch.

It wasn’t long before I got a hard hit and I pulled the rod up. Boom. Fish on. Um, wait, this isn’t a white bass. This thing is stripping line and pulling me all over the place. After nearly a five minute fight, I was able to land my first striper on the fly. And on a fly I tied. I was beyond excited.

We both continued to catch fish all morning, and pulled off what we decided to call our own Amistad Slam. We each caught white bass, black bass, smallmouth bass, and striper that Sunday.

I bought a pair of fish grips a few months ago, but left them at the house. I was tore up, but you can bet I wasn’t complaining.

We fished until we knew we needed to go back and break camp. The bite slowed, and more boats were arriving in the area.

This was one of those days fisherman dream of. We both caught over 40 fish each and were wore out and sore. There were only a couple that were under 12 inches, and each one fought harder than most the largemouth back home, especially the striper. Those dudes were crazy fighters. We expected to catch some smallies and largemouth, but had no idea the whites and stripers would be out in force.  We were there for a fight, and we got one, but left every fish to fight another day. It was hard to leave and paddle back to camp. Seemed like every time we got going, we could hear them start up again behind us. We planned the rest of the afternoon checking out all the coves on the way back for future camp spots, and we still needed to break camp. Grrrr. We had to head back.

This was an incredible weekend of campin’, yakkin’, and fishin’. And this one will stay with me for a long time. What started out cold and dark, ended with an inspiring round of whoops, hollars, and high fives.

After we broke camp and loaded the yaks in the boat, we sat down, ate some grub, and relived some of the finer moments of the trip. One thing we both agreed on…we needed one more day on the water. Just one more day.

We got to the boat ramp around 5pm and loaded up. The idea of a big ol’ cheeseburger and fries at Hookers was starting to overtake our thought process. They serve a mean burger and fries. As we pulled up, we noticed all the cars everywhere. Oh yeah, it was Super Bowl Sunday. Forgot about that. We walked in and were greeted by a ton of people. Before we could even ask for a burger, the owners told us to grab a plate and dig in. There were two huge tables full of food. Ham, turkey, fried white bass, brisket, pulled pork, poppers, chili, enchiladas, and much, much more. So much, the dessert table was in a separate room. We sat around and enjoyed the hospitality of the locals, and ate way, way too much.

It was a perfect end to a perfect fishing weekend.

Thanks for coming along,

Scott

Scott Gartman

Scott Gartman

Scott Gartman is a photographer and filmmaker. He is also an avid fisherman, kayaker, backpacker, and overall outdoorsman. His accolades are too many to list, as with the many streets and towns named after him. He's a legend in his own mind. Check out his home page at www.flyrivermedia.com

2 thoughts on “Chasing the Run

  • February 12, 2017 at 12:02 pm
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    Your adventure tales are the best. Right up there with Russel Annabel although you’re too young to have read his articles in Sports Afield back in the 50’s and 60’s. Help me out please, Scott, with choosing a camera for birding and wildlife. I’m looking at a Canon Rebel T6 digital bundled with an 18mm-55mm and also 75mm-300mm lenses. The other choice is Nikon Coolpix P900 which has 83X super zoom.

    You’re a busy man. When you have a moment, please give me your opinion. Right now I’m struggling with what I call my “toy camera” (a little Kodak Easyshare 5010). Your opinion is valuable and appreciated.

    BTW, I’m still enjoying the big old sun hat you recommended to me a couple years ago. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Scott Gartman
      February 14, 2017 at 12:55 pm
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      Thanks Jim! As far as cameras go, like with everything, both will have their pros and cons. Between those two…the Rebel T6 has a bigger sensor and the option to have more interchangeable lenses (big telephotos, super wide angle or macros) but means you’ll be carrying around more stuff, and some of that stuff can get a bit bulky. Neither one will probably work great trying to get that 18 point buck 100 yards away in low light, but with the T6, you have the option to get better lenses to tackle those low light situations. The Coolpix P900 looks to be a good, all in one camera. Whip it out and shoot. Easier and lighter than carrying all the extra gear. It states to have a focal equivalent of 24-2000mm. I’m sure it does, but in my experience with optical zooms, the quality just isn’t there after 200-300mm. But for quick and easy use with pretty good quality, this is not a bad camera at all. Honestly, if you have a chance, Walmart and Best Buy both have these cameras. I would go by and check out each one and see what they can do in store before making a purchase. See how they feel in your hands. Of course if you’re looking at my personal opinion, which is all it is, I would side with the T6. I just like the option to have lenses for different purposes rather than an all in one that is ok with everything, but not great at any one thing. But again, this was my profession for 20+ years and it’s the only way I know. Plus, I haven’t seen too many magazine cover shots done with a point and shoot. 🙂 Hope this helps some, and glad you’re liking the hat. Mine’s still going strong. Take care Jim!

      Reply

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