Sunday, May 24, 2009

My tribute to Leon Hale

For those of you not from Houston, Texas, Leon Hale is a columnist extraordinaire for the Houston Chronicle. Now in semi-retirement, he does a column a week. He's a Texas man with a Texas wit and wisdom that has always reminded me of a Texas Mark Twain, albeit not quite the smartass or enigma that Mark Twain could be.

Leon has been a featured columnist for the Chronicle since the early 80's, and I've been a regular reader since he began writing there. Over the past 20 years, every spring Leon would tell the tale(s) of his annual spring fishing trip to the James River in the Hill Country.

Leon and a group of friends make the annual trip for fishing and friendship. The James river runs from Kimble County into Mason County where it joins the Llano River about 15 miles south of Mason. Over the years I've read of their flycasting for river bass, particularly the Llano Bass, a species found only in the Llano and James Rivers and a few of their creek tributaries.

This year, best friend Billy Ray and I set out for that locale. That part of Texas is beautiful, pure and rough and clean and trecherous at the same time. In addition to varied species of fish such as largemouth bass, Llano bass, perch, crappie, catfish and big-ass alligator gar, lots of critters inhabit that remote area, like bobcats and possibly mountain lions, skunks, armadillos, possums, wolves, coyotes, raccoons and of course, scorpions (my kid calls them scorpios) and a variety of poisonous snakes (primarily rattlers and water moccasins).

We got there late on a Friday. By the time we had loaded in the cabin, which overlooked the confluence of the Llano and James Rivers, we had just enough time to shinny down the bank and check out the fishing terrain. As we were staying on a working cattle operation, there were nice cattle paths all along the river bank. There were several deep channels in the Llano river at this point. and we were in good position for one of them for bank fishing, and one could easily be waded to from a gravel bar "island" that was right next to shore.

There were plenty of other places to fish, but having so many holes right next to the cabin was nice. The fishing was so good that that we stayed in a 200 yard vicinity of the cabin, despite the fact that there was 1000's of feet of river frontage that we had access to on both the James and Llano rivers.

Billy Ray and I had both read numerous annual stories from Mr. Hale, and a few were about fishing at this very spot. It seems he and his friends vary spots and rivers in this general area, returning in May of 2009 to the Llano river a little south of were we were at in Kimble County, down towards Junction, Texas.

It's beautiful country out there, and whether you call them bill hills or small mountains, the terrain is simply breathtaking. The clear, clean rivers and creeks that run through this part of Texas are spring fed. Some are clear as gin and some have a clear green tint to them.

The clear green tint, of course, reflects more plentiful nutrients, and thus a better food chain. Some rivers, like the Medina River north of Bandera, Texas, are crystal clear except where deep pools that are 10 or so feet deep and in slow sections of the river. Life thrives in these pools in rivers like these, and the color and beauty of the water in these Hill Country streams and rivers rivals any carribean paradise lagoon that exists.

So once we began fishing, we began catching, which is always a plus on any fishing trip we take. Billy Ray and I have taken so many fishing expeditions over the past 26 years where we caught nothing that if we catch anything we are grateful. Don't get me wrong, we catch fish, but when we don't , it doesn't ruin the trip at all.

But here we caught fish. Nice river bass and a few perch. Billy Ray spent some time trying to hook a huge gar that was trolling the river edge vegitation, and I kept hooking bass in whatever vegitation was growing at the shoreline and into the water.

We set out big saltwater surfishing rods, casting multi-hook rigs in the deepest river channel closest to us and kept baiting them throughout the day Saturday, and although something kept taking the worms and Berkley stinkbait I was using, we never hooked anything. We used big saltwater rods because we could cast a heavy weight (to hold against the river current) about 75 feet to that closest deep channel. In any event, we caught nary a catfish.

And that was fine with us, as we had a nice time at that place. The cabin had a balcony overlooking the broad expanse of the Llano river at that point, and although we didn't have Leon Hale there with us sitting and discussing the world's problems, we had another good friend, Mr. Jack Daniels, for a nice cool beverage on the porch.

A raccoon visited us on our first night there, breaking into the beverage icechest that we had left on the cabin's landing. Finding nothing there to his liking, as we watched from the cabin door window, he played around with an empty pepsi can that was in the fire ring from a previous visitor and then cruised on off.

The town of Mason is a mighty clean town, straddling the verge of the Hill Country and West Texas. Although the weekend we were there the local newspaper bemoaned the closing of the town's only nursing home, there were numerous very good restaurants to choose from and the economy didn't seem too bad there.

It's not like Fredericksburg, a tourist and shopping mecca. Mason has a quiet respectability that is calming and soothing.

I'm no stranger to this area, having had college roommates and friends that hailed from both Mason and Llano. I've spent more time in Llano but Mason is a little smaller and perhaps a little slower than Llano is. Both are very nice Texas towns.

So like Leon Hale, I think Billy Ray and I will make a springtime fishing trip to this area a new tradition. We already have our wintertime fishing trip for the rainbow trout that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department stocks throughout much of Texas, so this will be a good addition. Although we have not been salt water fishing in some time together, we've both been going saltwater fishing regularly and it's only a matter of time until we add a fall fishing trip to the mix.


  1. Hey Partner! I'm naturally drawn to your blog since I fish and love Texas blues. I'll keep reading as long as you keep posting.

    Tight lines!

  2. Welcome Duke, and I hope to keep entertaining you. And if you know about any good fishing going on, I'd love to hear about it.

  3. I would like to know who to contact about renting the cabin noted in this article. Anybody???

  4. Email me at elfishingmusician AT yahoo DOT com and I will advise you of the contact info for the cabin.