Saturday, October 3, 2009

More Devil's River and Kayaking Musings

I've been wondering why I have not gone to the Devil's River for a fishing trip. I've known about it for the past 20 years, yet for some reason another trip becomes more desired.

First, I've got a problem interesting anyone other than Billy Ray in making a fishing trip that involves hiking. Billy Ray and I both have issues about white water kayaking. The issue is, we won't do it. At all.

And to fish the Devil's River, you've either got to Kayak it or find one of few very expensive and very hard to get to cabins to rent.

Billy Ray and I, in separate incidents back in the early 90's, both had near death experiences while running the Guadalupe at flood stage levels. In the driving rain. Cold April Rain. It's a bro binding experience.

We both took separate kayaking trips with the same group of friends, taking our trips about a year apart. In 1992, Billy shows up at my house in West Houston, battered, cut and bruised heavily on his back and lower torso, resembling someone who had been beaten with a baseball bat. At least that's what he said he felt like.

He had lost his glasses in his accident, which involved him slamming into rocks both above and below water.

Those injuries contributed to other conditions that Billy Ray's kayaking injuries greatly aggravated, leading to a painful lumbar disc rupture. Endoscopic back surgery a few months later was the remedy for his kayaking bravado.

So obviously I learned nothing from Billy Ray's mishap, for a year later nearly to the day, I went kayaking with the same group of folks. I rented the SAME EXACT KAYAK (without knowing it) from Abbott's that Billy Ray had wrecked out in the year before.

It was rainy, and pretty cold that weekend. The river was way up and running fast and hard. I'd run the river many times before, in canoes, tubes and rafts over the previous 15 years, and thought I knew it pretty well. I found out on my first run, on a Friday afternoon, that the river had changed drastically with the increased water flow.

I was using a tiny extreme whitewater kayak called a surfing kayak, designed for tricks and surfing rapids. Nonetheless, I did very well in it, and ran the river well, not dumping or having to eskimo roll once. It was fun. Big fun.

The next day, a Saturday morning, we set out on the river about 8 a.m. As I entered one notorious rapid, I surfed momentarily at the entrance to a chute that ran around the right side of the main rock in the rapid. The chute was newly created due to the high water, and had only partially been submerged the day before. I surfed right up onto the side of a rock, and ended up flipping upside down as I entered the chute, surrounded on both sides by rocks.

I couldn't roll or bail while in the chute as there was no room, and left only the option of running it upside down. My helmet and the left side of my face made much contact with the highly abrasive limestone rocks, leaving me with a serious 3" diameter abrasion on my left cheek and some bad rips in the helmet. I was lucky I didn't hit a rock head on, or face on.

After I exited the chute, I bailed upside down, and was immediately sucked into a "strainer", a group of rocks at the end of a rapid. This caused numerous cuts and tears to my shins, knees and thighs, and dangerously, my feet got sucked into the rocks. This is a bad way to drown.

Fortunately, I had my vest on, and was able to hoist myself over the rocks and into the shallow calm water at the end of the rapid. My kayak had been grabbed by one of my buddies. I swam to a nearby rock ledge, surrounded on all non-water sides by a towering cliff. As I exited the cold water, a wave of pain swept over me from my injuries.

The cold water had numbed the injuries, but as soon as I exited the water, they began hurting and the lower extremity cuts started bleeding profusely. There was no way to take out at the spot I was at, absent an ability to climb vertical cliffs. I got my first aid kit and bandaged and wrapped my injuries as best I could.

Although I didn't want to, I got back on that proverbial horse and ran two more rapids until I reached a takeout point. We were only halfway throught he trip, but I was done, well done. I took out at a bridge with my kayak and waited, bloody and battered in the driving rain, until a kind soul in a pickup offered to drive me to the outfitters.

After paying for the damage to the helmet, I drove home, hurting badly. By the time I reached Houston, I couldn't hardly walk. My face looked like someone had attacked it with a sander, and I'm lucky it didn't scar at all (I used aqua-vera ointment to prevent scarring). I was hurt so bad I couldn't go to work for over 2 weeks and had to get several of the cuts sutured at the ER after I got home.

So that's why Billy and I don't whitewater kayak anymore. We've both done lots of canoeing and rafting since then, and I've run both the Guadalupe and the Medina at high water since, just in a canoe or a raft. At least in a canoe or raft, you can jump out when danger strikes, and not be trapped as I was.

SO that's why Billy and I are not interested in kayaking the Devil's River. I'm trying to get a price for renting one of the few cabins available for a couple of days of hardcore fishing.


  1. i have fished the devils 2 times.more dragging than worry about swift water. great time and fishing.grew up @bolivor, west tex. now. love the bass

  2. Thanks for stopping by and for the information. It eases my fears somewhat, as do the inflatable kayaks I see that the guides use on that river.

    I'd be delighted if you'd post about some good West Texas fishing spots, or reminiscing about some great Boliver fishing from back in the day?