My old fishing buddy Billy Ray and I wanted to do some fishing this past weekend, and we wanted to do it in the Hill Country of Texas. We hooked up in San Marcos, and took off from there on a Ranch Road that led us to US 290, and that was one of the few major roads we'd travel that day.
This is one of those no plans road trips. We made no pre-plan, other than to meet and set aside the weekend for a fishing cruise. We aimed to hit various streams, creeks and rivers that we'd fished before, or seen before and wanted to fish, or heard about or seen on a map.
We each have our own tackle boxes and fly rods set up to go in the back of the SUV. I also bring a mini-arsenal of spinning, ultra light spinning and spincasting and spin/bait casting rods that get set up the the SUV. These rods are ready to go with surface, mid-running and live bait rigs. That way, we can each grab a handful of rods and not have to re-rig so often when we change tactics. Just pick up a different rod and go.
I always like to bring one heavy duty saltwater pier rod on these trips, set up for catfishing. Sometimes with a ZEBCO 888 for simplicity (night fishing) or a Penn reel. Particularly, I like big catfishing. I either tie the rod to a tree or to my trailer hitch on my SUV and put a bottom leader down with chicken livers and whatnot. I like to do some chumming with various kinds of feed in a coffee can with a rope attached. If we're near a deep hole, we're going to use this rig for some bottom fishing not unlike a one line trot line.
The drought from last summer is still reeking havoc on many of our favorite creeks. Many formerly large, robust and year round creeks were not flowing much, and some not at all. The ones that had some flow had some itinerent spring action going on, and it was interesting to trace the path of one creek that feeds the small James River as a few springs popped up along the way.
We went from San Marcos to the tourist town of Fredericksburg, famous for being the birthplace of Admiral Nimitz and home to the Museum of the War of the Pacific. It's an excellent museum if you're ever visiting in Texas, and although we didn't stop there this time, Billy Ray and I and our families have been on previous and recent occasions.
On the way to F-burg we crossed the San Marcos, the Blanco and the Little Blanco rivers. The San Marcos is doing great right now, the Blanco a little low but still far more robust and strong than I expected it to be after last summers drought. The Little Blanco was doing well at the part we looked at, and had lots of swimming action going on, thereby foreclosing any fishing plans for the Little Blanco. This was our second try in as many weeks to fish the Little Blanco and we're not giving up. We just need to hit it during the weekday workday hours.
We made a quick stop in F-burg at the very cool Texas Jack's, a store that sells a lot of western stuff but the part that I go there for is the guns and the handgun leather. They feature, in stock no less, most of the popular designs of western single action revolver holsters. They also have a very good selection of cowboy shooting arms as well as various more modern self defense handguns. Sometimes they even have some interesting used guns.
We stopped there solely because the last time I was there they had a small barrel full of "seconds" holsters. I bought several pancake style holsters for various single action revolvers that they had in their cutout barrel, priced at $15 bucks each, which is a screamin' deal for a nice holster. Alas, they had no holsters in the cut out barrel this time.
We broused the weapons and I noticed a Smith and Wesson tapered barrel DA revolver, maybe from the 1940's or 1950's, with some stag (possibly real, possibly not) grips. I'd seen this gun a couple of years before on a run through their store, I'm almost sure of it. Priced very reasonably. I don't have a need for it, but would like it, so it's a good thing it's located some miles away from my primary gun buying stomping ground.
We left F-Burg without eating any of the fine german food offered at several restaurants in town, and although we looked we did not see the rumored Denny's that had supposedly opened in town. We briefly discussed fishing in a creek that runs through town and runs through a city park that allows fishing access. I'd read some posts last week and knew that there was some fishing action going on in that creek. Again, as far as I know, it was dang near dry last summer, so it's good that apparently the rivers that these creeks feed into (and ultimately the lakes the rivers feed into) can repopulate upstream areas of some distance rather quickly.
While enroute that morning, we decided that the Llano River in Mason County should be our main focus. We've both fished it together and separately on several occasions. Actually, i've fished the Llano from Mason to the Llano area to the Castel area and from towards Junction way. It's a very interesting river with several different kinds of terrain in different areas, but it's clear water with lots of fish in it.
The Llano holds a lot of a bass species called the Guadalupe or Llano bass. It's a slimmer, trimmer fish than the black bass also found in the river, but it's often a friskier fight than the black bass. Besides these two types of bass, there are lots of catfish and various panfish that inhabit the waters. I've almost always caught something when I fish in the Llano, and when you consider that a college roommate's family owned a huge place there for years, I've fished there quite a bit over the last quarter century.
So it's a favorite spot for both of us. We headed on into Mason from F-burg and that was about the time we got off of major roads. We ate at a great Mason tex-mex spot we've eaten at before, and then visited a gun shop in town that had an excellent selection, one of the best all round selections of guns in a small store. They had plenty of AR/M4 and AK assault rifles, assault shotguns based on AR and AK designs, a TON of various types of new and used bolt action scoped hunting rifles, a fairly robust shotgun section with new and used guns, an HK 93 as well as a handful of Mini-14's.
They had a great pistol selection, including your standard Glocks and Springfield Armory poly pistols, as well as a couple of Browning Hi Powers and Walther PP's, some SA Colts and a bunch of other good new and used guns. Their prices were mostly fair if not a bit on the high side, but the used guns were priced appropriate to condition.
A Savage .22/.410 in very good condition was priced at a very fair $275, and I'd a bought it if I didn't already have that very gun. They had a nice selection of grips and magazines but I didn't see any new holsters there. They had a bin of highly overpriced used holsters, mostly for guns I didn't have, like a used Fobus paddle for $30. Way too high. I can buy three fobus holsters on ebay for $30 with shipping on a good day.
Overall, Billy Ray was ga-ga with the shops selection, especially the used HK and the multitude of AR and AK based shotguns they had. It's not often you see Browning Hi Powers in stores, despite being an amazing firearm. Likewise with German made PP series pistols. This fellow had a PP in .32 and a PPK in .380. What I was wanting was an Interarms import PPK or PPK/S in .22, and I had some trading fodder in the truck.
I can't recall the name of this gun shop in Mason, but I'll find out and amend this post. It's one of those places that if you wanted to build a battery of new and used firearms for a reasonable price, it'd be the ideal place to go. By battery, in previous postings I and many others have suggested owning a variety of self-defense and food harvesting guns like a Glock 19 pistol in 9mm, a Smith and Wesson revolver in .38 Special, a 12 or 20 gauge pump shotgun, an assault rifle like an AK-47, a scoped hunting rifle like a .30-30 or a .30-06, and a .22 rifle like a Ruger 10/22. I saw fine examples of each of the above in this gun store in Mason, and there were some used options for the shotguns and hunting rifles.
They had the new takedown Ruger 10/22 rifle that continues to impress me, as well as a nice selection of Colt Single Action Army current or recent production guns. I wasn't ready to trade for that expensive of a gun the other day, but they definately got my attention with the nice SAA's they had for sale. Of course, they had a strong selection of some of the various .22 clone assault rifles available. In other words, just a pretty rocking selection of guns. Much better than most of the big city gun shops around these days.
Mason was BOOMING last Saturday compared to my last visit on a Saturday in April of 2009. We stayed a fishing cabin in 2009, and hit town to get a couple of new tires due to some contact with some sharp rocks and some slick low water crossings. I got a great deal on some tires, and I mean a screaming deal on high end tires that day. And the next time I need tires I'm going to see that tire fellow in Mason right next to the Mexican Restaurant because he cut me, a nobody to him, a screaming deal even the big Discount Tire chains couldn't beat.
Three years ago the local Mason paper was bemoaning the loss of the town's only nursing home. I don't know if they got another one but I know there were LOTS of new businesses that had popped up since my last visit. The town had changed from sorta dowdy and sedate to vibrant and happening, but not too touristy. It looks like good things are happening in Mason. Another college roommate of mine hailed from there, and so it's not the first time I've visited or passed through.
We headed out of Mason about 15 miles to a county road that crosses numerous creeks and the Llano River. The Llano was in fine form but all of our fishing spots were full of families swimming and beating the 100 degree or so heat. We continued down this one certain road that runs more or less east to west. We took it unti the road was flooded and we could go no more, unless we had a 4x4 that was snorkel equipped.
That stretch of road was great. A large number of feeder creeks were dry but several had good water and some very decent pools that could be accessed from the low water crossings. HUGE private ranches line the several area rivers and the creeks that feed them but most of the big landowners don't fence off every inch of their land near the low water crossings nor do they post trespass signs there. The state right of way is respected and thus a small perch from which to fish or to enter the water and wade fish exists for the visiting fisherman.
Many landowners in this area are amenable to a small fee for access for fishing or hiking and sometimes camping on their land. One of the ranches we drove through for 3.8 miles, through which a public county road runs through thus allowing public access to some very remote canyon and river valley areas. That's at least a 4 section ranch, and with a section being 640 acres, that's a mighty large spread. It's probably much larger than 4 sections.
Following one of what would have been a creek had it been full of water, we came across and interesting structure comprised of several poured concrete bases or stands of some sort. Right there was what also appeared to be a capped water well. I'll post some pictures later because we couldn't figure out what these structures were.
Further down, several more springs joined the trickle that was this waterway and after getting up to a dry 7 foot waterfall, we spied a pool of deep green collected water up ahead. Pure fishing nirvana. And completely legally accessible via the streambed. In a state like Texas without a lot of public lands, following the law of private land ownership is very important. More than one landowner will enforce their anti-trespassing feelings with a firearm or with actual gunplay.
Actual gunplay has happened in the recent past in isolated areas on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande near Big Bend and the Devil's River, where both sides are firmly rooted in the US of A in South Texas. It just always pays to leave other peoples property alone and stay off of it. Many Texas rivers and creeks have gravel bars or rock islands if one needs to go ashore while traversing a waterway by boat, and I've never met a landowner who objected to nice boaters using a brief part of their land to portage around a dangerous rapid or falls. Nobody wants dead and injured people on or near their land.
We haven't ever had any problems. We always ask permission from landowners and are willing to pay an access fee if they want one, although lots of times they let you in free. They just want to be asked. In the old days, they'd appreciate a mess of fish to eat after you fished their creek or river frontage, but nowadays everyone is conservation minded and also concerned about what chemicals might be in those fish. Such is modern life. So we always advise that we will catch and release unless they want us to catch them some fish.
We spent the better part of the afternoon going from creek to creek and crossing the Llano on several occasions. We did all this on mostly unpaved county roads. We saw a bunch of does, and one very cool young buck whose antlers were still covered in thick velvet. He jumped a fence and danced around in a road for a moment as if he was playing chicken with us, then sprang back into his wooded cover across the fence. I'd swear there was a big teenage grin on his face the entire time.
There's a lot of exotics ranches in this area, and had we been around at sunrise or sunset we would have seen a lot more of the very cool exotics that get raised all over the Hill Country. If I had a farm with a game fence, I'd like to have some exotics, not for hunting just for watching. There are many species of great animals from Africa that do very well in the Hill Country of Texas.
Tons of mating grasshoppers were present, and although I tried to take several pictures of them, none turned out well at all. They were some big suckers, about the size of large locusts. I'd forgotten how big Hill Country grasshoppers can get. Where I've always lived, grasshoppers are an inch or two long when grown, not 6 or 7 inches long and several inches around.
Huge gargantuan grasshoppers. Mating everywhere. We remarked that we need to learn the gestation time of these grasshoppers to time our next fishing visit to their hatch. Frankly, I've never seen a grasshopper plug nor fly that was as huge as these suckas. I might have to make one out of something, maybe a chunk off a flip-flop like I read about a guide doing in an article in the Austin American Statesman yesterday. The big moncher grasshoppers we saw this weekend bore no resemblance to the "Dave's Hopper" fly I've used for so many years. So I might have to try to tie a few big grasshopper poppers and streamers for the next trip out, unless I can find some locust sized flies/poppers/streamers at some store.
I plan to try a double drop combo on one fly rod when the grasshoppers do come out. Maybe a Dave's Hopper, which is a dry fly, with about an 18" piece of tippet going to a nymph that is following the Hopper underwater. It's been a deadly combination at one time on the Guadalupe for trout many years ago, and if I top the hook of each lure with a bit of Berkley GULP! then I think I could have a winner there.
Of course, the Guadalupe below Canyon Dam is one of the few places Rainbow and Brown trout can live year round in Texas, since the water from Canyon Lake goes through the Dam from the bottom of the spring fed lake.
We took about 6 hours to work our way from the area outside of Mason over to the Kerrville area, where we were at the mighy Guadalupe above Canyon Lake. This is also a favorite part of the river for fishing. Several stops later, we ended up at the most cool gunshop I've been to in a while. All new stuff, but a very diverse and well priced selection of guns. I'll be going back to Kerrville soon to this store, a sporting goods emporium of sorts.
From Kerrville, we took back and smaller roads to the towns of Comfort and Waring down to Sisterdale, from which we headed east back to San Marcos. We crossed many creeks, and noted which had water and access and which did not. Often times, I have found, that in the Hill Country county and FM roads, especially if unpaved, often offer far better fishing access than more major roads.
I could spend a year or two studying and cataloging the various fishable creeks in the Hill Country. I wish I could make the time to do it. Put the family in an RV and spend weekends roaming and writing about some of these great and relaxing and picturesque locales.
When I was a kid, about El Fisho's age, every year we'd take a real vacation and a spring break, but also a mini-vacation of 4 or 5 days spend meandering with no set plans through all kinds of Central and Hill Country and West Texas towns and rural areas. I remember one certain trip where we were down south of San Antonio. It must have been a wet year, because all the creeks we crossed had tons of spring water in them. Clear Spring Water, from the country of 1,100 springs, as Pearl Beer used to say. We'd fish those creeks and low water crossings and always catch perch and small bass and lots of catfish.
So this trip last weekend brought back lots of good memories of fishing small creeks and rivers in the Hill Country in my youth. There's still lots of the middle part of Texas where there is no cell phone coverage. That's getting out in the middle of nowhere for me, and that's where I like to be every now and then.
I'll write more later about this area. A little over a hundred years ago, the indians and white man were still battling hard on these very grounds in the Hill Country. It was dangerous country. Black bears. Mountain lions. Big BIG snakes of several different poisonous persuasions. Wild hogs. Highwaymen and other ruffians and highjackers. It was sort of a no man's land and a good place for an outlaw to hide amongst the hardworking mostly German and Scotch settlers in the Hill Country.