Real County, Texas is one of those places that Hollywood would use for scenery in the cowboy flicks and serials of old. Often, they used locales in Arizona and California, and said it was Texas, and although Real County was not the scene of any westerns as far as I know, it's the kind of place that was wild and woolly until probably even after 1900.
I got to thinking about Real County because I read a news story involving a double homicide, with a third death being the shooter who allegedly shot himself. That kind of thing, unfortunately, can happen anywhere, and happens a whole lot more than it should. But it struck me as odd because Real County has a real (see how I did that?) small populace and probably not a whole lot of murders.
Real County is one of those 254 counties in the state of Texas that doesn't have a whole lot of people and is kinda large in size. It's probably as big or almost as big as several of the east coast states.
It's located about 100 miles northwest of San Antonio, or as some call it, San Antone', so it's right in what we'd call The Hill Country part of Texas.
There ain't a whole lot of folks in Real County. Just over 3,000 or so. Wiki says the largest industry employer is tourism, with just over a hundred employees.
It's a mostly rugged terrain, and those who originally settled there found game and fish to be plentiful in the area. Two major river canyons course through Real County, the Frio and the Nueces. Both of these are beautiful, mostly clear waters that are spring fed and also fed by spring fed creeks and streams.
As late as 1881, there were Indian attacks against settlers in this still somewhat remote part of Texas. Although Indian and Mexican bandito attacks continued well up to the time of WWI in part of Texas further west like Brewster County (Home of the Big Bend National Park), one must consider how civilized many other parts of the US had become by 1881.
Indian tribes once ran freely through these areas, and artifacts are often found. Likewise, numerous mines were dug throughout the area, one by the famous James "Jim" Bowie of the Bowie knife fame and Alamo infamy.
You've always got to be careful roaming around in this area and for that matter, lots of areas in the Texas Hill Country. There are hidden and long abandoned mine entrances, some no bigger than a person and some just vertical holes, that can await the unwary. There are natural caves and crevasses and steep ravines that also await the unwary, and it's a good idea to carry at least 100 feet of climbing rope and a ready rattlesnake loaded handgun or shotgun when out in the field here.
As a kid, we took several drives out in that area. Neither of my parents had been there before, and we found fishing opportunities aplenty at low water crossings and were clear spring fed creeks crossed the roads.
Being from Houston and by my parent's people being from East Texas, I was accustomed to murky, often sand filled streams and rivers. It was a challenge to fish in gin clear water, where you could see the fish and more importantly, they could see you.
My dad had a good friend who had a family cabin that they'd owned for several generations in Real County right on the Frio. We stayed there on numerous occasions, and the fishing was always good on the Frio back in those days. We'd come in the early spring or late fall, before the crowds of spring and summer hit. As far as I recall, the water levels were always about the same, so we must not have had a lot of drought during those times in the 1960's and 1970's.
I did a lot of learning to fly fish on the Frio. It and several other rivers are the closest thing you can get to semi-mountain stream or river fly fishing like in Colorado and other places. The Frio does get a bit chilly in the winter, like most spring fed rivers, but trout are not the primary pursuit in the Frio, although I believe at some point they were stocked here in the winter some years back.
You find the standard Texas Hill Country fare here for fishing. Lots of bluegills and other types of panfish and perch and such. Largemouth bass and the Guadalupe bass are found, with the latter being more plentiful in my experience. Catfish of several types can be found in the deeper holes, including channel, blue and yellow. I've seen some big nasty yellow cats come out of the Nueces in Real County.
Not surprisingly, I still like to fish in those kinds of places in the counties that surround Real, where clear water runs free and all kinds of fishing can be found.
The best access, of course, is on private land. My friend Tommy owns a large spread with a good bit of frontage on the Nueces. Large cypress trees border the river, and live oaks cover the rest of the property, which has a huge amount of elevation rising from the river canyon.
Live springs pop out of the ground literally everywhere near the river, many right at the rivers edge on the shoreline, and he's got several feeding into a system that, after being purified some more from being pretty damn pure already, goes into his home via piping and a solar/electric powered pump.
The excess from the feed to the house puts untreated spring water into an underground and several above ground cisterns for storage for lean water times for their gardens. It could also be piped back into the purification system for use inside the house if needed.
His spread was an old family ranch that was subdivided into 200 acre parts and sold. There's still a lot of very large old family ranches in the area, and several of my friends have and have had deer leases in this area the past 40 years. That's another way I've been able to do fishing in this area, particularly in my 20's and 30's when my single friends had money to spend on deer leases. I could tag along and pay the owner a few bucks to use his hunter's cabins and do some fishing in "safe" (i.e. non-hunting areas) on the river and sometimes in the ranches stock tanks.
One rancher let me come back in the off season just to do some fishing on several occasions. I'd bring him several cases of Coors Light and could fish all weekend and come and go as I pleased. I'd stay in a small motel about 20 miles away. He had a fish cleaning table of sorts with running well water outside his house, and I'd make sure to pack some nice filets or catfish steaks from trotlining if we had a successful trip.
I've got another friend who has had a lease in one of the Real County river canyons for several decades now. He's got his own hunting camp set up out there and it's his escape on a thousand acre place. He's another one who uses a modified shipping container as his hunting camp, keeping a false front behind the locked steel doors of the container.
Once the steel container doors are open, there's a large picture window made of some 1" thick Plexiglas, a huge motel type floor air conditioning/heater unit, and a steel entry door. All of this is welded into a steel false front wall that's behind the container's doors. The AC unit has a steel cage around it.
This area is bad for folks passing through on their way from Mexico. You never know when some resourceful Coyote (the two legged kind) or some lost immigrants might stumble across your hunting camp. Like most folks, they'd be hungry and thirsty and most would be good folks but some would be thieves and so now deer hunters can't have an old time deer camp with a wood cabin and windows anymore, due to this problem.
So numerous folks I know either tow trailers out to their lease every weekend or have some sort of fortified container based cabin.
When you get a bit further west from Real County, things begin to get drier surface water wise. That's when you start hitting West Texas. I like that area that surrounds Real County, the parts that have lots of live water.
Neighbors are still few and far between in most places in those counties like Real. Ranching is the main business, with cattle, sheep and goats being the main stock raised. It's a semi-rough terrain, and other than grasses, most of the stuff that grows here has stickers or stingers and things to protect it. The rocks are rough and abrasive, as anyone who has done any river time on the Frio, the Dry Fork of the Frio or the Nueces can tell you.
Like most other parts of Texas, hogs are, of course, everywhere in this area. Likewise, wolves, coyotes and cats of various kinds (mostly bobcats but some mountain lions) keep the ranchers busy. Being on the Edwards Plateau, it's a rough geological environment that is the perfect terrain for rattlers, and we grow them large in Texas.
Although the various predators keep ranchers busy protecting their stock, it's the scorpion population that bugs me the most. I've told the story before, that'd we'd have a place there now on a high cliff with a beautiful view of the Dry Fork of the Frio River (not dry at all but a raging spring fed stream) but for the scorpions.
A little family humor about scorpions. We had another place my family would go when El Fisho Jr. was 3 and 4 years old. There were some scorpions there at this ranch, and were frequently encountered in the freakishly large family game room my friend's place had and in the boathouse out at his private lake. For whatever reason, El Fisho Jr. called them "scorpios" and not scorpions, and so we laughed and we've called them scorpios since then.
When I was a kid, when we'd come to my dad's friend's place on the Frio, sometimes there would be scorpions everywhere. Under the rafts and canoes. All over the skin and scuba diving gear. All over the front porch and on the ceiling.
You shook stuff out and swept and moved furniture and broomed the ceiling and you killed a bunch of scorpions and cleaned them up and then sprayed for them inside and out and then stayed at the cabin after it aired out for a day. It was bothersome but no real big deal. It would take about three hours but was no biggie in the scheme of things.
With today's modern pest control methods, I think you could keep 90% of the scorpions out of the cabin with very little effort.
The further west you get in Texas, or to me at least, the weirder the bugs get. Black crickets are seemingly everywhere, and I've seen and smelled their population infestation periods from one side of Texas to the other.
I once stayed in a motel in Ozona, Texas, which is pretty far out in West Texas towards El Paso from San Antone on I-10 West, and not really anywhere near Real County. And I digress.
Anyway the motel was in the midst of a tremendous cricket infestation/birth explosion. The Indian owners of the motel apologized at check in, and said that despite vacuuming the rooms multiple times per day, the crickets were everywhere in their rooms.
He went with us and they had special mats inside the doors and slippers for guests to wear in the room, because it was impossible to walk outside without stepping on multiple live or dead crickets. There were hundreds of thousands of them.
He again vacuumed up the twenty or so crickets that had appeared in the last several hours, he said. He lamented that for a month out of the year, the crickets were out of control.
I told him of several south Asian cultures that considered the cricket as good luck. He told us he himself was born in Asia, in India, and that in his particular area he was from that crickets were just bugs.
He then smirked and said "I must be a very lucky man indeed".
We laughed quite a bit with him over that one. I need to go visit his establishment again, although not in the August-September cricket infestation window time period.