Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Some friends of mine just got back from a long hunting trip out in deep West Texas. Isolated deep West Texas.

We do have mountains in Texas. Yes, mostly they pale in comparison to the size of mountains in other, more mountainous states. But it's a mistake to think all of Texas is flat.

I'm not giving away any secret locations here, but if you're between San Antonio and El Paso, you eventually come across a small town called Ozona. If you head south from there, you're headed more or less for the Mexican border. But before you get to the border and The Rio Grande (as well as Lake Amistad), you've first got to cross the territory south of Interstate 10 crossing the Pecos River and the Devil's River before reaching the Rio Grande and/or Lake Amistad.

Anyone who has read this blog for any time knows that I'm a big fan of both of these rivers, the Pecos and the Devil's. They are crystal clear and are the closest thing to "the old days" before I was born when rivers ran thick with fish all across the nation. 

These rivers are as pristine as you're gonna find anywhere in the states, if not the world. I'm sure there are more pristine sites in the world than the often called "no man's land" in and around these rivers, but I know there aren't that many better and cleaner than these two river systems.

I believe that the Devil's River has been pronounced as the cleanest river in Texas for some years now.

It's tough country. One authority who has often canoed and kayaked the Devil's River says the vegetation in the river basin is always sharp or abrasive and it sticks or cuts and is designed to make animals not want to eat it or mess with it. 

Same with all the rocks in these rivers and around the rivers. They are abrasive and tough, and the smoothest ones are like sandpaper. In other rivers with other kinds of rocks, it seems eons of water flowing over them makes them smooth.

There's lots of snakes out there. Mostly rattlers. I've seen some enormous rattlesnakes in all kinds of places in Texas, but the biggest snakes I've ever seen were in the West Texas deserts, usually sunning themselves on a paved road. 

Wild hogs and possibly javalina abound as well. The hogs out here are tough, and they're mean and hairy and I've found them to be a bit on the tough side for eating when compared to hogs found to the east of them. Porcupines can be found near the rivers, and large rats the size of big raccoons are not infrequent around hunting camps in the area. Skunks, of course, are always a problem for the outdoorsman who is out before dawn or after dark.

Mountain lions can be found and bobcats are very common in this area. Many trophy deer come from this part of Texas, and it's for that reason that my friends went with the leaseowner last week on a big hunting trip.

The leaseowner has had a lease at this place on the Pecos River for nearly 20 years, and apparently the owner is selling the land and thus a great deer lease is coming to an end.

The camp my friends visited, although well used year round by it's leasees, had rat poop everywhere inside and outside of the cabin.  Although the well water was filtered, it was still "filthy and stinky and nasty and gassy and bubbly" according to one of the guests. He was glad they brought drinking water.

It's a remote area. No one lives out there. The leasees on this deer lease contract with an air ambulance out of Kerrville, many miles away in Central Texas, in case of bad medical issues. Problem is, to make that call for that ambulance, you've literally got to climb a certain mountain near the deer camp just to get cell service, and apparently it's just that one mountaintop that works.

I think I'd rent a sat-phone next time I go out there.

So their adventures didn't stop there. One of the guests, a veteran deer hunter if there ever was one, found the hunting great, as did the other guests on the trip. Their lease overlooked the Pecos and had some huge amount of frontage on the Pecos River and surrounding canyons and mountains.

But to get to the Pecos River and the canyon it was at the bottom of, you had to climb UP a fairly steep mountain road, and then DOWN an even steeper mountain road to get into the canyon where the Pecos runs.

They had to do this many times, apparently, as you might shoot a deer or hog or goat across one of these canyons then spend a few hours getting to it.

My friends said they now understand why the leaseholder drives a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon as opposed to a regular Wrangler Unlimited. The extra drivetrain features and gearing of the Rubicon apparently make all the difference in the world in the canyons and on the mountains in West Texas over what would otherwise be a heavy duty 4wd vehicle. Word.

The Pecos and Devil's river systems are dear to me for other reasons. They are two of the few places in Texas where the temperature is cool enough to support smallmouth bass, and both rivers also support huge populations of catfish, largemouth bass, various panfish and perch and crappie, gar and several other species. These rivers are gin clear and spring fed and cold.

Since smallmouth bass are not native to Texas, someone stocked them somewhere in the Pecos or Devil's or perhaps in Lake Amistad. They are found throughout both rivers and Amistad and few other places in Texas sport the cool water temperatures they require. 

As a kid, we fished in the Pecos on a West Texas vacation and I have great memories of that and other West Texas creek and river fishing. Water is scarce in West Texas but in isolated places like around the Devil's and the Pecos, the fish populations are tremendous and there is little fishing pressure in most places on these rivers.

As a kid on vacation in this area, we found several large creeks that had great panfish and catfish fishing, just fishing at low water crossings.

As I said, it's tough country. Many of the few residents that live here don't care much for outsiders and it's not unheard of for folks in the recent past to shoot at those in canoes, rafts and kayaks  on the Devil's River. 

It's the desert, and these two rivers are each an oasis in the desert. All forms of animal life come not only to the water but to the vegetation that grows around the water.

Getting back to the deer lease story from last week, to get to it, you drive south of I-10 about 50 miles and then it's about another 30 mile trip on what is mostly a really poor so-called dirt road, and a big chunk of the so-called road involves traversing a path, more or less, that lies at a 45 degree angle on the side of a mountain several thousand feet in the air.

For some distance in your vehicle. My friends found this to be VERY SCARY.

Obviously, my friends did not care much for that part of the trip and for that reason alone, said they would never make the trip again, even though the hunting was fabulous.

One of these fellows is a serious outdoorsman and hunter. We'll call him The Hunter. He lives for gun and bow deer season every year and hunts birds just to do some kind of practice for deer hunting. He said it was too tough for him.

The Hunter's own deer lease is a few hundred miles away from The Pecos River, over towards Laredo. His lease is in the desert as well, but more in the South Texas desert,  and the only water in those areas is pumped from the ground into concrete and earthen tanks that sit in the middle of nowhere. So for The Hunter to be overwhelmed by the toughness of the area really says something about how tough it is out there.

Let me put this in perspective. The place where The Hunter has hunted for 20 years is, as I said, in the South Texas desert. Big spiders, scorpions, rattlesnakes and other vermin abound. The Hunter, during bow season, has laid in a ghillie suit in a hole he dug in the ground to spring up and shoot a deer.

The Hunter is a serious hunter. He studies scents and camo and deer vision and smell and all other sorts of arcane subjects that can affect deer hunting. So again, for him to find the Pecos River lease "tough" is interesting.

Because of all this talk of the Pecos lease trip my friends have been having this week and showing pictures from their iphones, it's making me really want to go fishing on the Pecos right now.

The place I want to go involves driving on a rough road but nothing like the one my friends drove on. It's in the same general area but a few miles up the road. I'm not much for mountain roads at a 45 degree angle. My days of stupid adventures like that are o.v.e.r. I like safe, controlled adventure now.

I'd love to have a tract of land out in this area, something overlooking the Pecos and with access to it in some semi-non-dangerous manner. Most of the tracts out in West Texas are in big numbers, so big that they measure them in sections instead of acres, but occasionally land does get sold in smaller tracts.

Of course, in this type of area, you have to also find property that has access to electricity. You have to drill your own well, or be lucky enough to have a live spring or creek on your property that can be purified and treated. You don't have to do much treating of the water, just for various natural bacteria and such, because the water here is some of the cleanest that can be found, coming forth through limestone rocks that filter it pretty well.

You can also have a cistern that can be filled with a water truck or by a water trailer like my friends in Minnesota do at their summer cabin. They own and tow a huge water tank full of water up to their cabin and park it and pump it right into the house through a filter.

You want any land near a river out in West Texas to be HIGH above that river. Really, that's a good rule of thumb for everywhere near a river, I suppose. But on the Pecos or Devil's Rivers, you want to be looking way down at that river, as they've been known to have tremendous floods at times.

You also want to be out of the line of natural drainage for when torrential rains hit the high parts of the area, because of course, water flows down.

A container or series of containers would be the perfect cabin for this area. Containers are damn near break in proof, and certainly rat proof. I talked before about some pretty nice hunting cabins I've seen made of containers using a false front inside the container doors.

You can weld several containers together and have big ole' picture windows behind those steel doors for when you're at the cabin. Or a small garage to store ATV's or motorcycles or bikes or whatever.
You can bolt them to a poured foundation or a heavy duty wood or steel frame.

This is really no man's land. If you saw the movie No Country for Old Men, that's the general look of much of the area.  Not a whole lot of people live out there, and I guess that could be a reason it's a somewhat common traffic corridor for illegal immigrants and smugglers from Mexico. As I've said before, along with the immigrants comes bandits and coyotes and kidnappers looking to do harm to the immigrants. You don't usually have to worry about the immigrants but you do have to worry about those who are there to prey on them. 

It's a haul from the the part of Texas where I live just to get out there on the freeway. Then it's another haul down a state highway to get to a dirt road to ultimately end up near the Pecos. But all that driving is worth it when you hook a feisty smallmouth on super ultralight fly or spinning tackle, as you stand in or near chilly and crystal clear water and breath fresh, unpolluted air.

And at night, of course, you can see zillions of stars.


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