A pond near my home has recently been stocked with Rainbow Trout. Neighborhood fishing ponds are frequently stocked in Texas through the winter months when the water is cold enough to support the fish. I got out today and thought I’d do a little fly casting. Arriving at the pond, I realized I would spend the entire afternoon trying to roll cast due to trees all around the pond. Further complicating my casting was 6-8 feet of vegetation around the perimeter of the water. So instead of fishing I chatted with a few fishermen, asking them how they were doing, and what they were catching fish on. One man who was spin fishing with a small super-duper lure told me “I caught my limit in about 30 minutes. I’m just catch and release fishing now. You’re welcome to fish right here where I caught mine.” I thanked him, and explained that I didn’t have room to backcast, and would probably come back later. Without even thinking about it, he handed me his rod and reel, saying “Well here just use mine.” What a generous and unselfish gesture. I took it, caught two trout in a dozen casts, visited a while longer, thanked my new friend and left.
I recently had an opportunity to visit Lake Livingston State Park. It was a day trip with family, and it was a cloudy, pleasant day. Between grill duties and visiting with friends and family, I was able to capture these pine cones with my phone. Have a good week!
One of my not-so-serious goals for 2020 is to catch a fish in each month of the year. I’ve been out casting a little bit, but bringing nothing to hand. So here I present to you my January fish, Mr. Largemouth Bass, about to choke on a wooly bugger I received in a fly swap.
I’m at Half Price Books, on a Sunday afternoon. I have just selected a journal which will contain the account of all my fishing for the next year or two. Before leaving, I make my way over to the two or three shelves containing fishing literature. I thumb through some John Geirach books, and they’re all ones I already have at home. Then I spot one, a hardcover copy of The Earth is Enough, by Harry Middleton – one of my favorites. The journal is seven dollars, so I put the Middleton book back on the shelf, something I think I’ll regret. I have exactly ten-dollars with me and don’t want to spend more than that. I have to set a limit for myself at this used bookstore or I am asking for trouble. I tell myself that I’ll come back in a couple of days and if it is still here, I’ll buy it. Maybe.
About the time I finish with the fishing books, a woman reaches over me and takes a book from the hunting section. I smile the kind of smile you give a stranger, which is slightly more than eye contact, but less than a greeting. As I am turning to leave, she says, “Excuse me, but are you a duck hunter?” No one has ever asked me that, so I say, “Well, I have hunted ducks”. She replies, “can you tell me anything about it, like how you do it?” I tell her that I have jumped tanks, and also set decoys. I explain the little I know about what each method entails. She thanks me, and tells me she is asking for her grandson, who is starting to duck hunt. She says her father was a duck hunter, and a quail hunter, too. She takes her phone and shows me a photo of her father, and the photo instantly reminds me of a photo I have of my own dad. She says her husband and her son have no interest in hunting, so all her father’s hunting equipment is going to her grandson. Guns, decoys, calls, everything. I resist the urge to ask her if her father was also a fly fisherman, and whether he might also have left a bamboo rod that neither her husband or son are interested in. Keeping my thoughts on fishing tackle to myself, I ask her if she knows what kind of shotgun she is passing on to her grandson, and she answers “Uhm, I think Beretta. Is that a kind kind of gun? I assure her that yes, it is a very nice gun.
Asking to see the photo again, I perform a quick mental comparison with the photo of my own father. Both men kneeling on one knee, with one hand holding the collar of a pointing dog, the other hand around the forestock of his shotgun. In the foreground, lined up in a neat row, are fourteen Bob-White quail. One short of a limit.
In February, 2019, I set a goal of reading 50 books before the end of the year. I found it to be a personally rewarding and enriching effort, although at times I felt as though I were reading just to reach my goal. I guess at times I was. How did I do? By the end of the year I completed 49 books.
Here is a breakdown by genre:
- 8 – Fiction
- 4 – Natural History
- 7 – Leadership Development
- 11 – Memoir / Biography
- 5 – History
- 1 – Texana
- 4 – Devotional
- 1 – Poetry
- 8 – Essays / Fly Fishing / Anthologies
A few of these could be classified in different categories. Some memoirs border on Texana, and history, for example.
Of note, if only to me . . .
Longest Book: Prairie Fires, a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder – 556 pages
Shortest book: The Classic Tradition of Haiku – 96 pages
Average Book length: 276 Pages
Most notable word discovered in 2019: Archipelago. Seriously, I read this word in a fly fishing essay, and then saw it everywhere in 2019. What is it? A group of islands, or a stretch of water with many islands. For example, the Indonesian archipelago. Now you know.
Favorite Authors: John Graves, Harry Middleton, Adam Makos, Nick Lyons
Favorite 2019 book: In That Sweet Country: The uncollected Writings of Harry Middleton. This is by the author of another favorite book of mine – “The Earth is Enough”. Through his beautiful prose, Mr. Middleton shows us fly fishing and the outdoors like no one else. One of the first chapters is entitled “First Fish.” Written in a way that is universally understood by fishing people everywhere because it is based on a shared experience, this essay sets the stage for the rest of the book. These are stories that have previously been published in magazines, but have never before been collected and presented in book form.
Least Favorite 2019 book? A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson. I saw the movie first, and thought it poorly done. So I thought the book must be better. Only marginally so. A walk along the Appalachian Trail sounds like an interesting read, but I couldn’t get past Mr. Bryson’s constant complaining about being surrounded by idiots. Part of the humor, I suppose, was in being a novice the trail, but it just sounded like a lot of griping and moaning. Some funny moments, to be sure, but I could have done without this one.
Here is my completed reading list for 2019:
- The Sea Wolf, by Jack London
- Leaders Eat Last, by Simon Sinek
- A Personal Country, by A. C. Greene
- A Higher Call, by Adam Makos
- The Great Alone, by Kristen Hannah
- Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
- Fool’s Paradise, by John Gierach
- True Grit, by Charles Portis
- Turn the Ship Around!, by L. David Marquet
- Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis
- Myself and Strangers, by John Graves
- God Save Texas, by Lawrence Wright
- The River, by Peter Heller
- Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
- Walking on Water, by Madeleine L’Engle
- The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan
- Flickering Pixels, by Shane Hipps
- 7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness, by Eric Metaxas
- My Dogs and Guns, by John Graves
- A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson
- Digital Minimalism, by Call Newport
- In That Sweet Country, by Harry Middleton
- Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers
- What it is like to Go to War, by Karl Marlantes
- American Buffalo, by Steven Rinella
- The Classic Tradition of Haiku, by Faubion Bowers
- At the Grave of the unknown Fisherman, by John Gierach
- Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance
- Surprise the World, by Michael Frost
- From a Limestone Ledge, by John Graves
- American Fire, by Monica Hesse
- Spring Creek, by Nick Lyons
- The Things they Carried, by Tim O’Brien
- On the Spine of Time, by Harry Middleton
- Over The Edge of the World, by Laurence Bergreen
- 7 Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness, by Eric Metaxas
- Spearhead, by Adam Makos
- If you Can Keep it, by Eric Metaxas
- The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom
- Talking with Strangers, by Malcolm Gladwell.
- Running waters, by Datus Proper
- The power of TED
- A Full Creel, by Nick Lyons
- The Feather Thief, by Kirk Wallace Johnson
- Rattlesnakes, by J. Frank Dobie
- Prairie Fires, by Caroline Fraser
- Muriel Foster’s Fishing Diary, by Muriel Foster
- Celine, by Peter Heller
- The Painter, by Peter Heller
On the last few days of a very generous break from work, I was hunting ducks and Sandhill Crane. Texas has some spectacular sunsets, and we were treated to an exceptional site, watching hundreds of cranes flying low and loud to their evening roost.
Hunting with my son-in-law, I bagged one duck, and he got a juvenile crane on Friday evening. On Saturday we each shot a teal and a Northern Shoveler. Hoping to go back for a couple of days before the season is over.
Instead of getting some much needed rest after church on Easter, I loaded up my rods, gathered my reels and fly foxes, said goodbye to my sweet wife, and drove two and a half hours to Grosebeck, Texas, to meet my oldest brother near a river in the Brazos drainage. The plan was to fish in the evening on a small pond that occasionally gives up some nice Largemouth Bass, then drive the next day to Round Rock, Texas to fish Brushy Creek for two days. The pond gave up exactly one bass, in the 40 minutes we had to fish it. I suggest that if you’re only going to catch one fish in an evening, one like this will do.
We left early the next morning for Round Rock, Texas, to fish a creek we’ve been wanting to fish for a while now. Brushy Creek is a tributary of the San Gabriel. It’s clear water flows for sixty nine miles, and flows right through Round Rock, Texas. In addition to many sunfish species that are abundant all over the state, this creek also is home to the Rio Grande Cichlid and the Guadalupe Bass, which is the State Fish of Texas.
When I was a teenager, my father took my brothers and me hunting. We spent the better part of opening week as a part of a larger hunting party in the pursuit of Whitetails in the Hill Country of Central Texas.
When my children were old enough, I took them hunting. Family friends who were the organizers of our hill country hunts invited the kids out to harvest does in the open country of North Central Texas. I sat in deer blinds with all of my children, teaching them how to look for wildlife, coached them when to shoot, and helping them field dress their deer. My children harvested as much deer as we could eat or give away.
Yesterday afternoon I was in the panhandle region of Texas, where I sat in a deer blind with my daughter and watched a few deer in the late afternoon and early evening sunset. My daughter took me to that deer blind. And just this morning, my son-in-law took me hunting. My children no longer need me to guide them, and in fact are now guiding me. This morning I harvested my first deer in thirty five years.How times change.
I’m 52 years old and have never, ever, shot a limit of any kind of game bird. And I’ve hunted a lot, albeit mostly in my youth. That changed today, after we settled in on the side of a milo field near Wichita Falls, close to where I grew up.
As it turns out, if you take copious amounts of shotgun shells and sit in a field with copious amounts of birds, the law of averages eventually works in your favor. I shot my limit and even got a few bonus Collared Dove that don’t have a bag limit.
An overall great day; A day filled with the companionship of brothers, sons, nieces and nephews, in-laws who are more like actual siblings, friends, an amazing meal of grilled Dove with so many sides I can hardly recount. Tomorrow afternoon will see another hunt, and my daughter will be joining us. Can’t wait to hunt with all my kids.
As sometimes happens in our family, we all descended upon Wichita Falls, where many of my clan still live, for a wedding shower. Since it was a ladies only shower, wouldn’t you know it, a fishing trip broke out. We actually talked about it in loose terms for a month, firmed it up 5 days before, and seriously planned for about 16 hours.
I’ve wanted to fish the tailrace below Possum Kingdom for a few years. My aim has been to hit the white bass run with fly rod in hand. We were a little early for the Sandies this year, and I plan on returning when I can.
The tailrace is accessible from Tx Hwy 16. This stretch of river is part of the John Graves Scenic Riverway. Mr. Graves was a beloved Texas Author, who, after learning of plans for more dams on the Brazos, went for one last canoe trip to say goodbye to the beautiful Brazos. There is still a lot of beauty on the Brazos, though. S.C. Gwynne wrote a great peice for Texas Monthly about Mr. Grave’s book, and you can read it here.
I fully expected the trip to be about White Bass and Stripers with a few trout mixed in. As the day wore on it was clear that trout were the main attraction, and the only tippet I had was some 6 lb mono that I use for warm water species, and a handful of dry flies. The heavy tippet was just too much for the trout, which were rising all around me most of the day. Everything else in my box was in the streamer family. No-one in our party caught any fish, but enjoyed a great day on the river, a 5 star shore lunch of ham sandwiches, Funions and oranges, and the fellowship of family. I couldn’t ask for more.
After a few very busy weeks at work I was able to hop in my pickup and make a visit to Childress, Texas. Childress is at the lower right corner of the Texas Panhandle, only a few minutes from Oklahoma. More importantly, Childress is where my daughter, son-in-law and my grandson live. Here are a few photos from this trip.
Yesterday morning I broke a twenty nine year streak of not hunting quail. It’s not that I haven’t done any kind of hunting through those years, and I’ve certainly had my share of fishing opportunities. It’s just that life has had me on a different track than the one of my youth. It was certainly time to get back into the field.
After an early morning stop at the bakery with my son-in-law, we donned the blaze orange and headed for a wildlife management area near the Texas panhandle. We were after Bob White Quail on a twenty eight thousand acre property, with more and better birds, according to the experts, than has been seen in over twenty five years.
Being dogless, we drove the dirt roads in hopes of finding a few coveys, flush them and go after the core of the covey, or pick up singles. Being late in the season, the birds have already been pressured and we didn’t see any from the road. The terrain was much more rugged than what I hunted as a teenager, so we had to spend a little time looking for areas we could get out and walk. We made a few pushes through some likely areas, and did hear a few birds calling, but didn’t see a single bird. All day. Bottom line: We were great conservationists, even if inadvertent conservationists.
It was the first time I have quail hunted in a long time, and if the birds were scarce, the stunning beauty and ruggedness of the land we hunted was not at all lost on me. We were walking in and around Mesquite trees, Scrub Oak, Yucca, Prickly Pear, Juniper, Cedar, Buffalo Grass, and Broomweed. We traversed canyons, meadows, hills, bluffs, and rocks. Lots of rocks. Add to that a beautiful blue Texas sky and a mild wind, and you have the makings of a great day of hunting. A great day – even if you end up being more of a conservationist than you intended. I’m already formulating a strategy for next year that will include more early season hunting. Believe me when I say, no birds were harmed in the making of this post.
This evening I have been preparing for a quail hunt. As I am organizing my shotgun shells, and removing the plug from my autoloader, I am reminded of just how long it has been since I last hunted quail.
If you told me when I was a teenager that I would have so long a gap in my bird hunting, I would have laughed. You see, I hunted a fair bit with my father. Dad had a few bird dogs; Pointers, mostly. He had an English Setter, once, but she was just a pup and he had no patience with her, so he ended up selling Bell, the offspring of a four time national field trial champion. But Sandy, a pointer, was his pride and joy. I remember Dad hunting with an attorney one day, and refusing a very generous offer for her. Dad politely declined, and the lawyer put his checkbook away.
I helped dad with his dogs. Helped in our kennel, and helped in the field. In fact, my first real job was working in Dad’s best friend’s kennels. I had probably sixteen gun dogs in my care, and spent two or three days a week in the field with them, in addition to hunting most weekends. We had no land of our own to hunt, but Dad always had something in the works with his friends. I remember him plowing fields for one man, in exchange for the rights to hunt and fish that property. Other times Dad would help someone paint a house for hunting rights. Even as a youngster, I understood we were sometimes hunting because of the kindness and generosity of others, and sometimes through the hard work of my father, who genuinely loved to walk behind his dogs and watch them work.
If I had known the last time I hunted quail that it would be so many years before I bird hunted again, I would have paid more attention. I would have captured a few more photos, and would have savored the meal of those birds a little more. But I didn’t know. That last trip was to have been a reunion of two families. Dad, my brothers and I were to meet up with his best friend and his sons for a weekend of camping and wing shooting in Olney, Texas.
Dad never made it to the hunt. Two months before we were to get together, I got a call at school. Details were sketchy, but Dad had suffered what was most likely a severe heart attack, and I needed to get home. My sister and I left our little school in West Texas and made the four hour drive, not fully knowing what to expect. Our apprehension was confirmed when we pulled into the long driveway, lined on both sides with cars. Dad never recovered from his latest heart attack.
After the funeral and some time with our family, my brothers and I pulled out Dad’s guns. We passed around two Remington shotguns, an 1100 and an 870, and a Springfield .30-06. In our parent’s bedroom my brothers and I had the following exchange: Mike said, “I’ve always liked his 870. If no one minds I’d like to keep it”. Scott was next with, “I would sure like to have his Springfield”. I finished, adding, “I was kind of hoping to have his 1100”. I can’t swear to the order, or the exact wording of that conversation, but I do remember standing there, looking tentatively at each other until we were sure each of us were equally satisfied with our choice. Hearing no objections, we shook hands and took our guns. To this day not one of us has expressed regret or asked to alter the arrangement. I’ve always been grateful to my brothers for that – the harmony and oneness of mind that we experienced that day. I still have Dad’s 1100. It’s a 12 gauge and is a pleasure to shoot.
We decided to go ahead with the hunt. Instead of enjoying time with our father, we dedicated the trip to his memory. A healing time together doing what Dad loved, and what each of us loved. More than the actual hunting, I remember sitting around the fire and talking. We talked about bird hunting. We talked about our lives, our plans, our careers. And we talked about Dad.
That was the last time I hunted quail. It’s been a long time since I have held the check cord for a gun dog. I haven’t yelled “birds in here”, or blown a whistle since that last hunt. I haven’t extended my arm to receive a bird, gently mouthed, into my open hand for twenty nine years.
Tomorrow morning I am hunting quail.
He never minded the cold, as long as he could dress for it. But dressing for it was tricky on the rolling Texas plains. Mornings were windy and frigid, and afternoons, though still windy, were sometimes a little warm. He wanted only one coat that would suffice all day, and he never liked to carry much when after quail: A jacket that wouldn’t impede the mount or restrict the swing of his French over/ under double – a gun he had purchased some 30 years earlier that he could not afford; something his wife had never let him forget. A hunting vest over the jacket, wool gloves with the finger cut off at the knuckle of the right hand index finger. He wore a wool hunting cap of plaid design with flaps that always started fastened tight around his ears and ended up tied over the top of his head at day’s end. One luxury he permitted himself, even though he begrudged the weight, was a thermos of black coffee and two ham sandwiches, wrapped in wax paper; the green Stanley thermos lying sideways in the bottom of his hunting vest.
He preferred light equipment to move unrestricted and he tended to move fast, which helped him keep warm. Since he was not following dogs as he did in his younger days, the pace always seemed quicker to him. But without the use of dogs, a covey flush was always startling. Watching a pointing dog and anticipating the flush was one thing. Having a covey explode under his feet as he stepped over it was another thing altogether. It always contributed to a mild nervousness that had the effect of keeping him moving.
Grey days were often the best hunting, for reasons he could not explain. Sunny days were more pleasant, and if birds were scarce he was known to take a nap after lunch if he could find a comfortable spot out of the wind and in the sun.
He sometimes hunted with a friend, but didn’t mind hunting alone. Conversation with a friend or re-living the memories of childhood hunts suited him equally.
He could hunt all day, usually on public lands since hunting private property had become a rich man’s sport. Starting time varied, but quitting time never did. He hunted until dusk, cleaned his birds by headlights, poured the last of his coffee (only warm now), and turned the old truck toward home.
My wife and I planned some vacation time in Lake City, Colorado in the summer of 2016. We were to stay with family, and although we didn’t realize it at the time, my brother and sister in law, Scott and Debbie, had booked time the same week at a Lake City cabin. After learning about this, Scott and I decided to revisit some water we had fished together some twenty years earlier. A reunion trip, of sorts.
So the plan was to fish. We’d start at 7:15 with breakfast at the cabin, which my sister in law so kindly offered to prepare. After breakfast, Scott and I would head to Big Blue Creek in the Uncomparghre Wilderness of Colorado in search of brook trout.
But the thing with plans, is . . they change. And sometimes suddenly.
About 8:30 the evening before we were to fish together, the cabin Scott and Debbie were staying in suddenly exploded. A propane leak that had been slowly and steadily accumulating under the cabin ignited, presumably by a pilot light on an appliance. After a tremendous jolt and flurry of insulation and lumber, and furniture, Debbie was picking though debris, trying to avoid the patches of fire, and calling for Scott who was in the shower, and knocked to the ground. They eventually found each other and stood in the front yard, watching the cabin shudder and smoke. Debbie in her pajamas, and Scott wearing a Texas flag dishtowel, until some kind neighbors showed up with something more suitable for him.
Lying on our bed, my wife and I heard the explosion from across the river. Of course, we didn’t know what it was. It sounded like a POP, not an explosion. And it certainly didn’t sound like anything you hear on television or in movies. Julie and I simply dismissed it as a curiosity until I received a phone call three hours later from Scott. “Brian, try not to alarm everyone, but we are at the medical clinic getting looked at. We’re okay, but the cabin we are staying in exploded tonight. We need you to come get us, and we need a place to stay”.
Try to tell everyone in the house that you’re leaving to pick up family members who were in an explosion without raising alarm.
It cannot be done.
After getting the okay to leave the emergency clinic, we made our way back to the cabin, where firefighters were picking through debris, and making sure all the flames were extinguished. Fortunately, since the roof of the cabin was blown up, then dropped back down, it effectively snuffed out the fire.
Scott and Debbie at first wanted to go straight back home to Texas, but soon realized they were in no shape to drive, and might be needed for an investigation of the explosion. So we piddled around Lake City, taking care of what we could.
The next morning brought a fresh perspective, and a willingness to stay in Colorado for a little while longer. At breakfast, Debbie and Julie decided they’d shop around town a little, and Scott and I made plans for an abbreviated trip to Big Blue Creek. Only a day and a half after that awful explosion, from which their lives were spared, we were driving up to the national forest trailhead at Big Blue Campground.
The prospect of some easy wading and lots of brookies lifted our spirits, and were were soon joking and laughing on our way up the mountain. In the middle of all the laughing and joking (neither one of us likes bugs crawling on us, and we’ll leave it at that) Scott did confide in me that the explosion was playing over and over in his head, like a tape loop.
The advice given us at Dan’s Fly Shop was to hike a mile from the trailhead then start fishing upstream. With the day slipping away and a strong desire to be in the water, we hiked about 15 minutes across the side of the mountain, then took a well used trail down to the valley floor.
Approaching the water filled us with a sense of things being right again, if even for a few hours. The past thirty six hours had been anything but right. The girls were in town engaging in some retail therapy, and we were where trout live, and soaking it in.
We stopped, took a selfie, rigged up and slipped into the healing waters of Big Blue Creek.
An examination of the cabin site clearly reveals how fortunate Scott and Debbie are to be alive today. They both wish to thank our ever present God for the safety and protection from what could easily have been a life ending experience.
A few times a year I am called on to spend a morning in the kitchen and feed my family. It seems rather symbolic to me, as it usually only happens when everyone is together for a holiday. Also, I think it might be just a welcome break for Julie. That being said, there are a couple of dishes I make and that my family seems to particularly enjoy. Here is how I make Huevos Rancheros (Ranch eggs).
1/2 large onion
1 can rotel tomatoes
Chicken broth or chicken stock
Salt and pepper
One can refried beans
Flour or corn tortillas
Grated cheddar cheese
- Start by chopping the bell pepper and onion.
- In a sauce pan sauté the onions and peppers in a little butter. Cook them until the onions are translucent.
- Add two cans of chicken broth, rotel and cumin to taste. Simmer on back burner while prepping the rest of the meal.
- Cook refried beans in a small pot and add some chicken broth to add flavor and to thin the beans a little.
- After ranchero sauce has reduced some it is time to prepare the eggs.
- Fry eggs in a little butter sunny side up or over easy. Scrambled would work, too, if you don’t like fried eggs.
Putting it all together:
- Sweat a couple of tortillas on stovetop burner or electric element.
- Place tortillas on plate, smear some refried beans on top of tortillas.
- Top the beans with the fried eggs, and ladle some ranchero sauce on top.
- Top with grated cheddar if you wish.
At 7:40 am I have had my coffee (and maybe a donut). While reading for a bit, I am interrupted by my daughter, who places my two week old grandson in my arms to hold for a while. No interruption at all, really. As he sleeps, I can see his eyes moving – dreaming, I’m sure. But what does a two week old dream of?
Today is Thanksgiving, and in a few hours this house will be buzzing with activity; bad jokes, hunting stories, games, lunch around the table (and if you’ve never eaten at a table with my family, it can get a little loud). Hollis just left for work early so he can be back in time for lunch. In the few quiet moments I have left before this house is fully awake, I don’t have to look far to find something to be grateful for:
For my Julie, who began a life with me over 27 years ago.
For family, who I can hear slowly stirring.
For friends who know me and love me.
For the saving love of Jesus who gave himself for me.
For parents who shaped me.
For a warm place to live
For always having enough.
For the newborn dreaming on my left arm.