Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Bros, Brews, and Bass on the Fly

My 2013 Memorial Day weekend was def one for the ages. My daughter, Savannah, and I drove to Dallas to see Taylor Swift perform at Cowboy Stadium on Saturday. Let me just say one thing about that before I move on to the fish. Perhaps you think you've heard LOUD before? Maybe you've fired a .500 Magnum Revolver in a closet. Or posted up next to the woofer stacks at a live GWAR concert? Mere child's play my friends. If you've not heard 55,000 toothy, pimply, brace-faced tweens screaming simultaneously as loud as possible for Taylor Swift in a closed-roofed, hermetically-sealed environment for five solid hours, you ain't heard nothin', Jack. I'd put that cacophony up against the Tunguska event any day. If my ears had a memory they'd need shock therapy to forget what happened to them this weekend. (It was truly an amazing performance, actually. Savannah and I had the time of our lives, just she and I. But my ears are permanently damaged, I know this much. Now, when tweens speak in my vicinity, the only thing I hear is a faint droning sound.)

       ^                                    ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^                   ^  ^
(Savannah, being quiet)           (55,000 deafening squeally tweens)    (2 normal quiet ladies)

On to the FISH!

When I got home on Sunday, Laura, my love, was visiting Santa Fe with her son Andrew who is home from college. Since she wouldn't be home till later Monday evening, I knew I had to find some fish to torment with my fly rods somewhere. I called my buddy Guy Wilkins.

"Hey, can you fish?"
"During a holiday?"


We left out at 5:30am and traveled to an undisclosed, TOP SECRET location in the Texas Panhandle. This is a private lake fed by a precious, rare, gin-clear Texas water source -- there's nothing like it anywhere near here, and I realize I am one lucky dawg to have permission to fish it. Don't ask me where it is. Your inquisitions will be futile.

Guy and I unloaded the kayaks and were putting in by 7:30am. He scored first. A frisky two-to-three pounder that succumbed to a mylar epoxy spoon he uses on his saltwater excursions. (It catches bass too, apparently!) I was still loading up my cooler on my yak when I heard a whoop out on the water, so I don't know exactly how big it was. Too far away. But Guy is honest as Abe and he says it was only 2 pounds. Looked all of three. Anyway, I gave him a thumbs up and I knew then it was going to be a killer day of fishing.

I poked a few more flies into my box and shoved off into the tepid drink a couple minutes behind my bud. If you've never fly fished from a kayak, know that it takes a few moments to get your equipment adjusted. If you move too abruptly to the left or right, your gear and tackle quickly become flotsam and jetson. If you wanna lose everything you own to the lake bottom, by all means try out your Zoomba moves the first few minutes you're bass yakkin'. Otherwise, take your time to get your bearings. This is exactly what I'm trying to do when I hear another non-descript whoop! 

Again already? I'm thinking. Here I am still fumbling for my camera and lashing my rod down and trying not to lose my paddle and about to open my fly box and doing my best not to get dead by drowning and before I've even pulled my polarized lenses down over my eyes Guy has already etched two notches on the bedpost. Listen, I love seeing and photographing other people catch fish, so I rejoiced that he's nailed a pair so quickly. But I know I def needed to get my gameface on at this point or else I'm gonna hear about it all day from him.

(BTW, just so you know, I'm not one of those competitive Neanderthals like other fish freaks who tally all my fish I catch (and yours too). I tend to lose count after 6 or 8. And I don't need to mentally weigh my fish against yours either. It's not my goal to make the day a dual between my bros and myself, rather than between us and the fish. Cool thing is, neither is Guy. He's as cool as a cucumber, and the kind of pal who's always quick to ask how I've been doing, how my kids are, what's Laura been up to, and how work has been going lately... it's why I dig fishing with him. He's all about the experience, not machismo.)

That said, when my bros are setting hooks and whoopin' it up on the water without me, I wanna set a hook and whoop it up just the same. So I know I gotta get my head in the game and get my fly on the water. After I get my butt unpuckered and throw four or five loops, I land my first bass of the day, an average 2-pound emerald green beauty, not big but energetic. It was windy, so it was tough on us old fellas. I decided to utilize the drift and cast technique, but wind + kayak (usually) = nap later in the day. Believe me, we earn our fish.

About this time I'm thinking how impressed I am that Guy has so easily taken to the kayak and is fishing from it as though he's done it for years. I know he's a yak virgin, but you'd never know it to see him. He is an accomplished angler. I get it. He's fished Oregon. Yellowstone. Belize. And lots of places in between. He frequents my favorite haunts like NM and CO, but he's gone places I've never been, and most likely will never go. His cast is a second-nature action of efficiency, intuition, and artwork. His well-rounded fishing experiences and skillset have coalesced into this effortless-in-appearance fluidity of unforced movement I've only seen a couple of other dudes possess with a rod in their hands. He reads the water and puts flies where fish are, but does it with a gracefulness and quietude I find refreshing.

Most of us are niche fishermen. I'm a medium-to-small stream enthusiasts. Put me there and I can usually catch enough trout to feed several dudes dinner and they won't need a desert menu. Some of you are big river geeks and one big trout a day is a success. I love that about you. Others of you are masters of the San Juan, or the Taylor (not Taylor Swift, but the Taylor River), or the Deschutes. I envy your conviction! Yet even more of you fly guys and gals are saltwater junkies, which in and of itself has a dozen offshoots or more. But, Guy is a chameleon caster, and does all of these things very well (unless he's just had his gall bladder out apparently, but even then he's better than most). If you're gonna fish, you might as well have good company and Guy is as stand-up as they come. (Coming Soon! Backpacking blogs with Guy, my son Wesley, and myself packing into the Cruces Basin. Stay tuned.)

The skinny on this TOP SECRET clearwater gem is to locate pockets of water where the milfoil (be careful how/where you say that) hasn't grown yet. There are plenty of these clear pockets in the shallows, and in the deep. Drop a fly, let it sink a foot, and retrieve. Bam! Repeat. The water is so clear fish can see a fly from 20 feet away or more. I used a common bass pattern with iridescent Flashabou that practically glowed neon in the water when it picked up the sunlight. It KILLED 'em!


Anyways, by noon-thirty Guy and I had bagged about 20-25 bass each. Each and every one a 2-3 pound carbon copy of the one before it. No lunkers. No runts. All twins. Oh yeah, and Guy duped one sunfish you coulda fed two people with. All in all it was one helluva fishing outing, a memorable Memorial Day, and we were home and tossing back a few brews in my backyard by 2:30pm, which gave us plenty of time to get back to our respective families, get cleaned up and do the holiday family supper thing.

I have to admit. I did take that nap after Guy left for home. I slept hard for about two hours when my phone buzzed and Laura had sent a text <Almost home!> with a picture of the mall on the outskirts of town. 5 mins later she was unpacking the Subaru and I was trying to wake up. She flopped upon the chair and we talked about our seperate weekends. We'd both done a lot. I'd driven 800 miles between Sat and Sun. I'd seen Austin Mahone, Florida Georgia Line, Ed Sheeran, and Taylor Swift all perform live. I'd walked no less than five miles. I'd been eaten up by noseeums standing in line for the show. I'd awoken at 5:00am and driven another 150 miles on Monday and fought the wind all day and plucked 20+ bass from a lake and paddled about two miles in the process. Epic Memorial Day weekend!

Finally, I'd like to personally thank every soldier who's fought and served for our country, allowing me the opportunity and freedom to have this incredible weekend. Thank you all.

About Mac

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I am W. Chad McPhail. I'm an outdoor/travel writer, book author, former English teacher, and Amarillo native. 

I spend my spare time traipsing around the mountains and streams of the southwest in search of wild trout with my family, friends, various freeloaders, and other flotsam and jetsan. I used to teach English & Creative Writing. These days I am a Right of Way field agent with Coates Field Service, representing Sharyland Utilities during the construction of a 345 megawatt transmission line from Hereford to Panhandle, Texas. I love exploring the outdoors, fly fishing, backpacking, camping, hiking, kayaking, and yes, writing outdoor and travel books and pieces. I am a field writer of flyfishing, backpacking, camping, and kayaking articles for Suite101.com. I have written many articles for magazines such as Southwest Fly Fishing, Texas Fish & Game, Rocky Mountain Game & Fish, ESPN.com, and more. I have co-penned three books with fishing buddy Mark D. Williams; Colorado Flyfishing: Where to Eat Sleep Fish, 49 Trout Streams of Southern Colorado, and An Introduction to Fly Fishing for Trout.