Brazos River 20-mile Trip

| October 28, 2021 | 0 Comments

BRAZOS RIVER PREFACE

First I have to preface this video with some facts. The flow was very low. In fact it was at the bottom of the range to even do a float – 50CFS. That means there isn’t a lot of fish slapping porn in this video, so if that is what you are expecting? Click away Click away.

INTRODUCTION

The Brazos River occupies a special place in Texas lore and in the history of the US environmental activism movement. That later fact is because of the 1950’s book GOODBYE TO A RIVER: A Narrative, by John Graves. For young viewers, this book is a snapshot of the Brazos before the dams that forever tamed it were imbedded. It is necessary reading for any fly fisher who is also interested in more than just catching fish, or the clothes on their backs. I would say it’s required reading for anyone who wants to call themselves an environmentalist. It is also credited with beginning a raising of awareness, and somewhat of a starting point for the modern environmental movement.

PART 1

Is it Fly Fishing, Paddling or Backpacking?

The answer to all three is yes! And that is what makes river trips – more than a day trip – extremely interesting and challenging. So let’s go over these individually.

On this trip, we did three days of paddling in slack water – flows were not there to help us travel, or to entice a fantastic fish count. We had a variety of kayaks, and no canoes. 

My kayak was not ideal. The old reliable Wilderness Tarpon 140 is a fast straight boat, but heavy, sits low, not agile, and not the easiest to load with gear or “drag” through low water spots. Thankfully, those “low spots” are mostly good clean gravel and hard rock. I think the ideal kayak could well be the Old Town 119 Sportsman Solo or the awesome newer Bonafide EX123 Expedition kayak. My overall opinion is: I need a shorter kayak with a virtually completely open cockpit (look at the Old Town 119 or the Bonafide). That is because I pack all my gear in easy sized dry bags that only contain items for one particular purpose – a tent and sleeping gear / a food and food prep bag / a clothes bag / a first-aid and hygiene bag and so on … If you have a long Devils River style portage, just pull the bags, and portage the boat and reload. Weight, the weight is what will kill you – whether it’s a long drag, or a massive portage. If you are running this same stretch, and the flows are the same, expect to spend more time paddling than you want to – and HAVE A GOOD PADDLE to do it with. Of course the travel weight will go down as the trip goes on. Two gallons of water in a collapsable cube became none, the snack food ran down, and I actually was underweighted because my friends were carrying a lot of the food supplies for the entire group (keep that in mind). 

The winds held off for almost two of the three paddling days, and  the nights were perfect temperature. We got lucky.

We also did two nights of primitive camping along the Brazos stretch from 16 Bridge to the takeout at Rochelle’s. The weather was mild and we had a long-term forecast of perfect weather – mild winds and no rain chances. That is a best case scenario for just about anywhere in Texas at that time of year. Weather is not just a factor, besides FLOW, it is THE FACTOR for a Texas River float. I have had plenty of weather misery in other settings, enough to know my misery does not love company. Thankfully, the Big Agnes tent I borrowed from my SO, worked perfectly in season 1 mode. That means, I took a risk and left the rain-fly behind, sleeping inside what is essentially a bug screen. Stars in – bugs out. HOWEVER, noises were more in as well, like snores from distant tents. NOTE: Get yourself some foam earplugs for your medical bag, and throw in a couple of “Nighttime” pain relievers for the knockout punch.

Besides the Big Agnes one person bug season tent, I had my own (now antique) 20-Degree Wiggy’s sleeping bag. The bag, (an insider brand) purchased in the early 1990’s, is still in perfect condition, does not stink, has no cold spots and zips perfectly. BUT, it is not as compressible as newer bags or down, and is way too warm for the conditions I found on this trip. I am looking for a good 50-degree bag with a wider footing area, and thinking in terms of a Marmot Nanowave 45 or 50 bag. Compression size has a lot to do with the final decision on my new sleeping bag. Then there’s the big fail: Against the advice of my SO, I took her Big Agnes sleeping pad without testing it first (it’s one of those inflatables). As soon as I blew it up on night one, it flattened right back out. Hello hard ground, and a soreness only cowboys riding the range can handle. Did I mention it was two nights? NOTE: Time for a new inflatable sleeping pad. I prefer inflatable ones because they are the ultimate in saving space. 

Fishing gear is a practical affair. A five weight would have been plenty, if I were able to purchase one for this trip. Unfortunately, the supply chain did not let me bank on a new Sage five-weight. The variety of species is pretty amazing though! So you may think in terms of AT LEAST a five and perhaps a seven to cut the wind and handle any lurking stripers. Yes, I caught striper ten miles down, huge sunfish, spotted bass, largemouth … not in volume, but still a fantastic smorgasbord of species. Six pound tippets should be plenty, and fluorocarbon for sink and mono for float. Topwater action came along in early and late hours, so don’t leave out poppers, and depending on the time of year – HOPPERS. You can run anything from a leech to Clouser to game-changer on subsurface, and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND Danny Scarborough’s small game-changers. I tied one of his on, and never took it off. It was the right size, in the right place at the right time. My other traveling buddies recommend leaving the flash OFF a Clouser in these waters, and I can see how that makes sense. The water has bouts of clarity, and these fish are pressured.

My conventional world did the most catching, because of wind, and one particular thing I had forgotten about: It is damn hard to fly fish from a kayak! And if you have wind or current twisting you around? Let’s just say it suddenly dawned on me; Eureka! This is why I sold my kayaks and love my skiff so much!

Conventionally, I was using a ultralight, and somewhat rare, Falcon 7’ BuCoo UL MS. Unless you can find and specifically target big striper on this stretch? This Falcon or the 6’ ML version could be all you need. I ran that rod, as I typically do, with a saltwater Florida Fishing Products 2500 Osprey (slightly too large) spinning reel. Fifteen pound FFP braid was perfect, but I did have problems as I continue to learn about braid and using braid. So be prepared with extra 10 or 15-pound leader material. At one point, I had to cut away leader and line – due to my ineptitude, and had to tie my lure straight to braid. The lure continued to perform – catching fish – just as it did with my leader before.

About the only fish I didn’t see? That would be carp, and I only saw one buffalo, and foul hooked that one at about twelve pounds. For all the variety, there were certainly a few missing species.

My idea of how this stretch works well is; when there IS flow, the fish come up and out of the holes, into the vegetation along the edges, and search for bugs that are washed free, or kamikaze falling off newly submerged bushes and small trees. Without that higher water, the strategy lies in the eye of the beholder. Submerged rocks, shelves, overhangs and the bottom of chutes were spots I gravitated to, but there were plenty of pools with deeper water and less character. I left those behind pretty quickly, picked up the paddle and made time. Remember the percentages: This was mostly a paddle trip.

I cycled through several conventional lure styles, but the one that I settled on mirrored the size bait I was seeing around. It was a Road Runner – Slab Runner Baby Shad in blue over white. The more I dragged it across rocks, the deadlier it was. This little thing was so good … I never took it off either.

SETTING UP CAMP

The journey was broken down into two overnight stops. One at about eight miles and the second night about seven miles further downstream. Your camping spots require forethought! There are not a lot of set spots, and staying on a mound of rocks in the middle of the river has some downsides. Staying in well-worn shore spots has downsides as well, like a building accumulation of human feces running along back behind the camping spots … you’ve been warned. IT’S BAD. And it’s completely unnecessary. Take a trowel and bury your waste people. What do you think happens the next time they open the flood gates? Ewwwww. 

At this time, fires are allowed, and who doesn’t like a practical campfire? Don’t forget coffee – especially if you are the only one who’s addicted to it! Our coffee came from an Aeropress, and I recommend it for quality of coffee and ease of use and cleaning. This group didn’t skimp on food, and I was the quiet consumer of their culinary skills. Don’t you just love it when that happens!

Having never been on an overnight river trip, never on the Brazos and never taking out at Rochelle’s – I was probably most nervous about Rochelle’s because I had little idea of how the business of shuttles, parking, and usage worked. Rochelle’s is a finely tuned machine, a money-making machine. Just play by their rules, and add your own rule – leave nothing that is “liftable” behind on your trailer or car – if you are parked there overnight.

Your Best Times To Go?

How can I say this? WEEKDAYS. WEEKDAYS. WEEKDAYS! By the time we ended at Rochelle’s on Saturday, vans full of Boy Scouts, now called People Scouts, were arriving. And the last mile of our paddle was overrun that day, with aluminum canoes raking over rock runs and portages, slamming and slapping paddles … seemingly as loud as they could possibly be. Word to Scout Leaders: Teach silence. Please. Have these people learn to listen and hear, something, anything besides themselves. Your noise is an intrusion into my imagined seclusion. 

https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/edit?mid=1aksJnqf7zlR1HawkjtKqmy94UmavyEjL&usp=sharing

CHECK OU THE AEROBEE COFFEE PRESS! I was impressed and will own one of these before my next overnight!

A SPECIAL DEBT OF GRATITUDE TO MY NEW FRIENDS

Thanks goes out to Mike, Jess, Chris and last and certainly not least Easton! Easton – You’re the MAN! These guys are experienced, and that helped me a lot, as there were so many new things to balance at once! It’s nice to know what’s around the next corner.

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Category: Adventure, Body-Mind-Soul, Conventional Spinning Rod Reel Fishing, Culture on the Skids, Destination Fly Fishing, kayaking, Life Observed, On The Water, Spinning Rods Reels, TECHNICAL, Technique

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I write. I photograph. I fish, and I live.

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