Saturday, March 28, 2009

Two men and a bar.

Nah, I don't want any oatmeal for breakfast, I already had some fig newtons and beer.
-Merriwether, Sunday morning at the bar.

It's been far to long since I woke up fully dressed, all foggy and damp, and smelling of rotted cheese. Yeah, sometimes one just has to find a bar and cut loose!

This is not my beautiful house.

This is not my beautiful wife!

As winter turns to spring here in the borderlands white bass begin their yearly migration up the rivers and streams to their birth waters. The bass start their whoopee-run in late February-early March and go for maybe three weeks. During this time it takes little more than a line, a hook, and something shiny to catch your limit. As long as you are at the water when they are in the water you'll catch them.

So of course we missed them by one week.

The plan started out with a whole group of us paddling up the west fork of the San Jacinto river. Our launch site was Jesse H. Jones park (don't forget to fill out their permission slip) on Cypress creek. Our landing was at Edgewater park on the San Jacinto, just passed Hwy. 59. Between these two places a night would be spent on a secluded sandbar three hours of paddling upstream on the San Jac.

As usual, people canceled as life got in their way. In the end only Beau and I were able to go. Sucks to be all the rest because it was a perfect trip.

The trip down Cypress creek took us past many other fishers ranging from the shore-bound to families in nice power boats to a group of flyfishing kayakers. None had managed to catch any bass, but that didn't seem too take away any of their happiness.

An hour down from the Jesse H. Jones launch site Cypress Creek joins the San Jacinto. Beau and I stopped at the junction to stretch our legs and explore a bit. This spot was a favored campsite for Caddo Indians and the occasional arrowhead can still be found poking up from the dirt. We found signs of beavers, cows, deer, and coyotes but no arrowheads.

The San Jac's current was non-existent and the wind was at our back so we flew upstream in Beau's canoe (I don't think it has a name). Since we were making great time we finally had a chance to explore many of the tributaries that feed into this river.

One of several navigable tributaries.

In most cases our way up these small streams ended up blocked by fallen trees. However some opened up into large, secret ponds untouched by anyone else.

Large, secret pond untouched by anyone else.

We fished for bass in each of these ponds but still had no luck. However, alligator gar were constantly breaking the surface of the water then diving back down with a splash. I didn't have the proper gear for these monsters. Not time I'll be better prepared!

After five hours of exploring, fishing, and paddling we reached the sandbar that would be our manhome for the next twenty hours. This particular sandbar is the only one along the San Jac that isn't touched/trashed by people. No ATV trails lead to it, the water is too shallow before and after it for most power boats and it's too far away for any but the most dedicated/foolish paddlers...namely us. It is about 200 yards long and 100 yards wide of nothing but sand, scrub, and animal tracks. In other words, heaven!

Heaven. God is off to the left just out of the shot. He doesn't like getting his picture taken.

So, what do manly men do in heaven? Well, burn stuff, drink beer, fish, and tell tall tales (usually about the previous three things)! A campfire was made, venison sausages were cooked, a few libations were consumed and then it was time to bring out the fishing poles again! The bass were a bust so now catfish were the goal. Beau had a container filled with his secret, homemade catfish bait. This dark, foul mass contained the long-dead bodies of small fish, cheese rotted in the sun for months, and assorted other unmentionable ingredients. The smell was like a punch to the nose followed by three pints of tequila delivered straight to the stomach. As a chemist I've created some pretty loathsome smells in my time but Beau's bait was in a class all by itself.

Reaching the water's edge we were dumbfounded to see a small johnboat parked off the sandbar. The thing had a draft of less than six inches and he had made it all the way up to this point using only a small electric trolling motor. Happy greetings were tossed to him and his lady, then we continued our dumbfoundedness as we watched them reel in catfish after catfish including one as long as my arm (which is a very long arm, indeed). They were using shad and it was driving the catfish mad with hunger.

Sadly, Beau's bait wasn't nearly as effective. We both only had a few nibbles while the johnboat couple continued their haul of plenty. They finally left and Beau took his canoe out to the exact spot where they had been fishing. He managed to finally catch three catfish, though one was too small to keep.




Forks ready...

The remains.

After the feast came hours of poking fire with sticks, quaffing beers, and talk of the world. The only solution to the world's problems we could come up with is more people need to know how to do more stuff.

More fire, more beer, then bed. I'm not a big fan of tents or sleeping bags. This time I experimented with wrapping myself in poncho liners instead of a confining bag. Even though the temps dropped down into the 50s-60s I was plenty warm. I also replaced my tarp with a tent made of mosquito netting. It also did well though condensation was still a problem.

To a man this is a beautiful home.

Morning came shrouded in heavy fog (see picture at top of post). The original plan called for a breakfast of oatmeal but like most plans, this one was screwed up by the convenient availability of beer. Wonderful, wonderful brew of the gods...

Okay, truth be told I only had one beer with breakfast, but dang it was good!

Morning, with fog.

Beau had to be at work by 3pm so we figured we needed to be heading back downstream by 10am. The fog still covered the water when we said goodbye to the favorite bar, but that also meant there was no wind. The current was still very weak so we did have to paddle to move down the San Jacinto. Eventually the sun burned away the fog and brought up a wind. It kept us cool but blew against us as we headed downstream. It didn't become too troublesome though until we hit the San Jac/Cypress creek junction. There the river broadened out and was whipped into waves by the wind. Luckily it's only a short paddle down this section to Edgewater park (sidenote, it's sign on Hamblen road was blown down, just watch for the dirt road on your right just before the railroad tracks).

Beau's wonderful wife showed up a few minutes later and we loaded the canoe and gear into his truck (which I think also does not have a name (the truck, not his wife, she has a name)).

Beau and I were both pretty quiet on the drive back to his place. We are men, which means we don't need to talk. The river, the fire, the splash of the fish were our conversation. Words really couldn't add anything.

Adventure! Excitement! A bar of sand!


Izzy G. said...


Kelly said...

That looks like so much fun. We have the cnoes but haven't tried camping out of them yet.
You could be a river guide! You know all the best places.

Great trip.