. I told him that I was a pretty good caster and would be happy to give Annie a casting lesson if he had a rod in the car, since I had some time to kill waiting for my wife to return. He came back with a nice rod and reel all strung up and so the three of us went outside on the big lawn to cast it. I showed Annie the dynamics of throwing a line with no weight on the end; the ten o'clock, two o'clock arm motion with the hard stops at both ends to load and accelerate the line backward and forwards, forming the classic candy-cane loop you so often see in pictures of fly fishers casting. Then I placed the rod in her hand and held it there, moving it through the casting motion so that she would get a feel for the timing and the locked wrist and the hard stops required to cast the floating line. I moved her arm back and forth, back and forth, as the line formed tight loops that shot out over the grass, then I let go, the way you would when teaching a kid to ride a bike for the first time. To my astonishment she kept up the motion beautifully. She was a natural, and would be a fine caster some day. We worked on her stroke, making fine adjustments in the timing, with me correcting the usual mistakes of a floppy wrist or too much arm motion, weak stops, etc., as Annie's Dad looked on, camera in hand, a smile on his face and such pride in his eyes, snapping picture after picture of his daughter forming graceful loops in the air with the rod. "You're in the family photo album now," he told me. Annie was as delightful a student as she was delighted
. She was determined and she really enjoyed the challenge. After a half hour I told her she was casting well enough to catch trout and she pumped her fist in triumph. I knew she would have a good day out on the water.
Ilana got back at the end of the lesson and after introductions we took off for Riverside Park to enjoy Canyon Lake and the Guadalupe River for a couple of days. The Guadalupe River is the Southern-most trout stream in the United States. It was created with the building of Canyon Lake Dam. The cold, clear water released from the bottom of the dam created a tail-water cold enough to hold trout year round. So the San Antonio chapter of Trout Unlimited, one of the biggest such chapters in the country (of course), planted a lot of trout in there and grew a trout fishery where only sucker fish, bass, pan-fish, carp and catfish existed before. The fish grew fat on carp spawn and a rich diet of aquatic insects growing in the nutrient rich, limestone bottomed river. Some of the hatchery planted trout made it through one or more winters, growing big and strong and semi-wild. The largest caught in the river so far was 29" long, which is a state record and large for a trout anywhere in the country.
We found a place for me to fish the river which was only 3/4 mile from our campground. We carried my bike there and Ilana dropped me off to fish for the day while she went into town to the Outlet Mall
. I found a place on the river where a strong riffle spilled into a deep slot between limestone slabs. It was kind of treacherous wading because the bottom was so uneven and I could barely see it through the silty water in some places.
I fished methodically, casting my nymphs into the slot a little farther each time, covering all the water, then moving upstream several feet and starting the process all over. For an hour I fished this way, cast after cast without a bite, then something grabbed the fly at the end of a swing and in my surprise I struck too hard, leaving the fly in the fish's jaw and snapping my line. Ugh! That's a common mistake in that situation but it hurts just the same. Knowing now that the fish were there. I re-rigged and continued my methodical fishing through the run. In no time at all another trout struck and I set the hook more gently, solidly hooking the fish. It turned out to be a monster, the size of which most fly fishermen only dream about. It lept clear out of the water, it thrashed and peeled huge amounts of line off the reel again and again. I kept my rod tip high and struggled to stay above the fish and keep the pressure on him, wear him down, while moving carefully around the trecherous rocks, aware that one false step could dunk me and send me floating down the river. Somehow I stayed connected to the fish. I was fishing with my lightest pole and no fishing net so I had to get his head up and lead him into the shallow water near shore
. After about 20 minutes of struggle and seemingly endless maneuvering, I finally slid the tired trout into the shallows. The fish measured just over 20 inches against the rod and was a thick beautiful Rainbow trout in prime condition. It was the most exciting fish fight I have ever had. I could easily fish all year, in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and not catch another fish as magnificent as this one. It was a real trophy and a great moment. I fished the camera out of my shirt pocket and took the picture, then quickly unhooked the big Texas trout, grabbed it round the tail with one hand and cradled it gently under the belly with the other and took it into the deeper water, thinking it would take some time to revive the exhausted creature. To my surprise, the moment I faced it into the current and loosened my grip the fish flipped it's big tail and bolted back into the river. Wow, I could not believe it's strength and vitality.
I sat down on the bank and laughing to myself, celebrated the moment by removing and polishing an apple from my fanny pack. It was sweet and juicy and I savored it along with memory of the battle for a long while. It was to be the only fish I caught that day but the thrill of it was worth more than a hundred lesser fish. It was a thrill not to be forgotten.
We were on our way to the only trout river in Southern Texas, the Guadalupe, to camp and relax a while before heading on to Austin. We stopped in a little fly shop in the small and quaint Hill Country town of Guerne. Ilana left me there for a while while to cast rods and peruse the merchandise while she went out to explore the town. I found the one fly-fishing clerk went home early for the day so I couldn't test cast any rods. Then I met a nice looking gentleman in the fly shop who was also looking for the missing clerk. He was with his wife and daughter, Annie and he was very disappointed. While I was wiggling a rod he told me that they had booked a fly fishing float trip for tomorrow and he had wanted to buy Annie a casting lesson so that they could fish together on the float. Annie was a pretty blond, sweet sixteen, clear eyed, and wholesome looking, without any of the self-conscious shyness you usually see in kids that age. He didn't want to try to teach his daughter himself, feeling she would learn better from a stranger