11 August 2013

Documenting the Texas Drought at Amistad Reservoir

On Wednesday 7 August 2013, the Texas Parks and Wildlife facebook page made a post asking Texans to help document how the drought is affecting Texas daily.  I looked at a few of the pictures, and even for Texans, if one has never been to the photographed area, the frame of reference is understated.  Having a passion for Lake Amistad Reservoir and visiting it annually, allow me to demonstrate 61 feet below normal. For the dam and the Diablo East Boat Ramp, I was at the same latitude, just the east-west position changed.

Amistad Reservoir Dam, 2009
Amistad Reservoir Dam, 2013

Diablo East Boat Ramp, 2010
Diablo East Boat Ramp, 2013

RR/Hwy 90 Bridge, 2009
RR/Hwy 90 Bridge, 2013

Pecos-Rio Grande Confluence, 2009
Pecos-Rio Grande Confluence, 2012

Mexican Church, 2010

Mexican Church, 2012
Mexican Church, 2013

Satan Canyon is located up the Devil's River Arm, west of Slaugther Bend and Indian Springs.  In 2011, we are 135 feet farther into the canyon than in 2012.  There are no 2013 pictures because it is has no water.
Satan Canyon Mouth, 2011
End of Satan Canyon, 2012

End of Satan Canyon
4" of water, 2011

We fished San Pedro Canyon for the first time in 2010.  It is waterless, today.
San Pedro Canyon, 2010
Fishing San Pedro Canyon, 2010

San Pedro Canyon, 2013
The bridge is a dive site
Lowrey Springs Canyon, located on the eastern side about halfway between Rough Canyon Boat Ramp and Slaughter Bend has no water in it today.  We slayed the Sunfish in here in 2011. 
Lowrey Springs Canyon, 2011

What we deemed Bonsai Island farther north of Lowrey Springs Cove and on the west side of the Devil's River Arm is as far north as can be traveled by boat, today.  The "lake" water is 2 feet in depth.
Bonsai Island, 2009
Bonsai Island, 2012

Bonsai Island, 2013
Cody Bell is just beyond the grass
This former ranch along California Creek in the Castle Canyon area is a dive site, and is typically completely submerged.  Notice the boat tie-off rope around the home's arch and the weighted box in the very foreground.
Popular Castle Canyon Dive Site 
Entire Area is Typically Submerged

10 August 2013

Kayak Field Testing--Frontier, Slayer, and Ride 135

After such a difficult year working on improving Cody Bell's health and adjusting to the fact he is diabetic, we have begun fishing again.  We still have doctors visits and tests and medical bruhaha to work around, but fishing is playing a prominent role in our recreational lives again.  With that said, there are many places we want to fish regularly, that we don't, because I don't have an appropriate vessel.  I still have and love my 17 foot Mohawk canoe that I received when I was in the third grade, but if it's not loaded properly, any kind of wind blows me off kilter.  I have a sit-in, touring kayak which is a worthless fishing vessel.  Oktoberfisch trips find me using Cody's Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 and Cody using his pontoon boat.  Unless someone else is rowing the pontoon boat, I do not like that rowing motion nor the slower rate of speed--asking for Kevin Hutchison's forgiveness.  I grew up in canoes and kayaks, and that is the river mode of transportation for me when I'm the captain.

I'm short, really, really short for the angling world.  I have necessities that others would not give a care about, so I set out with criteria that a sit-on-top kayak must have for me.  Then, I narrowed my search, and so, after reading, watching others in their kayaks, visiting on-line forums, and perusing kayaks every time I was in an outdoor store, it was time to begin field testing.  I can not say enough how important the field test is. 

Cody bought his kayak from Mariner Sales in Dallas; they bring kayaks to Fly Fish Texas; they have spoken at the Dallas Fly Fishers' meetings, so it was time to give them a try.  After talking with Mike, we went into the store for a "visual" visit.  Mike listened to my laundry list and showed us kayaks fitting my needs.  Then, we arranged for a field test at White Rock Lake on Thursday evening, and yes, I brought my boat bag and 2# fly rod, which is only 7'3".

Originally, I was considering Bass Pro Shops Ascend FS128t, but after looking at YouTube videos, reading reviews, and getting feedback on the Texas Fishing Forum, I axed it from my repertoire.  I finally decided on a Nucanoe Frontier, Native Slayer, and Wilderness Ride 135.  I did not have much respect for the Frontier, but I trusted Mike's knowledge to give it a try.  Hands down, I thought the Native Slayer would be the kayak I loved, and the Ride 135 would be a close second.  Field tests are important; accurate field tests ensure money is spent well, and as long as I keep my vessels, I don't want to regret my purchase.

Nucanoe's Frontier

Native's Slayer

Wilderness Systems Ride 135
On a scale of 1 (being the best) to 4 (being the worst), this is how the kayaks rated for me:

Stability--Frontier 1, Native 2, Ride 3, Ascend 4 due to inferior polymer plastics being used and the deck buckling when anglers stand on the deck, which is what ended Ascend's further testing for me.  I rocked, turned, walked around in the Frontier, and it is not turning over.  The Native was stable, but not as stable as the Frontier, but I don't think there is anything as stable as the Frontier.  I changed the Native's seat setting from the lowest to the highest.  My fly became entangled in two abandoned bait lures on a tree stump.  From the squatting position, I unhooked all three.  With the Ride, it's rocky, tipsy especially upon standing.  It was a little windy, and so I was back casting, and the kayak transmitted and amplified every bit of my body motion to the water.  I paddled all three from both the standing and sitting position.  Each paddled nicely from the SUP, but, interestingly enough, NONE of the three had a stand assist strap, but the Ascend did.

Paddle and rod stowage--Frontier 1, Native 2, Ride 3-
The Frontier's ability to stow the paddle and pick up the rod and vice-versa was effortless.  The Native required some juggling on my part as to figure out what would work best as to paddle placement, but it did have a nice groove for my rod tip to fit in safely when I'm shooting some rapids and want to safely stow the rod; the Ride was terrible.  I Aggie engineered sticking the paddle in between the seat back strap and boat body, while the other end just trailed in the water.  Using their rod holder, in no way, shape, or form was my rod tip protected, and I did break my 8# rod tip on the South Llano River while in the Tarpon 120, so yes, it is an issue, even with TFO's wonderful, no-fault guarantee.

Tracking and maneuverability--Ride 1+, Native 2-, Frontier 3- 
The Ride is a kayak first and fishing vessel second.  It moves in the water as a kayak should.  Not quite the feel of a touring model, but not far from it.  The Native maneuvered more like a canoe than a kayak, and with the winds blowing, turning into the wind and beginning to paddle head-long was stiff and cumbersome at first, with it never moving into that gliding feel. With the Frontier's superiority in stability, sacrifices are made in maneuvering, and the 14 foot version needs a longer paddle than the regular kayak paddle.  The Frontier is a tub to paddle.
Native Slayer

Seat comfort--Frontier 1+, Ride 1, Native 1
All three kayaks had a comfortable, elevated seat.  All three had easily adjustable seats, and I adjusted all three while standing up in the boat on the water.  The Frontier's seat is a condensed version of a bass boat's trolling seat and it can be a tandem kayak as well.  The Ride does have a seat choice, and the fancier one is what was in the boat.  The seat bottom can be adjusted to different heights providing support and relief to the thighs.  The Native's seat is a nice version of a stadium seat.  

Deck cleanliness/clutter-free area--Frontier 1, Native 2, Ride 3---
With the Frontier's width, there is a lot of room to cast and little for the fly line to entangle.  The Native had a nice deck area, provided the kayaker does not put a lot of stuff there--the molded drink holder is in the deck area and so is an option for mounting a depth finder or gps.  Someone dropped the ball at Wilderness in this department.  The deck area is poor--poor footing, poor stability, poor comfort.  The problem is that the best casting area is covered by the seat.  Yes, the seat can slide all the way back, but then, I am a good 7 inches away from the pedals, which are on a short runner, but there is more room for a longer runner.  If the seat is not back all the way, the molded deck makes for uncomfortable footing, and the seat greatly rubs against the backs of the calves, which really annoyed me and rubbed a spot on one leg.
Wildnerness Systems's Ride 135

Dry storage capacity--Wilderness 1, Native 2, Frontier-3
Wilderness has easily accessible dry hatches at the bow and at the seat with a convenient latch system that is a great improvement from the canister twist lid.  Native has a front cowl hood additional purchase accessory that will keep gear somewhat dry, but tent, sleeping bag, change of clothes must be in waterproof bags before being stowed in the front.  Frontier has a small bow storage area, but I don't see my one-man tent fitting in there, much less my sleeping bag.  Dry storage bags are a must.


Other idiosyncrasies:  Of the Native kayaks, the Slayer is one of the few Native models that does not have an anchoring system.  The included wheel at the rudder does not quite make sense to me.  I can only see its positioning working if one person is loading the kayak on top of the carrier, and the kayak is at the 45 degree angle. With that said, when the one person has the kayak in that position, the wheel makes it easier for the kayak to roll back, while the person walks around to pull the kayak up onto the carrier rack from the front.  It comes from the factory with the wheel on; it can be removed, but once out, will never securely fit again.  The Ride's rod holder is pretty much useless if the seat is all the way back, which is where it needs to be to access the best deck surface.  The Frontier's stability is a trade-off for a lot of other options.  Without the tandem seating, there are no foot pedals, and their molded deck grooves did not really work well to serve the purpose as a molded foot pedal.

The field test has led me to want to try a Jackson and Diablo Chupacabra, and, possibly, a Freedom kayak, but I'm not so sure about those fold out stabilizers.  No one kayak is going to have everything, and the field testing has led me to understand I will be making sacrifices.  I just have to decide what I can't live without and what I can sacrifice comfortably.

08 August 2013

Lake Athens

A fellow Dallas Fly Fisher gave a pretty positive report on Lake Athens last week.  Now, we thought his numbers of 140+ fish with many Sunfish weighing over a pound exaggerated, but Cody and I thought we would give Lake Athens a visit.  Originally, we were going to fish on Tuesday, but the winds were 15-20 mph, so we put off our trip to a calmer day, today.  We have fished Lake Athens once before and enjoyed the day there, and today was just as fun!

Bluegill Fun on a 1#
We got on the water at 8:30 a.m. and left at 13:30.  22 fish were brought on the boat, so our numbers were not nearly as high as our fellow DFFer, and while we landed 18 nice Sunfish, none were over 1/2 pound. The two Largemouth Bass weighed in under 1½ pounds.  The GirlieBugger caught 21 of the 22 fish; Kevin Hutchison's Swamp Monster caught the other one.  We fished fly patterns in chartreuse, red, green, and a blue/black combination with no luck.  Black was definitely the color of the day!  Early in the morning, we fished floating lines with a 9-10 foot leader/tippet set-up, but once the ambient temperature reached above 85°F, hook-ups dropped off.  Cody switched to a sink tip line, which proved to be the most successful, because he caught 12 of the fish and had two catches to my one.  We fished northwest of the bridge near the marina along the edges of the hydrilla beds with great success in the morning.  Then, we moved to the shoreline across from the marina boat ramps starting at the little creek and fished all the way to the pump station zone.  While we found some nice Sunfish around the beds, shadowed areas from home owners' boat docks held the larger Sunfish.

After we finished fishing, we boated around to see the lake.  Hydrilla beds have choked most of the coves rendering some inaccessible, and while the lake levels are down, there are still many fishing spots all around.  Fish, not carp, either, consistently crashed the water eating the large dragonflies.  There were very few boats on the water, so crowds were not a problem, and we enjoyed the added bonus of seeing two different flocks of Canada Geese.  Lake Athens is a nice, friendly lake with great fishing spots, especially for Sunfish on small 1 and 2 # rods!

Cody's Largemouth Bass
Bluegill Fun
One of Cody's Two, Large Redear Sunfish
Redbreast Sunfish
Canada Geese

10 July 2013

Amistad 2013, Castle Canyon

Our last day of fishing was delayed, because we had a second flat on our boat trailer.  Fortunately, after Monday's flat, Cody ordered two new tires from the Goodyear place in Del Rio.  Unfortunately, while on our way there, the tire blew about two blocks from the store.  We gimped in, and went to lunch while they put the two new tires on the trailer.  The tread was still quite deep, completely hiding Lincoln's head, but they were old, nine years old.

Having taken care of that minor problem, we set out for Diablo East to go to Castle Canyon.  Cody had many dive spots that are now exposed, and so he wanted to visit them.  After seeing an old ranch, we stopped and fished off of a protruding rock.  Cody snorkeled the area and saw a few fish, and several crashed the surface, but there were no takers on our flies.

We purchased Mexico fishing licenses, so today we put them to use.  We fished the Burro, and while the waters were deep, nothing took our flies.  Nothing came out of the many caves, nothing from fishing heavy sinking lines, nothing from fishing top water poppers.  We moved farther back into the cove, and we finally saw some fish, small ones hanging near hydrilla beds.  We fished those quite heavily, and finally it was FishOn!  I had a carp, which spit my fly about 30 seconds into the hook-up.  Unfortunately, that was the only fish of the day.  With Mexican regulations allowing for the trolling of bass, it would probably be better to fish the Mexican side farther up river.

09 July 2013

Amistad 2013, Good Enough Springs

It was a long day, today with lesser than usual time to fish.  To access up river, the Diablo East Ramp,
et. al. are the put-in points, since the Box Canyon Ramp is now closed. We wanted to go to Good Enough Springs and check it out, curious as to what we would see.  Along the way, Cody GPS waymarked each channel marker he had not previously marked.  We discovered a rancher's stock pond, and of course, the old Catholic Church on the Mexican side.  We had a strong tail wind, which meant it was going to be a rough headwind on the return trip.

While nothing like it was prior to the lake's filling in 1969, Good Enough Springs provided some excellent fishing.  At the Single Buoy Mooring (SBM), the water depth was 81 feet with the immediate surrounding area 76 feet.  We fished big rods (7, 8, and 9 #s), heavy sinking lines, size 12 flies in brown colors with red eyes, and fast retrieves and caught lots of Stripers and some Largemouth Bass.  Often times, the Stripers schooled and some of the LMBs joined them.  However, it was a very tight, concentric area around the spring that was fishing well; move more than 17-20 feet away from the buoy in any direction, and the fishing dropped off completely.

While the fish never wizened to our presence, their schooling dropped off, and so we moved to the cove just south of Good Enough Springs.  It was difficult to control the boat with the high tail wind in the cove, but we pulled some nice Largemouths out of there.  Leaving the cove, we saw the birds dive-bombing just east of the SBM, so we fished the area for more hook-ups.  Even though there was plenty of daylight, we had to leave the fishing to give us time to make the long ride back.

We stopped and fished Sugarhead Creek (across from the old Catholic Church on the Mexican side near marker 15), where Cody pulled out a nice Largemouth Bass.  Acting like an old cabin's dog run, the cove walls funneled the winds making controlling the boat and fishing difficult, so we traded out guiding.  Running the trolling motor allowed me to watch Cody's hook-up, which was a blast from beginning to end.  Regrettably, I had no video rolling, but seeing that fish spot Cody's frog from 20 feet away, and then watching that fish aggressively launch itself from underneath the rock cover and inhale the frog proved to us that our fishing strategies have merit.

08 July 2013

Amistad 2013, Rough Canyon

Well, the House Boats have moved away from Rough Canyon, and a trip up the Devil's River arm made
it obvious as to why they moved to Diablo East.  We visited the NPS office on Sunday and had a really enjoyable talk with the rangers. Based upon information they told us, we went on scavenger hunts each day prior to fishing.  We found the old CP&L Steam Plant (usually completely submerged) and climbed all over it taking photos and even discovering the high point benchmark.  As in the years following the 1998 severe drought, the lake will once again fill up, and taking the pictures and exploring the places that are exposed currently will make us better fishermen, I think.

Okay, excuse the corny irony, but...on the way to Rough Canyon, we had it rough when the flats boat trailer had a flat.  Fortunately, we got it fixed quickly, but not before we had three different offers of assistance--God Bless Texans!

We put in and began heading north, to see:  1) how far north we could boat and 2) where exactly, we were going to fish.  Let me just say, my jaw hung slack, because the low water levels left me dumbfounded and amazed.  On the bright side, the goats and sheep will probably be some of the best livestock in years due to the new, lush green grass on which they gorged themselves.

Rough Canyon kicked my tail.  I caught no fish, had only two hits, and one hook-up.  Cody Bell fished a five species day with two more hook-ups--a Striper, a Hybrid Striper, a Redbreast Sunfish, a Largemouth Bass, and a Blue Catfish, a first for CB3.  Unfortunately, we could not find our Smallmouth Bass. We found the area, but no Smallies--a first for us.  Winds were high and made trolling difficult, so after fishing a few coves on the west, we fished the river walls on the east with much calmer waters.

So, how far north did we make it?  In a 15 ft. flats boat, we could safely travel no farther than 29.36600 North and 100.57500 West, which put us in 2 ft of water.  Bonsai Island and Cove (our names for the geography) were completely dry, and Cody hiked back in there to snap photos and see what it is we're fishing.  I tried fishing, but the buzzards began circling on my third cast.  It's pretty bad when they're circling looking to take the fish from anglers.  Amistad really isn't a lake here, it truly is the Devil's River.  Lowrey Springs Canyon--dry.  Slaughter Bend Cove--dry.  Indian Springs--could hike to it on dry land and then climb 7 ft. above the water column.  Satan Canyon--dry.  SAD!

06 July 2013

Amistad 2013, Spur 454

Cody and I headed down to our favorite lake, but this year, we visited in July instead of May, and we brought our RV and stayed at Broke Mill RV park, which was an excellent place to stay.  We had a total of four vehicles--two autos, one boat, and one RV, and we only paid for the one spot AND were purposefully given an end space so we would have a place to park the car and boat.  Highly, highly recommend Broke Mill RV Park.

Amistad is a different lake every time I visit, but this year, due to the 54 foot drop in levels, in areas it appears more like the confluence of rivers it once was than a lake.  With that said, near the dam, we were finding places that were over 100 feet deep.

Finding fishing sites was a little challenging, since all of ours were not only dry, but at least 10 feet above our heads.  We fished the first day out of a Nitro Z9 bass boat belonging to our brother and sister-in-laws, and boy did we scoot around the lake.  We put in at the Spur 454 boat ramp and fished the area most of the morning, all to no avail.  We fished points, walls, grass beds, floating lines, sinking lines, sinking tips, and the in-laws were varying it up with baitcasting--no fish, two hits, time to move. Cody and I suggested a spot on the Texas side northwest of the dam.  Finally, Denson caught the first fish of the day.  Eventually, we moved up to Cow Creek and took the left fork.  The rest of the boat caught fish with Kristi catching two bass--a largemouth and striper.


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