Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Hill Country Of Texas

Guadalupe River - Devil's Playground

Wandering through the "Hill Country" as a Winter Texan, I find the Lone Star state no different from other defined places, except for a few divergences that really stand out. 

To start with, it seems like you see more dance halls than churches.  Texas will concede second place for music, only to Austria, and never to the 16th Avenue suits from Nashville.  The disparity between churches and dance halls is small and does not mean that Texans are not religious. The most popular bumper sticker is from the song by the poet laureate of Texas, Billy Joe Shaver, who wrote the Texas anthem,  If You Don't Love Jesus,  Go To Hell.    (enjoy the link below)  

Ever since Waylon and Willie became impresarios, Texas music has ruled the western "fiddle in the band" genre and has become popular as a mixture of western swing and outlaw music.   Nowhere else is that music more famous than in Luckenbach.  

Luckenbach General Store, Post Office, Local Bar and a Famous  Dominicker Hen

After a morning of drowning some streamers in the Guadalupe River, Jackson and I hopped in the toad and GPSed the hill country back roads on our way to the historic town of Luckenbach.   We passed farms roads, culverts, leaning mail boxes and a few double wides - I told Jackson we were getting close when I saw the sign, "See the World's Largest Armadillo! - 1 Mile."  I was expecting the usual for a famously nominated place - some gas stations, a Hardees and maybe a John Deere repair shop.  None of that. Only a small sign signaling a turn onto an even smaller two lane road that circled to Luckenbach - the locals call it "leavin' the bypass."  Nothing makes me smile more than being surprised in a reversal of thought - only one store, a great music hall, a couple of houses and graded, well mown fields (for concert parking). The Post Office, general store and bar all blended together into a small way station. The general store's best selling products were no surprise, tee shirts followed by entrepreneurial CDs from the local talent.  A couple of those entrepreneurs were picking requests in the bar.  The Luckenbach Music Hall was locked up so Jackson made a pee stop and whimpered a beg for a shot at a prancing  free range chicken - I told him no 'cause it was the City Bird and protected by law.

Back in Sattler, Texas and nearby is the historic Gruene Music Hall,  the oldest dance hall in Texas - pealing clapboard siding, wire screen windows, old plank floors, bar in the back, band in the front,  where the Texas two step moves counter clockwise. Earlier in the week I stopped by to have a cold Lone Star and discovered  that a few reserved tickets remained for a one night appearance by Randy Travis.  One cold beer, a tip, a reserve ticket and a $50 bill was gone.  On the evening of the concert I experienced a Pilgrim Alert:  a reserve ticket to Gruene Hall is solely determined by how early  you stand in line before the show - the "reserved" means only that you have a ticket of fire protection.   Randy did not disappoint.

Gruene Music Hall


Back Bar and Dance Floor
Randy Travis Live in Gruene


McMurtry's book and Bogdanovich's movie  The Last Picture Show has  Darwinized into modern day Texas.  In fact,  one could easily replace Jesus with "Football" in the cited bumper sticker and it would be just as popular. This evolution has produced extremes, from " a murdering Mom for cheerleaders"  to the television hit, Friday Night Lights.  In the deep South football is revered ... in Texas it is simply just "good bidness."  So how does Texas stand out in football?  Many of the high school football stadiums have corporate sky boxes.  High school!  Yes, sky boxes!  

Alubias Negros Con Maiz y SomethingOrOther
 Press One For Tex-Mex

If you're a Texan and you don't own a heavy duty, separated fire box,  meat smoker then you have just become a new resident either from Mexico, or high-tech California. If the smoker does not have 14 inch tires, it's too small.  Shelby County, Tennessee, my home base, is where preparing pulled pork and baby backs is a religion unto itself, and in no way is it secular -  Bar-B-Que heaven is in Memphis.  Texas, however, does get  a blue ribbon for Texas style smoked sausages and even their style of beef brisket. 

Tex-Mex is unparalleled and a blend of the best of all spanish cuisines.  A land that is home to as many chili cook offs as rodeos, and quilting bees.  Terlingua being the World Series champ equivalent for chili.  For the best Tex-Mex, a few words of advice to road food addicts, seek out the older sections of town, away from the by-passes and off-ramps and look for expensive cars in front of old run down buildings. There you will find the area's best use of a jalapeno pepper.

Not so much along the interstate highways, but along back roads,  one finds Texas is unique in another way - displaying "the"  flag.  In Texas, the state banner is the Lone Star flag and a majority of the time it is flown, standing alone.  Texans are justly proud of their state and  heritage and do not think the absence of the Stars and Stripes is an anti-American statement, but a clear expression  of the often heard phrase, "Don't Mess With Texas."  

Patriotic proof …  Texas is the begetter of three modern day,  U.S. presidents.  Not great debaters, but U.S. presidents, none the less.     If that is not enough proof, know then that Willie has his annual concert on the Fourth of July.                                                                                                                                                                      

Cool nights, warm days, bluebonnet skies, good food, great music and a little fishing are with me and good Texans as I happily navigate through the hill country of Texas.  

There have been some recent Jett Rink sightings and I'm going to begin my search for him between Bandera and  Luckenbach.

For A Better Listen:

For A Better Look:

Visit Texas Hill Country   

Fly Fish Texas       

Gruene  Hall

Monday, January 23, 2012

Bandera ~ My Peckinpah Moment

"The Stranger Went Free, Of Course"

As a stocky,  only child, city kid,  I always dreaded the trolley ride with my Mom to buy the new school year's jeans, sized husky.  The offsetting balance to the husky aisle was that I would also get a couple of new pearl snap cowboy shirts. 

Home again, in old jeans  and a new shirt, I would become Roy (Trigger) or Gene (Champion) or Hopalong (Topper), and sometimes Randolph (Stardust).  My parents still favored Tom Mix (Tony) or Tex Ritter (White Flash) and although theatre movies trumped television, the Lone Ranger (Silver) and Tonto (Scout) gained ground when we got the second television set in the neighborhood.  Though they did not wear the husky sizes, my cowboy heroes also all wore new shirts with pearl snaps for buttons and cuffs.  

Emily, three houses away, became my Dale Evans (Buttermilk) and we could easily run through four rolls of caps in an afternoon.  I was a cowboy.

I crested the hill, and the wide dusty swale below contained  the shallow Medina River.  I squinted into a gunfighter's sunset and the next hill silhouetted  Bandera, Texas, the home of cowboys and outlaws.

No longer would my heroes wear brightly toned shirts with matching piping -no pearl snaps - no longer closely shaved with neatly parted hair, and never again would their hats be white.  I was still the same kid, older and my cowboys were now tanned,  leather skinned,  bearded, sweaty, dusty and dirty.  They had  been Peckinpahed.

As I crossed the bridge into Bandera, it was my turn to direct.  I gave Jackson an ears up when I yelled,  "Places everyone!"

First,  I had to visually erase the Gonzales Heating and Air sign. Then I blocked out the Harley parked at forty five degrees in front of the the first saloon.  I kept the riffs of a loud lead guitar, but eliminated a neon Corona clock. 

Bandera became the movie setting for my favorite western lyrics,                

             The Red Headed Stranger 

The red-headed stranger from Blue Rock, Montana
Bandera, Texas
Rode into town one day;
And under his knees was a raging black stallion
And walking behind was a bay.
The red-headed stranger had eyes like thunder
His lips they were sad and tight;
His little lost love lay asleep on the hillside
And his heart was heavy as night.

A yellow-haired lady leaned out of her window,
And watched as he passed her way.
She drew back in fear at the sight of the stallion
But cast greedy eyes on the bay;
But how could she know that this dancing bay pony
Meant more to him than life?
For this was the horse that his little lost darling
Had ridden when she was his wife.

The yellow-haired lady came down to the tavern,
Looked up the stranger there;
He bought her a drink, he gave her some money
He just didn't seem to care.
She followed him out as he saddled the stallion,
And laughed as she grabbed at the bay;
He shot her so quick they had no time to warn her,
She never heard anyone say:

Don't cross him, don't boss him, he's wild in his sorrow,
He's riding and hiding his pain;
Don't fight him, don't spite him, just wait till tomorrow
Maybe he'll ride on again.

The yellow-haired lady was buried at sunset                                                 
The stranger went free, of course,
'For you can't hang a man for killing a woman                                                 
Whose trying to steal your horse.
This is the tale of the red-headed stranger
And if he should pass your way,
Stay out of the path of the raging black stallion
And don't lay a hand on the bay.

Satisfied, I finished, "Cut! That's a wrap!"

With my directing debut complete, I stopped to enjoy some of the old buildings, let Jackson pee on a hitching post, and when leaving Bandera, laughed as I once again passed Gonzales Heating and Air and read the sign's tag line, "Since 1997." 


With each line of the lyrics,  I completed my fantasy of producing and directing the The Red Headed Stranger story.  Many years before Willie Nelson and band came to our small town. The night before the concert we were groupies in the lounge at the Mission Hills Resort. The entourage, sans Willie,  arrived just minutes before last call. With the band restless with only one drink, my wife, Barbara, asked the bartender to call the owner, a friend of ours.  She was able to influence the sleepy owner to empower the bartender and keep the lounge open long enough for Willie's band to fully water their thirst. While she was receiving cheers from the band, I was debating SEC versus Southwest Conference football with an entourage member in an orange "hook 'em horns" jersey. Turns out,  he was Willie's personal manager, BC.  BC, grateful while sipping his fourth drink, invited us to ride with Willie's caravan into the fair grounds the next day.  Barbara had lunch on the bus with sister Bobbie and Willie, and I drank cold, band beer and we enjoyed the concert back and side stage with BC. It was during the chorus of Red Headed Stranger that I told BC that I would love to produce a movie of the song. He chuckled, and said that the movie was already in the final stages of planning. 

It was made, but it wasn't Peckinpahed, not like I, the cowboy,  would have directed.

Red Headed Stranger Album:  
  • Copyright: (P) 1975, 1986, 2000 SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT
  • The Red Headed Stranger - recorded by Willie Nelson - written by Edith Linderman and Carl Stutz 
Bandera - an instrumental by Willie Nelson - written by Carla Bozulich

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Tying "The Jackson"


Jackson became a traveling and fly fishing companion via my granddaughter and her birthday party held at the local animal shelter. Instead of an hour of bedlam at Chuckster Cheeseter,  my daughter asked the young celebrators to bring a bag of dog or cat food in lieu of a present to the local animal shelter. The fun?  Each kid would get an hour to play with the pet of their choice. When I heard of this my first thoughts - this party program rivaled any scam that Wall Street hedge fund traders could possibly invent.  Sub-prime mortgages, sophomoric compared to this marketing idea.

Catelyn, my granddaughter,  was granted first choice and an hour was spent with Jackson.

It seems that Jackson had quite a "ladies man" reputation within a ten mile circumference of the shelter. The previous owner paid  a $50 Animal Control fine for the first offense - rumored to be a very blond Golden Retriever with a sexy bark.  The second time caught cost his owner $100.  The third time became a "three strikes and you're out," ruling.  Jackson's owner said keep him.

Catelyn then spent the next four days - maybe it was three - convincing Poppy, that would be me, to bail Jackson out. The plea, "Poppy, I'm praying every night that you will go get Jackson,"  Evidence in the photographs - it worked.

When it came my turn for Jackson's tag and title, he came "fixed" and out the door the shelter charged $85.  Jackson came home to join three Black Labs and became Snook's intern on the Turnip Truck.

Not A True Rise - Jackson Said,  "He's Feeding On Emergers."

 He fit right in and bonded to me - some call it the "Bail Bondsman's Syndrome."  In no time he got to visit some nice rivers and quickly became the greatest trout spotter of all times - all times!  As soon as trout spotting field river trials are invented, he'll become the grand champion. Too bad he cannot pass along these unique spotting genes - I could make a fortune in stud fees not to mention the endorsement contracts from Orvis.

Ushering A Trout To The Net
 It's Time For The Net

As a tribute to Jackson, I've fashioned a fly tying recipe with the main ingredient being Jackson's chocolate hair and underfur as the fly's body dubbing.  The hair is a natural, buggy nymph brown that was collected with ease using a Furminator (shameless mention to have Jackson become the barkster for the Furminator). If, in the near future, you see a paid Furminator ad blogside, you'll know it worked.

The Furminator

The Jackson Recipe(s):

Hook -         Tiemco 2457 #12,14,16,18
                      If a purist - a barbless hook hand-filed from a '55 Chevy Bel Air hubcap.  

Thread -       Brown Uni Unwaxed 8/0
                      If a purist - dyed threads from Bibb overalls, Circa 1951. 

Bead -          Copper Colored Tungsten, sized to hook
                      If a purist - a copper BB, center drilled, see Popular Mechanics August, 1966

Ribbing -      Copper wire, sized small
                      If a purist - the center strand of copper wire from a lamp cord.

Tail -            Pheasant Tail, bunched pheasant tail fiber tips
                       If a purist - the same but secured with the opposite hand.

Dubbing -     Jackson's Furminator extracted underfur  blended with Cinnamon Ice Dubbing
                      If a purist - belly hair from a frightened mole  on a bananas only diet. 

Thorax -       Pheasant tail folded over Brown Ice Dubbing and add PT wing tips.
                      If a purist -  substitute some more frightened mole hair for ice dubbing.

When all is said and done, at the end of the day, and the truth of the matter is (political year you know) that "The Jackson" is simply a Bead Headed Pheasant Tail Nymph ... BUT dubbed with the miracle working hair of Jackson's underfur.  For this reason alone we are offering "The Jackson" for the low, low price of $19.95, plus shipping and handling. BUT! if you act today, we will include another Jackson fly for FREE - you only pay an additional shipping and handling fee.

Heh, heh,  Just  Wait'll  I Learn To Cast

If you enjoyed this little story, drop a few bucks and some feed off at your local animal shelter,  or even better, host a birthday party for little kids.  Jackson, the shelter and the little kids will love you for it - not so certain 'bout their parents, though.

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, 
he will not bite you; that is the principal 
difference between a dog and a man 
Mark Twain

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

More Secretive Than Area 51

"You Drive, I'm Gonna Nap For Awhile."

Snook's wiggles told me that the long drive and his naps were over and he was ready to fish.   Me too.

I wish I could say  he sniffed and pointed the way to the fly shop, but like most pilgrims, we asked for directions.   Landmarks were easy,  the Wind River on one side of the road and the Absaroka mountains on the other side. 

We were in Dubois, Wyoming.  When entering and first seeing the "Welcome To Dubois"  sign,  I started practicing my Tennessee French ….. "dieu bwoi"….."du bwa" …."doo....",  oh hell, ......... I'll just ask.

A four block run to the fly shop where the owner, easily recognizing a stranger,  said, "Welcome to….."Dew Boys."

"Thanks, so that's how you say it?"

"Yep, fools a lot of folks, yes it does." 

"I'll need a license and hopefully you'll send me and Snook here  to an out of the way stream filled with cutthroats." 

"I can do that - try a few of these attractor flies,  I suggest some bear spray, and you'll head South for a little better than five miles to Spence's sign, turn left and follow the gravel then rut road for twenty miles until you run into the East Fork.

"Spence's sign?"  

"Yep, you'll know it - Jerry Spence - that buckskin fella that was on TV all the time talking 'bout  O.J."

"Ah, that Spence."

We left with everything but the bear spray - I factored in and would be counting upon Snook's negotiating skills.  We followed directions and sure enough, we came to Spence's sign.

Spence's Sign - No Caption Necessary

I laughed, the nation's universities have too many lots of prestigious law schools where too many barristers are educated and yet here in "Dew Boys,"  hidden away is the Trial Lawyer's College,  where the skills of plea bargaining and capturing forty percent of the settlement is expertly taught.

And yes, in an place more secretive than Area 51.

We took a left turn at the Spence sign, drove twenty beautiful miles of gravel road and Snook roamed in a skinny water section of the river - no bears,  and I caught and released a few cutthroat.

Snook in the East Fork of Wind River in the Absaroka (Absorkies) Mountains

Caveat Fly Flinger - Now, with more experience fishing in bear country and having read of many tragic bear attack stories, I have learned that bears do not negotiate well, especially with dogs.  I suppose,  'cause they do not have to.  

Buy bear spray when fishing the backwoods.



Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Metaphysical Fly Fishing


                             "Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing
                                     it is not the fish they are after." ~ Thoreau            

Early Spey Caster
I am a bit uncertain whether the Ozark mountains become the place in time to wonder about the mystic qualities of fly fishing.  This is Lil' Abner's land that neighboring taunters playfully refer to as "Darwin's Waiting Room."  Denying the  "missing link" genetics  of the rolling hills of Northern Arkansas,  I do not ascribe to the evolutionary aspects of the region.  Besides, there are way too many Baptist churches here to suit Charlie D.

It is raining and cold now, and as one of my fishing buddies says, "You're a cold weather sissy, you'll never be a steelheader."  So, when not fishing, I do what many old red-blooded males do every other hour of the day, I contemplate fly fishing.

As a young fellow I won a couple of State of Georgia singles tennis titles. In each win, I felt a confident and calm strength that sport's announcers refer to as, "the zone, or momentum."  I didn't know what it was when it was happening, and after I won, my young mind quickly returned to other thoughts measured at every seven minutes.

It was not until later in life  that I heard the term "Zen."  I'm not sure where it came from, but someone once told me it was a place called Walden, or was it Woodstock?  This was during the  B.A.(before Amazon) epoch. Then, each bookstore had an aisle section that  featured   "Zen and The Art of Cooking, Hiking, Tennis, Bridge, Negotiating and even Tie-Dyeing."  Zen meisters started showing up at the fly casting pond in San Francisco.

Following the first wave of Zen, came T.M.  Surely you remember the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi  and Transcendental Meditation, which became the first metaphysical multilevel marketing program.  Pay your deposit and get a mantra, sign up some friends and double your mantras. Once when asked to join, I responded, "Listen, I don't bowl because they want me there every Thursday night, and you want me to pay to say a mantra and sit quietly once or twice every day!"

Suave (pronounced swave in Georgia) folks from Manhattan and L.A. are the experts about  Feng Shui. I'm told it will bring harmony to one's life, home and office, so it's only natural that Feng Shui will soon be coming to a river near you.  "Hey Bubba, could you turn that boulder so the pointed side faces upstream, oh, and move that log into the sun, okay?  Oh my, Bubba, can't you just feel the ripples?"   
Reverse Warrior Pose
I have a dear friend who suggested Yoga as a way of improving my fly fishing  experience.  She practices her Yoga dock side along the shores of her beautiful lake.  Plus, she's a good fly fisher. So, I told her, "I'll try anything that won't split my waders."   I tried, really, but nearly drowned attempting that half lotus tree pose. You laugh - you try it on didymo covered river rocks. I will admit though that the reverse warrior pose helped a lot with my pile cast.                                                                    

Also popular these days is the challenging question, "What would Jesus do?"   In my mind, he would welcome fellow fly fishers into his beat and would not hesitate to share the fly he was using.  Just feeling his presence would have all around him picking up discarded Vienna sausage cans and Power Bait cartons.  As a struggling trout is brought safely to net, one would experience the  warmth of his smile as the trout is released back into its multicolored habitat.  As Jesus would exit the river, quietly behind you, he would say, "Tight lines, my friend."  I'm guessing the hatch would then begin in earnest.

Once, when climbing into a drift boat, I said to our crusty old Montana guide,  "Be the Rainbow, Billy, be the Rainbow."  He looked at me like he was thinking, “If this pilgrim says something like that again, I'll whip his ass.”  Seeing his frown, I didn’t ask him to share his mantra.

John Gierach, noted fly fishing author, best cuts to the chase,  "We who fly fish, think it is deeply meaningful until we try to explain why it is deeply meaningful, and then suddenly it's just fishing again."
A Norfork Morning 

How mental, mystic or metaphysical we choose make fly fishing, the process becomes self governing.