If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Eat ‘Em: Hog School 2010 at Madroño Ranch

My last blog post, (I know, I know, it’s been a while), was an introduction to the Feral Hog, nemesis of Texas landowners and ranchers.  Though it may seem like there’s nothing that can be done to combat this problem, I have mentioned before that they are tasty little beasts!  My solution: if you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em!  Granted, based on what you read about them, they may not seem very appetizing, but I assure you, when properly handled and prepared, they are delicious!  For many people, this is the problem: lack of knowledge about proper handling and preparation.  This, my friends, is the very reason that Hog School has been created. 

I was raised in the woods, and have had the opportunity to hunt since I was young.  If I wasn’t in the woods with my father, I was marching thru the lamb fields with my grandfather, or perched on the countertop of his butcher shop.  I’ve been fortunate enough to learn how to care for, kill, eviscerate and butcher animals that range from squirrels to elk, and lots of things in between.  It occurred to me that most people aren’t exposed to food preparation in this way, and there seems to be a generational gap between our grandfathers and fathers, thus leaving our generation with a lack of knowledge in self-reliance when it comes to procuring meat.  Luckily, there’s an increased interest in returning to the “old ways,” and hunting for food goes way back!  So if you’re a complete novice in the field of hunting, or an expert hunter but feel a disconnect between the kill and the plate, my goal is to educate you on where to find it, how to kill it, and then how to prepare it so you’d like to eat it!  This holds true for deer, hogs or fish, but for now, we’ll keep it limited to our tasty problem: wild hogs! 

Hog School was formed last year in conjunction with Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due.  Jesse has taught courses for a couple years about the butchering and preparation of domestic swine.  We got together and decided to take that a step further and teach people not only how to slaughter/butcher and cook it, but hunt it as well.  Seeing as how the feral hog problem has finally reached such a point as to allow for the mass slaughter of these animals aerially, it made my stomach hurt to think about all that “food” laying there to rot.  My thought to help turn the tide against such a drastic measure was to get more hunters in the field, and the only way to do that was to educate them how to get it and what to do with it once you got it! 

The first Hog School was held last winter at Madroño Ranch in Medina, Texas.  Owners Martin and Heather Kohout share my and Jesse’s vision about local foraging of food, and just so happen to have a beautiful ranch in the Texas Hill Country that has an abundance (i.e.: problem amount) of feral hogs.  Hog School is a weekend long course that begins Friday and ends Sunday afternoon.  We teach two methods of harvesting the hogs: traps and hunting.  Traps are generally not my first choice, but are a very effective option and will yield a greater number of hogs.  We teach clients what traps are available, and also some that can be homemade.  We also hunt hogs both fair chase and sitting in stands. I no longer use dogs, though this is another method of hunting hogs in the field. 

Thursday evening, Jesse and I arrive at the ranch to a trap full of hogs (again, very effective) and begin to process them, securing both material for the butchering portion of the class and dinner for Saturday night’s “Porkstravaganza.”

The clients arrive Friday around lunchtime and head straight out to the rifle range to sight in their guns and go over ranch rules and gun safety.  In addition to this, I discuss the many species of animals and flora and fauna that Madroño Ranch has to offer.  While they may see other animals, our main concern is with the hogs, so we’ll leave them for other schools.  After a mid afternoon siesta, we take clients to sit stands and hunt the evening.  Our first evening proved to be our best, with Philip Keil harvesting 2 hogs from 1 stand!  Several other clients make their kills, also, and everyone meets back up at the lodge to eviscerate the hogs.  With few hands to help, I have Jesse help me as we narrate the process as we go, teaching the most effective and sanitary means of evisceration.  After they’ve been taught from the first hog, class is dismissed for the evening, and clients are free to munch on Morgan Angelone’s famous, “Madroño Ranch Bison Burger!”  We end the first night with a walk-in full of meat and bellies full of bison and head to bed early. 

Saturday begins early with a light breakfast and clients heading to the stands to watch the sunrise.  While it’s early to be awake, watching the sunrise in the Texas Hill Country makes it worth it! After a morning of hunting, the clients arrive back at the main lodge late morning for, you guessed it, more food!  Clients get to break after this and take a little siesta, returning in the afternoon to begin the butchering portion of the school.  Jesse breaks down a whole hog and shows clients how to utilize every part from nose to tail.  What began as a whole skinless pig ends up becoming sausage, French racks of rib, stock and prosciutto.  Cured by Morgan Angelone, the “meat maestro,” her feral pig prosciutto is so delicious it’s hard to think that it comes from a wild ham!  After the kitchen session, it’s time for cocktails and leisure time on the back deck while Jesse and Morgan turn up the heat in the kitchen, preparing one of the largest meals I’ve ever witnessed.  As we sat for dinner, plate after plate of food appeared before us.  The most memorable of the evening had to be the main course.  It took both Jesse and Morgan to carry a giant tray piled high with pig cooked a variety of ways, one being a rotisseried whole suckling pig.  We all gorged until we hurt. 

Sunday morning was the final outing for all: those who hadn’t killed yet and clients who had but wanted to see more.  It proved to be the slowest day of the weekend, with only one hog killed, luckily it was by the one client who’d not gotten a kill yet.  Not surprising after all the pressure that had been placed on them throughout the weekend.  In the end, all clients were sent home with meat and a new found knowledge of what to do with it. 

We will definitely be putting on more hog schools, in addition to deer schools and fly-fishing courses this year.  I feel the more people we educate as to the tastiness of our problem, means more responsible hunters/trappers in the field, which will help to reduce feral hog numbers and means more clean food for hungry people!  My friend Phillip Meyer attended last year’s hog school and wrote a great article about his experience in the August 2011 edition of Texas Monthly. It has some great pictures from the weekend also.  For more information on the schedules for this year’s schools, you can visit www.daidueaustin.net.  I will also have info on them as it comes available.   

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Hogs Gone Wild: An Introduction to the Problem Pig

No doubt that by now everyone’s heard of the Texas Feral Hog problem.  It’s an issue that has actually been around for quite some time, but is finally reaching critical mass.  So much so that the government has just approved a new means to eradicate the issue: aerial hunting of the beasts, known as the “pork chopper bill,” recently signed into law and set to go into effect September 1, 2011.  The question that I’ve been asked more and more and one that I’ve posed myself is: “What’s the big issue?”  Does a group of pigs run amuck really justify such extreme measures of eradication? Why do they have to be eradicated in the first place?  The answer to these questions, in my opinion, as well as that of land owners, ranchers, farmers and government officials is: Yes!  I have to disagree, however, with the means of eradication, but we’ll get to that later.  First and foremost, friends, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the feral hog, and tell you just why it’s become such a problem.

Sus Scrofa, (sus is the genus and scrofa is the species) is the proper name of feral or wild hogs throughout the U.S., with an estimated population of 2 million in Texas alone.  They are extremely adaptable and have a high reproductive rate, which is why they’ve done so well since their introduction!

How Did They Get Here?

There are actually three types of hogs that classify as “wild boars.”  The first hogs were domesticated by Spanish explorers and brought to the New World as a food source.  They were raised as free range, and once settlers moved or abandoned their homes, most were left to fend for themselves, becoming feral.  In the 1930’s, Eurasian wild hogs, also known as “Russian Wild Boar,” were introduced to Texas by ranchers and hunters for purposes of hunting them.  These wild boar met up with the feral domestic hog, creating a hybrid of the two.  All three types are collectively called “feral hogs” and are so interbred it’s hard to tell the difference.  In fact, there are few, if any, pure Eurasian wild hogs in Texas.  It is important to note that there is one native species of hog, the Javelina, indigenous to the Southwestern U.S., but is not closely related to the feral hogs, though is often confused. 

How Have They Done So Well?

As I stated earlier, they are a very adaptable group, and are the most prolific large, wild mammal in North America.  This is due in part to their high reproductive rate.  A sow (female) can produce 2 litters a year, and begin breeding as young as 6 months if food is abundant.  If it’s scarce or times are harder, they’ll begin breeding at 8-10 months of age.  A younger sow will have a litter of 4-8 piglets, and older sows will have 10-13.  Due to this rate of reproduction, a hog population can double in 4 months.  They generally stay in groups of 2-20 individual hogs, and range an average of 15 miles in search of food.  During drought times or when food is scarce, there may be 40-50 hogs together and range to 19 miles. 

They have been described as “opportunistic omnivores,” and eat pretty much anything that’s available.  They will eat green vegetation, fruit, grain, roots and tubers, carrion and the young of wild mammals and livestock.  They prefer areas of bottomland, and prefer areas close to streams, creeks, lakes or marshes.  They also prefer areas with dense vegetation to conceal them and protect them from the elements. 

What’s the Problem?

It is estimated that the feral hogs in Texas cause an estimated $400 million dollars worth of damage every year.  Their damage is both environmental and agricultural; they compete with livestock for habitat and food; harbor endemic diseases and transmit parasites.  I have to admit, I was a little shocked at these numbers and laundry list of offenses as well, but once it’s broken down to the numbers, it was eye opening!

  • Agricultural

Feral hogs will eat every part of farmers’ crops: seeds, mature crops, hay, turf and gardens), as well as vegetation intended for livestock feed.  They forage primarily by rooting the ground in search of food, which damages crops by tilling up the soil where plants are planted, in addition to eating the actual plant itself.  Rooting damages the pasture to the point it can damage farm equipment or harm livestock. 

They cause great damage to fences causing domestic animals to escape or allow predators in; the hogs being a predator themselves on lamb, kids or calves. 

  • Environmental

Since they prefer areas where water is present for wallows, stock tanks and ponds are particularly appealing for the hogs, as has been our experience on the ranch.  Their wallowing severely muddies waters, causing algae blooms and generally souring of water.  It also causes soil erosion around the banks.

Along with spoiling the water supply, the hogs will damage feeders and food plots intended for wildlife such as deer.  If the hogs frequent the area enough, the deer will eventually stop going where hogs are present. 

  •  Predation

As I’ve previously mentioned, feral hogs are omnivores.  In addition to carrion, they will predate on smaller animals, both domestic and wild.  Some examples of an easy meal for a group of feral hogs would be: calves, lambs, kids, deer fawn, ground nesting birds or smaller mammals. 

  • Disease

In addition to tearing up the land, spoiling the water supply, and eating the young of other mammals, these lovely feral guests also carry a broad range of diseases and parasites.  Swine brucellosis is the number one threat to domestic pigs, but can also be transmitted to humans.  It passes through the bodily fluids, however, and is not present when the meat is thoroughly cooked.  They also carry pseudorabies, Anthrax, African Swine Fever and hog cholera.  These present the biggest threat to both domestic livestock and other wildlife. 

This is an introduction to our formidable enemy.  I’ll be the first to admit, I wasn’t aware of the list of complaints that landowners had about the feral hogs until I’d begun researching it.  I’ve seen first hand the uprooted land, destroyed feeders and mangled fences, but didn’t realize the actual cost of replacing or repairing these problems until I had to do it a few times.  These highly adaptable, intelligent creatures are quite a problem for us here in the Lone Star State, and a problem that has been offered a number of solutions.  However, I have my opinions of what to do with them.  I’m just glad it’s a tasty problem to deal with, and for now, I prefer hunting and eating the problem, but I’ll go into that in another blog!  

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Axis Deer and My Thoughts on Texas Exotics

Having hunted all over Texas over the past twenty years, I can safely say that the amount of exotic wildlife that I see now compared to the numbers then are steadily increasing.  It used to be that you’d drive past the ranches with high fences advertising “Exotic Hunts” and you knew that would be the only way to be able to hunt one: pay thousands of dollars for the chance to kill an axis or fallow deer, black buck antelope or elk.  These days, the high fence theory has proven faulty, and those crafty beasts have found a way out!  We’re seeing them on the sides of roads, outside low fenced areas, and literally by the dozens spread across pastures mixed in with domestic livestock.  While many don’t understand the problem with this spread of an introduced species, let me remind you of the key word in that sentence: introduced.  Non-native animals that have been transported and introduced to a habitat that they then thrive in and present direct competition to the native species that inhabit that area. 

My main focus this week is the axis deer.  It’s only been since Memorial Day that Leah and I have been to Tres Hermanos Ranch, but after going out this past weekend, we were shocked at the number of axis deer we saw.  The ranch is fenced to keep the longhorns in, but with a low fence, offering the opportunity for wildlife to move freely in and out.  One evening, we saw seven axis deer intermingling with the native white tails.  While the axis deer is a beautiful animal, and quite impressive to see in person, it is an introduced, non-native species.  This is important for several reasons.

(1)   Axis breed year round.  Axis buck can be found in hard horn at various times throughout the year.  They can breed while in velvet, but the males in hard horn are dominant.  They go into rut at different times, and are not synchronized with other males in a herd.  This is true of the females as well.  Axis doe can begin breeding at around two years of age, and go into estrus at various times throughout the year.  It is estimated that one doe can produce four fawns in three years, and can reproduce until up to age 15.  This can lead to a very large axis population in a short amount of time, all of which compete with native white tail deer for food.  Which brings up the second problem.

(2)   Axis deer are browsers and grazers.  Their primary diet, like that of the native white-tail, consists of foraging on broad leafed weeds (forbs) as well as browsing, typically on live oak and hackberry.  Yet unlike the white-tail, once an area has been cleared of forbs and browse, axis can shift to grazing grass.  White-tail are unequipped to digest mature grasses, so once their food supply has run out, they must leave the area in search of food.  This works if the area of low fenced, but in high fenced areas where the white-tail cannot escape, they will starve.

If an area is high fenced to contain big game exotic animals, it poses more of a threat to the native white-tail deer population.  Studies have shown that high fences are used as a general means to keep exotic game in, however, they do not allow any white-tail deer in or out of that same area, thus eventually ending the land owner’s white-tail population.  One study conducted in the 1970’s concluded that in a high fenced tract of 96 acres that contained both white-tail deer and exotic game, the white-tail were essentially eliminated after a period of eight to nine years.  This is true on a much larger scale as well (4,000 acres) and the result was the same.  It is generally accepted that even if you have an area high fenced, exotics will eventually get out.  See this Texas Parks and Wildlife article on exotics in Texas: http://www.tpwmagazine.com/archive/2007/apr/ed_3/

If the land owner has a low fence to allow passage of all wildlife in and out of the property, then there’s a good possibility that the escaped exotics will migrate through the area as well, again competing with native white-tail for food.  Should a landowner have any domestic livestock on their property also, the presence of exotics just adds more pressure to this dynamic.  Domestic cattle, goats and sheep will live on all three types of forage available: forbs, browse and grass.  While it is possible to have a properly managed population of domestic livestock and native white-tail, the incoming exotics will win out over the white-tail, eventually forcing them off the property in search of food elsewhere.  This is especially true in times of drought such as we are currently experiencing throughout Texas, where even the native grasses are reduced to crispy shrivels and all animals are competing for the limited amount of browse and forbs available. 

The solution for a healthy population of any species, be it native, domestic or exotic animal is proper Wildlife management.  At our ranch, this means keeping the amount of domestic livestock to a low number, harvesting does and spike bucks, and year round hunting of all exotics and feral hogs to keep their numbers from increasing.  Despite attempts in this direction, we’ve seen the inevitable increase in the number of exotics, especially axis deer, even in the last few months, as water becomes more scarce and animals compete for food.  Luckily for us, axis meat is damn tasty and a problem that we don’t mind having on the ranch just so we can harvest them for food.  While it may not be our choice to stock exotics, they are there, and we’ll continue to manage as best we can so that our white-tail population remains strong, and we encourage other landowners do the same.    

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Up in Smoke!

A couple of weekends past, I had the pleasure of roasting a whole hog in this sweltering Central Texas heat with Chef Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due. We were invited by the amazing organization, Foodways Texas, and they organized the event for the IACP International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). It was hosted by the wonderful Boggy Creek Farm in East Austin. You will not find another couple more dedicated to local farming and food than Larry and Carol Ann of Boggy Creek! Luckily, there’s a massive oak tree at the back of the home, which was where Jesse and I set up the pit and got down to business of roasting a pig in 100 degree weather! We arrived at noon to set up and get the fire started. Once the pig was on, it was all a matter of hurry up and wait. We accomplished a lot of this with cold beers and great conversation with Larry Butler and other passers by at the end of Boggy Creek’s Saturday Farmers Market. It’s always a treat getting to spend time with old farming legends like Larry Butler and hearing his perspective on things. As the time passed, more and more folks stopped by from the IACP to tour the farm and see the chickens.

One of these lovely people we had the pleasure of meeting was Fredrick Ekstrom, a “culinary explorer” from Sweden who was doing some touring around Texas and learning a little about this great state. He stumbled upon Jesse and I sweating our rear ends off trying to control a roaring fire! We discussed our local food system and how the Texas grown, feral hog was trapped and sent to Harvest House in Johnson City for processing in a USDA certified slaughterhouse. This is the process feral hogs must go through is they are to be cooked and sold back to the general public, the same as if it were a domestic pig. (You can watch his “interview” here) Regardless, Fredrick was definitely into the hog roast but was for sure interested in learning a thing or two about hunting and fishing in Texas. We swapped stories about past trips, one where he proceeded to tell Jesse and I about this bird called the “Tjader” in Swedish, and how “you must shoot the thing quickly, or else run when you see it the wild!” This immediately had my attention as I have never in my life heard of such a bird. Upon looking at pictures of this prehistoric looking animal, I could understand the sentiment. My interest peaked, of course, and I questioned Fredrick about the different types of birds that they hunt in Far North Sweden during these deep woods excursions. Unfortunately, translation of the Swedish words to English words was difficult, so my mind was left to wonder about much of it. Nevertheless, Fredrick was able to solidify my need to go on such an adventure when he began his tale of a bird hunt by horseback through chest deep snow that lasts for 7 days, during which you stay in a different satellite camp every night! Unbelievable! I can only wish that this adventure will be a blog in the future!

Once Fredrick departed, we manned the grill for a few more hours and talked with several other east side friends and farmers who showed up to sit under the massive shade trees of Boggy Creek, partake in a cold beverage and watch the pig cook. We were fast approaching the 6:00 pm mark, which signaled the start of the dinner. As this drew near, more and more participants started showing up either alone or in one of the busses that IACP participants had access to. Upon arriving, they flocked to the grill to marvel at the whole hog roasting on the grill. The dinner bell rang, and we began serving everyone as they lined up with empty plates. After we had served everything but the carcass, Jesse and I had time to visit with some of the other chefs and participants floating around the dinner. I was completely caught off guard as I started to talk with a couple of participants who seemed to know a little bit more about hunting and fishing than the average Joe. After talking for a few minutes I soon realized after introducing myself just who it was I was talking with: Hank Shaw and Holly Heyser, two of the most prolific writers and bloggers in the outdoor world of hunting and gathering! It was an honor to finally meet the two of them as I have followed both of their blogs for some time now.

It was just a pleasure being around like-minded hunters and fisherman who have the same ethics and values behind the hunt. I feel like I’m finally finding “my people” in the hunting and fishing industry, leaving behind the world of trophy hunting and high fences in the my tracks. It is my hope that in the meantime, I’m creating enough momentum to start a real educational movement behind the “harvest” and the “meal,” rather than canned hunts and wall art. While those have a place in the world for some, for me, it’s about the use of the whole animal and the gathering of friends and family around a dinner table, each person having a connection with the meal. It’s such a grand feeling when all of senses are firing as your food cooks in front of you: Hear it sizzle over the open flames; See the smoke billowing around it and the changing colors as it cooks; Smell the delicious aromas all around you; and finally taste the fruits of your labor as you sit down and enjoy the spoils. I believe it important to promote new ideas for the “old ways” of doing things, lest those old traditions be lost forever, and I implore you to do the same.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Southwest Texas Steppe

 

“The last frontier of Texas” is how I have always viewed Rocksprings, Texas.  Unless you’ve gone past Kerville on I-10 West, you may have never seen the signs for it.  If you have, chances are you know about it because Edwards County has one of the largest whitetail deer populations in Texas.  This being said, Rocksprings is a hunting mecca for city folk, bringing a fair and affordable lease price for land.  The native Rocksprings folk rely heavily on hunting season for a main annual income.  For years I have been drawn to the area and its flowing hills, oak motts, and rivers! My family has owned a Ranch here for the past 15 years.  Tres Hermanos is a little less than 10 miles outside of Rocksprings.  We have used the Ranch primarily as a family “getaway” and hunting/outdoor training grounds for my younger brothers.  It originated, as most ranches in the area did, with around 600 acres.  Over the years, though, it, along with most ranches in the area surrounding Tres Hermanos, has been subdivided.  This subdivision into 50-100 acre parcels leads to the area being a.) Over hunted, or b.) Overgrazed. The land may be privately owned but leased to hunters with no regard for sound game management practices, killing everything in site for mere sport.  Often times, regardless of it being used as a hunting lease, a rancher will also lease it to cattleman who overgraze the property.  We do our best to combat this by good game management practices of all species.  Our ranch has a healthy population of white tail deer, feral hogs and some exotic species.  Leah and I have taken quite a liking to the Axis/Wild Boar chorizo and breakfast sausage, so we often go after the Axis.  The area is primarily used for hunting for most people, but if you drive 30 minutes in any cardinal direction you hit a fishable stream!                   

You can go to: the Devils River, Llano River, Nueces River or Lake Amistad.  My personal best Bass was caught on Lake Amistad.  In addition to the surrounding rivers, Rocksprings’ name originated from the springs that bubble out of the limestone, thus creating creeks and streams.  I know of a few “top secret creeks,” but I can’t say much about them, hence the name!  These are some amazing private access waters that produce mostly walk and wade trips with a couple of spots where raft/kayak/canoe trips are available.

This past weekend being Memorial Day, my wife and I went back for a “getaway” and of course a combined fishing trip.  After crossing several stream crossings, we quickly realized that my “top secret creeks” could be threatened by the current drought.  I stopped in town before heading out the ranch and spoke with a couple of locals I have known for a while and heard that this particular Memorial Day Weekend they would have the river crossing in between Rocksprings and Uvalde closed. This only happens when the water is low and the bacteria count in the water is too high because the cubic feet per second (CFS) is so slow the water is basically starving for oxygen and cooler temps created by current.  I was immediately deflated, and it just got worse as we drove out of town and down the caliche county road and encountered trees covered in dust that looked like flocked Christmas trees and dried up cattle tanks. It hit me then just how hard of a drought we are currently under, and this worries me for the upcoming fall fishing season! We need rain and lots of it to stop the devastating effects of what’s yet to come from this drought!  It’s only May and we seem to be 10 degrees above average high temperatures for the month, which is normally the mildest Texas summer month.  While Leah and I were out and about on the Ranch on Saturday, the wind consistently blew around 40 knots, was dry as a bone, and had a haze from the caliche dust blowing constantly!  These conditions obviously did not entice me to head out on the water fly-fishing, and for that matter I thought…. “Hell what water?”  With fish pooled up in the deepest of holes struggling to hold on, I find it hard to go tossing flies their way.  It’s the last kind of pressure they need at this point.  I find it hard to believe and somewhat disheartening that in early June I’m already having to call it on Texas fresh water stream fishing.  I look at this way: more time off the water = more time tying flies! And…. Luckily we have the Gulf really close, and it’s just about time to start filling our coolers with blue crab!!  But that will be another blog, and hopefully very soon!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Muddy Waters & Slippery Banks

I know, the title to this post may not conjure visions of pristine beauty and optimal surroundings for prime time fishing for some people. If this is the case for you, my friend, then let me introduce you to my favorite section of the Mighty Brazos River!  Located in Old Washington, Texas, near Hildalgo Falls, there’s a spot of the Brazos River owned by my friends the Nobles Family.

A family of Old Washington natives, the Nobles family is an amazing clan of kind, hard working men and women with one of the last privately owned strongholds on the Brazos River located on Hidalgo Falls.  Hidalgo Falls is the only set of waterfalls on the Brazos River.  The view is truly amazing with high, muddy banks and wide, deep fishing holes.  This is the perfect environment for one of the largest fresh water sportfish: the flathead catfish.  Also known as the Opelousa, Shovelhead or Yellow Cat, depending on where you’re from, this species of catfish can grow upwards of 100 pounds.  It’s possible to catch them on a rod and reel, but the most common way to catch the larger ones in on a trotline or drop line.  When you’re fishing for fish that average 50 pounds, it’s no wonder why we return year after year for we’ve deemed our “Annual Meat Run.”

More than just a means to fill our freezers and fryers with catfish, this part of the muddy Brazos River has become a spot for more of a “family reunion,” providing my friends and I angling joy for the past 12 years.  The fishing is great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s more about the place/people/community when I’m on the Brazos.  It’s a land that time has forgotten, not me!

The Brazos River has proven to build comradery and maintain relationships that otherwise would have changed just as the muddy banks of the Brazos!  This past trip I found out that the Brazos River had at one time tried to be controlled by a series of locks and dams. Man being man, we thought we could control these muddy banks for transportation of riverboats and agriculture products, but the Brazos had a much different plan! The Mighty Brazos soon “ate” away around the sides of the locks and dams and diverted the river around the diversions, creating some pretty dramatic “mini floods.” Hidalgo Falls was the furthest south the riverboats could go even with the locks and dam in working condition because of the shear size of the massive rocks creating it.  Currently, aside from the Nobles family, Texas Rivers Protection Association owns the adjoining property, a 13 acre, privately owned park used for canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts that are certified by the TRPA.  The TRPA, combined with the Brazos River Authority, has been instrumental at cleaning and preserving this part of the Brazos.  The Nobles family does their part as well on their land, and each weekend out there is a chance to cut, clean, mow and pick up any litter that comes down the river.  I’ve had my fair share of rashes from the poison ivy, but gladly do it again year after year.  It is a common goal amongst all inhabitants and users of this particular part to keep it clean and usable for future generations to use and enjoy as much as we have.  This is a truly special place for all who go, and it is our hope that it remains in as good a condition as it was when it was first discovered.  It is, after all, the birthplace of the Republic of Texas!  Although my favorite spot is privately owned, you can go to the TRPA’s website for more information on how to get out there to it if you’re interested in kayaking around the Falls.  The Mighty Brazos River may have muddy waters, but it should become crystal clear once you’re out there why it’s such a magical place, and one that deserves our respect and effort to keep it that way.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Fly Tyin’ & Fish Fryin’ in the Texas Hill Country

One of the most important aspects of guiding, whether it be hunting or fishing, in my opinion, is education.  What better way to educate that through school?  This weekend marked the very first Fresh Water Fly Fishing School at Madroño Ranch, put on in coordination with chef and owner of Dai Due, Jesse Griffiths and myself.  Madroño Ranch offers one of the most pristine backdrops for fresh water fly fishing in Texas that I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting.  Located in Medina, Texas, it offers spring fed creeks and streams that empty into a beautiful lake loaded with red breasted sunfish, crappie, red ear sunfish, bluegill, and large mouth bass. 

This school was from Friday to Sunday, with guests lodging in the main house at Madroño Ranch.  I arrived Thursday afternoon with camp chef, Morgan Angelone.  We began to scout out the lake, and started catching fish for the weekend feast.  Morgan hooked, but didn’t land, the largest fish of the weekend!  I knew it would be an exciting weekend because it was all about “stripping steamers,” which is what the bass wanted.  The guests arrived on Friday, and began the weekend with a charcuturie plate for lunch, then on to the lake for the opening demonstration.  We went over aquatic and terrestrial entomology, and I introduced the “black wooly bugger” and the “Madroño Ranch Caddis,” which was made from materials sourced from the ranch.  Jesse and I gave a fly-tying demo, and introduced appropriate set up of lake rigs on a fly rod.  Once everyone was “bugged out” on flies, it was on to the lake house for fly casting instructions.  Most of the clients were novice fisherman, or had never fished with a fly rod before, so this was the most critical instruction of the weekend.  Once I felt they were confident in their cast, the guests were free to practice what they’d learned on the lake.  The lake proved to be the best training ground for fly fishing, and the clients caught a few nice brim and a couple of nice bass.  It was such a good day, we fished until dark and stalled the chef for dinner…oops! 

Saturday morning began at sun up with more casting instruction, then off to the water until mid afternoon.  I introduced them to moving water, as well as still water instruction for a well-rounded fly fishing experience.  Later in the afternoon, Jesse and Morgan taught the butchering and cooking part of the school, and provided one of the best filleting and cooking demos of fish I’ve witnessed!  They introduced a variety of recipes and techniques, from frying to smoking to baking, and everything in between.  After this demo, it was more fishing until dinner.  We hammered the bass on black wool headed sculpins.  That night’s dinner was provided by Jesse, and succeeded to “punish our bodies,” which was his intention.  We ate fish in a bag, bass on the ½ shell, smoked fish, fish soup, bass cakes, coleslaw, and hushpuppies, all the fish of which the clients had caught.  Dessert was Morgan’s basque cake, not to be confused with the bass cakes we’d eaten earlier, though there was great fun had with the bass vs. basque cake dilemma. 

Sunday was more fishing from sun up to noon, with the clients having free range on the ranch.  This was their time to practice their knots and hone their casting skills, putting to good use all that they’d learned throughout the weekend.  For me, this is the part of guiding that really highlights what you’ve done!

There were so many highlights for the weekend, but just to name a few:  Watching a client catching their first fish on a fly rod is one of my favorites of any fishing trip.  The weather we had was perfect for being outdoors: warm days and cool nights.  The food provided by Jesse and Morgan was, as always, some of the most top flight I’ve ever eaten.  Our hosts at Madrono Ranch, Heather and Martin Kohut are truly awesome people.  All around, it was a great success, and we look forward to putting together more schools in the future.

For today, I’ll leave you with a Tink Tip for freshwater fly fishing.  My go-to streamers on a river or a lake are the wooly bugger or wool headed sculpin.  That tidbit is thanks to my friend Josh Duchateau, fly fishing guide extraordinaire. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments