Rob and I met at the local outfitter in Bastrop, Texas at around 10:30 am on Friday November 18th. I had driven up from Nassau Bay, TX and Rob had driven over from San Antonio, TX. Anne and Kip were enroute from Nacogdoches, TX. We were going to paddle a section of the Colorado River (the real Colorado, the one in Texas J). Rob and I have known each other for a year or so, but just over e-mail, Paddling.net and have paddled with mutual acquaintances. Rob and I talked boats, paddling and fishing for an hour or so while waiting for the proprietor of Rising Phoenix Outfitters. It was a real pleasure to finally meet Rob (aka Osprey), we have had trip and paddling plans before, but they always fell through between our busy family and work schedules. While we were talking, a man pulls up in a pickup and tells us "a strange lady is following me". Rob and I look at each other a bit perplexed, both of us not sure what to say to him. The man in the truck then asked, "do ya'll do Christian tours?" Luckily Rob is quick to tell the man we are customers and not the owners. The man thanks us for our time and drives away. Sure enough, five seconds after he leaves, a woman drives past us and indeed appears to be following the man in the truck. Now I can't say if she was strange or not or a lady for that fact, but she was definitely following him. Rob and I looked at each other and laughed.
Rob noted that Bastrop has become a sort of refuge for a lot of the old hippie types from Austin and the gentleman in the truck appeared to fit my preconceived notion of that sort of person. Rob and I decided to go for lunch. We dined at the Texas Grill which had one of the best burgers I have had in long time. It was a real local sort of establishment, the waitress called us "hun" and "darling" and kept my iced tea glass full, and most of the locals wore cowboy hats and looked like they came off the range. It was a very friendly place and would highly recommend eating there if you are ever in Bastrop, Texas.
Well, anyways, Rob and I finished up our lunch and headed back over to the outfitters. Anne and Kip had just arrived and shortly afterwards John, the Outfitter, showed up. Introductions were made all around, we loaded up our gear and headed off to our put in at Plum Creek Park. This is about half way in between Smithville and Lagrange. Lagrange is the town where the famous Chicken Ranch was located and made popular in the film "Best Little Whore House In Texas" starring Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton. The planned trip was for about 17 miles, from Plum Creek Park to Lagrange. We got on the river by about 3:00 or so and were soon headed down stream with a nice gentle current. The weather was cool and cloudy and perfect for an autumn river trip. We all paddled and fished our way down stream for about 4 miles or so. I was using a fly rod and an ultra-light rig, Rob was using an ultra-light rig with a worm. Anne and Kip were using bait casters and top water plugs. Anne was the first one to hook up with a small bass. This would be a recurring theme through out the trip as Anne caught the most and the biggest fish during the trip. I am going to buy a box of those lures that Anne was using, the fish couldn't resist them. As we made our way down river we heard the unmistakable sound of a bugling elk. I know, I know, there are no elk in this part of the state or country, but there are a few ranches that have elk and other exotic game animals. Of course most of the big animals we spotted were cows -- this is definitely Texas cattle country.
Our first camp was on a small island, it was a bit cramped, but it turned out to be a comfy site in the end. Tents were pitched and camp was made. Kip was quick to scavenge for firewood and light the fire. The evening was nice and very relaxing, especially after a hectic week at work. I was soon in my tent and sawing logs.
We awoke Saturday morning to a cloudy cool morning. After a leisurely breakfast we loaded up and again headed down river. We fished most of the morning only paddling to negotiate some small rapids and to take a break from fishing. We saw a lot of Ospreys during the day, and during the trip for that fact, fairly common to see. My fly rod produced a nice 1.5 to 2 lb bass using a top water popper. There is nothing more fun than making a perfect cast and seeing the water explode underneath the plug. The fish was fat and healthy. I unhooked it and turned it loose to catch another day. We continued our way down river through small rapids and occasionally lining the boats through areas to shallow to paddle. Luckily the shallow areas were few and far between. A few of the rapids tested the expedition Kevlar hull of my Swift Shearwater, but the sounds of my hull scraping through the rocks was worst then the actual damage. I have a few more superficial scratches in the gel coat to help me remember the trip, but nothing to worry about. We paddled and fished around 7 or 8 miles that day. We came across a really nice sand bar and decided to stop a bit early and make camp there for the night. Tents were pitched, camp was made and Kip again had amassed an ample supply of firewood for the night. Kip was a real pleasure to have along the trip, at 13 years of age, building fires was good fun for him and the adults enjoyed the warmth of his fires. Kip was just a lot of fun to have along and I look forward to more trips down the river with he and Anne. After dinner and cleaning up a bit we sat around the fire and just enjoyed the sounds of the river and fire. The skies cleared later in the evening and we saw several shooting stars. It was a perfect night to be on the river, it just doesn't get any better. During the night I heard coyotes howling and owls calling in the distance. I lied awake just enjoying the night life and being on the river.
Sunday morning came all too soon; the last day on the river, the drive home and back to normal life. The morning was beautifully clear and cool, temp was about 40 degrees or so and not a cloud in the sky. Rob and I listened to the weather radio early in the morning, the forecast was for clear skies, but stiff winds out of the northwest 15 to 20 miles per hour. Luckily this would mostly be a tail wind for the remainder of the trip. While milling about the campsite that morning, Kip spotted three deer on our side of the river, and shortly afterward the deer swam across the chilly Colorado River. It is surprising at how good of swimmers deer can be considering those skinny little legs and hooves. We watched them climb up onto the bank and shake the water off then quietly vanish into the woods. We shoved off by 9:00 AM. The last section of the river was a lot of fun and very scenic. Along several sections of the river there are springs that seep out of the sides of the cliffs and some off the cliffs are around the 50 to 60 foot range, namely Indian Hills and the Chalk Cliffs. Not high by some standards but for this part of Texas, this is what there is, but it is beautiful.
The last 8 miles or so went by fast with several sections of mild rapids and generally swift moving water. As we made our way down river that morning, we saw a large raptor up ahead. We watched trying to see if it was another Osprey possibly or just a darn Turkey Vulture, the large raptor then came towards us and then banked away, clearly revealing the massive white head and tail of a Bald Eagle. Bald Eagles are not terribly common in these parts, but always a treat to see. There is a small resident population of eagles, but winter does bring in some northern migrants, making sightings more common during the winter.
As we approached Lagrange, we phoned Rising Phoenix Outfitters and told John where we were. We got to the take out and with in 5 minutes John was there. While we were at the take out, there was an interesting old timer getting set to head up river in search of "artifacts". Rob quizzed him to what exactly he was looking for, and the gentleman told us it was arrow heads and petrified wood and in some cases burned petrified wood. Rob asked how he could tell if it was burned petrified wood and the response was a predictable "because it's black". An interesting gentleman none the less. We loaded up all our gear and boats and headed back to Bastrop in the outfitter van. Once at the outfitter we unloaded and sorted our gear and loaded up our cars. We sat around and talked a bit, then we each went our separate ways. I went back to Nassau Bay, 'bout 2.5 hrs away, Anne and Kip had a 3.5 hour drive to Nacogdoches and Rob had a 1.5 hour drive back San Antonio. It was one of the most pleasurable paddling trips I have had in a very long time and look forward to meeting friends old and new on another river in the near future.
There are loads of places to stay in Bastrop; hotel to the State Park.
We used Rising Phoenix Outfitters in Bastrop for our shuttle, nice service, prompt and courteous.
From Houston: I-10 West to Columbus, North on SH 70 to Bastrop
River and Rapids of Texas has a pretty good description of the river