Last weekend I got an invite from a good friend to head into San Marcos and hang out with the guys from Project Healing Waters. For any who doesn’t know what Project Healing Waters is, here is a quote from their mission statement. . .
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans through fly fishing and associated activities including education and outings.
I met up with Mike Schlimgen and his team just outside of Martindale, Texas at a small cabin that has been graciously donated specifically for this program. The cabin has a porch with grills for cooking breakfast. There is an inside area large enough for mass fly tying. On one side of the cabin is a stocked pond perfect for the beginning fly fisherman and on the other side the San Marcos River. The day began with food and coffee, as should any day, followed by a quick prayer and then we were off to the races. There were three stations available for the veterans.
There was a beginners fly casting group complete with coaches and hula hoop targets.
Inside the cabin there were six fly tying vises where you could sit down and learn how to tie a Wooly Bugger (I participated in this one and tied my first fly).
From there it was time to head to the pond with your new creation and see if you could hook into a fish.
There were many fish stories told, and who I am to say that they weren’t all true. Regardless of their accuracy everyone seemed to be actively involved and enjoying their time spent together. The San Marcos group meets every Friday, 12 months out of the year at 6:45 am. If you are in the San Marcos area and you are either a veteran who would like to participate or an experienced fly angler that would like to offer your expertise, please contact me and I will get you in touch with the right people.
After the event ended Mike and I decided to take the kayaks out and doing a little fishing on our own.
Brief Back Story: Mike taught me how to fly fish almost 2 years ago. We didn’t have great river access where we were and so he promised to take me out in San Marcos and teach me how to read the water. It took me this long to cash in on my invitation, but I can assure you it was well worth the wait. The fly rod I am using was also a gift from him which just makes this trip all the more meaningful.
We were on the water by about 1 o’clock in the afternoon and Mike said he had a few things he wanted to show me. We wouldn’t start fishing until we got up river far enough to turn around and let the current take us back. This particular stretch of the San Marcos is surrounded by private property for miles with little to no public access. Everything is virtually untouched by human hands and the peacefulness was unbelievable. We stopped several times during our paddle to enjoy some snacks and a few invigorating swims in the cool spring fed waters.
When we reached our turn around point Mike pointed out a unique looking shelf along the bank of the river. That shelf is pictured behind me in the photo below.
The shelf is full of fossilized ocean crustaceans and local geologist believe that is was actually part of the ocean floor millions of years ago. I would say this is a pretty cool find on a river yaking adventure. Just across the river from this shelf is also a large bald eagle nest.
Fun Fact: In 2010 there were 52 mating pairs of bald eagles in Texas. Today that number has tripled.
This is where the fishing began. Well, kind of. I was hoping that my muscle memory would kick in and that my fly cast would at least be back to the level it was the last time Mike and I had been fishing. What I hadn’t planned for was the moving current, paddle management, and an immense amount of overhanging vegetation. It took quite some time for me to get everything situated and I may or may not have caught a few large trees in the early goings. However, persistence paid off and it wasn’t too long before I had my first fish on. No, he wasn’t a huge fish, but the feeling of accomplishment that comes from fooling a fish with a fly rod weighs much heavier than anything I could ever catch. Not to mention even small fish feel big on a 4 weight.
We continued our drift down the river and every time we would reach a new obstacle Mike would stop and explain to me the best strategy for working each little nook and cranny and then probably laugh to himself as he watched me awkwardly try to figure it out. The highlight of my day came when we approached a steep rock wall in the bend of the river. Mike said that I would need to break down my paddle so that I could scull with one hand keeping my kayak close to the wall and then cast with the other so that I could bring my fly right down the edge. Please note that I have a hard enough time casting with two hands, let alone controlling the boat at the same time. Somehow after a few casts I found myself in a rhythm and a large Guadalupe Bass came out from under the overhang and inhaled my popper. I got him landed and he measured out to 13.5″. TPWD considers 14″ to be a trophy so I was pretty pumped. Oh, and Mike landed one as well.
This was the exclamation point to an already incredible day and we decided to head to the truck. I finished the day with 10 fish and 5 species. I did trick a gorgeous spotted gar into taking the fly on our last little bit of paddle, but he came unbuttoned before I could do the grip and grin. I would like to say a huge thank you to Mike and the Project Healing Waters team for having me out and I hope to attend more events in the future. Thanks for reading and remember. . .
Tight Lines, Tall Tales, and Full Stringers