March 16-18, 2012
Put in: Hwy 59 about 10 miles North of Carthage, Tx
Take out: FM 2517 about 10 miles SE of Carthage, Tx
Along on this trip was my 75 yr old Father. Also, were about 12 other members of DDRC with Bryan Jackson being the trip leader. I drove out to my parent’s house in Tyler and spent Thursday night there so as to not have such an early start on Friday. My Dad and I got to the ramp at the Hwy 59 bridge about 7:45 and quickly got everything out of the truck and loaded up in the kayaks. The river was very high and flow was about 5000 cfs. Dad and I got the fishing poles out and I picked up one decent white bass pretty on the 3rd cast. Everyone else from DDRC showed up and we and all the drivers got in and ran there cars down to FM2517. We all got on the water just before 11am and started our paddle downriver. The river really looked quite a bit different than the year before when levels were about 16 ft lower. We mostly just drifted in the current and fished along the way. The white bass really did not seem to be running. When we got to the coal ledge shoal about 2-3 miles down it was completely covered with water and there was no indication of a shoal. This was the place where I really tore them up the year prior. Not this year, there were no fish and no crowds along the bank. We continued our fishing, paddling and just enjoying the day on the Sabine. I came up on a log with a banded water snake out for a tan. He pulled of into the water before I could snap a picture. After we passed the FM 1794 bridge we started to look for campsites. The year before I remembered many sandbars on nearly every river bend starting about 2 miles past the FM 1794 bridge. With water up so high all those prime camp spots were submerged. We paddled about 5 miles past and found a decent place on river right with some places back off the river in a small field with a 4 wheeler path down to them. We opted to keep moving. After a bit further we came upon another spot on river right. However, it was muddy and there was very little real estate for the group we had. The river had another large bend to the left just ahead so I paddled on down then paddled back upstream to report back. I found a large sandy bar with a couple of people fishing on it. It was already 4pm and confidence in finding another spot before dark was low so we all descended on this sandbar. I got Dad and I all unloaded and tent set up. I had planned on frying fish for dinner but with the lack of fish had to revert to a couple of dried meals. After dinner we all sat around the campfire and traded stories of times past. About 10pm a couple of guys come by on 4 wheelers. The chewed the fat and found out they were the property owners. They did not have an issue with us camping for the night as technically we were in the flood plain on that sand bar. The one fellow must have been 6’4” and looked and sounded like Larry the Cable Guy’s cousin, his name was Carrie Blue. After they left we continued conversation around the fire.
I got in my bag and made my bed next to the fire about midnight. I woke up about 1:45 to a sound I had not heard in a while but distinctly remember it. It was the distinct scream of a mountain lion. The first scream while somewhat distant made the entire forest go quite. The frogs, crickets and all the forest background went dead silent. You really do not realize just how noisy the forest is until it goes quiet. While only encountering and hearing 4-5 times in the past it is one you do not forget. The next 2-3 screams were steadily getting closer and spaced a few minutes apart. The last 4-6 screams were making a bee line for the camp. This time was different as there were two of them, one about one half to one mile on downriver. At first I thought it was just an echo but when the one down river got out of sync and led the scream rather then follow I knew there were two. The last scream was within 100-200ft of the camp as I could hear it walking through the brush not far behind the tent where my Father was sleeping. I think it got close enough to camp to smell us and smell the little smoke that was still coming from the fire. Then it went totally silent and never heard another scream except the one downstream only a couple times more. I heard it slowly walk away through the brush headed downstream toward the other one. Needles to say I did pull my knife out of its sheath and had it ready just in case that kitty wanted to check out where I was bedded down.
Morning at 5am for me and up to make my first cup and sit in my chair to listen to the river and the forest. Breakfast for my Dad and I was sausage and cheese omelets and OJ. My dad caught 3 whites before breakfast. We packed up and put on the river about 9:45. We fished and drifted again and just let the current to its job. The white bass were really a no show. The night before Carry indicated that the white bass run was really about over and had started early this year due to the warm weather. I am not sure I believe that and may make my way back to the river once it recedes. My dad snagged a very large shad (7”) and we decided it would make good catfish bait for later. We continued our trek down river and passed the Hwy 79 bridge about 12:30 and stopped and had lunch at the ramp. We paddled on until about 3pm and really were not seeing any campsites due to the high water. About 4pm and only 4 miles from our takeout at FM 2517 I saw a low bank where a gas pipeline crossed the river and was the easement for the pipeline. I decided it would accommodate all of us and had plenty of level ground covered in nice green grass down by the river. We all unpacked and made camp. I got dinner started about 5pm which was Dutch oven chicken pot pie. While I was cooking dinner my Dad caught 3 catfish and a couple whites. After dinner we all sat around the campfire once again. Once again about 10pm a couple of 4 wheelers show up and it is the property owners. Thankfully they did not have and issue with us camping there for the night. We assured them there would be no trash left behind and the only wood used for the campfire was from a tree that was already down. They did not hang around long. Except for the occasional coyotes and owls the night was quiet. I slept in the tent that night as it really looked like rain and I prefer not to sleep on grass next to a river.
Morning for me was just after 4am. Made my coffee, listened to the owls and coyotes and watched the occasional meteors. Once again omelets made for breakfast. My Dad and I got on the river just before 9am and got to the ramp just after 10am. This was the first time my father has come along with me on one of these trips. He and I did some camping as a kid which I always enjoyed. One trip I remember well was with our 17’ Grumman Aluminum canoe out at Toledo Ben for a week. We spent and entire week fishing and camped out along the shoreline. He could always out fish me back then and it is where I learned how to bake a potato by burying it under your fire. I do not get to spend a lot of time with him these days as I have 3 boys of my own, but I really enjoyed this trip with him and the time spent.
My dad and me a the ramp
First nights camp
Dad finishing some breakfast