Blog by: Lloyd Tackitt , Texas 8/1/2018
Where I fish in the Brazos River there's a shelf of limestone bedrock about half an acre in size that projects out of the water six inches when the river level is low enough to wade. It reminds me of the reef at low tide that we played on as kids in Okinawa. A bleached white in color it has furrows in it from water erosion, making it an ankle twisting bastard to walk on. When dry it has decent traction, but when it is wet it is slicker than ice, and with the uncertain footing is a disaster waiting for a hip bone.
It narrows the river down to a chute, a chute with a rapid current and knee deep water. Wading up against that current is a beast, having an effect sort of like putting 100 pounds of weight on each foot and then striding up a steep hill. So that shelf of rock begins to look more inviting. After all, as long as one is careful, very careful, it can be navigated. I've navigated it many times, albeit somewhat reluctantly.
In the summer when the river is low the sun bakes that shelf of rock. The sun's rays hit it all day long as it reflects those rays back upwards, the whiteness of the rock stark and somewhat mesmerizing. Heat waves will form over it during the latter part of the afternoon, when the rock hits maximum heat. Surrounded on three sides by water it is an odd sight, an anomaly. It attracts the attention, and wading birds.
Wading birds in the Brazos are legion, in both species, and in numbers. They will wade around the edges of the rock shelf, eyeing the water with that soul-less un-blinking gaze of their saucer shaped eyes, neck muscles tense, virtually coiled. Then almost faster than the eye can comprehend a strike down and a pull back up with a fish caught sideways in the long bill, a quick flip to re-position the hapless fish, and swallow, two steps taken then back to that blinkless downward gaze. The Egrets and Herons are gorgeous birds to watch, if you're not a fish. If you are a fish they must be Satan's Evil Children personified.
A few days ago there was a large contingent of Turkey Vultures on the rock. Huge beasts with the ugly raw red skinned heads. The most graceful flyers of all birds when in the air, they are awkward and butt ugly when grounded. The stark white background of the rock made their red wattled skin and black feathered bodies stand out in bold relief. It was around five in the afternoon, the hot part of the day. The buzzards were on that rock for some reason that made sense only to them.
Most of them were standing with their wings outspread. As though drying off. Perhaps they had taken baths in the river before I spotted them and were drying off. It is odd to think of buzzards taking baths, but I have seen it before, though only once in the many decades I've roamed this river. There were, I would estimate, thirty or forty of them. A large band. Gathered close, not much room between individuals. Just enough room to spread their wings and hold them out. Like soldiers doing dress-right-dress.
Boo, my Black Lab had been too busy doing dog things to notice them until I stopped moving. Boo is my constant fishing companion. He will stand beside me and watch me fish, watching my cast, watching where my lure or bait lands, then watch me when I bring a fish in. He will watch the fish with rapt attention and when I toss the fish back he tries to retrieve it. He has learned to smell under water. I can throw a rock as far as I can into the river and he will find that specific rock and bring it back. He can smell me on the rock. He smells under water by sticking his snout under, then blowing out through his nostrils, blowing bubbles. That leaves traces of water in his nostrils and the water carries smells that he can detect. I've learned how to fly cast with him standing beside me, he almost always stands to my right, apparently it is his strategy to force me to cast better than I otherwise would have to.
As I stopped to watch the buzzards he noticed that I had stopped, looked at me, and then followed my gaze. It is typical of him, he will see where I am looking and then he will look there as well. For a moment he was puzzled, the buzzards were very still and probably looked like a shadow on the rock to his dog eyes. Then one of the buzzards moved a little and I could see it click into focus for Boo. His expression changed. He charged. We were a good fifty yards away and he had to galumph through knee deep water to get to the rock, there was no chance in hell he'd get there in time, none. Boo didn't care, he is built to chase things and catching things is a distant second in his desires. Truth is he would love a ball that was perpetually just out of his reach.
The buzzards saw him coming as soon as he lit out of course, and they began to lift off. Their lift off was that awkward thing they do when they have to take off from the ground. A lot of heavy duty wing flapping and a kind of running and skipping lope to get up to speed. Noisy when there are so many so close too. But once they were flying, even though only a couple of feet off the ground, they reverted to that pure grace only they have in the air.
A hot as hell day, blazing white rock with heat waves shimmering, a large black dog charging across water, the water splashing upwards in crystalline drops, large black buzzards going from dead still to panicked take-off into graceful flight.
It was a short and memorable moment, a very brief moment in time.
Fishing is about much more than trying to catch fish.
You can see a portion of the shelf of rock, although this is an autumn photo.