A man awoke from a deep sleep. He was a prosperous man and had wanted for little. Yet this night he was awakened with a gnawing that he could only equate to hunger. And so, he began a journey. He traveled to foreign lands, climbed vast mountain ranges and crossed raging seas still unable to curb his appetites. Upon returning to his home he walked the banks of a mighty river, the pangs of this strange hunger still deep within. Though he had passed this way many times he had not noticed the river’s simplistic beauty. Its’ confidence of place and belonging. In the distance he came upon a man standing in the river with a string of many fine fish. “My friend,” he said to the man, “I have been on a long journey and passing by I see that you have many fish in your possession. I have been hungry for some time with a hunger that will not subside. Would you be so kind as to spare me one fish for the remainder of my journey home as I do not live far from here?" To his surprise the man answered, “No. Though I have many to spare it would be an injustice for me to give to you one fish and send you on your way. You would only find yourself hungry again. Rather if you will allow me, I will teach you how to fish and you my friend will eat for a lifetime.” I saddled up the old Bronc and headed south to the hill country of Gruene, TX just between Austin and San Antonio. Gruene (pronounced Green) originally began as a 6000-acre cotton farm purchased by German American farmer Heinrich (Henry) D. Gruene along the Guadalupe River in 1872. Over the next six years several families began sharecropping on the Gruene land and in 1878 Heinrich opened a general store to serve the families needs. Gruene Hall also opened in 1878 along with the Thorn Hill School and three large cotton gins. By 1900 Gruene was a thriving cotton community only to fall prey to a tiny predator. The boll weevil wreaked havoc on Gruene and left it completely defenseless against the onslaught of the Great Depression. By 1950 Gruene was little more than a ghost town.
Rolling down the main street today feels a little like stepping back in time. A bit of a snapshot of an era when things didn’t need to move at light speed and you didn’t feel the urge to do ten things at one time. You might just sit and play a game of checkers, whittle a stick down to a nub or in my case find a quiet stretch on the Guadalupe and get a few flies on the water. I came here to do a little fly-fishing and I quickly discovered this to be one of my new favorite destinations.
I pulled up to the historic Gruene Mansion, a Victorian style lodge that was the original home of the Gruene family built in 1872. It has been wonderfully restored into a great getaway. I checked in and was given a cabin style room complete with private patio overlooking the Guadalupe. Once I got settled in I headed to the breakfast buffet and found a spread that put any lodging I’ve stayed at to shame. Fresh eggs, ham, bacon and cottage fries. Homemade pastries and plenty of fresh fruit. Juices, great coffee you name it was there and freshly prepared every morning whether there was one guest or fifty. But here’s what took it over the top for me. The chef will prepare you fresh German pancakes made to order! He cooks them while you wait. A squeeze of fresh lemon, some powdered sugar and these things melt in your mouth! Almost made me forget about the fly-fishing.
After I tore myself away from the buffet I headed out to meet Chris Jackson. Chris runs a small guide operation called Action Anglers. His fly shop is fully equipped with everything you need to get you out on the river and as a guide he really knows what he’s doing. I am a beginner to the sport. So I always keep my expectations low and lean on a quote from Charles Orvis who said, “Unless one can enjoy himself fishing with the fly, even when his efforts are unrewarded, he loses much real pleasure.” Once we found our spot on the water Chris gave me a couple of quick pointers as to how to roll cast my tandem fly rig in an effort to keep me out of the trees. I didn’t say so but I must admit I was thinking, “Listen, Chris I didn’t come out here to roll cast, I came out here to stand on a giant boulder and shadow cast like Brad Pitt in the film, get on a giant brownie and fight him downstream!” Chris must have read my mind because he informed me that, “By the way if you’re thinking about “A River Runs Through It”, that’s “Hollywood fly fishing”, it was a river in Montana and your not Brad Pitt.” So, I settled in to the roll cast. It wasn’t long before Chris had landed a 20-inch rainbow just up the river from me. It was a real beauty and as my time was running out I figured it would probably be the only one of the day. I was wrong. About fifteen minutes later my roll cast place the fly perfectly and I had a fish on. Chris moved in and coached me through netting a beautiful 19-inch Guadalupe River Rainbow Trout. The river was scenic, the weather was perfect and it couldn’t have been any better.
After I got back to Gruene I headed over to the oldest dancehall in Texas. Gruene Hall has hosted some of the greatest singer/songwriters out there. From Willie to Lyle Lovett and some of my favorites like Walt Wilkins, Bruce and Charlie Robison, Chris Knight and Kevin Welch. I caught a great acoustic “in the round” performance featuring Susan Gibson. These acoustic sets are a great, informal way to kick back and hear some music. Up close and personal with the artists. They have a real laid back feel about them and usually engage the audience quite a bit. After the set I walked next door and grabbed a steak at the Gristmill Restaurant. The short walk back to my room gave me just enough time to reflect back on this trip. A Henry David Thoreau quote came to mind, “Many go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” It seemed relevant here. I did catch the biggest fish I have ever caught but I also discovered once again that fish or no fish I would have really missed something if I hadn’t taken another backroad jaunt and discovered Gruene, TX for myself.
See you on the road less traveled.
Stacy Dean Campbell
BRONCO ROADS HOST