A long time ago, I loved fishing in this area. I’m not sure where my pursuit of fishing came from, but I spent a considerable amount of time in my high school days seeking out the finest fishing areas that this area could offer up. Sitting beside a stocked cattle pond enjoying a beautiful Saturday was pretty much one of the finest ways to spend a day. Having lived here since the ‘80s, I assure you that I have fished virtually every body of water from Boerne to Kerrville and back.
In the pursuit of these gorgeous fishing spots, I must admit that my teenaged self and my friends broke virtually every trespassing law that has ever existed. We jumped every fence, explored every caliche road and discovered every secret path to get to these hidden gem locations. We found the hidden access point, we snuck around in the bushes, and we hid my car so that we could get to these beautiful and pristine fishing grounds that the Hill Country calls home without upsetting anyone.
For the most part, we never caused any troubles. We were just some kids out with our fishing poles, eating from our sack lunches, and just horsing around. Every once in a while, a rancher would show up and chat with us. In the dozen times this happened, either he would come up on us and chit/chat about how our fishing luck was working, or he would say “Boys, this is private property. Ya’ll shouldn’t be out here so it’s probably best if you move along.” We’d politely say “Yessir. We meant no harm” and we’d be on our way. He’d wish us well, and would typically point in the general direction of the landowner’s home and tell us to feel free to knock on the door next time and check to see if we could get access. My point is that, yes, we were shooed off every once in a while, but it wasn’t done out of fear or threat or anger.
Since the dawn of time, people have migrated to riverbanks to sit with their feet in the water while holding an old rod and trying their luck at catching some dinner. It’s one of the reasons that God gave us rivers, I suppose. Sometimes you catch nothing, but just the act of sitting beneath a giant Cypress on the banks of the Guadalupe fixes your soul.
Last weekend, I wanted to go fishing.
I so very rarely have time to go fishing anymore, but darn it, I really really wanted to sit on the banks and just wet a line for a couple of hours. So as I had done in the past, I traveled to the farthest recesses of a particular neighborhood that abuts the Guadalupe. I went down a work trail that I have known about for years in my truck, and found a deep spot on the river. As we all know, the majority of the land leading down to the river is a flood area, so there were no houses. No property markers. The houses were hundreds and hundreds of yards away and honestly, you had no idea where property lines were marked. It was just a bumpy old road that would take you down to the river.
So that’s what I did.
I proceeded to sit on a tree stump with my rod in my hand, and smile as I listened to the wind whisper through the trees. I had little more than my old tackle box with me. No coolers. No radios. No friends that were hooting and hollering. Just little old me and my little old fishing pole.
As I stood up to check my line a few minutes after arrival, I was abruptly startled with a shout of “HEY! What are you doing down there?!!” The balding man at the top of the trail was obviously irritated and I smirked to myself before I answered as I thought, “Well, what do you THINK I’m doing down here by the river with a fishing pole in my hand?”
To cut to the chase, I was formally dressed down as a dangerous law-breaking outlaw for trespassing on his neighbor’s property and that I should be arrested. I pointed out that I was down here by myself, had no trash, and was simply fishing. I meant no harm and would politely leave despite his aggression. He was red-faced, huffing and puffing, and glared at me as I packed up to leave. He went on and on about where the property lines were, despite there being no markers (because I suppose I was supposed to have a topographical property map on me, I suppose). I loaded up, waved politely, and departed.
As I slowly bounced up the road, the actual land owner came running down the road and we repeated the whole process. I was angrily addressed, threatened with police intervention, and blah, blah, blah. I nodded my head, again said I was just fishing for a few minutes, and that I was just trying to leave as I meant no harm. I was on an obvious road that provided access, parked where I should, and was sitting alone fishing. However, I understand, and I apologized for the intrusion. He glared at me, sputtered something more about property rights, and I split.
As I left the area, I wasn’t angry. I think, more than anything, I was sad.
I know that I’m not a teenager anymore, and I probably don’t get the benefit of the doubt like I might have gotten as a “knucklehead kid”, but the entire episode caused me to just feel sad for the rest of the day.
For one, I felt sad that there are so few places to get access to our area’s natural beauty. Back in the day, this entire area was little but ranchland. Huge, sprawling ranches where the odds of seeing another soul were slim to none. You could wander along the bank of the river, casting to your heart’s content, and you would almost never stumble upon anyone. Nowadays, the land has been so carved up by these little ranchettes that the access has proven extremely difficult to find. Sure, there’s the State Parks and the bridge access points, but so many of those old caliche roads that provided access are now behind someone’s extremely expensive gate.
More importantly, it bummed me out because of what it said about US as people and citizens. As I left the area and tossed my ball cap on the dash of my truck, I ran my hands through my hair and thought to myself “That little exchange is EXACTLY what is wrong with the world. Everyone is terrified of everyone.”
I swear that if I had land on the Guadalupe and I stumbled upon a gentleman sitting with a fishing rod in his hand, without trash or loud music or empty beers lying around, I’d probably be tempted to take a seat and check in on his success with the fishing hole. Yes, I could probably hyperventilate and throw him off my property under threat of arrest, but man, life’s too short for that shit.
I’m not sure if this type of aggression is due to transplants that have moved here from large cities and are wary of anyone that have breached their property defenses, or if it’s simply due to people watching too much CNN. Maybe it’s just due to the amount of money that riverfront property costs nowadays and people are overly protective.
I suppose I don’t really care.
This whole story is simply to say this: People, we are ALL just people. We all like to sit by the riverbank and try to catch a catfish, and even if that happens on your property, it doesn’t mean that we are ISIS terrorists planning to destroy you. We’re just simply people trying to waste a few hours. I know that there are bad apples and you’ll end up picking up trash, but for the most part, we’re all just trying to co-exist. I wonder what would happen if you came upon a person fishing and sat down and simply…talked. Gasp! You might actually meet a new person that meant you absolutely no harm, was respectful of the land and your property, and simply appreciated the beauty of the area.
I wonder what our world would look like if we stopped being so damned terrified of one another and were aware that, just like you, we all just like to EXPLORE sometimes. In order to do so, sometimes we might have to bend a few rules, perhaps.
Just wave to me on my journey.
Welcome to January. It is a new year, and I don’t know about you, but I’m so glad to wave goodbye to 2017. May you find that old caliche road, EXPLORE the beauty of this area, and may you be greeted by nothing but swaying Cypress trees, dark green tranquil waters, and peace.
Benjamin D. Schooley.