Photo from Beth Darnell
Frying fish on the Guadalupe river with two lifelong friends
True, close friends are one of life’s greatest treasures. I watched the two lifelong friends as we motored up the Guadalupe River before sunrise. They are like Siamese twins.
My granddaughter, Demaris Darnell, and Gracie Stewart were friends even before kindergarten. Now they are about to complete 13 years as schoolmates when they graduate from Hill Country Christian School in May. Not only were they schoolmates, but it’s like they lived at each other’s houses. If you saw one, you usually saw the other. Many great outdoor adventures with Demaris involved Gracie. They have been soccer teammates, softball teammates, and the two horses on the basketball team in the state playoff final four the last two years.
Add to all this overseas mission trips together, church youth group, summer youth camps and babysitting adventures – I don’t know if one gets paid or both. It didn’t matter. Friends help each other.
But all of this camaraderie is coming to an abrupt end in late August. Demaris will be moving to Pensacola, Florida to attend the University of West Florida. Gracie will attend Austin Community College before transferring to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. It will be a sad day for both.
So I took them up the river on a white bass fishing trip. And the trip had a unique twist. I brought the black pot, cooking oil, fish cornmeal batter and a can of baked beans.
“If you girls don’t catch fish, then you don’t eat lunch,” I said. “You’re fishing for your food.”
That excited them. They both love a challenge. It didn’t take long before Demaris was hooked into a strong fish. More powerful than a 12-inch white bass. After a good fight I lifted a beautiful striped bass into the boat.
“He has to be 18 inches to help us with lunch,” I said.
They watched carefully as I placed the fish on the ruler. 17 inches – close, but no cigar.
Through the years I have cooked white bass on the gravel bar near “the rapids” on the Guadalupe. I have never failed to catch enough fish for lunch. And I had an ace in the hole if push came to shove. My neighbor, Tom Ray, and his son, Micah, were in Tom’s boat beside us. If we had to “borrow” a couple of fish we knew they would help us.
But we didn’t need help. We caught the striper and 13 white bass – more than enough for lunch. We even released three big females to give them a chance to spawn and make babies.
The weather could not have been more beautiful – cool, but not cold, sunny skies and no wind. Later in the morning we beached the boat and walked above the rapids to fish from the bank. I caught two whites while the girls went on a scouting trip up the hill. They returned all excited. Several rocks had been found with shell fossils embedded.
Earlier, on the trip up the river, Rio Grande turkeys were on the bank gobbling like crazy. We had six gobblers on one bank and several hens across the river. The girls began to do “turkey talk” and the gobblers answered lustily. I’m sure they were about to fly across the river to join their friends. I have seen turkeys fly across many times. I would have loved for the girls to see a turkey flight but we were eager to fish and motored on.
At about 10:00 a.m. we started lunch. The girls gathered larger rocks to build a fire pit. Dry driftwood was plentiful for fuel. While the girls got the fire going and started heating the oil, I filleted the fish. I knew we had more fish than we could devour but I cleaned them all so I wouldn’t need to clean fish when I got home. That’s always a tiring job after an early rise, long truck trip, and a morning of fishing.
The girls opened the can of beans and set them against the fire while the fish cooked. The only thing missing was coleslaw. The girls said they didn’t like it, so Beth sent none. What about me?
After cleaning up the cook site, we loaded the gear into my skiff and sailed down the river to Rebecca Creek Ramp.
“Would you girls like to do it again tomorrow?” I asked.
I knew what the answer would be. Do you think I had any chance getting two teenage girls out of bed at 5 a.m. two days in a row?