Yesterday after moving boxes from one mini-storage site to a more convenient one, I hit the road up Highway 78 to the Park Hill Prairie. The Park Hill Prairie is a county park on one o the few remaining Texas portions of original blackland prairie. When the anglos first came to Texas, almost all the northern portion of the state was covered with tallgrass prairie. Most of it was broken up into tilled farmland, causing gorgeous prairie plants and vigorous prairie animals to lose habitat. A few farmers kept a little of the original prairie for hay-fodder purposes. This Park Hill Prairie is one such place. Now it's an oasis of natural Texas, with flowers, birds and grasses that do not grow in many other places. The Park Hill Prairie has few visitors, but I go there regularly to hike and to fish in what must be the best little sunfish ponds in America.
The ponds are small and unassuming, located in the midst of the grasses. Because the ponds are adjacent to the "tallgrass" section, they even mow them in Spring.
I'm one of those people who was "raised" fishing, in little local lakes, using old-fashioned hook and bobber type gear.
I was taught to fish on the fabled Zebco 33, a silver reel, usually placed on a rod labelled "Rhino Tough", which was the quality inexpensive rod and reel set for years. In California, where I ocean fished, this posed a dilemma, because the 33 is too small for most bay fishing, and yet I always got the open-faced reels more favored for that use all tangled up. Then I discovered the Zebco 808, a reel used for walleye fishing up in Minnesota and Wisconsin, which can reel up larger fish. I used it for Pacific mackerel and sand bass, and it worked out fine. Since I moved back to Texas, I got miffed with Zebco (a fine Oklahoma company, notwithstanding my pique) because a 33 reel I got at Wal-mart had no fishing line in it. I'm a fickle consumer, who believes that a fishing reel, whose sole purpose is fishing line delivery, should come with the fishing line as promised. So I bought a cheap Shakespeare rod and reel (the reel was a pretty metallic blue, which I considered the decisive purchase detail), which stood me in good stead until I turned over that canoe over Easter. Now it reels as if it has been dunked in muddy lakewater. So I bought another cheap rod and reel yesterday. But this time I went "too cheap", because this one makes squeal sounds like bridge cable breaking whenever a small sunfish tugs a bit. I guess I'll have to return, like the prodigal son, home to Zebco, a place of cheap reels and dependable performance.
Although I'm not adverse to eating fresh fish, lately I practice catch and release fishing. I'm ambivalent about fishing, because I love fish and don't really like to put hooks in them. On the other hand, I do enjoy catching them, and recognize that I'm an omnivore who eats a lot of critters who feel more than fish, so I'm conflicted. Park Hill Prairie features those small fish called "sunfish". I grew up fishing for sunfish, which we called "bream", on White Oak Lake. They bite readily for those who use worms to fish.
Yesterday I caught nine sunfish, two of which were the smaller "green sunfish". I released them all back into the pond. The fishing was not particularly difficult. If the worm was carefully baited on the hook, the fish immediately began tugging it under. The "trick" in this type of fishing is to strive to get a few of the larger "keepers", but I'd say if I kept fish, I would have only kept zero to two of these choices. Here's what one looks like, in a picture taken shortly before I put this fish back into the water:
Although the basic format of the Park Hill Prairie is tall grass prairie with a few trees, the immediate surroundings of the ponds includes a few willow trees which make for a rather different "look" to things:
I saw a snapping turtle standing atop one of those willow branches, his entire body out of the water. But when he saw me, then he plopped back into the water with a loud splash.
In the distance, as I fished, I heard the "lowing" of cows. I love cow "lowing", because in my suburban space I don't hear it every day. There were gorgeous blue storm clouds overhead, and the wind rose high, but the fishing continued unabatedly good. Park Hill Prairie always yields good fishing, except on the coldest, most inhospitable days.
My throwaway camera this time was waterproof, so I was able to try a few underwater camera pictures in the remarkably clear waters of the ponds. They didn't come out very well, but this one gives a rough idea of the underwater view:
After I finished fishing, I hiked the tallgrass prairie.
The wildflowers were simply fabulous. I saw black-eyed susans, primrose, Texas false dandelions (which look like psychedelic true dandelions, with purple fronds), purple-headed blooming thistle, and ornate white Queen Anne's lace.
I felt so glad to be away from it all, walking alone on a wandering prairie sloping meadow.