It seemed like a good idea … to kayak the Llano

My sterling kayaking companion, Robert Henley, should have had a counseling session with us both before setting out on this adventure. Recent rains made it seem like a good idea to paddle the Llano. Reports were that the water was good. We had previously done the Highway 87 bridge (near Mason) to Castell so taking a different route was in order as we finally made our schedules coincide.

Castell to “Scott Slab” (a/k/a Llano CR 102) would be a good 10 mile paddle. Then, as we passed the Llano City Park, and each of us having day-long kitchen passes and being filled with visions of flowing waters (and probably sugar plum fairies as well) dancing in our heads, we dropped his truck there — at the park — which would add an estimated five miles to the trek. No step for a stepped as they say. After all with my “Couch to 5k” training program I was in great shape. It seemed like a good idea.

On to Castell and unload the “yaks” and away we go.

Henley strikes out ahead

On the water by about 8:30 with an overcast sky to limit the heat (but, of course, not the UV rays!), fishing gear on board, the estimated 15 miles would be nothing.

Right away we started fishing but all day we would have little luck. Robert caught a few perch on his fly rig but I was skunked. I did not have the right lures, having left them in Jones Valley because I did not expect a fishing opportunity prior to getting back up there.

The Llano is a beautiful river.

A typical scene on the Llano (click the photos to enlarge)

There are many scenes such as this one where calm waters can be found for a rest or a chance at sneaking up on a bass. We know the fish are there, but today would not be the day to do anything about it. Some of the trick of floating this section of the Llano is to determine whether to go left or right when approaching these rock clusters which often divide the lazy river into multiple routes through what can become a maze of granite.

A fishing opportunity

Robert paddles a bit faster than I do and then fishes while I catch up. Here he ties on a fly, ever changing the bait with which to entice an unsuspecting fish. He ties a lot of his own flies and has an endless array of what should have been tantalizing treats.

Shortly after this photo was taken we decided that we should pass some water under the keel and not spend quite so much time fishing. Hey, we were “fishing,” not “catching.” So putting down the fishing poles for the most part and picking up the paddles we started covering some ground, er, water. That photo was taken about 9:15 after we had been on the water only 45 minutes. With 15 miles (we guessed) to cover, we needed to paddle. It seemed like a good idea.

Now remember that I said those rock formations could divide the river. Like Yogi Berra said, “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” The same idea applies on the river as well.

Walking the yak

We had come to one of those “forks” and took it. It seemed like a good idea. But it wasn’t. Wrong turn and the result was dragging the kayaks through shallows. This was not too bad but we would later give up on this “channel” and drag the yaks across a wide sandbar and over a sand spit of about four feet feet in height to gain access to the main river channel. Such are the foibles of attempting to float an unknown section of river. Imagine what Lewis and Clark encountered!

We would up doing 10.2 miles. More later on just how that happened. Here is the track on a topo map.

GPS track from Castell to Scott Slab Road

After we began paddling in earnest we had a bit of a surprise when a breeze came up. OK, paddling in the breeze is nice, except when it’s against you! We had a steadily increasing wind (15 mph and gusting) and were facing that with the thought of “gee, why did we add five miles to this trek?” It would eventually abate, but we had nearly two hours of a relentless wind that would occasionally try to rip the hat off of my head — and as I had already (last year) sacrificed one nice hat to the Llano River gods, I had the chin strap down on this one.

There were some nice rapids even with the water flow not being what we had hoped. On one really nice chute that had the most drastic drop we encountered, it required a hard right and immediate left — both of which were impossible. So I took the alternative route (and later learned that Robert did as well) which amounted to taking the huge boulder head-on, riding up on it to the point where I thought surely I was shooting over it — and understand, from the water level this boulder rose a good three feet — when the boat slid off to the right and the current took me on around followed immediately by a blood-curdling scream. Oops, that came out of me!

As I said at the beginning, the river’s basin had gotten heavy rains just two weeks prior and the reports were that the water was good. A primo opportunity to get on the Llano. It seemed like a good idea.

But the rest of the story is that the water had already dropped to a level that would present more than a few “opportunities to excel.” On rapid after rapid we would hang up on a rock and have to “hump” the yak off the rock or, on more than a few occasions, dismounting and dislodging would be in order. Those hangs plus the wind was making this trip not the fun back when it was conceived as being … a good idea.

That is what led to Robert calling Janet, who was already in the Llano area, to come-a-runnin’ and bring the truck to the Scott Slab Road. Praises to Verizon for good cell coverage in the area! She surely looked like an angel when she drove up. As a bonus I got to meet her dad. I’ve known Janet for way over 20 years but never knew her dad. Nice fellow and he allowed as how our decision was a good one as the next segment, Scott Slab to Llano City Park, got rougher than what we had been on. Turns out he’s been all up and down that river.

So, slightly chagrined at stopping short, but with aching arms and shoulders we loaded up  the yaks and headed on our way.

It seemed like a good idea.

Here is the river gauge data that shows why we were faced with the conditions leading to dragging and hanging. (click to enlarge)

Google Earth photo of the route.


About Gil Jones

CPA/Attorney/Judge by training and trade. Hobby nut at heart with BMW m/c, computers, ham radio, kayak fishing, photography, hiking and, starting in 2010 some semi-serious running and bicycling (road and mountain bikes). Retired after 16 years on a Texas District Court bench and since 2013 have been mediating cases. I am a Credentialed Distinguished mediator (TMCA).
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5 Responses to It seemed like a good idea … to kayak the Llano

  1. Pingback: Cycling – On the Road Again! « Don Bynum's Blog

  2. You are a brave man! I am such a weenie when it comes to heavy lifting ….like paddling my weight plus some up a river against the wind. My legs are stronger than my arms, but that ain’t sayin’ much.

    I am most positive you have read “Goodbye to a River”…yes?

  3. Gil Jones says:

    Jim — Two things will happen prior to the next attempt at that stretch: (1) check the river gauges, and (2) have you report on a recent flyover!

  4. Bruce says:

    Hmmm… Sounds like you guys are ready for the devils river 🙂

  5. Jim Wreyford says:

    See with APRS unit with you, you could have texted for help, well if anyone was watching and if the unit had not been ditched when you decided not to carry the extra weight or if it had been able to hit the digi… or any number for other reason. Wow, in that case a good thing Verizon has good coverage out there.

    As for the route you should have asked I fly that route about once of month or so.

    Glad you made it back in without too much walking. And yes, the part below Scotts you would have done a LOT of walking (most weeks that is).

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