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One Crazy Camping Trip

So many wrongs make a right
Written by Barbara Rodriguez. Photographs by Michael Witte.

Illustration by Michael Witte

In the October 2013 issue of Texas Highways, Babs Rodriguez’s account of a fall fishing getaway shows how so many wrongs can make a right. Here’s the full story.

One fall break I decided that Elliott must learn to fish. Immediately. For someone who’s big on planning, a spur-of-the-moment camping trip with a seven-year-old is capital C-crazy. And for no good reason I can remember, having set my sites on Lake Livingston State Park, just past Huntsville, I only briefly consider the hurricane spinning nearby in Louisiana.

Because other folks have not lost their minds, we cross the 84,000-acre reservoir to find our target campgrounds deserted. We have our choice of timber A-frames, and while I insist upon thinking the storm is more wobble than whir, I do choose a screened shelter with less wind exposure. There is a sleeping loft in the hut, but Elliott pitches his tent on that platform. Below, his father and I are left more exposed to what might come.

We settle in, then dash for the stables, open only on a limited weekend schedule after Labor Day. The flick of a tail disappearing into the forest as we arrive signals a horsey adieu. Plan A is scuttled; the steeds won’t be back for a week.

If I’m disappointed, Elliott is giddy. He’s seen the camp store sign offering live bait and the siren call of night crawlers has him twitching. Let the fishing begin! Almost.

Elliott’s rod has been stored with the bail open and a favorite “fish attractor” on the line. A filament web ensnares two of three rods. He and I head off with the single functional rod, but not so far that we don’t hear his father’s multi-syllabic curse when the rig he has just untangled topples into the campfire, instantly melting away the line and warping the rod.

I focus on teaching Elliott to bait a hook. As I show him how to place the hook he offers the minnow an apology and requests to keep one as a pet. Keeping them alive to fish another day is my goal, having seen the filthy hands he keeps plunging into their water. I pick up the minnow bucket and toss it as far as can out into the lake. What a shame that the rope at my feet was not actually tied to the bucket at the time. My husband dutifully jumps in to retrieve it.

“I just want to fish and fish and fish and fish … .” He chants himself to sleep.

At least one of us is having a great time.

Minnows having failed him, Elliott determines that tomorrow the worms will do a better job of luring in the lunkers for which the lake is famous. By bedtime marshmallows have been roasted and consumed in a ritual that includes this conversation: Elliott:  “How do you like yours?” Me: “Brown.” Elliott:  “Is that after black?” He douses the flames with spittle.

The next morning he heads for a portion of the shore where the walkway has collapsed, intuiting that fish will like this runoff area. When I find him tugging, hand-over-hand, a tautly horizontal line I realize he is hauling in his very first fish, so excited he has thrown aside the rod and reel.

He beams at me. “I am so proud of myself I could cry!” he says. For a minute I think we both might. I become the mistress of night crawlers, as he pulls in a stringer of sunfish.

Just after noon, the lake goes frothy and the storm begins pelting us with cold pellets of rain. We bolt for shelter. We have positioned the sliding barn-style doors of our shelter at the head and foot of our bed, but the sides of the shelter are only screened panels. Elliott’s bed will stay dry in his lofted tent, but ours will get misty – or worse – from blowing rain. Still, there is a strange comfort in the lack of options. Boats are out, bikes and hikes impossible, but we cheerfully hunker down and read to one another. The storm continues through the afternoon, taking on a howling intensity after sunset. Our camp wood is soaked, our chairs have been whipped into a river of runoff, and now it’s apparent that our air mattress is slowly going flat.

Elliott is tucked away in his tent, but concerned that he is fretful, I start to climb the ladder. I stop when he calls down: “Did you ever not want to sleep because you just want to keep doing what you’ve been doing?”  The storm couldn’t have been farther from his thoughts. “I don’t want to sleep. I just want to fish and fish and fish and fish….” He chants himself to sleep.

We leave the next day without coming anywhere close to ticking-off all the boxes on my to-do list. We rode no horses, rented no canoes, hiked no trails. We lost gear to fire, camp chairs to a flash flood and needed snorkels to sleep. And yet, somehow, the trip has been a roaring success.

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