Essential in the time of ‘rona

It has been a month since Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order limiting public and private gatherings to fewer than 10 persons, and more than two weeks since a “stay at home” order went into effect statewide. Just a couple of days ago Abbot announced a “phased” reopening of businesses across the state.

Arguments rage across social media bout whether it’s too early, or too late.

Travis and Williamson Counties, which together make up the bulk of the Austin metro area, issued orders closing non-essential businesses, banning public or private gatherings of any size, and limiting citizens’ travel to “essential” activities. Some of those local businesses have pivoted with admirable agility: more than a week ago we ordered the “red meat” package, a six-pack of local beer and a bottle of wine from Mesquite Creek Outfitters (click on the “Groceries” tab), and we’re still creating delicious meals from those boxes, which were delivered to our front porch.

This Texas eyed click beetle launched itself onto my shirt collar along the trail, and provided a good opportunity to talk about insects and some of the defense mechanisms they employ to avoid getting eaten (in this case, both the big eye spots and the “click.”)
Photo by Aaron Reed

My local fly shop, Living Waters, has continued to keep staff employed by offering mail order and curbside deliveries (not to mention some really fun Saturday Instagram and Facebook Live presentations). And even though they were, belatedly, given a variance as an essential business, they’re still being admirably cautious when it comes to letting folks in the store.

Fortunately, fishing and hunting is deemed essential. Unfortunately, most state parks are currently closed (though some boat ramps are open).

Most will re-open this week for day use with social distancing and face mask guidelines strictly enforced. Hard to see the logic in face masks outside, if the other rules are being followed, but there you have it.

“Stay at home” orders invited us to get a little more creative in the kitchen: a local stout to flavor the beef stew meat we got from Mesquite Creek Outfitters? Sure.
Photo by Aaron Reed

Williamson and Travis County parks – wisely, I think – were closed for Easter weekend, but most are again now open, minus amenities like restrooms, playscapes and potable water (take lots of water!).

Access to streams via public road crossings – more than 40 of the 101 access points listed in Fly Fishing Austin & Central Texas are still available. Some Texas counties, such as Kendal (upper Guadalupe River), have put up signs and caution tape to dissuade river users. Anglers there should use their best judgment.

Meanwhile, at home…

At our house, either we are on the world’s longest Spring Break, or we are home schooling. Sometimes both in the same week, or even the same day. I’ve been fishing about the same amount as usual, but usually with a purpose: one day it was a photo shoot (media activities are deemed “essential”) on the Guadalupe River for this pretty awesome Texas Monthly story, which also features my friends Donovan Kypke of Reel Fly, Davin Topel of Whiskey River Chronicle, and Matt Bennett of Fly Geek Custom Flies.

On yet another afternoon, I turned a creek stomp with middle son into the week’s school science module. We studied riparian habitats, entomology, herpetology and of course fisheries science. We counted it as PE for the week, too.

There have been moments of extraordinary grace: friends calling just to check-in and say “how are you holding up?;” the face masks a fly fishing buddy’s wife made for us after hearing we were having a hard time finding them anywhere; a birthday party with family members spread across Texas, via Zoom; quiet talks with the boys on the back porch; games of catch in the back yard.

Need some beauty in your life during these troubled times? The sunfish are putting on a show as they prepare for the spring spawn.
Photo by Aaron Reed

We’ve been having more fun in the kitchen, baking bread and cookies and cakes and creating stews and fancy(ish) dinners we don’t normally cook. We’ve been enjoying the enforced family time, mostly, but missing our friends – some of whom are in the neighborhood and we can wave to from a safe distance. Handshakes and hugs and whiskey on the porch are out, though, and that sucks. My wife’s work calendar suddenly went from gratifyingly full to scarily empty, and that sucks, too. My day job is still considered essential. We still have health insurance. For those things I am extraordinarily grateful.

With all book release events canceled or postponed indefinitely, I’ve been doing podcast interviews (check out Episode 63 on So Fly and look for episodes on The Itinerant Angler and Fish Untamed in the coming month or two). Next week I’ll be signing stacks of books for pickup or mailout April 24th at Living Waters Fly Fishing in Round Rock and Reel Fly in Canyon Lake. If you haven’t ordered a copy yet but plan to, please consider supporting a small, local business – in your community, or mine. If you did order online already, thank you, and I’ll be happy to sign it when we can meet-up again.

Getting back to normal?

Even as we inch back toward restarting the economy in Texas, I’m guessing that we’re not yet done with this pandemic. There are huge data gaps, mostly related to the testing that is not yet available for most people, and it seems that many of the most credible experts think we may have bumps along the road: additional stay-at-home or social distancing orders as infection rates climb again in some areas.

One thing that has occurred to me over the past six weeks, is just how thin the fabric of our society is. Turns out, that for many of us, we were just one, undercooked bat away from financial ruin, or at least financial stress. Turns out our social safety nets are full of holes, and our healthcare system is a mess, and our politicians (of both parties) are mostly bozos. Of course, we knew some of these things going in.

Turns out that a lot of things we thought were necessary for a good life were not in fact necessary – and a few things that are became really scarce when the supply chain was stressed.

I, for one, hope we never completely go back to the consumerist, celebrity-driven “normal” that existed before the pandemic. And even if society as a whole does, I may just try to find even more ways to opt-out to concentrate on what I’ve been reminded is truly important: family, friends and fishing. Fresh air and good books. Yeast. Dried beans. Toilet Paper.

In these uncertain times, a whole bunch of people have found an extra $25 to pre-order Fly Fishing Austin. Thank you so much for that. I am truly humbled. And I hope that the book does for you what I intended: helps you get outside to some moving water, with a family member and – soon, maybe – a friend or two.

Fishing has been pretty terrific in recent weeks, with big bass experiencing pre-spawn munchies.
This one ate a crawfish pattern on the Gabe, about seven minutes from the house.
Photo by Aaron Reed

Aaron Reed

Aaron Reed

Aaron Reed is an award-winning outdoor writer and Army veteran. He currently splits his time between his native Texas Gulf coast, where he drives a tugboat, and his home near the San Gabriel River in Georgetown, Texas. He is a founding member of the Texas Streams Coalition and has worked for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. In 2020, he was awarded the prestigious FFI Roderick Haig-Brown Award. When he is not working, chances are you can find him knee-deep in a stream somewhere around Austin, often with his wife and one or more of his three boys, trying like heck to become a better fly fisherman. His stories and photos have appeared in Southwest Fly Fishing, This is Fly, Kayak Angler, Texas Outdoors Journal, Texas Sporting Journal, Texas Fish & Game, Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine, Lone Star Outdoor News, Austin American-Statesman, Austin Business Journal, the Taylor Press, Soldiers magazine, Leatherneck magazine, Liguorian magazine, The Washington Times, and elsewhere.

7 thoughts to “Essential in the time of ‘rona”

  1. Aaron wrote: “…Hard to see the logic in face masks outside, if the other rules are being followed, but there you have it..”

    It’s a matter of the viability of the virus — the six-foot social distancing only works in interior spaces where there is little or no wind or breeze to carry the virus molecules from someone’s mouth, nose (etc.) into your nose/mouth. When outside, viruses can travel easily on breezes and depending upon the degree of respiration (how forcefully someone around you might be breathing) viruses can pass quite easily from passing cars, hikers, fishermen, bikes at distances that might be as far apart as 60-70-feet. So, while I don’t tend to wear my mask when I am out walking — I certainly concede that anyone who passes within 60 feet of me could easily be passing an infection on to me. (Or I could be “sharing” it with them). Neither option is desirable!

    I have friends who have had or are still in the battle to recover from this virus — what they have gone through is not pretty. But the real issue is what the bug can do their lungs forever.

    When I go to the office/bank/drugstore — I am fully masked and plan to employ these techniques for at least another 30 to 60 days.

    — Mark

  2. I think you ‘pivoted with admirable agility’ while writing this. Reminds me of some of those action scenes in The Matrix.

      1. “Springing from a hammock” does sound like the work of a super hero. My exits from those contraptions often look slightly deranged. I am not a huge fan of hammocks!

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