Benson invited me to join him for a weekend at Champion Ranch in Centerville, TX where we enjoyed fishing, shooting clays, eating some good cowboy cooking and visiting. The outing was courtesy of the Bay Area Builder's Association (BABA) and the good folks at the Champion Ranch. I had a really great time and got to meet some great folks and some more Heroes from the GWOT.
We left Houston around noon on Friday after stopping by Spec's to stock the cooler and grab a couple of cigars. Traffic was a little thicker than usual as folks headed north to Dallas for the Texas-Oklahoma football game. I would guess three of five cars that we passed had some burnt orange displayed with pride. Benson had no problem finding the gate to the ranch and, luckily, while we were contemplating which roadway to take to the bunkhouse a ranch hand pulled in behind us and we just followed him. The ranch is very beautiful at around 6000 acres with about 3500 head of brangus cattle, some horses and even a few bison.
We met the owners and dropped our gear in the bunkhouse. After visiting for a little bit we drove over to the 70-acre lake where we splashed the 5 boats, loaded up and headed out for a few hours of fishing. Benson & I loaded up with Captain Pat McLennan of Diamond Guide Services. It was a gorgeous evening and we were on the fish at our first stop. The Florida strain black bass were hitting like a middle line backer on a blindside quarterback! Just after sunset we landed the boat and headed back to the bunkhouse for a little brisket and some beans with jalapeños.
After dinner the folks from BABA had a little surprise for the Veterans and presented them with a new fishing rod and reel along with a tackle box stuffed plum full of tackle and gear. The rods were brand new and unavailable to the public. They were carbon blanks wrapped with mossy oak camouflage... I guess so you can sneak up on the fish ;0) Jokes aside, the rods were really trick or, tight as they say nowadays, and the reels were very nice shimano bait casters. As I was a guest of Benson's, they didn't know that I was also a Disabled Veteran, however, within a few minutes they had wrangled up a brand new abu garcia black max rod and shimano bait caster for me as well! It was a totally awesome show of courtesy and respect that I very much appreciated. Like I said, these are some really great guys!
I then sat down to visit with Jeff Horny and his cameraman, JD, who are making a documentary about the healthcare Veterans receive from the VA. The documentary is to garner firsthand experiences from Veterans and hopefully demonstrate the need for the VA to change the way it does business. I did an interview on camera where I told a short version of my previous blog. I hope I was able to get my thoughts and feelings across in a manner that will help bring some much needed change to VA Healthcare. During the interview the guys were shooting clays and target shooting with pistols so you can hear the reports in the background... pretty cool.
It was nearly 0100hrs when I ambled off to bed. I had a hard time getting to sleep partly because of the new environment and partly because my back and legs hurt. My legs were doing this weird cramp-then-jump thing that made it impossible to fall asleep; just about the time I would start to nod off my legs would either cramp or they would twitch violently causing me to wake. I lay there tossing and turning until 0215hrs when I finally got sick of it and got up, took a pain killer, went to the restroom, got some water and lay back down. It was thirty minutes or so until the pain killer kicked in and I was able to doze off. About 0430 the ranch folks started stirring and getting coffee and breakfast started. I felt like I had just been run over by a deuce & a half but managed to drag my sorry butt out of the rack, dress and head for the cooler to get a Mt. Dew.
We scarfed down some breakfast tacos and headed for the boat well before sun up. It was cool and clear in the morning with no wind. Out on the boat it was quiet and calm with "smoke" rising from the water. Once again we were on the fish in nothing flat. They were hitting on everything we through out there, including rattle traps, worms and topwaters. Then sun crept over the trees and began to warm our necks. Soon we were shedding our sweaters and enjoying another tremendous day. We hauled in fish pretty regular until about 0930hrs when it just turned off like somebody through a switch. We worked it until noon and then headed back to the bunkhouse for some lunch and to watch the UT-OU game. The late night and early morning combination led to some really tired guys about 1300hrs after we had gotten some open-fire-cooked sausage and beans in us (yeah, more beans). I was sitting in a chair with the sun on my back and my head started bobbing around like one of those little dolls. I looked across the table & Benson had his head resting in his hand with his eyes shut tight. They say great minds think alike and no sooner did I stand up to head for my rack than Benson sat up, wheeled around and announced he was going to take a nap. I laid in my rack and listened to the ball game and snoozed on and off.
About 1600hrs we all got a little more motivated and headed back to the boats. It was a slow start but soon enough we started catching fish again. Around 1800hrs we headed for the dock where we relieved the live well of its cargo of thirty-seven largemouth bass ranging from one and one-half to three and one-half pounds each. The other boats came in with their catches and Cpts Pat & Jesse shared cleaning detail while Benson & I puttered out to the cove and fished a while longer. We caught another seven or eight fish while we were waiting but released them all. We got back to the bunkhouse about 1900hrs where the fish were fried up just right along with some shrimp and served with hush puppies, jalapeños and fried potatoes.
It was an early night on Saturday and I headed for the rack about 2130hrs. I was able to get some good sleep in amongst the stiff competition for snoring champion of the ranch. It also sounded a bit like Mel Brooks "Blazing Saddles" after everybody had eaten all those beans!
Sunday morning came on a little slower as we visited and packed our gear. I even managed to get a shower and put on a clean shirt. After a healthy dose of my secret orange juice-mt dew mix for breakfast I felt like a brand new man and ready for some fishing. We headed out on the water around 0830hrs and fished until 1030hrs. Again the fishing was slow but we managed to all pull in a couple of fish. Benson even had some luck pitching a topwater and it was a blast watching those bass come up and hit that thing.
After good-byes and well-wishes we all went our separate directions. Benson and I stopped by Woody's for some fuel and I picked up some of their famous beef jerky. The ride home took about a third less time and, actually, seemed to go too fast as I enjoyed visiting with Benson. It was a great weekend. I really enjoyed myself and feel glad that I was able to go. Thanks a bunch to BABA and the folks from Champion Ranch. Enjoy the pics below.