Boots, of course, was not his real name. In fact, I am not sure any of us ever knew what his real name was, or for that matter how he acquired the nickname "Boots". In Texas, nicknames like this are taken for granted under the assumption that they have been earned, are well deserved and perhaps, more importantly, should never be questioned.
My dad was introduced to Boots Stuart in the late 1970s through a mutual friend after putting out the word he was looking for a lake on which to hunt Ducks. And if there ever was a perfect Duck hunting lake, it was Boot's Stuart's lake. Over the years the San Antonio River Authority has built a series of dams along rural creeks prone to flooding, and as was the case with Boots' lake when the dam was completed, the lake that was formed backed up on to private property giving the land owner legal access to the newly formed impoundment. This particular dam was on Paritas Creek southeast of San Antonio, and was about as picturesque of a Duck hunting spot as you could get. Flooded timber, shallow water, plenty of vegetation, Boots' lake it had it all....and it was a paradise.
I can't tell you how many mornings I spent setting out duck decoys in complete darkness, in sub-freezing temperatures on that lake. And then subsequently sitting in a makeshift blind constructed of bamboo, in the pitch dark, listening the pre-dawn feeding onslaught of pintails, green wing teal and widgeons flying so low over the blind, that a collision between the hunter and the hunted seemed all but imminent. Unfortunately in the early 1980's the River Authority decided that much of what we considered prime duck habitat, was actually "debris" that was impeding water flow during frequent flood events. So, in their infinite wisdon they removed all of the standing timber from the creek section of the upper end of the lake, and in the process removed some of the most stellar duck hunting habitat I have ever seen. I guess this is a prime example of one man's trash being another man's treasure.
This however is a fishing story, not a hunting story, and Boots' lake was as much of an angling paradise at it was a duck hunting paradise. The lake held an abundance of Largemouth Bass,White Crappie and Catfish, and some very sizeable specimens of each species at that. I watched Boot's grandson on at least one occasion pull several Crappie out of a brushpile on the northwest end of that lake that looked as if they'd been taking some kind of fish growth hormone. And the Bass fishing was exceptional as well. Fish in the 2-3 pound range were not uncommon, and although we never caught any, there were stories from family members of numerous beasts in the 8-10 pound range that had been accidentally caught on trotlines baited with live perch, that were intended to put a dent in the local catfish population. I have no doubt that the stories are true, as the lake recieved virtually no fishing pressure outside of the few family members and friends that took advantage of the access provided by the section of the lake that backed up on to the Stuart's private property. Access that otherwise would have been very much restricted and enforced by the River Authority had the lake stayed in its intended boundaries.
Because of the platform that it provided to develop my angling skills, Boots' lake easily ranks in my top three lakes that provided influential fishing and hunting experiences of my young life. But it easily takes top honors in the category of " how to treat a landowner who gives you the privilege of using his property with respect". I often talk about the importance of the "peripheral" experiences of fishing, and this is a prime example. Although he may not have known it, I took great notice of how before and after every trip on the way out the gate my dad would stop by Boots' house so he could exchange pleasantries with Mr. Stuart and thank him for his hospitality and generosity. Or how every year around Christmas, my dad would take ol' Boots a bottle of Early Times Whiskey as a token of appreciation for allowing us the privilege of using his property. My Dad always made time for a visit and ALWAYS offered to help with whatever activity or task the Stuarts were engaged in. If there ever was a school to train young men on the etiquette between angler and landowner this was it, and I am as grateful for the opportunity to have learned those backwoods social skills as I am for the hunting and fishing experiences that Boot's lake provided.
As an aside, the picture associated with this Front Page is the only picture I have of this special place taken somewhere around 1983.
Hope you all have a great week,