SOUTHWEST OF AUSTIN, the land gathers itself first into rolling pasture and then into the crenelated limestone folds of Hill Country. It's where urban Texans retreat for weekends and where slow rivers wander away from the back roads for long stretches. In June, the waterway I'm fishing, the Guadalupe, runs thick with 10,000 inner-tubing college students per day. But today, in mid-March, it's a good place to disappear. PRICE TAG $494
My fishing partners are a lineman-size local guide, Dan Cone, and 28-year-old actor Taylor Kitsch, who's learning how to swing hare's-ear nymphs past willing rainbow trout.
Cone gives Kitsch a beginner's primer and demonstrates the first cast, as guides do. And bang! he sets the hook.
"No fucking way!" says Kitsch. "You guys set that up." He's suddenly 17, only not like Tim Riggins, the brooding high-school fullback he plays on NBC's Friday Night Lights. The real Kitsch doesn't hold back.
Cone lands the fish a 16-incher and hands the rod over. Kitsch takes to it, focusing on his strike indicator and reaching into his waders to silence his chiming BlackBerry.
Who's he side-buttoning? FNL creator Peter Berg? A publicist pimping Kitsch to talks shows so he can can plug his role as the mutant cardsharp Gambit in this month's X-Men Origins: Wolverine? Who cares? We're fishing, and Kitsch can't be bothered.
The truth is, the guy's fishing days are running short. With three new movies on the horizon, including the lead role in South African filmmaker Steven Silver's 2010 biopic Bang Bang Club, about Pulitzer Prize winning war photographer Kevin Carter, Kitsch is on the brink of can't-walk-down-the-street stardom. It's a strange time for the Canadian former NHL prospect trying to hold on to his roots. The long hair isn't a publicity stunt; he just never cut his hockey mullet.
Kitsch didn't quite come out of nowhere. His hometown of Kelowna (pop. 113,000), in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, is somewhere; it's just a little isolated. Ten years ago he was being scouted by pro hockey teams, but after a knee injury ended his pro ambitions, an acquaintance from Vancouver suggested he model. "I'm like, Are you fucking kidding me?" Kitsch says. "I'm not doing that." But his college training in nutrition wasn't going to take him far in his blue-collar hometown. So he quietly moved to New York, crashing with friends and even living in the subway for two weeks as, one would assume, the city's best-looking hobo.
His Kelowna days, of course, set him up perfectly for the FNL role: He's a former small-town jock with pro-sports ambitions who plays a small-town jock with a drinking problem. "Fifty percent of what I say is just made up, improv," he tells me.
As we fish, I realize that Kitsch reminds me of the guys I grew up with in Sandpoint, Idaho it's not hard to imagine him at shotgun brunch out on Pack River Road. "My dad was out of the picture when I was one," says Kitsch. "I'd see him every few years. We'd go fishing in a GMC truck, driving down those dirt roads, towing a little boat. I'd have to go get the tackle box and the flies." In high school, Kitsch used to take his truck "a shit pickup, raised, with 42-inch tires" and go four-wheeling with a bed full of friends and beer. They'd have campfires and stay out all night. He's hoping to recapture some of that spirit this summer on a motorcycle road trip to Alaska with his two brothers.
At the moment, though, he just wants to catch a fish. After a few missed sets, Kitsch hooks and lands a 17-inch rainbow, thick as a pork chop. We work our way back upriver toward lunch. While I ply a small pocket and hook a hard-fighting 18-incher, Kitsch shoots photos with his vintage Leica; he's obsessed with his upcoming role as a war photographer.
Later, on the ride back to Austin, Kitsch answers his BlackBerry for the first time all day. It's his agent, who's just received the script for the lead in WALL-E director Andrew Stanton's upcoming sci-fi thriller John Carter of Mars. "It's ours to lose," says Kitsch, sounding cocky just like a movie star. But, then, we're no longer in Hill Country.