Although Austin, TX was recently lucky enough to receive a gentle dusting of moisture that culminated in a couple of my favorite spots having single digit flows, that hasn’t been the case for much of the summer, much to my chagrin. Because of this i’ve found myself constantly revisiting tail-waters as a last resort, a way to stave the depression that would likely ensue if i wandered the dry creek beds and trickling rivers that seem to surround me. The payoff is that not only have i still caught the occasional fish, but i feel like (hopefully) i’m becoming a better angler by moving outside of my comfort zone (small creeks, rivers). If nothing else, the fishing days lately have been less about “What can i catch?” and more about “What haven’t i tried?”
A prime example of this attitude was exhibited last week on the Colorado with Daniel as my wingman. The tentative plan had been to take the kayaks down to the Guadalupe near Gruene, something he has yet to try, but something i’ve done quite a few times. While dragging the kayaks out of the garage i noticed the family canoe looking a little sad and forlorn and had a vision that made me smile like the Cheshire cat as i dragged the haggard vessel towards the car.
Pulling into the parking lot below the dam, where Dan waited eagerly, i hopped out of the car and explained the altered plan for the day. The canoe would be our flats boat, i had the push pole and would be the guide for the day on our flats oasis that fortunately had no one around (although i never promised i wouldn’t throw the occasional line).
It didn’t take long for us (and especially Daniel) to stumble onto some nice sized sunfish that were eager to display their phenomenal fighting ablities. No matter how many sunfish i catch, it never ceases to amaze me what a heroic fight a decent size sunfish can put up. I was fishing a four weight and was sure that the fish below was a 2.5 lb. bass until i saw the familiar saucer shape wiz by me with my line.
It wasn’t an epic day by any means, but it wasn’t a bad day either. It was just one of those days that the fish come along often enough to keep you distracted from your problems, but not so much that you get a swollen fishing ego.
The day could have ended after the sunfish escapade, but unfortunately we saw the tails.
If you’ve never had the privilege of standing in the midst of a school of tailing fish, let me see if i can set the picture. You paddle up to a shallow shelf where you exit the boat and stand in water no higher than your ankles. Glancing out at the shallow you first notice that it is blanketed in a tremendous amount of plant life clinging tenuously to the rivers floor. Then you see a tail, a swaying fan extending from the waters surface. It dances back and forth seductively like a belly dancer that just downed half a bottle of red wine. Then as quickly as it popped into view, it’s gone. Quickly it’s replaced by another fanning tail, then another, and another…as suddenly the water’s tension is broken by tails everywhere you look, 5, 10, 25, 50!
This site would be our downfall that day. Had they been common carp we might have stood a chance, but these were grass carp taunting us as though they knew that we were as clueless about them (and how to catch them) as we were about a great many of life’s other mysteries.
It seemed pointless and we planned on leaving them to they’re druthers when Daniel cast (for the 100th time), slowly stripped his small popper and a pair of lips languidly came up from below intent on taking the fly in the slowest manner possible. Unfortunately Daniel and i were so in shock that he missed the set and i stared in disbelief at what had just occurred. (Note: Up until this point i had thought that grass carp only ate plant life, and thus were unable to be caught on a fly, this is not so. You can find good links on catching them below.) After that we took turns for the next two hours trying to toss flies in the path of carp that would rise, tail and disappear into the shallows over and over again it felt more like we were playing Whac-a-Mole than fly fishing.
Later, hours after Daniel headed back to town and i took a nap that was as relaxing as a nap below a dam can be when you have constant visions of it bursting open and swallowing everything in it’s path, i headed back to the carp. I was hoping that the day would somehow wrap up with an epic ending to share,
As the sun was dropping behind the cliffs, i cast like a madman hoping for “that” fish. Eventually i caught the nice size red ear below that put up an incredible fight, before i started paddling back to shore intent on making it out before being engulfed in blackness. It was then that i saw “it”, a three foot long grass carp that was working the weeds a few feet off my starboard side, easily the biggest one i had seen all day. I cast like i had a hundred unproductive times that day, and stripped with wild abandon. I thought i was hallucinating as i watched the carp darted after the fly and swallow it with a sense of authority usually reserved for kings and presidents. “Holy…” i thought out loud before setting the hook sternly in the jaw. All three feet of the fish suddenly bolted…the 3X broke as easily as a wet tissue…and i swear, i thought i would cry. Nine hours of beating the waters surface that were rewarded and stolen in three emotionally charged seconds.
It’s an intensely rewarding trying something new, but it seldom goes as well as you plan.
This is, of course, half the charm. I can’t wait to go back.
For more information on catching grass carp on the fly visit: