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Category Archive:   Texas Freshwater Fish


If for some reason i were ever to leave Texas and reside elsewhere, there is quite an extensive amount of things i would sorely miss. At the top of that list would be the bald cypress, the only tree i’ve seen that looks happy and sad at the same time, as well as the scrappy guadalupe bass that not only fight like hell, but are also beautiful to behold. (Number three would probably be a battle to the death between queso and breakfast tacos.)

The Pedernales River just happens have both of these items in abundance, which is likely why it’s one of my favorite places to fish. With our recent rains, the river had gone through a massive growth spurt as it went from a mere .5 CFS dribble to a 9,000 CFS torrent in less than an hour on the 13th (see the graph below). Unable to witness the craziness, i couldn’t resist the urge to drive out there a few days ago to witness the aftermath and check on my stomping grounds, even though the fishing would likely be sketchy at best.

image and data from http://waterdata.usgs.gov

The water was still stained which was to be expected, but the water was flowing at healthy levels i haven’t seen in a long time. Fishing a spot a good half mile down from the main falls, i was pleasantly surprised at how shocked i was to actually hear the sound of the falls gurgling far upstream with reckless abandon.

The usual spots were no good, so i adjusted my technique with the new flows and set up shop on the edges of a few decent holes that lied directly below some good rapids. Tossing a baitfish popper, to mimic a fry caught in the dirty / heavy flows proved to be the way to go as i almost instantly hooked in to a small guadalupe that put up a decent fight for it’s size. Just catching a fish was nice, but the bonus was that it was picked off the far bank, in the thick of the exposed cypress roots.

Thankful to have caught anything in the unpromising conditions, i still gave in to my urge to work my way to the top of the pool hoping to find the apex predator of the pool camped out where he (or she) would have first dibs on any fast food floating by (something i learned recently on my steelhead trip).

It took a couple of casts, but eventually my fly disappeared in a flash of exploding whitewater and my line suddenly went tense as i felt that exhilarating rush that keeps us coming back for more.

Guadalupe are native to Texas and over the millennia have adapted to the drought/flooding flows of the Texas waters (before all the dams went in). Because of this their size is generally small for bass (especially on the smaller rivers like the Pedernales) with 10-12 being the average and 15-18 inches (usually in bigger rivers) being trophy fish.

With all the bad outings i’ve had lately (thanks a lot white bass fever in September…argh!) and the odds being stacked against me with the murky water and unusual flows, i decided that this 12 inch specimen would have to go down in my mental fishing log as one of the more challenging catches, if only to help me start and turn around my fishing depression that had creeped in on me over the last few weeks.

As i was thinking this and snapping a photo (it’s the same fish above and below, but i couldn’t decide which i liked more) this thought occurred to me.

Where i was kneeled on the bank, fish in hand, i would have been 30 feet below the waters surface just a few days before. The river would be whizzing by at 9,000 CFS with rocks and branches zipping by me with unbelievable force. I wouldn’t be able to see anything, as the rushing water quickly went from crystal clear to a frothy milkshake tinge over the course of a few minutes. And all i would be able to do, was hold my gound and hope for the best.

Of course i wasn’t there, but this fish was. My problems suddenly seemed ridiculous in comparison. With a new found reverence for this particular fish i held him carefully in the current until he was ready to bolt back to his place at the top of the pool. Comfortable with the knowledge he was fine and that his battle with me was a minor inconvenience next to the flood, i broke down my rod and headed up the trail, leaving the cypress, the bass, and my burden behind.

Thanks again Pedernales, i love you.

Pulling off the paved road, and onto a washed out dirt path that turned sharply and disappeared under the bridge, i fretted about what dangers lurked there. Gangsters, drug dealers, strung out meth heads or possibly worse? I found myself a little shaky with equal parts excitement/anticipation/fear, the unmistakable signs, for me at least, of fishing a new stretch of water.

Armed with my copy of Texas River Bum’s “Blanco River Guidebook” i had set off that day to explore a body of water that, until then, i’d thought of as “off limits” due to its lack of public access as well the fact that its bed always seemed to be either bone dry or flooding. Thanks to the TRB’s guide, i pulled off the road and into a spot framed by tall weeds, that not only had zero signs of zombie crackheads, it showed no signs of anyone…no people, no cars, no discarded beer cans, nothing.

Nervously sliding the paddle-board into the shallow water and pushing off with the meager current, i made my way downstream, feeling like i was drifting into a dream. The waters depth gradually changed, deepening as i worked my way down a long pool. First came the redhorse suckers, followed shortly by carp working the shallower, warmer waters. Next were the catfish and sunfish as the waters depth slowly dropped and increased to three feet. Slightly further along the pool giant largemouth bass appeared like an apparition before darting off, all 30 inches, into the shadows of the bank, and nobody was there to witness me gawking and taking it all in, not a soul.

Working my way down stream, it was pool after pool, broken by tight stretches where the limestone and soil constricted the water’s flow, the current would quickly increase over the rocky bed, and the smallmouth could be found eagerly snagging food as it drifted by them like speeding morsels. It was at the base of one of these runs that i cast, let my popper ride the current, got distracted taking in all the color, quietness and solitude the river offered and slowly started floating out of my body and on to somewhere else.

“BAM!”

Of course the spotted bass would hit then, and of course it would be big (around 22-24 inches), it undoubtedly would run and jump like the best of them as we battled for a good 40 seconds, and of course…i would lose it. I would have screamed an epitaph, but with the heavy, natural silence surrounding me, the idea of an obscenity leaving my throat seemed even more vulgar than it normally would. Instead i clasped my head in my hands and let the trees and the water comment on my folly.

Hours later as i alternatively paddled and dragged my board back up the river to where i had put in, a voice suddenly snapped me out of the dream state that i had sunk into hours before.

“Have you fished this hole?” the woman walking her dog asked me, pointing to a spot on a stretch of water that ran along her property 30 yards below where she saw me.

“Yes.” For indeed i had just fished it hard twenty minutes before.

“It’s a good spot.” she replied.

“It’s a beautiful river.” i replied, at which point she smiled and agreed. And just like that all my fear of and concerns about this river (or at least this stretch) vanished.  I had seen only one person along the water all day, and she was smiling and making sure i had fished the waters along her bank.

It should be noted that this was on a 100˚ plus Sunday afternoon, a time when the Guadalupe, San Marcos, Barton Creek etc. are at their peak capacity, with throngs of people seeking a cool (or lukewarm) respite from the intense Texas summer heat. During the whole two mile trip, i saw one person, two items of trash (picked them up), and a ridiculous amount of fish. So pick up a copy of the guide, load your boat, stay quiet and be respectful of peoples property, stay focused and you may just land the fish of your life. Just be sure to pick up any trash on the way out.

 

Let’s see now, where was i…OH YEAH, trying to win a Diablo Paddleboard by coming in first place on the Texas Hill Country contest being put on by Texas River Bum.

Since getting back from my trip to Colorado i’ve managed only a couple of days on the water and most of those were about as unproductive as it gets around here. With the dog days of summer beating down on us, and the waters flows slowing to a trickle, it’s not surprising that the fish are hunkering down and lying low until conditions improve. But on my recent day off i couldn’t take the indoors any more and needed an excuse to get out and stretch my legs, besides, there HAD to be some fish out there feeding, maybe just not the fish that everyone is looking for (bass). Slowly the wheels turned, i remembered the contest and the fact that i still needed a carp, who love the sun and heat, to score some points. Ten minutes later i was out the door, and little more than an hour later i was standing in the middle of my favorite river, rod in hand and ready to get down to business.

Before Colorado i had taken the contest possibly a little to seriously (okay, way to seriously), a  symptom of my extremely competitive nature. However, during my stay in Colorado i hooked into fish after fish that offered me nothing more than the adventure and experience of being tied into the wildness of nature and life. It didn’t matter if i caught one fish or twenty, and so i was able to rediscover the joy of fishing just for the sake of fishing, something that i hadn’t done in a while. Now, as i stalked the shallow waters of the Pedernales, i was able to find a happy medium, being able to target the fish i needed with a concentrated focus, but at the same time appreciating the random small catch like this Rio with warmth and affection.

I guess that somehow my attitude pleased somebody or something out there (or in there), because after a few hours of hiking and fishing under the heat lamp of a sun i stumbled onto 30 minutes of fishing nirvana.

Rounding a bend in the river i chanced upon a couple of active carp that hadn’t noticed me approach, a welcome change from the 20 or so earlier that day that detected me before i even saw them. After casting a small black Wooly Bugger directly in front of the closest one, i found myself tied into 21 inches of stubbornness that took my 7’6″ 3WT and i close to ten minutes to land (top photo). It was an incredible rush as i netted my first carp of the year and snapped all the required photos to enter him for some points all the while thanking him for allowing me to catch him.

No more than fifteen minutes later i was targeting a drum lurking in a deep pool a few yards away. After a few cast i stripped the line, watched the Bugger lunge forward, the drum suddenly spotting it, accelerating rapidly to strike and looking bewildered and confused as a mysterious shadow shot up from below and stole the Bugger inches from the drum’s mouth. Reeling in the thief i was shocked to find a channel cat was the culprit. BINGO, one of the other species i needed.

Releasing the fish i suddenly felt giddy, so much so that i started laughing a little eerily out loud. In less than 30 minutes i had landed two of the species i needed, and most importantly, both were caught happily and merrily, without the dying sense of urgency that previous fish in this contest had been caught (other than the gar, that was an immense joy).

With the sun beating down (103˚ that day), and my water depleted i reluctantly ended the awesome fishing streak and started the two mile hike back to my car, after all, passing out dehydrated where nobody knows you are is a sure way to loose a contest. Passing the remaining half of a Tarpon kayak i had last encountered broken, battered and beached here over two years before, it dawned on me how fast the time goes. The kayak encounter seemed like a year but was actually two. The last carp? Seemed like a few months but had been close to ten. Up until then It seemed like i had all the time in the world to fish and win, but it suddenly dawned on me that it’s really little more than two months, that will undoubtedly pass by in a blur. But it can be done, i just need to keep myself in check, bring more water, and above all else, remember to smile.

They’re few and far between, but days that start off with fish, and end in fish are amazing. The other day was a classic “bookend” day, starting off at Brushy Creek, working a full shift at my job, and ending up before nightfall wading at my home away from home, Barton Creek.

I’ve only fished Brushy Creek once before near the skate park, but this time i was scoping out spots much further downstream in a much more creek like setting. Finding a turnout and pulling off the road i immediately saw two fly-fisherman decked out in gear head to toe. Instead of being bummed, i decided to turn it positive in my head, and looked at it as a sign that i was in the right place at the right time. Grabbing my two weight and sling bag i hustled a ways upstream and lobbed a chartreuse popper against a cut bank. Within a few cast i saw my popper, much to my astonishment, get pummeled by a quick uppercut. The line ran, the rod bent, and not long after, i was pulling a healthy and vigorous ten inch bass to hand. (I’m a little ashamed to admit this, but as i was battling him i actually glanced downstream to see if my fellow fisherman had registered the fight.)

A few cast later, a decent sized green sunfish provided an awesome display of chutzpah as it tore the waters surface a new one. I released the fish and then as quickly as i arrived, i hopped in the car and made my way to work. Twenty minutes on the water, and two wonderful ways to start the day.

After work i made a B-line for Barton Creek and wasted no time getting in the water and working the far bank. Pulling in small sunfish after small sunfish, my mind started wandering as the sun shimmied down the other side of the trees. For some reason my mind was fascinated with the fact that most of the highlights it experienced over the course of the day began with the letter B. There was the bookend analogy, experienced at Barton and Brushy Creek, b-lines, and brush lined banks, as well as the the bass that had put the bend in my two weight.

The only highlight of the day that didn’t begin with B was the much loved Rio Grande that put up a fight right as the last shafts of light vacated Barton Creek. Releasing it, i snipped the the fly off, broke down the rod and headed back to the car, it was the perfect way to end the day.

Thank you day, and bye bye.