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Category Archive:   Texas Ponds and Lakes


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Here i am. Once again knee-deep in the heat, my breath feeling like it’s being filtered through a cup of hot cup tea. The waters aren’t much better, since wading in rivers, creeks, or lakes around here doesn’t feel much different from wading through the urine soaked kiddie pool at the local public park, warm, warm and warm.

If i kept a diary the entry for this time of year would read “Unbearable, sweltering heat. Zombie fish unable to muster the strength to inhale free food tossed their way. The fish? Miserable. Me? Miserable as well, one of the few things we have in common.”

 

Clearly something had to be done to stave off the summer doldrums before they completely crushed my will to even lift a rod.

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Loading the paddle board on the Element i was still unsure of where i was going to try to shake off the monkey. Approaching the crossroads i was still unsure, right or left? I don’t know if it was some sort of fly fishing intuition, or possibly a slightly mad, invisible monkey cranking the steering wheel in frustration about my indecisiveness, but east it was. Apparently Lake Bastrop was calling.

Loading the paddle board all the provisions for a days adventure i pushed off on to the unusually placid waters with only one bass-boat to be heard, far around the corner and out of view. Herons and egrets lined the banks,  as hawks slowly banked high above, now doubt observing every ripple and movement while woodpeckers provided a rhythmic soundtrack to the proceedings.

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The serenity reached up and engulfed me as i slowly faded into sound and vision, forgetting all…until…

KERSPLUNK!

I jerked my head to locate the sound and immediately spotted large concentric ripples emanating from what was obviously the scene of the crime.

Bass. Big bass.

Paddling in earnest towards the spot, 30 yards out from the reeds, the surface suddenly and violently erupted all around as bait fish shot out of the water, almost hanging in midair while schools of bass pounced on the bait fish live starving wolves.

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Quickly flinging a white streamer into the fray, i was immediately hooked into a healthy bass that had me wondering just how much kinetic energy my 5WT could handle before buckling under pressure. While giving and taking the line, trying to work the bass to the net, i had that elated but cautious feeling swell up inside me that is hopeful the luck will continue, but also knows that the odds say it won’t. Guess that’s way there are casinos.

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Strangely enough that luck did last, as school after school continued to chase the bait fish to the surface for much of the day. The fishing was much as i imagine coastal fishing to be. Easy because all you have to do is put the fly in front of the fish, but astoundingly difficult because you have just a second or two to do it. Add on to that the fact that you don’t really know where they’ll hit and you can understand why it’s like playing Whack-a-Mole blind folded with a fly rod in your hand.

To cut to the chase, it was epic. There’s nothing quite like casting a fly into the thick of madness and feeling all hell break loose when you suddenly find yourself connected to the churning chaos in front of you.

I guess instead of fearing the crazed, invisible monkey i might just hand him my keys, make him the designated driver and see where he decides to take me. After all, he’s got a pretty good track record so far. He did call this one.

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Ever since taking up a fly rod, and especially since starting this blog, i’ve been asked on a regular basis what it is about fly fishing that grabs me by the gut and keeps me so passionate and enveloped in it. The responses are usually along the lines of connecting with nature, or the tug on the line awakening the inner hunter in me while the careful release reveals the compassionate side of humanity, and so on and so on.

Yet the reason i almost never mention is the simple fact that i like to wander,  probably because the word itself has so many bad connotations. Even Merriam-Webster defines “wander” as;  1) to go astray morally or 2) to lose normal mental contact, and while i might in fact lose myself mentally and enjoy it, it’s the third definition that i can relate to, 3) to move about without a fixed course, aim, or goal”.

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With my family in Germany this whole month, and the store still far from opening after the flood, i’ve had a lot of options to get out and wander my heart out. The only limitations have been the incredible number of storms and the high flows they’ve brought with them, making being in the right spot at the right time something akin to shooting craps.

Waters as vast and varied as Canyon Lake, the Narrows, and Barton Creek have all been explored by foot and paddle with varying levels of success and consternation. While i don’t feel that i know them any better now than i did going in, i was hoping to share some thoughts with you in hopes of getting you on the right water at the right time.

Barton Creek: As even an occasional reader will know, Barton Creek is hands down my favorite water to fish, bar none. However, since the drought started in 2010 it’s been a fickle mistress, occasionally flowing with raging torrents of emotion, but usually dehydrated and depressed.

I’m happy to say that at least for now (and hopefully all this year) that is not the case. Barton Creek is back in form, flowing and fishing better than it has in a long time. In addition, because of all the rain, it’s now bordered and framed in trees and plants that seem to be glowing in Technicolor.

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While you can undoubtedly wade many of its most productive stretches (between the Hill of Life and Sculpture Falls), the ideal way to find the fish and avoid the crowds is to float her. Having done so numerous times over the last few weeks i can tell you this:

1) You’ll catch a lot of fish, maybe not huge fish, but a lot of them.

2) You don’t need anything fancy, even $20 raft will do.

3) You will experience one of the most amazing experiences you will ever have in Austin.

Note: While the Creek can safely be floated and fished while running up to 250CFS, beyond that you really need to be armed with the proper gear, experience and advice. Get more information on floating Barton Creek at Southwest Paddler.

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The Narrows: In all the years i’ve fished this spot near Spicewood Springs, where the Colorado meanders into Lake Travis, it was so narrow you could easily skip a rock across it, and at one point could wade across without even wetting your knees. Suffice to say, that is not the case anymore, the river is “gone” and the Narrows has returned to being an extension of Lake Travis again.

Of all my favorite spots, this is the one that has changed the most. The boulders that once indicated deep pools have been submerged along with the riffles and runs that i knew so well. Two of the most prolific gar fishing spots i’ve ever discovered are now indistinguishable from the rest of the water, buried under untold feet of rainwater. The gars are still there, i spotted many of them hitting the surface, but with so much room to maneuver they always seemed to be out of casting range, something that wasn’t a problem when the water was so low even a novice could cast from one bank to the other.

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Adding to the frustration of being in the process of getting skunked was the fact that speed boats, and jet skis were constantly speeding up and down the waters directly over my shoulder sending wakes my way that had me feeling like i’d been dumped into a washing machine to be agitated. Still, i did have an ultralight buzz me which was a first, and actually pretty cool.

Note: This place can be amazing, but i definitely recommend taking deep sinking lines and hitting it up on a weekday, not a weekend (like i did).

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Canyon Lake: While others have had incredible luck on this flooded lake working the submerged grasses, my luck has been anything but, at least as far as fishing goes. On the other hand, having an immense island to yourself (Canyon Park peninsula, now cut off from the mainland by the risen water level) and setting up camp at submerged picnic spots without a single soul around is a pretty good way to spend a fish-less day. Just the simple fact that you can stalk the shallow waters amidst oaks and submerged buildings and signs, feeling like some avant-garde fly fisherman wading and casting through the set of Waterworld is more than enough to return at least a time or two.

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While i’ve enjoyed the aimlessness of the last few weeks, traveling from spot to spot on nothing more than a whim, i look forward to being rejoined with my family and hopefully soon being back in the store and having some parameters placed on my days off. Maybe it’s just my incredible love for my family and the need for the routine of work, but i do know this, it’s hard to appreciate being able to color outside of the lines if you’re looking at a blank page.

Lesson learned.

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As anglers we all have those beloved waters that see us through our fishing on a day to day basis, but for some of us that are obsessed beyond reason with fly-fishing there is a particular list of waters that we keep in our back pocket for special situations. Waters full of deep pools for warm days and droughts, and others for heavier rains, and maybe even one framed by giant cypress for days where the sun is merciless and relentless. While i have all those conditions and their associated waters filed away somewhere in my DNA, the one question that i’ve never faced in my ten years of fishing central Texas recently enveloped me with it’s uncertainty, namely “Where do i go when everything i know is buried under strong currents, whitewater and exaggerated flows?”

This was the exact dilemma i was pondering when fortune helped me stumble across a Facebook post of guides from Reel Fly (based out of Sattler, Texas) of bass, carp and gar all caught wading in the newly flooded shores of Canyon Lake. Days after seeing these photos and feeling a renewed sense of hope i made a late afternoon dash down there with just a few hours of light left, questioning my decision but knowing that at this point just wetting a line would feel good.

Pulling up with an hour to go before sunset it was strange to see the lake 18′ over it’s normal high mark. The giant peninsula i’ve visited many times over the years (mostly when i had a small sailboat…ah sweet memories) is now separated from dry land by a road that is submerged under what is easily 10′ of fresh rain waters, making it now unreachable by car, and a giant island i can hardly wait to paddle out to.

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Normally i might have been a little warry while wading along the submerged road due to the off color water and grass clinging at my ankles while water snakes circled the perimeter, but after the flood at work and all the (literal) shit that i’ve been dealing with for days inside my store these slightly murky waters seemed like gin clear pools of hopefulness.

I missed the set on the first small bass that fell for my fly and felt crushed that it might be the only fish i had a chance to photograph since the amount of water around me and the sinking sun seemed to stack all of the odds against me. Minutes later however i hooked into an easily 3lb. bass and immediately started taking up slack line on the spool while envisioning the shot of the heroic fish that was currently bending my rod to an uncomfortable degree.

Jump one: “Oh crap!”

Jump two: Fly tossed and me screaming “NOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Luckily i managed to land one fish in the short hour and take a photo, but i couldn’t stop thinking about the many, many fish that were just out of reach due to the mostly unseen barb wire fences running up and down the submerged road and the deep waters that kept me from following the road to the now isolated island.

Since that day all i can think (and dream) about is that next day of zero responsibilities, my paddle board, that island, my rod, and the fish that’s going to rip the line from my hand. Plus, now that i know what of do when the water is so high that the rivers and creeks are full beyond belief, you’ll know where to find me, grilling dogs on my private island while tossing deer hair divers to ravenous bass.

Details to follow as the experience unfolds…

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With all the local creeks and rivers swelling at the banks, like expectant mothers ready to deliver, things have been a little out of sorts around here in central Texas. After years of drought and little to no rain, we’ve suddenly found ourselves bathed in constant waters that read like something out of a chapter on the great northwest. High flows and off color waters have taken what few fish have survived the drought and spread them out in their expansive and murky waters making the fly fishing on local creeks and rivers nothing if not downright challenging.

After days of being stymied by these challenges i decided to seek out waters largely unaffected by the downpours, and took up refuge on the still waters of Lake Bastrop just east of Austin.

Completed in 1964 Lake Bastrop has a long history as a year round fishery due to its being a cooling reservoir for the resident power plant. While the best days for bass fishing are fall and spring, bass can be coaxed out even in the middle of winter thanks to this year round warm water. Though i have yet to check it out in the heat of summer, i’m guessing that its warm water combined with the surface heat means that the alligator gar and carp will be in abundance, something i’ll definitely report on in a few months.

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The one thing i can relate from experience about Lake Bastrop is that it should probably be named Lake Windsock due to its almost uncanny ability to magnify any sort of light breeze into a gale force wind that somehow is always coming at you head on. Sitting on my fairly simple paddle board, it was a little unnerving to have the wind waves toss me to and fro while trying to paddle for the closest cove in hopes of some calmness.

No sooner had i made it to the shelter of the cove than i turned around to see an ominously dark and threatening sky, lit on the periphery by bolts of lightning, crawling across the sky towards me. Pulling up to what was assuredly private property as the lightning ripped through the sky above, i tied my board to a pine tree and found a dry spot protected by shrub and pine where i waited out the passing storm. Lying on a bed of dry needles, head on my dry bag, sipping wine and chewing on jerky while staring up through the needles, watching the black clouds and white-hot lightning dancing high above me it felt like that moment right before you fall asleep where the real and unreal seem to blend and merge, and you can never really tell what is real and what is fantasy.

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Lying there, waiting out the storm i reflected on my own personal drought with fishing with multiple recent trips resulting in little to no fish despite the many hours of desperate casts i’ve made. As the darkness gave way to bluebird skies i untied the paddle board and headed deeper into the cove with heavy hopes.

Casting the 6WT rod and a deer hair popper that wouldn’t look out of place in a Muppets line-up, i worked the banks with an excitement bordering on fervor. There was no real reason to think that i would catch a fish, but for some unknown reason with every cast i felt closer to ending my trail of bad luck. Cast…closer, cast…closer, cast…CLOSER…BOOM! Before i knew it my line was running circles  around the board, causing all kinds of contortions on my part to keep it from tangling on the board as well as the downed brush that now seemed everywhere. Applying pressure i felt a sudden quick slack in the line as the bass shot straight up, leaping three feet out of the water while performing an aerial that would make any gymnast proud. Releasing him a few minutes later, it all seemed so surreal, just like the moments under the pine trees, but i promise, it did happen. My dry spell was over.

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I figured that would be the only one, but was astounded to land six more over the next few hours, all without the help of my net that somehow was lost to the fishing gods (a reoccurring theme lately as this happened on my last big trip). Apparently i was doing so well that the gods were unsure whether or not the sacrificial net was enough. Paddling through some thicket in a back cove i heard a strange noise and turned around to notice that my back up rod had fought a limb with it line and been gradually pulled off the board and was now otherwise submerged in the 20 foot deep black abyss except for a tiny stretch of line hanging by the smallest piece of bark on a downed tree. Quickly snapping a photo before cautiously grabbing the line, i couldn’t help but mutter some brief thank you to anyone (or anything) that might care enough to listen to my gratitude.

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It’s a given that sooner or later the rivers and creeks will return to normal, the fish will settle down and i’ll return to stumbling along their banks or floating their seams. For now though, while moving waters look more like some chocolate milk disaster area, it’s good to know that spots like Lake Bastrop not only have clear water, they also have fish that are gracious enough to help bolster your self esteem. If your offering to the still water gods is sufficient of course.

Speaking of, i REALLY need to start tying my gear down.

The information:

  • visit the TPWD site here.
  • information from the LCRA site available here.
  • a good video with some tips on the lake (if you weed out all the filler) is available here

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