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Category Archive:   Texas Rivers


photo by Nathan Peck

Well, it’s happened once again. Here in Texas it was another unbelievably dry summer with little to no rain causing most of our waterways to dry up, leaving their limestone river beds naked and exposed like bleached fossils from an ancient time. Naturally this did not bode well for vast swaths of our local fish population and in turn any angler wary to stress a fish further while it’s already hanging on by a thread. Fortunately in the last few weeks we’ve received some significant rain that is once again breathing life back into our waterways, meaning that the fish, flush with vim and vigor, were once again on the move. Time to hustle.

As is true anywhere, certain rivers in Texas are more susceptible than others to the various moods that the weather and its cohorts can impart upon it. In my mind (and locale) the Blanco River is the epitome of this, sometimes a raging source of destruction as it was in 2015 and at other times a hapless trickle that would barely register as a creek on most peoples radars. It’s the bellwether for local environmental trends as well as a trusted friend since it lies on my work commute from Austin to Gruene and is what one might call a “frequent watering hole” of mine.

Weeks beforeI had visited the park only to find a series of muddy, unconnected pools of water little more than a foot deep. Upon returning, post rains, with my good friend Nate, we launched our Native boards from the now waist deep bank and paddled hard and far up a healthy artery of water that was rife with possibilities. The company was great, the flows were prodigious and everything in sight seemed to be radiating an intense green as though the saturation levels had been bumped as high as they’d go.

The paddle upstream turned out to be a bit much since two and a half miles is a good distance any day, doubly so when you’re paddling against a healthy flow. In retrospect I probably hadn’t completely filled Nate in on the distance we’d be paddling but I knew exactly where it was we were heading since I’d glimpsed this pool just out of reach on a previous paddle. At that time back during equally healthy flows I saw what promised to be a pool of epic proportions but had come on it close to sunset with darkness looming, forcing me to turn back without exploring its grandeur. Now, after a few hours of paddling and portaging, we were finally there, standing on the low water crossing, water flowing over it, staring at a massive pool of possibility framed on one side by a gravel bank and on the other by limestone cliffs that had to be at least 50 feet high.

photo by Nathan Peck

Directly above the low water crossing was a bottle necked riffle that we approached cautiously and carefully, a mere 20 feet wide at the most, flowing clear and fast with only a downed tree to break up the monotony of the flows. I cast slightly upstream, expecting the white wooly bugger to drift close to the downed tree on it’s way downstream and luring out any shy bass lying in wait. Instead I saw movement in my peripheral vision that seemed to be rocks in the riverbed tumbling over themselves from the head of the rapids. The shape bolted downstream through the riffle with unwavering speed and intent before crushing the Wooly Bugger, oblivious to the fact that it was playing out this heart stopping scene less than ten feet away from the nervous, shaking person on the other end of that line. It was an intense fight as I struggled to land the bass on the 4WT rod while simultaneously trying to recall what weight leader I had on the end of my line, and therefore just how much room for error I could afford. It turned out to be the biggest Guadalupe Bass I’ve ever personally landed and damn near brought me to tears with the way the entire thing had played out in order to hold that fish, ever briefly, before returning it to its home.

Minutes later Nate cast in to the same body of water with a larger streamer and managed to get out a few words along the line of, “I think this streamer is too big,” before said streamer was inhaled by a Guadalupe that was in fact hanging out below the downed tree aforementioned. It was glorious. I demurred at his offer to take my turn casting into the magical waters, partly because the magic had already happened for me and partly because I wanted to see it continue to manifest for him. Two casts later it happened again for Nate, big bass, big fight…things were getting weird.

Suffice to say this day was beyond reproach. Paddling even further upstream through deep gin clear pools framed by statuesque limestone cliffs, a cool breeze at our backs and sunny skies overhead it was hard to not feel like we were traipsing around some remote, exotic locale instead of a body of water just miles from the interstate corridor.

The scenery and weather alone made for an idyllic setting that any sane person would gladly appreciate but adding to the charm was that all this time the bass were coming at our flies like torpedos, seemingly oblivious to us, our watercraft, or really anything much at all.

I’m pretty sure I had a bunch of lousy days of fishing leading up to this but strangely enough I can’t seem to recall them with any sort of clarity now. A day full of clear skies, clear water, healthy flows, voracious fish and a good friend to share it all with seems to have that effect.

Grab a friend, a rod and get out there. Now!

photo by Nathan Peck

As any fan of this blog will know, gar are hands down one of my favorite fish to catch on a fly. So imagine my delight to see that Texas Park and Wildlife is now treating at least one of the gar (the Alligator Gar) like an actual respectable gamefish. To see these prehistoric creatures suddenly go from an unwelcome, unloved trash fish, discarded on riverbanks to die a slow death to a species venerated as a “game fish” is mind boggling, but also deeply satisfying for not only me, but also the many others that know the exhilaration of catching any gar on a fly. Fisherman, and especially fly fisherman, constantly seem to look down on “trash fish” like gar, carp, freshwater drum, etc., but if you’ve ever hooked into one you’ll know that gar and carp are capable of bending an 8WT into two and putting up a fight that resembles saltwater fishing much more than your typical freshwater fishing.

TPWD has set up a special site for the alligator gar at https://tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/management/alligator-gar/index.phtml and they are looking for folks like you and I to try and shape the future of gar fishing in Texas by taking a survey to see where they should be devoting their resources. If you are interested in helping fly fishing in Texas progress please take a moment to check out this website.

P.S. “Yes” these are long-nose gar photos. I have yet to catch an alligator gar, but don’t worry, that’s my summer’s goal.

Fly fishing is not magic. Like many things in life it can be magical, but it in and of itself is not magic, or at least that’s been my mindset for the last few months as I’ve suffered through some sort of “big fish ” deficiency while everyone around me has seemingly effortlessly racked up big fish after big fish.

Then I hooked into the first gar or the season, and as the water around it exploded with unruly frustration, the line went tight and the rod bowed slowly as remembering how to play a fish far outside of it’s capacity, I recalled that fishing IS magic.

Five days later (and still high from the first gar) I was at Pedernales State Park with my good friend Nate when we spotted a plethora of carp feeding aggressively in pool after pool. We spent a lot of time hiking but eventually turned our attention  to the waters inhabitants where we proceeded to collect a vast array of sunfish and Guadalupe Bass. Eventually I moved over to a black wooly bugger and started casting to the endless array of common carp, feeding and muddying the waters. After having my heart broken by having a Jurassic Park three foot carp pounce on my fly only to somehow miss the hook-set, I eventually snuck up on the beauty below, watching in the skinny water as it went for it and ended up running me out to my backing three times before eventually working it in to my net.

Landing that carp and lifting it from the net into my hands I felt like a magician suddenly pulling a rabbit out where before there had been nothing. It felt like absolutely pure magic, the way that fly-fishing should feel.

I love Texas. I also love wandering.

Unfortunately less than 2% of Texas is public land, which makes wandering and exploring almost as difficult as trying to explore a distant planet. As a reminder to those that venture to far to far, barbwire is an ever-present deterrent around here. There are also a wealth of signs that practically beat one over the head with suggestions, warnings or out right threats that might or might not be enforced. All of which is to say, you never, ever know in Texas. You are equally likely to be greeted by a hand squeezed lemonade as you are a salt rock shot in the ass.

Unless you’re connected to wealth some of the best spots to meander in Texas are the state parks, which is exactly why I found myself at one of my favorite spots, the South Llano State Park.  I was here alone, in search of a couple of days of relative solitude in an effort to re-charge my batteries and squeeze in some fishing time that wasn’t book ended on either end by drives to and from the water. I’ve camped / fished here for years and have always found the park to be one of the more mellow parks, likely because of its rather limited amount of campgrounds as well as its distance from any major cities (it’s 3 hours from Austin).

Upon arriving  I started wade fishing the stretch that any person visiting the state park would decide was the obvious route. I ventured from the low water crossing (most upstream access at the park) all the way down towards the “Tube Exit” sign without landing a single fish. We’re talking hundreds of yards, all with no observable foot traffic ahead of me, multiple flies tried and not a single bite. However, immediately after passing the aforementioned sign I found myself hooked into the beautiful bass above that instantly put the 3WT through its paces and made the entire evening worth it.

The next morning I was on the water early, sliding the paddle board into the river at the second crossing, visions of an epic day of thigh length bass and endless pools of gullible, gaping mouths ready to inhale anything I through their way. The downstream wind quickly assaulted and aggravated, turning a leisurely upstream paddle into some sort of death march that if paused, even for a second,  would send me downstream faster than the current could carry me. The day was not what I was hoping for, the one or two fish landed were a small reward for hour upon hour of relentless paddling against a headwind.

Still, at least I was experiencing the illusion of wandering even if it was hemmed in by a limestone cliff to my left and a two lane highway a few yards over my right shoulder. I have to say though, if I’m going to spend my time constrained to a space of flowing water between two opposing banks of private property, Texas is where I want to do it. Warning signs be damned.