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Category Archive:   Texas Rivers


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“Are you die Fische?” the young man asked as i strolled by, my breakfast tacos in hand, and my mind on the long day ahead and the adventure that awaited near Smithville. The recognition is always a shock, and no much less so since i was exiting Buck’ees (essentially a gussied truck stop, Texas style) in Bastrop, a small town on the eastern outskirts of Austin.

I took the mild ego boost as a sign that this day…no…wait…THIS DAY…was going to be different from the previous few weeks. The dark cloud of misfortune i seemed to be living under was was about to be dissipated and scattered to the winds. Farewell to funerals, automotive tire replacements, busted door locks, and parking lot dings caused by others. Sayonara ruined iPhones, clogged house drains, broken house appliances and and lost fly rods. With the opening chords of AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” ripping out of the speakers i pointed the car in the direction of the bass laced waters of the lower Colorado, nary a cloud in sight

The plan was to pedal the Hobie upstream as far as possible and then ride the current back while pounding the banks with a small armada of poppers and streamers. It was a slow start, as i spent an inordinate amount of time trolling the banks in search of the top three sections of my 6WT, lost on a previous trip the week before. Once beyond the limits of that earlier trip, with zero chance of stumbling on an errant rod tip, the speed of my progress picked up, helped by a slight upstream breeze blowing against my back.

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Freed from paddling (i’m lucky to be wintering my fathers Hobie Pro Angler) i was afforded the luxury of being able to cast while simultaneously making progress, something that as a long time kayak fisherman i can attest is pretty much revolutionary. It was during that upstream haul that i managed to land a few bass, though they all were small in stature, hardly the behemoths whose images fill the internet.

Still, i expected that the best was yet to come since there would be a long float on the return trip that would provide a few hours of coasting and casting for the elusive five pounder. Such it was that i turned the craft around with expectations of all sorts running high.

Remember that breeze?

Shortly after turning to head downstream the previously gentle wind breeze into a frenzy. Gale force winds tore upstream creating white capped wind waves that created the illusion of the river suddenly having its course reversed. The constant gusts were so great and relentless that i found myself being blown upstream if i paused pedaling, river currents be damned. On top of that i busted the pedaling apparatus (fixed now) on an unseen water pipe in the whitewater and ended up making a million half pedals all the way downstream as the wind fought me tooth and nail. Already exhausted from the trip up, i finally made it back to the car uncomfortably close to sundown, tail between my legs, drained and wind burned.

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I never found the rest of my rod or the monster bass, two things that seemed almost inevitable earlier in the optimistic beginnings of the day. It was a shocking disappointment that seemed best drowned out with a good meal and a nice glass of wine if only i could find such a place in a small town of 4,000 people. Thankfully i chanced upon the Back Door Cafe, a simple yet charming fine dining restaurant in Smithville where i managed to find a nice Pinot Grigio that paired well with the most amazing chicken fried steak that’s ever crossed my palette.

The stomach situated by the succulent meal and the mind loosened by the dry wine, i imagined running into that reader after the difficult day and relating my story of “hardship”. Really? A day on the water, fishing at all was really that difficult? I don’t think so.

For now i’m working hard to accentuate the positive, but in all honesty a five pound bass would make it switch all the quicker. Still, i’ll take what i can get and try to remember to smile all the while, after all, it’s a good life.

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After a few windy, shaken hours of pushing ahead, the Element crested the hill and started to descend into the Texas Hill Country that houses the Frio River, audibly breathing a sigh of relief. In a fit of celebration it signified its enthusiasm by lighting up the empty tank light, causing immediate consternation and stress among it’s passengers, especially yours truly who knew there was a good half hour of nothingness to go before hitting anything resembling civilization. Sinking the weight of my body into the steering wheel, i envisioned myself half physically pushing the car along and half willing it along the asphalt trail sprawled out in front of the dashboard.

It was the first of a handful of small but frustrating, unexpected twists and turns in our family’s three day trip to Garner State Park, an escape of sorts that has become an annual pilgrimage for us. The focus was once again, as it has been in the past, was some serious family time in the outdoors, and trout…ideally lots of trout.

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Garner State Park lies on the Frio river, one of the coldest, clearest, and most scenic rivers that flow through the Hill Country here in Texas. While it’s mostly thought of as a “Tubing River” by the throngs of people that float the cool water in the middle of our sauna like summers, it’s also an amazing bass fishery in the summer, and a well stocked trout fishery during the winter months thanks to Texas Parks & Wildlife.

For any first time visitor to the Frio, it’s easy to scoff (as i did initially) at a body of water that looks to be less than a few inches deep across its waistline. Wading in, one will quickly find themselves with water over the waders just a few feet from shore. The water is so incredibly clear that there is truly no way to tell if the water is six inches deep or six feet deep without wading out into overhead water of paddling across its glossy surface. (The photo below is a shot of the river bottom. The camera is one inch below the surface and the rocks are easily six feet below though you can’t tell it from the photo.)

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Camped as we were on the north side of the park, a drive away from the southernly stocked section of the park, i was fortunate enough to be required to paddle one of our two watercraft down to the trout stocked pool on the south-side of the park to meet up with my wife and son who would be shuttling the other boat that way with the car.

Setting off alone and gliding the boat into the small but ferocious flows, the current (around 130 CFS) quickly sucked me in and dictated the course for the day which was essentially “Downstream. Quickly.” It was amazing, to put it mildly.

It was once again proof that in an overdeveloped and privatized state like Texas there were still ways to see this states most scenic aspects just by hopping in a floating craft and letting her guide you along some of her most beautiful routes.

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In two days of fishing (in a family man sort of way, which is to say “less than normal”) i never caught the trout i was looking for (though i did mange to catch an unseasonably hyperactive bass during the float (below), the only fish of the trip, and a hell of a lot of fun in the higher flows.) Having been stocked back in December there were very few trout left (50 or less of the 1,000 by my estimate), and those that were still there were seemed to have figured out how to avoid fools like me with aplomb.

Fortunately for anyone that can find the time, a fresh batch of 1,000 just went in today (1/22) and another batch will be dropped in on 2/12 for all those lucky to break away from city life and make their way to this jewel in the hill country. So if you have a watercraft and unused sick days, i suggest you get there soon.

Just be sure to top off the tank when the opportunity strikes.

If you want to go:

Closest town:  Leaky, Texas which now has at least two 24 hour gas stations. The local grocery store Leakey Mercantile is your one stop shop for any forgotten provisions.

Campgrounds: Garner State Park sits on the bank of the Frio river and provides both tent and RV camping as well as screened shelters.  There are numerous other RV sites and summer rentals in the area and any Google search will point you in the right direction.

Other visitor information: There are a handful of restaurants and stores in the area, but hours are spotty at best during the “off-season” winter months so i HIGHLY recommend calling ahead to see if what you want is open between Thanksgiving and spring break.

Important Note: The park will be closed from 10 p.m. on Feb. 8 until 8 a.m. on Feb. 10, 2016. – from the TPWD website

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Every year for the past seven or so years i’ve signed up as a member with the local Guadalupe River Trout Unlimited in an effort to take part in their incredible program here in central Texas. In a nutshell, the group collects dues and stocks a portion of the Guadalupe river outside of  New Braunfels with some impressively sized trout. Every one of the years i’ve signed up, i’ve opted to sign my son up for free with me, in hopes that some day i could share my accumulated knowledge of these waters with him.

Seven years later, after this summers “New Mexico Epiphany” where he decided he’d like to fly-fish and immediately succeeded in landing both stocked AND wild trout in one day, he was pleading with me to take him fishing on the Guadalupe. When i informed him that i had in fact signed him up every year in hopes of sharing these local waters i got that watery eye look that let me know that he and i were sharing a mutual admiration and affection that every parent should be lucky enough to experience.

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Had this been any of the previous three or four years, with languid flows slowly creeping through the porous rocks and cracked banks, i would have taken him that instant. However, flows had been hovering around 600CFS for weeks, and personal experience during that time had quickly shown me that the river that seemed like a tamed puppy at the 50-100 CFS i’d come to know, was an uncaring, unflinching, fist of power when cranked up to 600 plus CFS. Hell, i’m about as stubborn as they get, and even i remember standing in the river, half way across, feeling the force of the current forcing me to slowly stumble backwards, with the water eagerly lapping at the top of my waders and thinking “No fish is worth dying over.” before carefully working my way back to the bank, with beads of sweat dripping into my eyes.

Fortunately, a few days after that the flows had dropped to around 300+, and mutual dreams were made as my son and i made our way to the Guadalupe in search of trout TOGETHER for the first time ever. After a brief stop at Cabela’s to pick up an inexpensive pair of waders for Paolo that fit his feet but were otherwise sized to fit someone five times his weight, we arrived at the river, baggy waders in place, and grins bouncing back and forth like some crazed tennis match of smiles

I immediately managed to land a few trout as well as my first rock ever (which felt like a struggling turtle as it came up, and YES, i’ve caught one of those and would know) while waiting for him to get comfortable at the mere thought of standing in water without getting wet which he thought was pretty amazing (do you remember what a strange feeling that was the first time?)

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After a couple of hours of top notch casts by Paolo, trying a few different spots, and still no trout on the hook for him, we were ready to call it a day when i took him to one of the spots that i know best. I was a little hesitant since even for me this spots depth pushed the vertical limit of my waders to the test, usually creeping over the top in aquatic celebration as they absorbed into my otherwise dry clothing. Needless to say my sons clothing was in jeopardy, but i was far to eager to put him on fish, in spite of his reassurance that just hanging out together was all he really needed to make the day complete.

A short while later, tight against the bank, slipping on underwater cypress roots, with extremely technical side casts needed to be made under the low hanging branches, i realized that in my desperation to put my son on a fish i’d put him in a position that was a pain in the ass for an established angler, much less someone who had angling days in the low single digits. Feeling bad for adding so much pressure to the situation, i asked if he wanted to go. As he turned to answer i saw the indicator plunge and yelled “STRIKE” as the rod was lifted, as were the corners of his mouth.

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Seconds later, he landed the beautiful trout in the top picture and smiled with joy as i snapped a photo of him and his first Texas trout. Immediately upon releasing the trout safely he misplaced a foot, went slightly horizontal and experienced the power of a healthy river filling his waders (fortunately i made him wear a wading belt much to his chagrin) as i reached out without thinking and grabbed him by his shoulder straps and threw him on the bank thanks to the kind of strength that only comes in moments of crisis such as these.

It was a little hairy to be sure, and an hour or so later, after buying dry clothes at Target and settling in to a warm booth at the Huisache Grill in New Braunfels for fried food and comforting drinks (wine and root beer) we reassessed the day and agreed on two cardinal rules for what we hope to be a lifetime of shared fishing adventures.

  1. We don’t wade in up to our chest anymore.
  2. Fish together as much as possible.

Other than that, the rest is just details. We’re both hoping that they can all be worked out over the next few decades during endless hours on tree lined banks awash in the sound of flowing water, augmented by the laughter of two anglers enjoying time together.

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It’s that time of year again. The cold weather has returned, although in fits and starts, to tease us and remind us that the holidays are closer than we think. For many, this means making plans, booking flights, writing cards, or heading out with everyone else to the malls to knock out that holiday shopping that we told ourselves a year ago we would do back in September.

Being a manager of a retail store, i’m torn around this time EVERY year. One half of me is focused on my store and all it’s needs (although at this point in the season, the real work is done and the nervous waiting begins) while the other part of me realizes that like clockwork the trout season has snuck up on me once again.

So it is that midges are quickly tied en masse at the last minute and spools of 5X tippet are dug out from beneath car seats in an effort to prepare for the stocking of the alien rainbow trout that will soon work their way to the front of the stage, screaming for attention like the prima donnas they are.

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Thanks to annual winter stockings by the local Trout Unlimited chapter the Guadalupe River Trout Unlimited (which i highly recommend becoming a part of if you are even remotely into trout fishing) as well as corresponding stockings by Texas Parks and Wildlife there are not only holdover trout in the waters close to Canyon Lake Dam, but also freshly stocked trout that usually start showing up somewhere around this time at various locations in the upper reaches of the Guadalupe.

For reasons that are still unclear to me, i somehow managed to hit these waters four times in the last week or so, and can attest that at 300CFS (the first time i was there, and when these trout were landed) these waters are ideal for trout fishing, but at the current 500+ CFS, as they’ve been the last three times i’ve been there, it’s quite simply to much water. To much for the fisherman and to much for the fish. It’s a sad state of affairs that around here we seem to have no water, or to much water, but apparently, like the fish, the angler must learn to adapt.

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For now though i advise waiting it out, (as opposed to wading it out), tying flies, and saving your fishing days for lower flows, colder weather, and more stocked possibilities. Then again, even knowing what i know, i still hit the water when all the odds are stocked against me, so use that advice however you see fit

As a top notch fly fishing guide said the other day while floating past, me on the bank and he in his raft with a client.

“You sure are a glutton for punishment.”

“Yes,” i agreed “there’s something wrong with me for sure.” i yelled knowingly over the hum of the whitewater.

Thinking about this over the next few fish-less hours i realized i really am a glutton for punishment. Here i was, with the sun beating on my face, the wind not only drying out my skin but also tying my tippet into endlessly intricate knots, branches alternating between scratching my skin and eating my flies, and shifty rocks sending me head over heels into cold flows that quickly filled my waders with not just coldness, but incredible weight and not a fish to show for it.

Then again, i wasn’t sitting in the parking lot at the mall, jockeying for position in the parking lot only to delve into the insanity in effort to grab a gift that would likely be re-gifted or donated next year to Goodwill. That in itself was a huge plus.

So the trout days are among us. Even if you do head down during the heavy flows, receive a bump or bruise from shifting rocks, a minor cut from branches, or an unfortunate fish-less day, just remember, you could be working retail!

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