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Category Archive:   Warm Water Fish


Texas is known for a lot of things, barbecue, cowboys, breakfast tacos and divisive political agendas being at the top of the list. What it is NOT known for is its amazing network of creeks, streams, and rivers that play host to a vast array of warm water species, everything from palm-sized sunfish to catfish, carp, and gar so big you’ll probably want to pack an extra set of underwear should you be lucky enough to hook one. Unfortunately, it is also an incredibly fickle fishery that is either boom or bust depending on the weather patterns, where they hit, and your willingness to research ahead of time and lay out the best course.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been fortunate enough to fish with my good friend Nate and somehow time it so that we’ve had epic days on both Bull Creek and Barton Creek. Recent rains have flooded so much of the central Texas area that bigger waters have been out of the question and will likely be for weeks to come, but luckily the smaller creeks are able to bounce back despite the intense flooding they experienced just weeks ago.

Bull Creek was the first one we fished two weeks ago when flows were about 125 CFS (Currently 20 CFS) and all other surrounding waterways looked like chocolate milk. The day was cool and wet when we set foot on the trail around 11 AM but it felt good despite the overcast sky. After navigating the muddy trails soaked by recent rains we made it to the creek only to have the skies part and present us with one of the most beautiful and epic days either one of us has experienced.

It is no exaggeration to say that for a few hours there Nate and I were getting fish on every other cast using just a rubber spider (Nate) and a white wooly bugger (me). Pools that in years past were knee deep were found to be chest high and I can honestly say that the intensity of all the greenery and the rapid flow of water made me feel like I was sight fishing in some remote jungle a few thousand miles from Austin.

A week later we hit up my beloved Barton Creek and were shocked to find that the water levels were still around 250 CFS (currently 150 CFS) which turned out to make wade fishing Barton Creek extremely difficult, to put it mildly, with normally knee-high pools now neck high and mostly unwadable.

Fortunately, as far as the fishing Goes it was more if the same, eager sunfish and a few gullible basses. Before landing the huge sunfish in the title bar photo above, I found myself hooked into a four-inch sunfish that fought well until I slipped on the incredibly muddy bank. I ended up falling on my ass bone HARD in one foot of water where I sat trying to collect my thoughts on what just happened and the immense amount of pain I was suddenly feeling in my tailbone. It was then that I looked over to my right in time to see a massive explosion happen in 6 inches of water just three feet to my right. Apparently, the sunfish I had hooked became the immediate prey of an easily 5 lb. bass that suddenly was dragging my line 30 yards upstream in an epic battle. In all the commotion I somehow thought that I had managed to hook the huge bass, but as I brought it close to the net it basically gave me a sidewise glance, opened its mouth, released the now dead sunfish and swam off to the far side of the pool likely cursing me for robbing it of its supper.

If you’re only willing to scale it down a bit there are epic days to be had right now all within the Austin city limits, it’s just going to require a little change in perception and equipment to squeeze the maximum amount of joy out it. So grab your lightest rod, a good friend, some small flies and your favorite beverage and get out there and enjoy some of the best small water fishing that Austin can offer. Just be sure to go sooner than later, because if there is anything we can be sure of here in Texas it’s that our access to water flows such as these is entirely uncertain.

Photos of dF by Nathan Peck on Instagram @theurbanfly

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.

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.

It’s hard to get any three people to agree on doing anything anymore it seems, especially when two of them are not only husbands but fathers as well. If my direct personal experience is to be trusted(?), our lives are split and fragmented into so many thousands of tiny bits on a daily basis that finding more than a passing moment, much less an entire day, to focus one hundred percent on each other and a shared experience seems almost nostalgic in this day and age of dings, pings, and constant status updates.

Fortunately for me, I came of age well before even the cell phone was a thing (I was born in 1971). In fact a majority of my life was spent on road trips and adventures where being accessible in any way shape or form simply wasn’t a thing. In my more recent years  I’ve embraced the smartphone for the amazing things it can do (water flows, photo editing, chess) but definitely realize that the trade off is losing that freedom of simply being invisible and unconnected. Luckily there are still a few places where it’s still possible to lose a signal and you’re able to get in touch with nature and the friends that surround you.

 

Recently I pulled into one such signal free sanctuary, Pedernales State Park to meet up with friends Nate and Niall for what was supposed to be a leisurely waltz between pools below the falls. With the oppressive heat still lingering like an unwelcome guest we made our way from pool to pool with little luck. Eventually we made it to one of my favorite spots on the river, a sun drenched stretch hardly knee deep and consistently full of shifting sand bars, roving gar and cruising, distracted carp.

Three weight in hand I stalked the familiar “flats” keeping an eye out for a carp on the hunt. Surprisingly enough it only took a couple of minutes to find a cruiser, cast the fly immediately over its shoulder, strip once and suddenly feel the pull of the animal universe on the other end of the line. After a full summer of them being few and far between it was an immensely satisfying feeling to once again hold a carp close and take in its off brand beauty.

Laughing from the small but immense victory, Nate and I headed down river to hook up with Niall and evaluate our situation.  At this point it was either a quick walk back to our cars via a secret trail to escape the relentless heat and humidity or set out on a 200 yard trek though head high weeds and relentless thorns to show them one of the most magical fishing spots I’ve ever discovered, far back in the nooks and crannies of Pedernales SP.

Ever the troopers they both decided to forge ahead into the thicket, partly because of curiosity but also likely due to the fact that I purposely understated the difficulty in getting there. I’d made this trip before under similar circumstances and therefore was wearing pants, unfortunately my short wearing co-horts didn’t know what they’d signed up for but still braved some intense bush whacking none the less as we set off into the thicket.

Eventually we stumbled out of the brush and onto the stretch of river that I’ve christened “Eden” due to its immense beauty, fishy as hell waters, and capacity to somehow how make one feel isolated yet fully connected to the cosmos at the same time. I’ve had this feeling countless times fishing here alone and I was glad as hell that I was here with friends that deserved to get their own read on the place after putting in their time foraging ahead through the thick of things.

Eventually everyone seemed to find their own space, spreading out and casting at their own rhythm. While Nate and I both had moderate success, it was Niall that eventually tapped into the beat of the river and managed to land an incredible bass that was easily the fish of the day. Having given Nate and Niall space by moving far upstream I missed the epic battle, but honestly I prefer it that way. I’ve written my story on this stretch of water before, now it was their time to create their own narrative, I’ll just hand it down.

Thank you Nate, Niall, the Pedernales and all the aquatic life for the amazing day.