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Category Archive:   Warm Water Fish


A main staple for summer fishing in and around Austin, the low water crossing below Mansfield dam has been a mainstay for years for cold water seekers as well as fisherman. Many months ago it was shut down for repairs that seemed to drag on forever but I’m here to tell you, it’s back and better than ever. The “parking lot” is now exactly that, the poison ivy has been replaced with turf grass, there is a bathroom. and there is actually a ranger that lives on site to keep the peace and remove unwanted debris and chaos.

Early morning and late days at sunset will put you on a myriad of fish including tailing grass carp that light up the still water like swaying neon lights. Highly recommended for fishing or a simple break from the heat. See you there!

Balance. It’s a wonderful thing in life to find and try and maintain, but (for most) it’s never permanent, life is far to complicated for that. Personally I’ve always tried to keep family, work, fishing and this blog in harmony (in that order), but when one of the four (work) requires more attention, somethings gotta give, and in this equation that can only mean the blog. Fortunately I’ve recently started to find my groove at my new dream job and now find myself spending more time being productive and less trying to figure out how to maneuver through my work day, so the scales are finally starting to balance back out.

Gone are the days of “Stress Fishing” where one feels that an hour on the water is so needed that the 60 minutes spent fishing actually starts to feel like an anxiety inducing job in and of itself. Instead, i’m back on the water, relaxed, relieved, and more than a little curious. Working in a store with a fly shop (Gruene Outfitters) i am constantly hearing (or over hearing) about spots from co-workers or customers, something that has re-kindled a desire in me that i originally started this blog with, the exploratory side of my nature that wants to expand and search out new waters to share with you, the reader. Once again I’m back into my old habit of late nights with a glass of wine, a little blue cheese, and time spent pouring over Google Maps, honing in on hunches and pricing together bits and pieces that i heard throughout the day. One such late night ritual brought to my attention some public access on the upper Guadalupe at a location called Nichols Landing near Spring Branch, just south of Blanco.

That very next morning as i pulled off of highway 281 i was expecting the typical Texas river access spot, something along the lines of a poke in the eye and a kick in the crotch. To my dismay i pulled in to a legitimate county park, complete with parking, Port-A-Potties, and families enjoying themselves in the cool river waters. The vibe was instantly relaxing, and glancing around at the stone and sand shores, huddled in the shadows of huge bald cypress, i knew i had found something special, regardless of the fishing.

Dragging the Versa Board a small way over the rocks, from the parking lot to the shore i took a second to appreciate the lack of a boat ramp, knowing it likely kept the less curious at bay. Paddling upstream i was dumbfounded by the scenery, the trees, the sky, the water all seemed to be present in perfect unison. Being as it was a short while after sunrise, i immediately started to notice 2-3′ long gar lined up in pods along the banks, apparently waking up groggy after a night of wine and research?! Every one of the first three casts resulted in quick chases and gar brought aboard as much to their dismay as mine. One even performed a spastic somersault dance with its bony snout alternatively smacking against the boats deck and my thigh multiple times before conducting a perfect backflip into the waters from whence it came.

The initial paddle is along a stretch of housing, all though the houses are set rather far back from the river and only observable in a couple of spots, unlike the lower Guadalupe where you are practically in people’s back yards. It doesn’t take long however to reach a stretch of water that last many miles heading up to Guadalupe State Park, a stretch that for the one low water crossing, feels as wild and free as i imagine it  has for millennia. It was along this stretch that i portaged up the longest stretch of rapids i’ve ever encountered in Texas, a good 50 yards of rocks and whitewater that at the 90CFS i encountered it at made it hard to get up and down, but would be navigable at the 150CFS which is the norm for this time of year.

After the portage, i came upon a junction where Curry Creek enters from the right side of the river, some slightly still backwater that i was hoping might house some largemouth. Paddling up the creek, it was quickly clear that the water here was so shallow that fish would spot me coming from a mile away. Never the less, I did spot one of the more amazing sights i’ve ever seen in Texas, a towering limestone cliff about 40-50 feet high with a giant wedge cut vertically out of it, reaching back 20 feet and topped with a 10 foot thick cap on top that gave it sort of a cave/condo look that any Austin developer would die for. The photo (above) simply doesn’t do it justice, it is massive.

Around that time the upstream winds started barking and howling turning my leisurely downstream float into a headlong paddling battle that unfortunately has become all to common. In between strenous sessions i took some time stop and work some of the holes i’d noticed on the way up. Of special note is the pool that housed a myriad of long nose gar, anywhere from 3-5 feet. It was mostly sight casting and landing 3 foot specimen, but as you might expect, every time i stopped to switch a fly or untangle a line, a 4-5 foot gar would surface, gulp air, and be gone before I even had the backcast unfurling. Still, so many of the three foot gar were landed that I eventually stopped casting to them. One in particular seemed to tire of me trying to cut the gentle rope strands from its mouth, scissoring back and forth with its jaw agape it landed its teeth squarely on my hand drawing blood, always a sign it’s time to move on.

On the way back, somewhere around 3-4PM, the top-water bite finally turned on and it was more or less non-stop panfish and bass all the way back to the car. As much fun as it was, it would have been infinitely more enjoyable if i had something something lighter than the 6 and 8 WT rods i had brought in hopes of big gar. Still, you take what you can get, right?

On a final note, approaching Nichol’s Landing i was suddenly surrounded by a crowd of tubers and folks relaxing and enjoying the day. Eventually one spectator yelled out that they saw a lot of bait fish jumping a mere 20 feet in front of them and their awning, camp chairs and flailing children. I felt on the spot, and they vocally mentioned they’d never seen a person fly fish before so what could i do but entertain? I cast, thinking how hopeless and stupid, but expected it was that I at least try. The fly hit. The water caved in on itself, and my fly disappeared only to be replaced by a three-pound largemouth that faded left, faded right, jumped two feet in the air and bucked the fly free.

My audience tried to take responsibility by claiming that it wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t been watching, but i knew the truth. If there is one thing fly fishing has taught me over and over again, it is to always expect the unexpected, and never stop wondering what’s around the bend.

Want to go?

Nichols Landing – Paddling information for this location.

Guadalupe Canoe Livery – I have not used them, but if you want to float Nichol’s Landing to Hwy. 281 they will shuttle you for a fee.

Blanco River State Park – Located about 15 minutes north of the Guadalupe, along the Blanco River this is one of two state parks that you can choose to camp at.

Guadalupe River State Park – Also located about 15 minutes from Nichols Landing this is an incredibly beautiful campground and also a possible starting point for those than want to shuttle between here and Nichols Landing.

Since starting my new job in Gruene, TX. i’ve desperately been trying to find spots on the way home that could not only be accessed quickly, but possibly even hold fish that might satiate my desire to catch something more than small and eager sunfish.

Having hit up the Blanco river, and specifically Five Mile Dam Park numerous times over the last few weeks with little to no success wading or kayaking i was starting to wonder whether maybe i might be chasing windmills? It didn’t seem entirely implausible (as a customer mentioned in conversation) that the flood of 2015 could have stripped the river of not just plant cover, but possibly a majority of the fish as well.

 

Dragging the Versa board down to the water, navigating the throngs of folks camped out on the flood ravaged boat launch, it seemed to me that even if fish did survive the flood they probably wouldn’t have stuck around here with this carnival atmosphere going on in their own backyard. Regardless, i was going to give it one more chance before writing off the park and seeking out other possibilities along the I-35 corridor.

Weaving through the tubers and floaties, i paddled about twenty yards up from even the most adventurous swimmer, tied on a green splattered popper loaded the rod with a false cast and landed the popper directly between two large submerged boulders. So mesmerized was i by the sudden splash and instant disappearance of my fly i almost forgot to set the hook into the bass (above) that just seconds ago i was convinced wasn’t there.

Within the next 30 minutes i managed to land 20 plus sunfish of various type and size. With every strike it felt like the fish were announcing that not only were they present, they were SURVIVORS and had the fight and will power to prove it!

Enjoying the activity i eventually tied on a much larger deer hair popper in an effort to focus on the bass that were surely snaking up and down the steep, muddy and foliaged banks. With nips and nibbles from the sunfish causing the fly to dip and resurface when they realized their appetite outsized their mouths it was a constant game of waiting for just the right take.

Eventually the fly disappeared without immediately re-surfacing which meant a quick strip, a dipping rod and eventually a good size long ear sunfish that was big enough to wrap its jaws around a bass fly that theoretically was out of its league. Not to be out done, shortly after a fly change the bass were back to make sure that i knew who really owned these waters.

This culminated in the bass (below) that took a popper, swam down and out and immediately pulled the tip of my 4WT into the water and started guiding both my board and i around as though it were leading us around on some strange waltz that only it could hear the music to.  Being an easy three pounds, the fish had me not only anticipating my next return, but also knowing that the relationship between me and these waters would be a lasting one.

Paddling upstream, content in the fishing, i found spots of the Blanco that not only felt far removed from I-35, and the crowds downstream, but also from life in general. One only paddle far enough and the traffic noise, housing tracts and political pandemonium seem to be drowned out by the calming noise of water stubbornly forcing its way around, beneath and over rocks, and the sweet, sweet sound of survivors slurping flies off the surface with the confidence of those that have seen some shit and aren’t afraid to let you know that they never disappeared.

For all the joyous things about family life (and there are many) the one disconcerting thing you learn REALLY quickly is that personal time is rare, special and unique and simply can not be squandered away on idle chores like paying bills, mowing the grass or showing up for jury duty.

Suffice to say that when you get two angling parents together (myself and my good friend Nathan) and grant them a handful of hours to peck away at, you’re going to bear witness to a couple of folks, hunched and hectic, sucking the very marrow out of life and breakfast tacos as well.

 photo by Nathan Peck

After meeting up and picking up said tacos, plus the usual rations of jerky, wine and beer at Graceland Grocery and discussing his need to be home by early afternoon, we pulled into Pedernales State Park practically humming with anticipation of a beautiful day spent in perfect flows and perfectly cool weather. After a previous trip here trying to lug around a 3WT (bass, sunfish) and a 6WT (gar, drum) i settled on just taking the 3WT and resigning myself to enjoying catching mostly smaller fish, unencombered by both a second rod and the expectation of catching something huge.

Within minutes of making our way down the rocky pathway and trammel crossing Nathan managed to use a size 12 Wooly Bugger to hook into a  small but spastic bass that quite simply was not excited about being punked by a papa. This scene unfolded time and time again as Nathan caught bass after bass interspersed with the occasional sunfish.

For the most part i was somehow coming up empty as Nathan managed to bring in a small collection of fish, despite the fact that i was tying on progressively smaller flies in an effort to increase my odds of landing anything…anything at all.

photo by Nathan Peck

Working our way to the far eastern side of the park, i wandered slightly ahead and found a deep pool, barely wider than a kiddie pool, but still 6 feet deep or so, with two 20 pound drum hanging out, hugging the bottom, little more than dark shadows shapeshifting far down in the quickly moving water.

Arrow casting upstream amongst the tight wall of cypress and wishing for the streamer to sink faster than it physically could, i watched as the sculpin pattern quickly moved passed their heads before a small mysterious dragon, radiant in a coat of grey and yellows shot up from the dark depths and slammed the fly without hesitation, fully intent on making quick work of my fly.

With a nimble 3WT connecting me two the fish and a healthier than normal flow, the catfish ran amok with added leverage, intent on snapping every inch of tippet that would result in its immediate freedom. Steering it away from rough edged rocks and snarls of downed cypress limbs, eventually i escorted it to the net while simultaneously yelling for Nate to come and hopefully capture this this odd catch on film.

After having Nate take the ubiquitous photo, i quickly released the catfish and surrendered the spot to him in order to see what else could be found. Within a few casts he quickly hooked up with yet another in a menagerie of bass that once again brought smiles, whoops and hollers like any take really should.

Glancing at the time, Nate mentioned a little hesitantly that we needed to start heading back so that fatherly duties could be attended to. Had it been any of the numerous recent days of fishing this news would have likely have been followed with hand wringing, nervous shifting, or at the very least some profanities muttered quietly under my breath.

Instead i glanced downstream towards the possible future, glanced back upstream at the past and thought about the many fish and unique characters that had created our day, and finally shrugged honestly and contently.

“Sure! Let’s go.” I was able to say happily without even a trace of regret or bitterness. After all, it’s easy to be at peace with the present when the past has been so generous to you and your friends. Carpe diem indeed.