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Deep In The Heart Of Texas

 

Angling during the ice months – especially in the western Canadian provinces beyond the Chinook zone – is always going to be a test of strengths, a clash of wills and an intestinal fortitude gut check.

Many of us embrace the cold weather challenge and defy our climate willingly.

But for others the default position is to hang up their rods, tie flies or simply hunker down and pray that spring comes early for a change.

It’s just too C-O-L-D to think of fishing.

Of course, there’s a way of resolving that problem, take a break from the weather, and partake in some quality fishing at the same time.

And that’s to fly south.

Guadalupe River run

Guadalupe River run

As I did last March when I spent a mercurial two weeks of honky-tonks, barbecue and a sampling of the fine flyrodding that the Lone Star State has to offer – deep in the heart of Texas. Texas, of course, is renowned for large, shiny boats, logoed-up anglers and big-buck largemouth bass tournaments. Nothing wrong with that as I’m also a big bucket-mouth fan but I chose a different route to Lone Star angling redemption and that started with rainbow trout.

Guadalupe River

The “Guad”, as they sometimes call it, gains its water and its strength from the numerous springs that come bubbling out of the limestone that underlies that rolling piece of picturesque central Texas countryside between Austin and San Antonio known as the Hill Country. The source is the magnificent Edwards Aquifer.

It doesn’t really become a trout stream until it experiences the water-cooling effects of the Canyon Lake Dam, constructed by the US Corps of Army Engineers in 1964 as a flood control project. The Corps was the subject of a lawsuit by the Guadalupe River Trout Unlimited Chapter which successfully forced the government agency to maintain minimum cold water flows during the scorching Texas summer months. Thus, the best little trout stream in Texas was born. (It’s also the only one.)

Each year the TU chapter and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department stock 30,000 rainbows into the pools and riffles in the trout zone that extends almost to the city of New Braunfels. Because this is Texas, where everything is big, these stockers – of which they estimate about a third carry over – are up to 18 inches when they are first put in.

Texas rainbow trout

Texas rainbow trout

I was about to enjoy the whole experience when Texas river guide Brent Hodges launched his rubber raft at the top River Road crossing and anchored up in the first pool in as wild section of the river called the Horseshoe Loop.

I was armed with a San Juan Worm with a Loop-wing Blue Wing Olive as a strike indicator. On the first cast the bobber dipped, I set the hook and a feisty rainbow was attached to my line. After a fine fight, the fish – for reasons known only to the angling gods – spat the hook before Brent could slide his net under it.

We drifted down the river, taking fish reasonably consistently. Unfortunately, the sunny sky obliterated the Trico Mayfly hatch that appeared to building as we were getting the rods ready at the bridge. We set up using a variety of nymphs - some standards, others peculiar to the Guadalupe like the Rainbow Warrior and Crystal Meth.

I was fishing during blue bonnet season, when this iconic little lupine that crowds the highway ditches and pastures signals the arrival of the Texas spring. The river actually fishes well throughout the winter beginning in January when the first stockings occur.

The weather was warm and spring-like but don’t expect it to be blistering hot like Mexican or Caribbean destination angling.

Texas is also subject to occasional ice storms, Blue Northers and hurricanes.

Port O’Connor

There is no historic district or heritage courthouse square in this little Gulf Coast fishing community east of Corpus Christi. When 42 full-blown hurricanes have come roaring ashore within a 30-mile radius over the last 150 years there’s fat chance of that.

But there are barrier islands thrown up by the big winds and pounding surf. Behind them is a matrix of bays, creeks, bayous, channels, mangrove jungles and sandy spits that collectively constitute that quixotic angling environment known as “flats”.

Flats guide Brent Hodges

Flats guide Brent Hodges

This is my next stop on Brent Hodges’ angling adventure tour.

While the Guadalupe can be fished successfully by a visiting angler with a fundamental knowledge of trout angling (although the Texas stream access regs can be complex) Port O’Connor is a different kettle of fish.

Flats fishing involves team work, an experienced pair of angler eyes and a fast moving skiff. Brent provided the last two prerequisites and I was tasked with the first.

While there are a variety of game fish that inhabit these areas at different times of the year (including an interesting tarpon season) Brent’s target species is a large rosy-hued fish with a loonie-sized black spot on its tail called a Texas redfish.

Flats angling is more hunting than fishing – where Capt. Brent assumes the command position on the poling platform above the outboard and the angler, armed with an 8-weight flyrod, waits on the casting deck poised for Hodges to call the “shot.”

When the guide spots a cruising redfish, he positions the boat to intercept its line of travel, then calls on the cast.

After a few false starts and miss hits, we’re half way across a piece of water called Mud Flat when Brent sees another cruiser. I place the Simple Shrimp fly in front of it, strip when the guide gives the order and the redfish is on

Texas redfish

Texas redfish

It then rips across the bay when I set the hook.

A lot of tension and anxiety followed. But eventually the spine of my big fish rod tired the red and it slipped into the guide’s net for a couple of quick pictures and a release.

Despite testy conditions when we lost the light following a front that blew in and the fish got moody, it was a fine flats day.

The day ended in a spectacular break-off when my fly line wrapped around the reel handle during a big redfish’s surging run.

Devils River

The third leg of my Texas fly-fishing adventure took me deep into the West Texas semi-desert called the Staked Plain.

This is a land of mesquite brush, prickly-pear cactus and not much else.

Where Geronimo used to roam and now the Border Patrol is the largest single employer. It’s a miracle there is any flowing water at all in this parched land. Let alone a crystal clear stream that meanders through mellow limestone bluffs and over precipitous falls called the Devils River.

Smallmouth bass

Smallmouth bass

Hodge's company, Reel Fly Fishing Adventures, has an exclusive concession on this wilderness river north of Del Rio.

I’ve travelled to this remote part of Texas close to the Mexican border to test my skills against the Devils’ smallmouth bass population.

Brent rows the rubber raft up the Del Norte Drift while I probe the limestone overhangs with a crayfish imitation called the Devils River Craw.

The fishing is slow until we hit a backwater with a bubbling spring at the top end. Here the bass are holding in holes in the grass and I hook a few small ones despite the tough casting conditions.

After lunch we hike down to Dolan Falls where the sallies are staging in the rocks below the drop.

I get a lot of follows but no hook-ups until I drop the fly into an eddy and entice a bass to take the bait. After a powerful fight the guide nets my first Texas smallmouth.

Dolan Falls on the Devils River

Dolan Falls on the Devils River




Previous Fishing Articles

(1) Deep In The Heart Of Texas

(2) Keep It Up!

(3) River Fishing for Fall Walleye

(4) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the flood

(5) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity

(6) Hawg Holes

(7) Saltwater Salmon

(8) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing

(9) Down a Lazy River –
A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan

(10) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead

(11) IN SEARCH OF SPECKLED FOOTBALLS

(12) FISHING CANADA'S PRAIRIE CITIES

(13) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver

(14) Canada's "Other" Salmon

(15) Fall Walleye

(16) Wet Flies

(17) Versatility the Key to Success

(18) Grayling of the Boreal

(19) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish

(20) Size Matters

(21) Fly Fishing Small Streams

(22) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time

(23) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel

(24) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas

(25) The Point Of It All

(26) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day

(27) Fall Fly Fishing

(28) Personal Pontoon Boats 101

(29) Big River, Big Fish

(30) Bottom Bonanza

(31) Fishing Small Flies

(32) So Many Choices, So Little Time

(33) Four Seasons of the Bow

(34) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot

(35) GEARING UP FOR SMALL STREAM TROUT

(36) Trout Hunting - New Zealand-style

(37) Don’t Leave Home Without Them –
10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box

(38) Edge Walleye

(39) FLY FISHING STRATEGIES FOR HIGH WATER

(40) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge

(41) Four Corners – Four Waters

(42) Chasing Pothole Trout

(43) Springtime Stoneflies

(44) The Torrents of Spring

(45) Drift Boat Fly Fishing

(46) Bust Them With Bait

(47) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book

(48) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months

(49) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout

(50) Terrestrials

(51) Fly In For Fishing Fun

(52) Rocky Mountain High

(53) Reading the clues

(54) Where the Trout Are
The art of locating feeding trout
in rivers and streams.

(55) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin

(56) Fly Fishing 101

(57) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod

(58) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay

(59) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder

(60) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead

(61) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital

(62) Eliminating the Spook Factor

(63) Trust Your Electronics

(64) The Most Important Hatch of the Year

(65) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout

(66) Finding Success for Ice Trout

(67) Walleye can be Humbling

(68) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed

(69) Winter Flyfishing

(70) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Gem

(71) Hot Fall Pike Action

(72) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down

(73) Reading Trout Stream Waters

(74) Frequently Asked Questions

(75) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout

(76) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice

(77) Deep Water Perch

(78) Post Spawn Brookies

(79) A Fisher's Life

(80) The River's Last Stand

(81) The Big Ones Come out at Night

(82) Coho on the Coast

(83) Chasing and Catching Halibut

(84) Summer in the Mountains

(85) Peak Walleye Season

(86) Slow and Steady Wins the Race

(87) Last Ice Rainbows

(88) The Burbot Event

(89) Tackle Matching

(90) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light

(91) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location

(92) The Lure of Brook Trout

(93) The Shallow Water Hunt is On

(94) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now

(95) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies

(96) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan

(97) The Vesatile Plug

(98) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout

(99) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures

(100) Good Fishing at Last Ice

(101) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations

(102) Daily Fish Migrations

(103) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn

(104) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star

(105) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing

(106) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing

(107) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser

(108) The Fun in Ultra Light

(109) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines

(110) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure

(111) Never Stop Learning

(112) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot

(113) Jigging through the Ice

(114) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline

(115) Rainbows on Ice

(116) The Season of Ice Begins

(117) Red Hot Fall Pike Action

(118) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman

(119) Facts On Cats

(120) West Coast Adventure

(121) June Walleye Frenzy

(122) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories

(123) "First Fish of the Year - Pothole Rainbows and Browns"

(124) "Northern Exposure"

(125) Sometimes There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish

(126) Early Season Pike On The Fly

(127) Man Overboard