With Beautiful Scenery and Fantastic Diversity, Central Texas is a Diamond in the Rough for Fly Fishermen
Central Texas by Will Jukes
It’s understandable that Texas doesn’t make the shortlist of great fly fishing states. Lacking native trout and salmon, we have nothing to offer anglers going after the traditional species of fly fishing. But hidden in the state’s big middle is the central Texas Hill Country, 18,000 square miles of limestone and granite hills clear to emerald green freestone streams. Awash with bass, panfish, catfish and carp, these streams offer a surprisingly classic kind of fly fishing, as well as challenges not to be found elsewhere.
Like most patriotic Texans I could go on about my home state, but for your sake this article will be broken into a few pieces. First, let’s look at what you can catch here.
The official state fish of Texas, this smallmouth subspecies is native only to the Guadalupe and Colorado River systems. As a stream dweller the Guadalupe bass is our answer to the rainbow trout, and the fishing is remarkably similar. It prefers to hold in and around riffles, ideally with some cover. One of my best fishing memories was drifting a yellow popper along the edge of small run, then watching the fly explode 3 seconds later.
A true Guadalupe bass is strikingly green and very pretty, but they hybridize readily with the non-native spotted and smallmouth bass that share its territory, it’s become rarer over the years, and landing one has become a rite of passage for Hill Country fly anglers.
Carp have become trendy in the last few years, earning the nickname “golden bones,” from fly fishermen reminded of the notorious bonefish. While carp are homelier than bonefish, they’re fished in flat, calm stretches of river very similar to the bonefish’s habitat, and they grow to enormous sizes compared with other freshwater fish. They’re smart, too – up to twice as smart as bass in laboratory tests.
Common carp come in droves in the Texas Hill Country, but it’s not the only carp species in the state. Select areas also have grass carp, both stocked triploids and invasive populations in waters around Houston. Grass carp grow even bigger than common carp, and they threaten ecosystems so much that texasinvasives.org reccomends “an angler who catches one must immediately remove the intestines.” Odds aren’t bad that it will be the most challenging, most rewarding freshwater fly fishing of your life if you manage to hook one.
Sunfish exist everywhere, but the most gullible seem to live in Texas. If you want to land as many fish as possible, find a creek and tie on a small yellow popper. Even in the middle of the day, sunfish will gulp it down. This nonstop action is a great way to get non-anglers interested in the sport, and their small size makes sunfish an excellent target for very young anglers.
Channel cats have earned a reputation as dimwits – probably because they’re so easy to chum with dog food. In fact, tests show that catfish are among the smarter fish species, with super senses that add to the challenge of hooking them on a fly. They have excellent vision in clear water, are highly sensitive to vibrations and even have taste receptors all over their body, allowing them to tell whether something is food before taking a bite. Combine that with their generous size and crafty fighting and you’ve got a hell of a game fish. Channel catfish can be found in clear streams all over the Hill Country. They’re great as a primary target or a fun diversion when going after other species.
Besides one remote, off-limits stream in far West Texas, there are no wild trout in Texas. Most of the state is too hot, even if conditions are otherwise ideal. There is one place, however, where trout have been able to survive extended periods; for about 20 miles downstream from Canyon Dam, the water coming out of the bottom of Lake Travis is cold enough for rainbow trout to survive year-round, though semi-regular droughts and heatwaves have prevented a true wild population from being established. The population is sustained instead by Guadalupe River Trout Unlimited (GRTU), who every fall stock thousands of rainbows ranging in size from 12 to 18 inches.
Years of good management by GRTU and Texas Parks and Wildlife have fostered a high quality wet fly fishery with a lot of personality. It’s been a godsend for those without the time or money for an extended vacation out of state, and it’s even garnered a small reputation outside of Texas. The only downside is that the central Texas fishing vanishes between late April and late November.
Check next week to learn more about the must-fish areas in Central Texas. And if you have any experience fishing the area, leave a report in the comments or on social media!