Texas Trout

Texas Trout

Plus, steelheading from a new British Columbia lodge

  • By: Paul Guernsey
The Guadalupe River

Texas, particularly southern Texas, is not a place you usually think of when you're talking about trout. Bass sure, and redfish on the Gulf Coast (and certainly there are plenty of those) but trout are a northern fish-aren't they?

Well, thanks to the (often mixed) blessing of bottom-release tailwater technology, the Guadalupe River directly south of Austin not only runs cold enough to hold stocked trout year-round, but this southernmost trout river in the US is a fine enough fishery to inspire regular visitors from as far away as El Paso. In fact, Guadalupe River Trout Unlimited is the largest Trout Unlimited chapter in the US, boasting well over 4,000 members. (It's also the only TU chapter in Texas.)

Last March, after discussing tales of big Guadalupe River rainbows with Rick Pope and Jim Shulin, both of Dallas-based flyrod company Temple Fork Outfitters, FR&R columnist Buzz Bryson and I decided to head down to Texas to have a look for ourselves. We met Rick and Jim at the Austin airport, then drove an hour south to our housekeeping cottages at the Rio Raft Company&River Valley Resort in the Town of Sattler. Canyon Dam sits about four miles above the Resort, with many smaller dams and about 15 miles of fishable water below. From the start, the tailwater certainly looked trouty-but unfortunately, it was also extremely high to the point of being nearly unfishable.

Our guides for this four-day trip, Bill Higdon of In The Hills Fishing Excursions-the river runs through the Texas "Hill Country"-and Kevin Stubbs of Expedition Outfitters, suggested that we start with a little bass fishing on some of the other area rivers while we waited for the Guadalupe to drop. The four of us didn't have to think very long before agreeing to sample some of this more "traditional" Texas-style fly-fishing while we bided our time.

The first bass river we visited was the Llano which, in contrast to the nearly blown-out Guadalupe, was running low and warm, a real early-spring treat for a wet-wading angler from the North. The Llano is a pretty little river that cuts through some amazing-looking desert country, with a limestone cliff running along most of the eastern bank. We did not have the fastest fishing there, but over the course of the day we did catch some largemouths, along with a pretty native species called the Guadalupe bass.

The following day we fished the San Marcos, a deeper, greener river that flows through a southern pecan-and-cypress forest dripping with Spanish moss and mistletoe. At a leisurely pace we floated downriver in Bill's Clackacraft and Kevin's inflatable Outcast raft, pounding the banks, back-eddies and deep holes with a variety of bass flies from big dries to weighted streamers. Our reward came in the form of some decent-size largemouths as well as a few more fine specimens of the Guadalupe bass.

Lunch that day consisted of some of the finest Mexican food I have ever eaten this side of the border. We'd bought it that morning at a taqueraa we found on our way to the river.

Our third and fourth days were spent on the Guadalupe itself-which unfortunately had not fallen very much during our two bass-fishing days. No matter; we made do and on both days we pounded about six miles of that high, blue-green water with streamers and nymphs and caught rainbows and browns of up to 18 inches. Bill and Kevin told us that Guadalupe trout of up to 24 inches were sometimes landed, and that the dryfly fishing would improve as water levels dropped.

The floats themselves were extremely pleasant and frequently scenic, with high, rocky hills and cave-pocked limestone cliffs towering above the river in a number of places. We also floated past entire neighborhoods of riverside homes, and caught some of our best trout in these "civilized sections."

Diehard Guadalupe fans normally fish the river from October through May; after that most anglers prefer to avoid the warmer temperatures and the dense, four-month-long "rubber hatch" that occurs in the form of college kids-and others-drifting downriver in an endless flotilla of rafts and inner tubes. The bass fishing on other Hill Country rivers, including on the Guadalupe above Canyon Lake, holds up throughout the year.

Although the Guadalupe did not show us her best face during this trip, she did yield enough trout to convince us that fishing there is worthwhile-especially if you happen to find yourself in Texas in the first place.

For further information on bass and trout fishing in this dramatic-looking region, contact Bill Higdon at 830-964-5565; www.inthehillsfishing.com, or Kevin Stubbs at 210-602-9284; www.expedition-outfitters.net.

Bear Claw Lodge, BC

I never would have heard of this beautiful place if it hadn't

been for the G. Loomis rod company. Last fall Loomis had just completed work on its RoaringRiver fly rods [see New Gear, page 67], and the company wanted to give angling writers some on-stream experience with this new series of two-handed casting tools. So they invited a half-dozen or so magazine types, including me, to try the rods while steelhead fishing from Bear Claw during a four-day mid-October trip.

Bear Claw Lodge is a huge, brand-spanking-new, log-frame building about two hours northwest of the Town of Smithers-that's where the airport is located-and hard by the famous Kispiox River. It's even got some good steelhead pools right out the back door. The lodge is run by the friendly and colorful Allen family-they've been in BC forever, and the dad, Gene, is a retired rodeo cowboy. Young (he's a very accomplished steelhead angler of 24) Jim Allen arranges all the guiding from Bear Claw while Joy, his mom, and Gene manage the place.

The facility has everything you could want from a deluxe fishing lodge: large, comfortable rooms; spacious dining and lounging areas; a special "locker" room for hanging up your waders and getting suited up for fishing; a large hot tub (a superb luxury following a day of cold-weather steelheading); even Internet access. I would classify the food as fine (and plentiful) Canadian home-cooking, as opposed to the fancier fare that you often get at a lot of high-end lodges in the US.

As for the steelhead fishing itself, it doesn't get much better. The Kispiox produces some of the largest steelhead in the world-during my brief stay I saw a couple landed that were over 20 pounds-and the Skeena River, into which the Kispiox flows, is also within easy driving distance.

I fished both the Kispiox and the Skeena with Jim Allen and several other guides while I was there, and not only did they all have intimate local knowledge of where the fish would be and what patterns they were likely to take, but they were also familiar with the ins and outs of steelhead fishing using both single- and double-handed rods.

So, how did I do, steelhead-wise? Well, fishing with a Spey rod for the first time ever, I caught my first West Coast steelhead. She was only about eight pounds, but that hardly mattered-especially after I caught the second one.

For further information on fishing from Bear Claw Lodge, call 800-668-3474; www.kispioxriver.com.