Catch the good times rolling on the rivers
Just upstream from a wicked little roller coaster of a rapid in the South Llano River sits a deep, long, fish-filled pool that, over more than 20 years of never-regular-enough visits, has invariably shone as a highlight on a waterway that can gift anglers with an almost unbroken string of memorable moments.
It’s the kind of place and the kinds of moments and experiences available to anglers paddling and fishing many Texas rivers during those often too-brief windows when conditions — weather, water, fish — cooperate and set the stage for wonderful things to happen. One of those windows — one of the two best of the year — is open now.
And it should remain open for the next few weeks, giving anglers a wealth of opportunities to enjoy the outstanding river fishing late May and most of June can offer — fishing like that found on the South Llano and especially in that singular section ahead of the tricky little rapid.
It’s usually midafternoon by the time we reach the isolated pool after slowly making our way downstream from where we slip the kayaks into the spring-fed waterway just after dawn. There is no reason to hurry and every reason not to.
There’s no crowd, even on a holiday weekend. There seldom is on Texas rivers such as the South Llano and dozens of other streams where powerboats have limited use and paddlecraft are the best and often the only means of access.
What there is in this river and so many others is fish and lots of them.
Sunfish — redbreasts and bluegills, greens and psychedelic-colored longears — eager to snap at a small jig or in-line spinner or even a modest topwater fished in the slower runs, deeper runs and big enough to give a fine account of themselves on light spinning tackle or a fly rod.
Brightly colored Rio Grande perch, the only cichlid native to North America and endemic to streams in southern and central Texas, are there, too.
Largemouth bass, some weighing as much as 7 pounds or more, hanging around the laydowns in the deep pools and lurking along the edges of stands of water-willow and other aquatic vegetation, waiting to attack an unwary perch or crawfish and certainly willing to slam a plastic worm or jig or chugger.
Guadalupe bass, the jewel-like State Fish of Texas, holding in the rocky runs and riffles and hanging along the current seams or the shadows of undercut banks and otherwise behaving more like freshwater trout than a black bass.
Feisty spotted bass, cousins of largemouths and Guadalupes, sharing their homes in East Texas’ slow-moving, cypress-lined, tannin-stained creeks and rivers with sunfish and catfish and white and black crappie and those prehistoric bowfins that are aggressive, insanely powerful and packed with singular stamina that a tuna would envy.
Quite a variety
Texas’ living rivers and stream host a profusion of fish species unequalled in reservoirs or ponds. Maybe not in as much abundance as in those artificial fisheries but certainly superior in variety and vigor.
Places such as that pool on the South Llano underscore that richness and the magic quality rivers hold. One side of the pool is shaded by huge pecans and sycamores and oaks along a bank that gently slopes to the water’s edge and beyond. The other is edged by a high, steep, rocky bank, and the water there is perhaps 20 feet and peppered with submerged boulders, some the size of trucks. Both hold a stunning abundance of fish. That one pool has produced largemouth bass weighing more than 6 pounds, most of them exploding on topwater plugs fished in the shaded shallows. The same side has yielded scores of sunfish — redbreasts and bluegills, some weighing a pound or more.
The other side — the steep, rocky side where the river’s current is focused and where it oozes toward the lip of the cobblestone rapid — is a Guadalupe bass haven. Work a small jib or a crawfish-pattern crankbait deep in the margarita-color water and it’s sure to be slammed by a “Guad.” Big ones, sometimes pushing 2 pounds — huge for these stream-dwelling fish.
More than once in this pool, a lure intended for a bass or sunfish has been grabbed by a catfish. Most have been channel cats, weighing 2-5 pounds — dogged fighters with silvery/blue flanks sprinkled with the abundance of black spots that channels from clear-water streams seem to always sport.
Once, the pool produced another catfish, an eyeball-estimated 15-pound flathead nearly fried the drag on a light spinning reel before it yielded and came to hand like some huge, yellow, shovel-headed submarine. It left a bloody rash on the back of the hand I used to grab it by its gaping mouth, sandpaper-rimmed mouth and lifted it into the kayak. I didn’t blame the fish for not apologizing when I released it.
That pool on the South Llano has been a special place in a state with dozens of rivers with hundreds of such special places. And it represents the abundance of such living, breathing, moving waterways that bless Texas and Texas anglers.
And that abundance is rich and varied and scattered far and wide. The South Llano and the Llano. The Guadalupe above and below Canyon Lake. The upper and middle Brazos. The Nueces in South Texas. The Neches in East Texas. The San Saba and the San Gabriel. The Devils and the Pecos, the Pedernales and the Lampasas. The reach of the Colorado between Austin and La Grange. The syrupy, tannin-stained waters oozing around sugary-white sandbars on Village Creek in the southeast corner of the state. And dozens of smaller creeks and streams that anglers who know them feel are their secret treasures.
That blessing of rivers and streams and the fisheries in them are at their best just now, here at the end of spring and the beginning of summer.
Weather is one reason. Temperatures are comfortable for fish and fishers. Days are mild enough that it’s not physically daunting to spend several hours on the water. Nights are almost cool and certainly nice enough that camping on an overnight float-fishing trip is a pleasant experience.
That won’t last. We’ve got a month or so until summer arrives full-force and there’s no hiding from its wilting heat, even in the shade of riverside trees.
Recent weather patterns also are benefiting anglers with eyes on Texas rivers. Late spring and early summer can see Texas rivers high and muddy and poor prospects for anglers. Not this year. A drier than normal April in most of the state has river levels down, with most at normal or slightly lower than normal levels.
That lack of runoff has allowed rivers to clear and fish to settle into predictable patterns. Both greatly favor anglers.
The timing of many Texas rivers “getting right” couldn’t come at a much better time. We are at the cusp of the kickoff of the high-season for fishing in Texas. The school year is within a couple of weeks of ending, signaling the start of the summer vacation season. And Memorial Day, traditional start of summer and a three-day weekend that sees the year’s highest number of anglers on the water, is less than two weeks away.
While Texas reservoirs and bays are certain to be crowded over coming weeks, the state’s rivers — at least the best ones for fishing from paddlecraft — seldom suffer that fate. And for anglers who enjoy and appreciate the opportunities Texas rivers offer, that sense of having a special piece of water to themselves just enhances the experience. The great fishing helps, too.
We have about a month to take advantage of this window. Miss it, and the next chance for such conditions won’t come until autumn. And there’s a long, hot summer between now and then.