Texas Hill Country, Guads and Rios

     In Late October of 2019 I had the opportunity to target two lifers that had been high on my want list for several years, the state fish of Texas, the Guadalupe Bass, and the only native cichlid to North America, the Rio Grand or Texas Cichlid. I had the good fortune of having a business trip planned in Houston for late October. After some research showed that the bites for both the Guads and the Rios were decent in October, I set to planning my long weekend in the Texas Hill Country.

     Guadalupe bass are a sucess story of native fish reintroduction. They were almost completely wiped out in a genetically pure form in their native range due to hybridization and competition with introduced bass. The game and fish department decided to flood out the hybrids with a massive effort to stock pure Guadalupe bass taken from areas that were above fall lines or otherwise not compromised. This program has reintroduced the species to many rivers in Texas Hillcountry and saved a species that would have likely become functionally extinct. 

      I spent the summer researching rivers and hot spots and the second half of the summer tying flies. Since I was adding this trip on to the end of a work trip, I needed to be able to pack all of the necessary gear in a small carry on suitcase and  carry on backpack and take up as little room as possible. I decided I would take one travel 6 piece 4wt fly rod and a travel 4 piece ultralight spinning rod. I would be wet wading, using a small shoulder pack and would have room for only a few fly boxes and misc spinning gear, and a bait puck for redworms. This was a simplicity in action! 

 

I left Houston on a Thursday afternoon to head to my hotel and staging area just north of Austin. The temp was just over 80 degrees in Austin and the reports were that the fishing was great, with lots of huge Rio Grande cichlids being caught locally. I was beyond excited. However, there was a massive cold front bearing down on the hill country! I got in to town as the clouds were gathering and the wind was picking up. I passed the hotel and went straight to the river to fish. I still had on my shiny shoes and "business casual" clothes. Looking at the river, I eschewed the fly rod and strung up my ultralight spinning rod. I put on a beetle spin, which is a fantastic old school lure that is a perfect choice to search for bass, as I was hoping to catch a Guadalupe bass before the river blew out. Trying to keep my nice shoes clean, I walked upstream and looked for any holding water that would hold trout. From what I had read, the guads utilized moving water and current breaks like a trout would. First cast to a trouty looky seam, bam. A small, non descript bass of no more than 5" nailed the lure. The drabness of the bass made ID difficult for me, but with the impending weather I snapped some photos and moved down stream to look for some cichlids.

First cast, Lifer Guad

As the first rain drops started falling, I switched to a small circle hook with redworms and started searching.

Chisholm Trail

I saw two cichlids who were not able to be swayed. They bolted at the first cast and never reappeared. Instead, I busied myself with the gorgeous longear sunfish that were happy to oblige.

And then the rain started in earnest. As I checked into the hotel the air temp started dropping. Flash flood alerts started popping up on my phone and driving to pick up dinner would have been safer in a pontoon. Because I was worried about river conditions I picked several possible spots, but I was unsure how any of them would fish in a cold front!

 

When I woke the temp had dropped almost 40 degrees overnight. I was planning on a stop at a local fly shop at some point on the trip, but now it was imperative that I get any info I could about how to approach my quarry during these horrible conditions.

Living Water Flyfishing

I made my way over to Living Waters Flyfishing. If anyone could help they could. The owner was out, but his father was there to help. I pulled out my map and he offered many suggestions. Over the next half hour he helped me plan the rest of my weekend. I decided to stay close on Friday and then drive out to the heart of the hill country on Saturday as the temps started to climb, since the cichlids would be eassier to catch (but just barely). He warned me that the rios would be within inches of of cover, and it would take patience and lots of drifts to get them to bite. He was not wrong. He also was able to confirm that the fish I caught the night before was indeed a guadalupe bass, since the area I was fishing only contained guads as far as bass with jaw that does not extend past the eye.

Since I was wet wading, and it was 50 degrees and windy, I was not sure how long I would last in the water on this first full day. I expected to freeze my ass off and not catch any fish. It was a no brainer that the fish would have lock-jaw and be holed up, but I gave it a go. 

I walked up stream with my flyrod out and peppered every inch of water with casts, starting with a deep leech pattern. Teeth chattering, I started to catch pale redbreast sunfish. I was grateful for the tug at the end of the line, and I was loving the river and the surroundings. This would probably be considered an urban water, but more accurately, a water that was in the midst of growing sprawl. I was impressed with how the river itself was running clear and low after the previous night's storm. 

 

Then, as the sun started to peak through the clouds, the fishing started to pick up. I caught one healthy largemouth bass in a slack water, and was encouraged by the agressive take. As I moved up stream into more trouty looking water,  The guads came out to play. I was so excited to finally start seeing pure guads with the coloration that  made me want to target them in the first place.

I even managed to get into a few very niced sized guads as the day wore on. I worked hard for every single one of them, but they were worth it. I explored the river for several more hours, caught almost a dozen more decent guads until I was just too cold! 

I wandered back to the rental car, put on some warm clothes and went for BBQ.

The next day was my real introduction to Texas Hill country and my only remaining chance to catch a Rio Grande cichlid. I woke early to a chilly but sunny morning and drove west for over two hours. 

so many park-like stands of oaks

I had a few places mapped in the general area, but this spot looked too good to pass up. It wasn't warm by any means, but the mercury was moving in the right direction. I walked past a few areas of slow water and went straight for the moving water I knew would hold guads. I figured I would keep myself busy moving while it warmed up and try for the rios once it got a little warmer. It didn't take very long to start catching guads and longear sunfish. 

The river itself was gorgeous! 

A gorgeous Guadalupe Bass taken on a Creek Leech fished slow and deep on the 4wt

the tooth patch that is indicitive of a guadalupe bass

I found a nice deep run and decided to see if I could catch a cichlid at the tail near a cut bank. I switched to a redworm and added enough shot to pin it to the bottom. Undexpectedly, I caught a logperch, which turned out to be a Texas Logperch!

As I waded upriver, I kept a mico rod rigged, as there were small fish everywhere. The majority of them turned out to be Western Mosquito fish, but I was able to catch several Texas Shiners as well

It was not going to get any warmer, so I decided it was time to try in earnest for the cichlids. I mentally bookmarked a few locations, but one really stood out. A nice tall cut bank, overhanging trees and a deeper pool moving slowly. I made a few casts with small weighted flys but was only able to entice a caouple of largemouth and a few longears. I switched to a redworm fished deep with split shot and started to have better luck. I was fishing close to the bank, maybe 18" away. When I presented my bait within inches of the bank I went from catching longear to catching Rio Grand cichlids!! 

the cichlids were very tight to cover during this cold front

I was elated. I also saw several channel cats well over ten pounds and a half dozen or so very skittish grey redhorse. I tried for nearly an hour to tempt the redhorse but they were 100 percent not going to be caught by me that day. Hungry and cold, but so grateful to have caught the target species, I put the hook on the keeper and waded back to the car. I was told that I would have to stop at a local BBQ spot, it was more of an order than a suggestion and one I was willing to follow.

I was done fishing for the day, and thanks to an early flight out of Austin the next morning, I was done fishing for the weekend. I have been on enough trips where the target species was a no-show to know that these things don't always work out. I was willing to get out and explore fully expecting that this cold front would keep me from my lifers. But, even a blind squirrel gets an acorn sometimes. I fell in love with the Hll Country and absolutly will be back at the next chance.

Species List:

Comments

Matt Miller's picture

I really enjoyed reading this. The Hill Country has some really nice waters. I have fished there a couple of times. It took me a while before I caught a cichlid (and only one). The Guadalupe bass were a lot of fun and a great conservation success story. Thanks for writing this up. Matt

tom's picture

Gotta love a lil' minimalist fishing adventure! Cool fish too!

andy's picture

This was really fun to read, thanks for sharing.  Crazy to have a cold snap and flash floods like that and still catch your target species.  Sounds like you really got into a bunch of those Guadalupe Bass too!  Those streams look beautiful, I have never looked much into small stream fishing in Texas so really I am impressed by the nice-looking water.  

Cool little adventure you squeezed in on a work trip!

 

Graceclaw's picture

As I said on your photo set, those streams are absolutely GORGEOUS. Also, I don't think I'd be able to resist stopping and fishing if I drove over water like that (picure after the graffiti). It reminds me of one of my favorite little spots in the South Metro. Good stuff as always, Mr. Kol. 

Goldenfishberg's picture

Awesome read Kol, gotta love it when you can muster up them lifers in the midst of a Texas sized cold front. Your success is no doubt attributed to a can-do attitude a dose of gumption and loads of smoked Texas meats. Congrats on a rio-GRAND adventure man. 

Ya just Can't catch um from the couch.

Cast_and_Blast's picture

That looks like a fun trip.  Congrats on some cool lifers.

Mike B's picture

Cool post Eric. I wish I had more business trips like that.

mike b