Texas Fly Fishing

Texas contains approximately 80,000 miles of rivers and streams, comprising forty-one major waterways. These waters range from clear, fast-flowing hill country streams to turbid, slow-moving bayous. Fishing success often slows on Texas reservoirs during the summer, but may remain excellent on Texas rivers.

Blanco River

The Blanco is a classic Hill Country river varying from a wide deep river to a mite of a trickle. The biggest factor influencing the flows are rainy or drought conditions. The river flows across heavy limestone flats and drop-offs. The banks are lined with cypress trees, making for a beautiful backdrop. The predominant species include smallmouth bass, Guadalupe bass, perch, and the occasional largemouth bass. The feisty hand-sized perch always seem eager to gulp in a fly (great for teaching someone new how to fly fish).

The best fishing tends to be during times of low flows, when the bass and perch hold up in the limestone crevices, deeper pools, and deep pockets around the dams. Several good public access points are located near bridges and low water crossings. Anglers looking to get away from the heavily fished areas should wade up or downstream of the put-in areas. During times of higher flows wading can be downright dangerous on the monkey-greased limestone. Floating in a canoe or personal pontoon craft is a great way to cover the water during high conditions.

Fly rodders should have their boxes filled with the basics for bass and perch: Clouser Minnows, Deceivers, Grinnel Flies, Woolly Buggers, Zonkers, Muddler Minnows, damsel/dragonfly nymphs, and caddis larvae. The smallmouth and largemouth bass often aggressively take a fast retrieved pattern while the perch will take a slower retrieved pattern; the best technique is to mix up fast retrieves with slow.

Colorado River

The major drainage flowing through the Hill Country is the Colorado River. Sixty miles north of Austin, the river flows into Lake Buchanan, one of seven power-generation and flood-control lakes and dams. Lake Buchanan is known throughout Texas as a fabulous sand bass (also known as white bass) fishery. The deep lake presents a problem for fly fishers not willing to fish heavy sinking lines. During the winter and spring, the bass make their runs out of the lake and up the Colorado River as it flows through Colorado Bend State Park near Bend, Texas. The primitive state park and a couple of neighboring private campgrounds allow fishing for a nominal daily fee.

Basic patterns should include Clousers, Deceivers, and Woolly Buggers ranging from size 6 to size 10. White bass are bottom feeders, sustaining on a diet of bait fishes that include minnows and crayfish. Concentrate in the deeper pools and runs in early winter; as spring approaches look for the whites to school up in water as shallow as two feet. Be certain to use lots of lead or heavily weighted patterns to fish on the streambed. Don’t waste time in the low-producing waters. Thoroughly cover the waters where you first pick up a bump, since the bass will be schooled up.

Anglers with access to canoes or personal pontoon boats should consider working the inlet of the river at Lake Buchanan. Full sink lines are advisable for the deeper water in the inlet. Not only do the white bass stage their runs here, but you might just hook into a striper. In the state park and private campgrounds it isn’t rare to land carp, crappie, and/or perch.

Below Lake Buchanan begins the series of dams on the Colorado, each featuring a unique raceway fishery with everything from smallmouth bass to stripers to native Guadalupe bass and bluegill. The dams in downstream order from Lake Buchanan are Buchanan Dam, Inks Lake Dam, Wirtz Dam, Marx Starke Dam, Mansfield Dam, Tom Miller Dam, and Longhorn Dam.
Fishing these seven tailwaters requires hard work and patience. Anglers must contend with banks blanketed with oak and cypress trees that will snatch flies and lures. Wading is generally unadvisable due to unpredictable dam releases and strong currents (although more manageable wadeable conditions may exist in late fall and winter). Plan on fishing from either canoe or kayak. Even still, some areas have motor restrictions — watch out for the weekend boating crowds.

Mansfield, Tom Miller, and Longhorn Dams are the most popular and crowded, since they are scattered throughout the city of Austin. Anglers can tie into black bass, smallmouth bass, native Rio Grande perch, and native Guadalupe bass, plus a variety of other species. The abundance of aquatic insects often causes perch, bluegill, and smallmouth to feed on caddisflies, damsels, dragonflies, or even the huge #8 Hexagenia mayfly. The bigger bass tend to feed upon forage fish including minnows, shad, and crayfish; anglers should be sufficiently supplied with Clousers, Decievers, and crayfish patterns.

Guadalupe River

The Guadalupe is special because the Trout can actually survive year round and there has even been evidence of reproduction to some extent. The Guadalupe below Canyon Lake has been stocked with Trout since the 60’s and at one point held Rainbow, Brown and Brook Trout. You’ll still see a few Brown Trout but Brookies are non existent. Besides TP&W, the river is also stocked by a local chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Guadalupe River Trout Unlimited (See their website at GRTU.org.), and other private organizations. In other words, there is no shortage of Trout in the river.

Most of the newly stocked Trout are in the 8 to 12 inch range but there are some big Trout in there too. I’ve seen several 2 to 3 pounders caught and a few close to 5 pounds. The current river and state record Rainbow Trout is over 8lbs, and the Brown Trout is over 7lbs. Some of the other species of fish known to be found in these waters are Striped Bass, Smallmouth Bass, and the Redbreasted Sunfish (Yellow Belly). The water is too cold for most of the native species directly below the dam but they start to reappear as you head further down river.

The Canyon Lake Tailrace is 15 miles West of New Braunsfels near Sattler,TX. There is free public access and parking at 3 locations thanks to Texas Parks and Wildlife. At the Dam itself, Beans Camp near the 3rd Crossing, and at Hueco Springs further downstream. Below the dam and at Hueco Springs the limit is 5 Trout of any size but Bean’s Camp lies within the “Trophy Trout Zone” 1 Trout per day must be over 18 inches and caught on artificial lures. This is where the big fish are and most people practice catch and release to keep it that way.

Laguna Madre

This bay in South Texas is the most unique hyper sailine estuary bay system along the Texas coast. It varies from 2 to 4 miles wide and runs up the coast aproximately 60 miles to “the land cut”.

There are miles of crystal clear shallow water flats inhabited with Redfish, Speckled Trout, Flounder, Snook and Tarpon just to name a few.

Texas Coastline

Armed with good casting skills, fly fishers will find the Texas flats open and accommodating.

On most parts of the coast, all a fly fisher needs for hours of adventure on the flats is a road map of the area; an old pair of tennis shoes or wading boots; a 7- or 8-weight outfit matched with weight-forward, floating line; and a selection of small poppers, bendbacks, and shrimp or minnow patterns.

To reach backcountry sites, a boat might also come in handy. Shallow-draft boats perform best on the flats. A flat-bottomed john boat with a 15-horsepower (hp) motor will deliver fly fishers to most productive shorelines with ease. These boats are quiet and will drift in very shallow water. Once you get to where the fish are, you can get out and wade instead of having someone pole you around the flat.

Red Fish

Because red fish, are in such abundance and are such exciting targets in shallow water, more and more fly fishers are pursuing them on the Texas flats. For the fly fisher to be successful, it is important to know what to look for in the water.

A waving, blue-tinged tail marked with a jet-black spot, or ocellus, is the most obvious and most dramatic giveaway, but there are also more subtle indications that can tip off the angler to the presence of redfish. Another easy way to spot redfish is to locate them cruising or feeding with their backs out of the water. Redfish are at home chasing prey in water only inches deep, so it is not uncommon to see a fish’s back exposed up against a shoreline or in the middle of a tidal lake.

When redfish don’t choose to expose their bodies in pursuit of prey, you can still spot them by the changes they make on the water’s surface. A single fish often will create a V-shaped wake, and a school can generate a marked disturbance on the surface as it moves across a flat. Being able to identify this “nervous water” is important in getting properly positioned to make an accurate and productive cast.

Another way of reading the water for redfish is to look at the behavior of the forage fish. Baitfish act nervous, often jumping out of the water, when they are being shadowed or chased by predator fish. Another obvious way to spot redfish is by looking for fish “crashing” baitfish on the surface. When redfish are exploding on baitfish, they are likely to take any fly in the strike zone.

The redfish’s mouth is aligned under its nose, which explains why it does much of its feeding off the bottom. In order for a redfish to take a popper off the surface in shallow water, it must rise out of the water. A fly fisher must avoid the tendency to pull the popper away from the fish in these situations. In water depths of 3 feet or more, a redfish is able to swim underneath the popper and grab it more easily. Popping bugs and surface flies therefore are more effective in deeper areas of the flats.

Black Drum

The black drum is a flats dweller growing in popularity with fly fishers along the Texas coast. It has habits similar to those of the redfish but can reach 50 pounds or more in the bays. Black drum — or simply”drum,” as they are called in Texas — are aggressive feeders but can be finicky when it comes to taking a fly.
They tend to congregate on the flats in the fall in large schools, like redfish. Drum also will show in schools into the late winter and early spring. Their schools typically number between 100 and 1,000 fish, weighing between 5 and 50 pounds each. Drum are often found around channel drop-offs. On the flats they live up to their name, drumming so loudly that sometimes you can hear and feel the vibrations through the hull of a boat.

On the hook, black drum have a reputation for being tough battlers, making good use of their pectoral fins, which are longer than those on a redfish. The population of black drum along the Texas coast is larger than it has been since the early 1970s, according to gill net samples by the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife.

Black drum are not designated game fish in Texas and commercial fishermen take them year-round.”Puppy drum,” in the 5-pound range, will tail on the flats and will sometimes take flies aggressively. Seeing the waving, squared-off tail of a black drum on a shallow flat can be as electrifying as seeing a redfish tail, and it’s often difficult to tell the two apart.

Smaller bonefish patterns on #4 and #6 hooks seem to work better on drum, and sometimes scaling down to a 6-pound tippet will draw more strikes. It is best to target black drum over hard bottoms where you can get out and wade, because they are easily spooked around a boat. It also pays to keep a low profile when stalking these fish. They will displace water and make wakes just like redfish when they move across a shallow flat.

Spotted Seatrout

When stalking big seatrout in the early morning, look for V-shaped wakes on the surface. These appear when trout are cruising in shallow water and pushing water up over their backs. The mouth of the fish is 6 to 8 inches in front of the hump of the wake; so when casting, try to land the fly between 12 and 14 inches ahead of the wake.
Sight casting to large speckled trout in the early morning is productive because they are active then and not as easily spooked. In the midday sun, wary trout can see a wader from a considerable distance. Seatrout often move into water only inches deep, like redfish. Waders pursuing redfish might encounter an exposed back or tail that looks different, and it could very well be a trophy trout cruising and feeding in shallow water.

The tail of a trout is more rounded on the sides than the redfish tail, which is a sharply defined triangle. A mullet tail has a deep V in it, and when it is out of the water, it quivers. A tailing redfish will impart more of a flopping motion and leave the tail exposed, often for several seconds. Trout, in contrast, will not leave the caudal fin exposed nearly as long as a redfish will.

A trout’s mouth is configured in a way that allows the fish to feed on the surface. The bottom jaw is longer and the mouth is aligned with the fish’s nose, so it can extend its jaw and come up and “pop” a baitfish or shrimp on the surface. Like a brown trout or a largemouth bass, seatrout will smack food on the surface and suck it down their throats.

Medium-size trout will usually hang out on the flats around potholes — sandy depressions surrounded by submerged grass. Trout in the 1- to 3-pound range like the solitude in potholes, and they become very territorial and very aggressive. There are many pothole features on the flats of the Texas coast, and blind casting into and around them can be very productive for trout and redfish.

Like redfish, trout also will tail on the flats and root around in the grass. During spawning periods, they act a lot like largemouth bass do when they start bedding. Trout will protect their holes with their lives; there are instances of trout with 15-inch mullet in their stomachs taking 6-inch flies off the surface.

Texas Fly Fishing Articles & Resources

Tarpon Fishing on Jetties
Alamo Fly Fishers San Antonio
Night time Fly Fishing for Tarpon on the Texas Jetties

Austin Fly Fishers
Austin Fly Fishers
Local chapter of FFI

Texas Fly Caster

Gulf Coast Fisherman magazine
Published for saltwater fishermen from Texas to Florida since 1976.

This page contains links to river maps and river descriptions

Tackle Box Outfitters
6330 North New Braunfels, San Antonio, TX 78209, 210 821-5806

Barlows Tackle Shop
451 N. Central Expressway, Richardson, TX 75080, 972-231-5982

2465 I-40 West, Amarillo, Texas 79109, (806) 351-0980

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