Top Texas Hill Country Fishing Spots
Austin, Texas, set in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, has historically been a mecca for singer/songwriters. The capital city of Texas is known for the likes of Willie Nelson, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Gary P. Nunn playing the little honky-tonks scattered around the hip, laid-back town. Austin is the major hub for the Hill Country, famous for its hippies, authentic food, and the University of Texas.
But few outsiders know enough to take the opportunity to escape for the weekend, to head to the quaint towns of Gruene, Wimberly, or Lampasas. There are several excellent fisheries located near these towns, just waiting to be explored with a fly rod, including miles and miles of trout water.
Fly fishing Texas Hill Country
Fly fishing? Trout? In the Texas Hill Country? You better believe it. The local hard-core anglers know about the fertile waters of the Colorado River, the Blanco River, and the Guadalupe River, to name but a few. Anglers can fish for smallmouth, largemouth, and spotted bass. They can drop a line for fat rainbow trout. The clear, cold Hill Country streams also hold sunfish the size of a Texas flapjack. In fact, with its abundance of resources, the Hill Country around Austin may be the fly-fishing mecca of the Southwest.
Guadalupe River Fishing
Fifteen miles below the Canyon Lake Dam, the Guadalupe River is a limestone, tree-lined river holding rainbow and brown trout stocked by both Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Guadalupe River Trout Unlimited (GRTU). These stockings usually begin in November and continue through February or March. Most of the stockers range between 12 and 15 inches with the occasional larger one stocked. These hatchery fish grow fast in this fertile river and anglers have realistic chances at 20-inch trout. Anecdotal evidence suggests that natural reproduction is taking place on this tailwater and if true, the Guadalupe River would be the southernmost self-sustaining trout fishery in the United States.
Fishing this tailwater reminds me of fishing the world-famous San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico. No need to bring the dry flies because like in the San Juan, you will be fishing with tiny mayfly and midge patterns weighted deep, mended to keep an absolute dead drift. Fishing the drift with a Leisenring Lift will sometimes entice a strike on this flat, sometimes featureless water. The river hosts a healthy population of caddisflies along with forage food including crayfish and minnows. Anglers need to be conscious of the ledges and crevices and little divots in the river bottom, for these lies are where the trout are holding.
The fish often hold in the deeper pools and runs found below the fast riffles. Look for the trout to stack up between the prevalent limestone ridges found along the riverbed. Studded felt wading boots are ideal for wading the slick limestone.
Much of the water has private land access so it is often difficult to figure out where to get in the water. The state has several public access areas but these areas are not the best water. GRTU has leased several private access points that are available to its members. Not all of the public access areas are well marked so if you are uncertain, ask permission. Once in the river, you are allowed to wade within the high-water mark as far as you like. For a list of stockings and access points contact TPW (512-389-4800) or GRTU (800-834-2419).
Fishing 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.
Lake Buchanan Fishing
Lake Buchanan was formed by the construction of Buchanan Dam by the Lower Colorado River Authority to provide a water supply for the region and to provide hydroelectric power. Buchanan Dam, a structure over 2 mi (3.2 km) in length, was completed in 1939. Lake Buchanan was the first of the Texas Highland Lakes to be formed, and with 22,333 acres (34.9 sq mi; 90.4 km2) of surface water, it is also the largest. The surface of the lake includes areas in both Burnet County and Llano County. The lake is west of the city of Burnet, Texas.
Fishing 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 makes its 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 the 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 does 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.
Colorado River Tailraces
Below Lake Buchanan begins the series of dams on 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 tends to feed upon forage fish including minnows, shad, and crayfish; anglers should be sufficiently supplied with Clousers, Deceivers, and crayfish patterns.
When fishing below these dams keep in mind that the releases are controlled by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA). Flows may fluctuate drastically from one day to another; for up-to-the-minute flows, release schedules, and specific access points contact the LCRA (512-473-3333).