Gin Clear and Cool – Rivers Report Central Texas

| June 7, 2008

central texas san marcos river fly fishing

I have seen clear water before, but when I stepped off into the patch of gravel on the edge of the San Marcos River, I quickly realized the perceived depth was nothing near the real bottom. Note to self: Remember to take off polarized glasses before dropping in.

I was waiting for a fellow fly fisherman to arrive from San Antonio, and he was late. He was the planner since San Marcos is much more his backyard than a DFW resident could claim. The plan for the San Marcos was to rent some reliable floating device (it never got that far as to whether kayak, canoe or whatever), and float down hitting the otherwise inaccessible shores in pursuit of the unique Smallmouth Bass. Now, without knowledge of the “plan”, I was biding my time and trying to learn from doing, and waiting on his arrival. This was a true DIY day.

The day before I got first hand looks and some fishing in the Colorado River, the Blanco and San Marcos River, and even winged it over to Wimberley.

The Colorado River is bulging with water. Apparently, the rice farmers are in need of water, and although I do not know how many open gates make for this rate of flow, it is more flow than navigable by foot and kayak – unless you are wanting to do some flyby casts at five to ten knots. The Colorado is full to the brim, and one more gate will put it out of the banks in Bastrop – which will not happen since it is a managed (not flood) release. My many failures on the Colorado in the Bastrop area are well documented here, and the waterflow along with the memory of those failures, was enough to write off the Colorado – and quickly.

I loaded up and headed for San Marcos. This part of the State is just amazing for the number of fishing opportunities, and variety offered in such a “small” (Texas small), geographic area. On I35 in San Marcos both the Blanco and San Marcos run right under the highway. I couldn’t resist dropping off the highway at the Blanco and under – imagine fishing beautiful water under one of the major highways in the Nation. Set aside the noise and expected trash, and this part of the Blanco has inviting access and a chance to wet a line in deep seemingly captive pools with visible rocks and manmade structure. How deep is anyone’s guess, but in this stretch, the flow seemed low and slow. I pulled a decent Largemouth from the deep rocks, and some of those beautiful – specimen quality – Sun Perch as well. The weather this past week has been a real factor, with winds running 20-30 and gusting to 40 on the Blanco that day. The heavy clouds blocked the sun for the most part making duller flies (apparently) less attractive. The wind was enough to drive anyone off the water – anyone who was a local.

I moved on into San Marcos, and looked at access briefly and the series of parks that line the banks in the town of San Marcos. Gin clear to the point it looks like an aquarium – a glass bottom boat with no boat. I stored it in the memory banks and played the short-shot – an easy drive to Wimberley.

Wimberley appears a non-starter with virtually all visible water encapsulated by private shoreline – posted and signposted. If you are looking for friendly, easy access, keep on driving. Wimberley looks as gentrified as any waterway I have seen thus far. No rational parking, no drop in points, and no welcome signs. It is easy enough to understand, since they appear to be cultivating an image much like Canton, Texas’ “First Monday” – huge flea markets with plenty of Chinese trinkets on sale to the gullible. “No Parking” and “No Public Restroom” signs abound, but one can imagine rows and rows of Rent-a-Cans on any of the designated weekends. Drop back PUNT!

I headed for Bastrop to get a look at the State Park “Lake”, only to find it 15 feet lower than the last time I was there, and being trolled by large Bass and Perch swimming together in circles – apparently crazy from the heat, lack of habitat and in some state of “shock”. So, while across 71 there was an overabundance of water, the park seemed to be starving for it. Walden Pond it isn’t. I wished the fish luck, and headed for home base. The big mistake, so far, was forgetting to bring my book “Flyfisher’s Guide to Texas”. Note to self: Just put it in the big bag and take it – everywhere always.

With all the miles and sights gathered, I talked to the young fly guy from San Antonio that evening and basically determined the mid-point for meeting would best be San Marcos, and the San Marcos River. The one place I didn’t get to fish, but that looked the most interesting and best flowing. He did the research, and found we could settle on doing a five hour float with a kayak or canoe and be plucked out at a point downstream. The nickels and dimes added up to a very reasonable amount, but none of that mattered as I found myself alone in fast flowing deeper than expected water, with all the knowledge resting comfortably in the brain of my unknown San Antonio cohort. The chain of parks that make up a portion of the attractions to the San Marcos River are to be seen and admired. They are a veritable paradise for the homeless who were already popping the tops on their brown-bagged tallboys nearby. Breakfast of Champions. I moved on down to other parks, a landlocked lummock casting at jaded Largemouth Bass swimming in what amounts to nature’s aquarium.

Finally, I hear from the cohort and we struggle to find each other in the confusion that is San Marcos’ winding river gridded road system – no fault of San Marcos as a river literally runs through it. I ran across another fly fisherman fishing across from the Lion’s Club put in, and he had some real luck (I witnessed) along the concrete embankment catching sizable Largemouth even telling me of two Smallmouth caught earlier in the morning (the first he had ever caught). He was a local, so the fact he had been fishing on the San Marcos for months and these were his first smallmouth tells me they are the real quarry. I was beginning to get a sense of the layout of the San Marcos, and it was becoming obvious that the vast majority of fishable water was only accessible by floating. That option for this day had expired once we were two hours past our designated meeting time.

I came across a young worker recording water flow levels along the park and seized on the opportunity to ask a few questions. The “water is low”, and if you want to wade and fly fish he suggested going out east of town past where the San Marcos and Blanco combine and where the original Historic site of San Marcos is located.

We found the low water bridge and fished that water for a couple of hours. There were a few fish, but just to be in the cool clear water with the smooth clay and rock bottoms, huge cypress trees clinging to the banks, intermittent clouds and showers passing overhead … pure Texas.

I did not have much time left, but in getting acquainted with my San Antonio cohort, I realized that no matter we had fly fishing in common, being 22 means it still may be an iffy proposition to get up when the alarm goes off – even to go fishing. I guess 8 in the morning was early for me too when I was that age. He had a smooth and accurate cast as well as that spongelike addiction to the knowledge of everything fly. As always, there was the lamenting of the cost of everything, but I had to ask how he learned to cast like that, “Youtube” was his reply. OK, how long had he been casting (I am thinking more than a year), “Three weeks” he replied with no sense of pride nor apology. I was shocked. We said our goodbyes and I headed for home, all the while marveling that, in this day and age, we can learn and accomplish so much in this sport so quickly, by doing what you are doing now – reading and watching on a computer screen.

In a nutshell, the water flows are already low for the naturally fed rivers around here and those that flow from lakes are experiencing higher flows to nourish farmer’s needs downriver. Things seem to be setting up for a classic dry Texas summer. So, check the flows before you go, set your alarm and be prepared to float not wade. There are plenty of snakes, including a fat five foot Water Moccasin in the most populous area of the San Marcos River. My next trip will include my kayak so that I can get to those areas between civilized parks, highways and low bridges. I plan on doing much more catching than fishing next time, and hope to include a Smallmouth or two in the next report from Central Texas. I’ll be adding photographs to this post later this week, so be sure and check back mid-week.

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Category: Causes, Central Texas, Eating and Drinking, Fishing Reports, Texas Hill Country, Texas Report

About the Author () is where to find my other day job. I write and photograph fish stories professionally, and for free here! Journalist by training. This site is for telling true fishing news stories, unless otherwise noted.

Comments (1)

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  1. playformeacoustically says:

    See? Central Texas rocks. Next time you’re in Wimberley though you should call me. I have access to the river, haha, perk of the job.
    Man, last summer we couldn’t wait for a sunny day, and now we’re begging for rain. can’t there ever just be a balance?

    ps. 8 am IS way too early.

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