The Guadalupe River
When you think of Texas, chances are, your first thought is not rainbows in cold, clear water. The Guadalupe River is the tailwater below Canyon Lake Dam in the Texas hill country, the southernmost trout fishery in the United States. Even being from San Antonio, Texas (only 45 minutes from the river), it was never on the forefront of my mind. About 2 years ago I fished the Guadalupe for the first time. I immediately began realizing what I had overlooked for so long.
I yearn for that feeling when I’m back home in San Antonio. Before I discovered the Guadalupe for myself, I would try and satisfy my need for that feeling by sitting at my tying desk for hours on end, going through the social media of the fly fishing world, watching videos about bucket list destinations, and writing. I still do all of those things when I’m home, the difference now is I do them after I spend most of my day on the water in search of Texas rainbows.
The Guadalupe was stopped up by Canyon Lake dam in the 1960’s. The cold water released from the dam into the tailwater pushed native warm water species much further downstream. Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) decided rainbow trout would be best fit to take over the newly created cold water habitat. Now that flow agreements have been reached, there is a year round population of self-sustaining fish in about 10 miles of the Guadalupe below the dam. Stocking still takes place throughout every winter thanks to TPWD and Guadalupe River Trout Unlimited. These efforts have created the southernmost freshwater trout fishery in the country. The river has also worked up to being ranked in the top 100 trout streams in the United States.
Where to Fish
The first 10 miles below the dam boast many access points. One thing to be aware of is that in Texas the river bottom is public, so as long as you are in the water, you’re safe. Most of the land along the river is private, so make sure you pay close attention to where you’re walking. To be safe I always stay in the water. This can make for a long haul to and from the car. I highly recommend bringing water, food, and appropriate gear. With all of that being said, visit this link to a map of access points provided by TPWD. Lazy L&L Campground also offers a great deal of access for a small cost.
What to Fish
The Guad, as it’s fondly referred to by locals, has plentiful bug life. It is mostly a nymph rig type of river. Hatches can be profound, but are also unpredictable. This river will test your bug identification skills. The fish can key in on different bugs in a split second. Midges are always a safe bet because they are the most prolific insect in the tailwater. Tricos and Blue-Wing Olives can also be steady producers if you catch them right. Caddis have been great this year as well. The chance at a fish on a dry fly is possible, but opportunities are few and far between. Two nymphs under an indicator, with split shot if necessary usually does the trick. My preferred setup is a 9ft 5wt rod, floating line, 9ft 4x leader to the first fly, 5x tippet to the second fly. Also, the right amount of split shot for depth and quickness of the water.
Patterns I lean toward on my lead fly are: Pat’s Rubber Legs (8-12), San Juan Worm (12-14), BH Hare’s Ear/Rubber Leg Hare’s Ear (14-18), and BH Pheasant Tail/Soft Hackle Pheasant Tail (14-18). As for the trailing fly some of my favorites include: Black Zebra Midge (18-22), Blood Midge (18-22), JuJuBee Midge (18-22), WD-40 (18-22), and Rainbow Warrior (18-22). Although the Guadalupe is primarily a nymphing dominated fishery, you can still turn up some aggressive fish who like a heartier meal. If you plan to try fishing a streamer, be warned it isn’t a numbers game. It won’t entice many fish, but the few it does will probably be larger than average. Streamers I’ve had success with include a few different variations of Wooly Buggers like the Autumn Splendor, Rubber Bugger, and the good old fashioned Wooly Bugger all in dark colors, and all in sizes 6-10. All of these bugs can be found at Vail Valley Anglers, and on the online store.
When to Fish
Due to Texas having a mild winter, the best months to fish are late-November through late-February. These times are weather pending, of course. Stockings by TPWD and Guadalupe River Trout Unlimited usually begin in late November or early December. They begin when the water hits the right temperature and persists throughout the winter. You won’t just be hooking up small stockers, there are fish of all sizes now that there is an established population in the tailwater. Fishing after the weather warms up is not good for the fish, and will not be very productive. Too much stress and water that isn’t cold enough can be detrimental for the fish, so try and limit fishing to the winter.
Whether you’re traveling to Texas for business, visiting family, or just driving through make sure to pack your gear, and give the Guad a chance! It’s also a great way for all you summertime Colorado folks that call Texas home to keep skills sharp. I always look forward to trips home, my parents cooking, seeing old friends, and Texas trout in the Guadalupe River. Head over to the shop to stock up on flies, gear, and advice before your outing. If you’re not in the Vail Valley area check out our online store!
Get out there, fish it, and leave it better than you found it.
By: Max Westheimer, @mjwestheimer, Vail Valley Anglers’ Guest Writer