The Texas Hill Country offers a wide variety of fishing opportunities for fly anglers. With trout fishing in the winter months and bass and other warm water fish in the spring, summer and fall, it is possible to fish all year round. In the late winter and early spring, many anglers are still focused on trout on the Guadalupe River tailwater, but for those who keep an eye on the weather, there are a number of great warm water fishing days to fit in between trout fishing.
Our typical warm water season starts in mid to late April in the Texas Hill Country, with the starting time depending mostly on how quickly the cold weather abates. As soon as the cold weather starts to end, we will begin seeing days when the morning temperatures are in the mid to upper 50s and afternoons in the 70 to low 80 degree range. When we see a 3-5 day cycle of these warmer weather patterns, it is time to dust off the bass boxes and give rivers such as the San Marcos, Llano and Colorado a go. If possible, timing your outing for a day the weather has been warmer for a few days, and a day or two ahead of the next frontal system to catch the falling barometer, the fishing can be very good.
Early season bass fishing tactics are very similar to our late season bass, with streamers such as heavy eyed clousers, buggers and crawfish patterns being the most productive patterns. Bass will still tend to be lethargic at this time of year when compared to their activity level in late spring or early fall, but with the warmer days they will get a boost of energy and their feeding instinct will bring them closer to the surface, making it easier to target them with fly tackle. Sinking lines or sink tip lines can be helpful at this time of year and you certainly want to have a rod that will handle heavier flies, such as a fast action 5wt or 6wt.
When looking for bass at this time of year, look for the typical snags and drop offs but focus more on the ones that are on or adjacent to deeper water. These are typically good locations for bass to move into on the warmer days, but can easily move into deeper waters if conditions deteriorate and the cold weather returns. Fish your patterns slower, feeling for a slight bump on the line; quite often the fish will not crush a fly at this time of year but rather will take the fly in a sip. Still focus on the first three to six feet off the structure and vary your retrieve and depths on successive casts. Once you dial in the drop rate and retrieve, then you can start working more areas with greater confidence.
Another good tactic in early spring is to target smaller streams, where the water temperatures warm more quickly than the larger bodies of water. If you have access to a small creek or feeder creeks along a lake, pond or larger river, look for the fish in the areas adjacent to the deeper pockets along the creek.
One of my favorite late winter tactics is to visit one of the TPWD trout stocking sites throughout the state, looking for the state stocker trout that have been in the water for a couple of months and have acclimated to their surroundings as well as the bugs in the water. On the warmer days you can expect to see midges and, on some rivers, tricos and caddis. You can use some of your trout fishing techniques to go for trout, but if you get on a a wooly bugger or crawfish pattern there are many days when you can find bass and sunfish mixed in with the trout.
For those who feel that fly fishing is only trout fishing, it is important to remember that in the Texas Hill Country we have one trout stream but numerous rivers with tremendous warm water fishing and quite a few trout tactics such as soft hackles, swinging streamers and, later in the year, dry and dry droppers will all work for bass and sunfish. This might not console some, but it helps keep skills sharp ahead of that trip to Colorado, Montana or Alaska in the upcoming summer months.
As spring comes on you, and water and air temperatures increase the bass and sunfish will both begin to move more and, as we get into late April or Early May, the spring spawns will make the fish much more active and willing to come to a fly more aggressively. Once this occurs, I often find that the draw of trout fishing abates for a couple of months and I go from using 5x tippet to 2x tippet and hold on for the spring bass fishing fun.