SUMMERTIME FLY FISHING IN THE TEXAS HILL COUNTRY
The dog days of summer always seem to arrive too early in the Texas Hill Country. Springtime is a brief, beautiful window when temperatures are comfortable, the flowers are blooming and the fish are active throughout the day but we all know that, all too soon, the heat of the Texas summer will arrive and the desire to be out in the heat melts away all too quickly. The summer months provide an opportunity for many to head north, in search of trout in the mountains, or to the coast, for a breeze and beaches. But a weekend or weeks long vacation can only only scratch a fly anglers itch so long. Fishing close to home can still be good in the summer months. For those wanting to get out, it typically means early alarms or last-light casting, but the fish are still there and they are still hungry, you just have to be willing to be there when they are wanting to eat.
Bass anglers are often a hardier breed of anglers when compared to trout anglers. Trout anglers consider themselves to be more “civilized”, in that they can typically sleep in, get a good breakfast, cup of coffee and wait on the hatch to start. By comparison, bass fishing involves starting out before dawn and done before noon in the summer months. For many, this can mean getting in a good days fishing before work, or getting in a long days fishing before working half a day. In the winter months, early alarms are at 6:00 am, while early alarms in the summer are more likely to be at 4:30 or 5:00 am. Salt anglers look at bass and trout anglers and wonder why all the fuss, as many saltwater types are on the water at or before dawn most days of the year and don’t understand all the fuss over an extra hours sleep.
Moon phase During in the Summer months, keeping an eye on the moon phase, as well as majors and minors throughout the day can give an angler a better handle on when the fish are more likely to be on the bite. It isn’t a hard and fast rule, but often we find that fishing on a new moon is more productive versus a full moon. I remember being told many years ago that if you are night fishing for catfish, you are better to fish on a new moon, because you could be more confident that a midnight bite on a new moon was a catfish, while on a full moon you may well catch bass, gar and most anything else that swims. For those intrepid enough to do a little night fishing on a full moon, a pair of safety goggles can be handy, as streamers hurt just as much, if not more, when they hit you in the face or back of the head at night. As for majors and minors throughout the day, I do typically see some correlation between them and the bass bite, though it is less important to me than the moon phase. I will normally get a general idea of when the bite will be better based upon the majors/minors, but I certainly have found that bass will bite when they want to bite and factors like time of day, weather and light conditions will play as much, if not more of a factor than the major times.
Watch the weather Keeping an eye on small fronts, overcast days and other slight changes in the weather pattern can help to make your day more pleasant, not only for a break in the heat, but also for the fish activity. On overcast days, river fish may tend to cruise off the banks more, can can be found in places where on a sunny day you would likely not find them. On sunny days, I am looking for shade pockets along the banks. A call for weak front, with a slight drop in air pressure, a little broken cloud cover and even a few drops of rain is a must go forecast. Don’t be fooled by the heat, in the mid summer, I have had a number of days where some of my best fishing is in late morning and into the early afternoon. Even on sunny days, can get more active into the morning. There are certainly days when the topwater bite is best early and late, but keep in mind that, on a river, often the lowest oxygen levels are first thing in the morning and the highest oxygen levels are just at sunset.
Flows Like any other time of year, we must keep an eye on the flows along our Texas rivers. Not only for safety (there is a reason NOAA calls this part of Texas “flashflood alley’), but also for simple navigation and fishy spots. Most of my river fish live on or adjacent to current, but how that current flows also plays a part. River bass want to have a holding position that puts them near, or very near the current, but where they can hold without expending too much energy. For banks where the current cuts right along the bank, I look for little eddies and pockets where there appears to be a little slack to the water. Even better is a bank that has current along it, but is more parallel to the bank, rather than cutting into the shore. This gives more holding water for the fish.
For Guadalupe Bass, I often think to myself “where would a brown trout live?” and when I see a riffle with a ledge, rock that creates an eddy or a mid channel deadfall, I will cast to those places with confidence that a Guadalupe is somewhere in there. High flows are one thing, but low flows become more problematic as the summer goes on. For kayaks and canoes, most rivers in the Texas Hill Country need about 150 cfs in flow to make for an easier day floating. Our smaller rivers (San Marcos, South Llano) can be a little lower, and our larger rivers (Guadalupe, Llano, Colorado) a bit more.
Either way, I have seen many people who had floated a river in the higher flows of the Spring want to duplicate that same float in the summer with unwelcome results. Often they end up having to paddle more than they anticipated, ran low on water and had a nice sunburn to show their friends the next day. In the summer, keep your floats a little shorter, which will give you more time to fish individual spots, but it will also make it better for one of the best parts of a summer float: getting out and taking a swim in the river to cool off!
Flys and gear selection I do not vary my gear selection as much from season to season, except to take into account a bit more wind in the summer months, which is often blowing upstream on a lot of our rivers (from the Gulf) and can pose added challenges for those who like to fish light rods. I will often go one rod weight heavier in the Summer versus the Spring to take the wind into account, and will fish anything from a 5wt (S. Llano) to an 8wt (Colorado) in the Summer months. This is also, in part, due to the fact that in the summer I do tend to cast bigger flies.
Heavier streamers to get down more quickly or more wind resistant/larger poppers to the banks. Yes, yes, there is a certain joy in catching a 2 pound fish on a 3wt, but the first time that 3 pounder hits, takes you into the deadfall and wraps you up, you will be reaching for your 5wt. I will often tie on little hoppers and brim poppers for my light rod, to specifically target sunnies, but leave the big boy fish to the big boy rods.
Other gear considerations:
Lots of water (Freeze a couple of bottles the night before and use them as your ice. Not only will it save space, but it will give you extra cold water)
Beer is good, but beer in the heat is not great. Be smart
Sunblock and sunlayers are your friend. One layer of sunblock is not enough, especially with sweat and swimming.
You gotta eat. If you are like me, you don’t eat much on the really hot days. I pack a lot of trail mix and fresh fruit (cantaloupe and watermelon are in season and really good in the summer) and other light things to munch on.
Finally Summer fishing in central Texas will “season” you for the Fall. Many, many days on the river are half to three-quarter days, rather than the 8-10 hour days of the Spring and Fall. For those with more sensitive systems, getting out for an evening wade after 7pm will ensure that you miss the worst of the heat, and take advantage of the evening topwater bite. It is more a matter of planning ahead, packing extra water, and taking a couple of extra breaks along the way than anything else. For those willing to brave the heat, you can be rewarded with some great fishing.