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The White Bass Run Is On!

Hillfisher

By Johnny (aka Hillfisher), Texas


February in Texas Hill Country means one thing to the fly-fisher, White Bass! They typically begin their spawn in middle to late February and continue to about the middle of March, give or take a week or so. The Whites, Sandies as known in the north, will move out of the deeper waters of the lakes and reservoirs, up into the river and creek channels to begin their spawn. The reason for this is they need flowing oxygenated water supplied to the eggs during incubation. During the spawn the bass will eat ferociously and being aggressive predators, minnow patterns work extremely well.

This year the winter has been very mild and temperatures are already 10 degrees higher than normal on many days. One thing about fishing weekends during the run, it gets crowded and many of the smaller rivers such as San Gabriel can quickly become over crowded and non-fishable for a fly-fisher. The concentration of fish is great, but within a small area or stretch of the river. For this reason I try to get out on weekdays, besides what are sick days for? Hope the boss does not read this. I also prefer to go someplace that's a little harder to get to. 90% of the people you see during the run will never be seen again until the next season and of those, most go to places that are conveniently reached. San Gabriel being easily within 5 to 15 minutes from the surrounding towns including Austin, ample access and easily waded, becomes very over crowded and most do not fly-fish nor understand the space needed by those who do. Occasionally tempers do flare.

So, where do I go? It's not a big secret. Colorado Bend State Park is a great place to fish the White Bass Run. It is out of the way, not so much by distance, 124 miles, but how you get there. There is no direct straight path from the Austin area and the last traveled road is dirt for some miles and can be rough if maintenance has been delayed for weather reasons.

The one-horse town of Bend and it's single General Store is the last source for supplies, including ice before hitting the dirt track and starting the last leg into Colorado Bend Park. The park is located at the bottom of the river canyon and has beautiful semi-primitive campgrounds. Large Pecan and Oak trees are abundant, providing ample shade during the hot summer months. Plenty of hiking trails and at either end of the park boundaries are clear cold spring fed creeks. Of the two, Gorman Creek, has a beautiful set of falls and guided tours are available. Also pre-arranged guided cave tours, your choice, walking or crawling. When the fish are not cooperating, there are plenty of other activities to keep one's self entertained.

The morning we left out of Round Rock the skies were clear and the temperature was a mild 65 and on the rise. Andy had never been to Colorado Bend so this would be an adventure for him. As it turns out, for the both of us!

We took hwy 29 West out of Georgetown and headed straight to Llano. From there we took hwy 16 north to Cherokee and made a turn back to the east on fm 502 to Bend. It's a great ride through some beautiful Texas Hill Country. Lots of very fishable waters are crossed or passed by with a great view including San Gabriel South and North forks, Colorado River that forms Inks Lake and Buchanan. Llano River is paralleled for some distance before making the turn to the north at Llano. Cherokee creek is a large creek but with little access.

After we left bend and started on the dirt road, we were just over halfway to the ranger station when the rear back tire blew out. Normally this would be no big deal. However when getting the jack ready for raising the truck, the lug wrench was found to be missing! Not only did it remove lugs but was needed to lower the spare and operate the jack! So here we are out in the middle of nowhere and with no way to change a flat. Fortunately it was a weekend and with the run going on, we did not have to wait long for a passing truck, which stopped and got us out of a sticky situation by lending his lug wrench. Also about 15 minutes later a ranger came by, stopped and made sure we were OK. I would have hated to walk the distance to the ranger station for help.

Once we arrived, we launched the boat and were on the water in no time. Now we started the process of finding the fish. The waters here offer both wading and boating. During the white bass run all kinds of floating craft can be seen. Some of the homemade ones are quite interesting. Have not seen any bathtubs yet, but I would not be surprised.

The waters here along the park range 15 feet near the canyon walls up to a comfortable 3-foot wading depth. During the months of January and February it's possible to see wintering Bald Eagles while fishing these waters. Other wildlife is abundant also.

Up River

Across from park

Down River

I started out with a bead-headed white woolly bugger and it is necessary to have a sinking line or tip, as whites are not top feeders unless the shad, their primary food source, is running near the surface. I use multi-tip lines with 14-foot interchangeable tips. The only tough part about white bass is finding the depth they are holding. We started in the deep section around 15 feet and after several yards and multiple casts nothing was happening for either of us. Andy was using a spin caster with a white Mr. Twister Grub spinner. So we picked up and headed into shallow waters farther up river into about 4 feet of water. After about another hour's worth of drifting and casting, we still had no results. It was beginning to look grim, we only had about 3 hours of good fishing time left. Finally I decided to split the difference. We went into about 8 feet of water and close to the park bank where it was a smooth sandy bottom. Again no strikes, but people all around us were catching fish! What were we doing wrong? At this point I just sat back and watched. I was not looking for what type of fly was being used but much more interested in the retrieval speed and stripping lengths. After a few moments I realized my retrieval was too slow and I needed to keep the streamer off the bottom.

Now maybe there was hope for this trip after all! I cast back out towards the channel and did not give the sink line enough time to reach bottom, began stripping in about 8 inches a second and WHAM, took a hard hit on the fly, paused a second and began stripping...WHAM, another hard hit but no hookup. This went on and on for several casts. Andy was getting the same results after I told him not to let his spinner sink to the bottom before retrieval. After he had several hard hits, I asked to see his grub before he recast. Sure enough the last section of the tail had the signs of hard bites as well as pieces missing. I told Andy to down-size his grub or cut off the tail. I on the other hand, traded the woolly for a Mylar minnow. This was a smaller fly and the tail ended just at or slightly past the hook bend.

Mylar Minnow

Mylar Minnow

I cast back out and stripped in the line, nothing, hmmmm. I made another cast and felt a slight bump, paused and...WHAM, fish on! This was a definite hook up! This fish did not want to come up! After a few minutes of tussling, I got him up and it was a nice 12 inches.

In the mean time, Andy was having his share of fish also. Once he shortened up the tail, he was getting almost all the fish that hit. He was having a ball and some of his were of notable size also. The largest of the day was 14 inches and there were a lot of small ones, but they too were just as fun.

White Bass and Fly

Small Bass

Larger Bass

All in all it was a great day. In the 2 hours we had left, the total fish between the two of us was 47 fish. Justin, Freebirds on the BB, was there also with a couple of friends. Between the three of them they landed around a hundred fish, including 2-pound crappies! On the way out that night the deer were coming out. They have no fear of humans in this park as evidenced by this parting shot in near darkness.

Deer

Andy is bringing his fly rod on the next trip and promises to have everything needed to change a flat. We have 9 days off from work coming up...wonder where we'll be?

Good fishing to all. ~ Hillfisher

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