Southwest Fly Fishing

By W. Chad McPhail

This spring, being relocated with my job from Amarillo to Port Isabel, Texas, it occurred to me that 95 percent of everything I knew about fishing revolved around the cold-water trout streams of New Mexico, Colorado, and the mountains of the Southwest. Time for a change of scenery.
   I had a few extra travel days to explore some new Texas haunts on my journey to the Gulf Coast. So, with fish on the brain, I set out headlong through the Texas Hill Country to fish some of the most impossibly-clear water I’ve ever witnessed. I found the Frio River first, near Concan, so I fished it with a beginner’s verve.
   At first glance, the spring-fed Frio may appear too low and shallow to fish. But a local guide, Aaron Riggins, (830) 486-5629, www.pescadoconmoscas.com, told me, “Don’t be fooled. Look for the darker, deeper pools and natural fissures in the limestone bottom. They hold good fish.”
   The pools and striations in the rock he spoke of were visible from the Farm-to-Market 1050 bridge when I arrived. I couldn’t wait to strip a fly through them. I pitched camp quickly at Garner State Park, (830) 232-6132, then wielded my 3-weight rod near the park’s spillway. I sight-casted red Copper Johns and assorted nymphs to visible structure in the shallows. Smaller, more colorful nymphs worked best, duping dozens of tenacious bluegills and redear sunfish in just a few hours that first evening. I remember wishing the entire time that my 12-year-old daughter, Savannah, was with me. She’s going to love how easy it is to catch fish on the Frio when I take her.
   Riggins’s Frio River fly suggestions included any small, bug-like patterns for sunfish, assorted colors of Clouser Minnows and poppers, and rubberleg Woolly Buggers in sizes 8 through 12 for bass. He added, “Turck Tarantulas of all sizes and colors can mimic several types of forage and is one of my favorites.”
   The next morning, in search of bigger game, I rigged a 4-weight with a TeQueely and started landing heftier fish almost immediately. The advice from Riggins paid off. Fat and feisty green perch pounced on it from beneath and behind rocks. And 10- to 12-inch black bass smashed similar flies precisely where Riggins had suggested—in the darker, slower pools.
   Rather than bank fishing, Riggins recommended cautiously wading in the coolness of the Frio. “Cast to overhanging limbs and near cypress knees on the dark edges,” he advised. “Wading or kayaking is the best way to attack it for all its species, including the native Rio Grande cichlids and five species of sunfish. But if you’re wading, be careful of your footing near
drop-offs.”
   Kayakers can launch downstream of the spillway in Garner State Park or at the low-water crossing near Frio Fergie’s on County Road 348 (River Road) south of Concan. There are several more access points, but finding public egress is tough, and other put-ins may require landowner permission. During summer, the Frio gets crowded with tourists and tubers trying to cool off—fishing can be a challenge. Try spring before Memorial Day and after Labor Day in the fall.

 

The full version of this article is available in print, PDF, and through our free APP.