Texas, Trout, and TimelessnessNovember 14, 2023
By Steve Ramirez
The river ran cold, clear, and glistening in the early morning sunlight- with the look and sound of broken bits of glass blowing in the breeze. At first, I just watched the water and searched for any signs of fish beneath the foam line. I envisioned myself as the fish, choosing the best spot to hold and hover as the river brought me oxygen and food, and then I became an angler again and cast my line so that my streamer would swing to the place where my imaginary fish was swimming. And that’s when he left my imagination and entered my reality. The strike was swift and solid, and my hookset came naturally – as if our meeting was predestined. He was a big, muscled fish with bright sunlit colors and a proclivity to alternate between powerful runs and breathtaking leaps. When I finally had him in hand, I freed him as quickly as I could. He was magnificent and I was mesmerized by the sight of him sliding back into his place in the river – a deep place among the rapids where time and timelessness meet. It was magical.
With the construction of the dam and the creation of “Canyon Lake” in 1964, a tailwater fishery was established where the water being released from the bottom of the reservoir back into the Guadalupe River comes out cold enough to help salmonids like trout to survive for about the first three miles or so below the dam. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist Patrick Ireland, “The Canyon Reservoir Tailrace is one of the most popular winter fisheries in the state of Texas. This tailrace provides diversified angling opportunities, and the local economic benefits greatly outweigh the costs associated with these stockings. Further, past praises have the Canyon Reservoir rated among the 100 Best Trout Streams in the U.S. by Trout Unlimited and 50 Best Tailwaters to Fly Fish.”
Trout cannot survive in the warm waters of Texas beyond the artificially created tailrace below the dam, so each year TPWD purchases trout from a provider from the cold spring waters areas of Missouri. I asked Ireland about the history and current status of trout stocking in Texas, and he said, “Texas Parks and Wildlife first stocked rainbow trout into the Canyon Reservoir Tailrace (Guadalupe River) with fish purchased by the Lone Star Brewing Company in 1966. GRTU initiated an annual trout stocking program in 1972. In 2022/2023, statewide trout stockings were estimated at approximately 330,000. For the Canyon Reservoir Tailrace, TPWD typically stocks a little over 20,000 rainbow trout. The average size typically runs around 9.5” but there are fish exceeding 12” in these stockings. The Guadalupe River Trout Unlimited Chapter (GRTU), with approval from Texas Parks and Wildlife, stocks between 8-12,000 trout per year that range between 12-20” in the Canyon Tailrace (Guadalupe River).”
There are many benefits to the winter trout stocking program, including the positive economic impacts to business and communities near the rivers and community ponds where the fish are stocked each year. But the primary focus of the trout stocking program is to provide annual winter fishing opportunities via a unique put-and-take fishery experience for Texans of all ages – both urban and rural. While skilled fly anglers can focus on the Canyon Dam tailwaters, the statewide stocking of trout into Community Fishing Lakes and via the ‘Neighborhood Fishin’ Program’ offers children and families easy access to enjoyable winter trout fishing options.
We Texans have a reputation for hard work and determination in the face of challenges. We accept the need to earn what we get and care for what we have. With great blessings comes great responsibility. Now more than ever we must learn to be good stewards of our waters and waterways. Programs like the TPWD trout stocking program act to bring more Texans closer to the natural world around us. We save what we love, and we love what we know. When I was a kid, I spent most of my time roaming between the oaks and standing in the rivers. Now in my 60s, not much has changed. The winter trout fishing program is just one way to bring generations together and give hope to our children by taking them away from the reflection of a computer screen and showing them how to reflect upon the water.
By the end of the day, I had caught and released quite a few trout. I love catching them, but I think it is upon releasing them that I find the greatest joy. Just a few miles above where I was standing are the fossilized footprints of sauropod dinosaurs that stood here millions of years ago. After the passing of the dinosaurs came the arrival of ancient Native American cultures who eventually gave way to immigrants from Spain, Mexico, and Tennessee. I’m not sure who or what will cross these waters long after I have crossed over, but I am hopeful that we Texans will continue to love and respect our natural rivers, canyons, and the native plants and wildlife that make these hills so special. Water is life. It created this historical landscape and makes it livable for those of us who call it home. This is a timeless landscape formed and fashioned by the waters that connect us. Without these precious waters, the wild Texas we all know and love… ceases to exist.
I’ve always had a tough time deciding when my last cast, is my final cast. As the sun slipped behind the trees, I considered the water flowing above and below me and wondered if I’d explored enough for one day. Looking upriver I saw a father and son speaking in soft tones as the boy cast forward. Looking downriver I saw an older man – casting hopefully. This is the magic of these rivers and these fish. For a moment that seems eternal, the trout and these Texans- are home.
Steve Ramirez, Author Bio:
Steve Ramirez is an award winning outdoor and conservation author who lives and writes in the Texas Hill Country. He is the author of a series of books with Lyons press, including Casting Forward – Fishing Tales from the Texas Hill Country, Casting Onward – Fishing Adventures in Search of America’s Native Gamefish, and Casting Seaward – Fishing Adventures in Search of America’s Saltwater Gamefish. Steve currently writes the Seasonable Angler column for Fly Fisherman Magazine and serves as the Ambassador for Texas for the American Museum of Fly-Fishing.
December 7, 2023
November 29, 2023
August 10, 2023