May 13th, 2002

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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'Puddle Walking' - Not What You Might Think
By Johnny Irvin (HillFisher)

There is a new threat to our river environment. One that not only slightly alters the waters course but threatens the very existence of the fish population. I'm talking about the term "Puddle Walking."

It seems a lot of off road clubs and individuals have found that driving their vehicles in the various rivers of our state, Texas, has become an accepted past time. I do not mean the approved low water crossings and such, I mean getting in the river channel and driving up or down in the river!

Many of our rivers are seasonal in their flow and during the spring months the water levels are at their peak before the summer lows. During this time the fish are in the spawn. There are panfish and bass beds everywhere. Even wading an angler must take care to avoid the beds.

When you introduce large vehicles, the destruction of these beds is total. Not only are the beds physically destroyed, the ones down river are silted out. This doesn't just affect the fish population but aquatic insects and frog eggs are also in a high percentile of not surviving. The continued use of the rivers, in this way, may very well result in a dead eco system in just a few years.

There are places on the San Gabriel with absolutely beautiful crystal clear waters. I have been in my kayak and watched the many panfish and bass swim under and around me. It saddens me to think this may be something my grandson will never experience.


In just about every state, gamefish are protected in some way or another, either by limits and/or slotting the sizes. With the off roading activities taking place in the river beds, whole populations of those areas are being threatened. Our beautiful Texas Cichlids are few in number on the San Gabriel. Between people harvesting them for money gained from the aquarium collectors and now the 'puddle walkers', this could be yet another blow to that population as well.

During the summer the water levels are low and in some cases much of the flow is subsurface leaving only pools of water along the channel. In many areas there are huge gravel bars where the water flows through these just below the surface, keeping the isolated pools supplied in fresh water thusly keeping the fish population alive. When these gravel bars are heavily traveled by vehicles the rock gets packed more and more with each pass. Eventually the water flow is diverted or completely shut off preventing fresh water and oxygen to these pools.

Landowners who have river property should be very concerned. The State of Texas holds all navigational bodies of water in trust for the public. This in turn is defined as any body of water with a channel (Bank to Bank) width of 30 feet or greater. This is Channel width not the actual water body width. Big difference in some areas. I bring this up because how would you feel as a landowner, knowing the very reason you purchased your property for, was being destroyed and there was nothing you could do about it. The last thing I would want to see is a bunch of noisy big trucks driving up my creek in the backyard! The ecology would be devastated! Most creeks and smaller rivers are fragile systems. The occasional angler, canoe, kayak and small johnboat users do very little to intrude on these systems.

There was a recent thread on the Bulletin Board here about this becoming a big event on the Nueces River also. In fact a web site was posted with pictures of the vehicles in the river. One point of view that came from this was about all the oils seeping from the vehicles and contaminating the waters. A counter point in defense of the vehicles was that motorboats also leave a residue/seepage. This is true, and not all vehicles seep fluid. However boats of any kind do not contact and do a significant amount of damage to the river bottoms. Where it becomes too shallow for boating then porting becomes necessary. Motor vehicles leave a track no matter where they go.

A couple of weeks ago now, I was down on the South San Gabriel alone. I was fishing a hole of water near the I-35 bridge. A wonderful place for catching panfish and bass, mostly smaller fish but close for fishing before going into work. A truck full of young people showed up and the next thing I know, they are driving at a fairly good pace and hit the water next to me creating a huge shower of water. They went up river turned and started to make another pass. It became all too clear what their intention was. They were to pass as close to me as possible and spray me with as much water as possible. At this point running was senseless. As they made their pass I whipped out my flyline, mostly in anger and it securely wrapped itself around their radio antennae. Flyline, amazing stuff, you would not believe how strong it can be. I now have a radio antennae in my collection. My point is, this type of harassment was also noted in the lakes between anglers and jet skies. Sometimes it got ugly. Now there are laws in affect to prevent the harassment and both still get their enjoyment in their separate sports. Maybe laws need to be considered for the rivers in restricting vehicle usage as the environment is so adversely affected.

I have no bones to pick among the off road vehicles or the drivers. I think most just simply don't understand the effects they are causing. As far as the SUV's they are invaluable to outdoorsmen/women. They get us to places that would normally be inaccessible.

We get to the rivers for superb fishing with them as well as providing safer transportation in bad weather. They have a place in our daily activities, that place just should not be in our waters.

My Thanks to 'Austinite' for the original posting on the Flyanglers OnLine Bulletin Board, 'FreebirdsWB', Justin, for taking the time to get the much appreciated photos and Tom Goynes, President of Texas River Protection Association (TRPA) for his permission to reference the site and his invaluable input on the current events.

For more photos go to: www.down-river.com/trpa/nueces/index.php. Chose "home" for more information from the TRPA. ~ HillFisher

Publisher's Note:
Although laws vary from state to state, this is unacceptable anywhere. We encourage you to check the laws on this disgusting behavior in your state, and please post on our Bulletin Board if it is legal, and if not - what are the fines or jail time for this. Let's get it stopped! ~ LadyFisher


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