May 20th, 2002

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

Rewards of Lesser Paths Traveled
South San Gabriel, Warm Water Haven

By Johnny Irvin (HillFisher)

Here in Central Texas is a little known river called San Gabriel. There are two distinct branches of north and south that join in Georgetown then continue to the east before finally feeding into the Little River. The North has been fished extensively over last few years by me, while the south has had little more than casual glances as I drove over bridges. The South San Gabriel does not run as much water as the north and from the bridges the water appears very shallow with no pools visible. For this reason I always passed it up and fished the North San Gabriel. All that has changed and here is the story.

Justin, (FreebirdsWB on the FAOL Bulletin Board), and I went to some private ponds one Sunday to see if they had any fish. The landowner had given me permission to see if any of the ponds contained fish. He had recently purchased the 500 acres with 15 ponds of which 5 were spring fed. The morning was a big disappointment. There were a lot of fish but it was the same species of perch and everything was 3 inches or less. The ponds were heavily stained to the point of being murky brown.

After several hours of determining the ponds were stunted, Justin mentioned going to the South San Gabriel as he knew I had fished it very little.

We arrived and geared up, we headed up river into some beautiful canyons.

The water was crystal clear and sight casting was in the order of the day. There were panfish everywhere! Once in a while you would hear a lot of splashing and commotion, look up to see a large bass chasing bluegills for dinner. Justin chose a spot where a large limestone boulder had crashed into the riverbed and created a pool of water in the shade of some large cottonwood trees. He pulled one large sunfish after another and some decent bass as well.

I chose the opposite bank and was casting into the grass overhanging the bank. Once again I was using my fly of choice, the San Gabriel Fly. It was hookup after hookup with small bluegills and sunfish.

We continued up river and waded some areas that were quite shallow allowing a mere three inches of water flowing across a broad slab of satin smooth limestone. Usually just before these limestone slabs there would be a crack or ridge creating a natural dike or dam forming a small shallow pool. In these pools were several panfish and bass along with the scores of minnows. It was these pools where we would catch several panfish and bass.

We came to a deeper pool that was spring fed. This pool was at least 5 feet deep or more. Here there were some nice bass. Each of us caught some nice bass and several larger panfish. It was also a great swimming hole to cool off in after the fishing was done. The limestone walls were covered in a carpet of green ferns with spring water flowing down through the ferns and into the pool, an oasis that provided an escape from the Texas heat.

We continued up river and came upon a large clear pool. By this time we were about a half a mile up river. One side was limestone cliffs and the other heavily forested with trees growing out over the water. This looked very promising. We quickly learned this hole was too deep to wade. So we set up shop in the lower outer edge of the pool and began casting. Suddenly I heard Justin exclaim "Man! That's the largest bluegill I have ever seen!" He sight cast to it, but before the fly could get to it, a gang of smaller ones rushed the fly and he had a fight going on. Smaller ones? Even they were coming in around eight inches or so. He sight cast again and this time the larger bluegill took the fly. When he got it up for me to see, wow, it measured at just under 10 inches!

I was having a great time also. It literally was a hookup on every single cast! Large sunfish and bluegills and very active bass.

There were large bass present. We would see them once in a while chasing minnows and such in the shallows making a lot of noise. We were far enough up river that we determined these fish simply had never been fished. It's like that here, people simply don't fish the rivers. We made a pact that day to keep mum about it until we could return with my kayaks to get into the pool and explore above to see what else there was.

The next couple of days were spent in trying to find some excuse to not have to go to work, as I was impatient to get back to the river. An opportunity arose and an unscheduled day off presented itself. I called Justin and we were off.

I set up the kayaks and we headed up river carrying the kayaks and walking at a quick pace. We wanted to get to the pool quickly to fish as well as explore a bit further up river. When we got to the pool and set out in the kayaks, what we saw was simply amazing. The waters were extremely clear and the fish were completely unafraid to the point they would approach the kayaks and check us out! We saw some bass that easily gone 5 plus pounds! One in particular was huge! The panfish were very aggressive and consistently large. I went to the upper reaches of the pool and where I could wade again and fished along the cliffs. Again the fishing was explosive and non-stop hookups! However not a single bass was caught. Justin could not tear himself away from those large bass. So close yet so far away!

I left him to the bass and headed up to the next unexplored pool. Wow, this just keeps getting better I tell myself! The next pool was again too deep to wade through. I stopped in the lower edge and eased myself out of the kayak and into water about 2 feet deep. As I stood there I noticed catfish in the 2 - 3 foot size just swimming around me not even caring that I was there. I cast a San Gabriel Fly out over the water and before it had time too settle in the water, there is an explosive shower of water and the fish was on! Nice Panfish! As I am bringing him in a large hump of water is forming behind it! All of a sudden the fly rod takes a huge bend and then nothing. Fish, fly gone, just leader waving in the breeze. Hmmmm. . . Tie on another SGF, cast out and hookup another bluegill. No fooling around this time, I bringing him in fast and sure enough another large hump formed up behind him. This time I got the panfish and saw the large black bass that was following him. He was big! He also sat there only about 8 feet away and never moved except to chase my poor panfish when I caught one. He simply was not afraid! He would not touch anything I threw at him! My panfish flies were too small I guess.

Well, it was approaching sunset and we had a way to go before getting back to the car. So I headed back down river and there was poor Justin still in the same spot, still trying to get those big 'ole bass. I have to admit, the man loves his bass! I think the women of the world would be extremely happy if we wooed them half as much as we do the fish we seek!

I'm going back as soon as I can. There is much to explore and inexperienced panfish for me to taunt. . . or maybe it's the other way around. ~ Johnny (AKA Hillfisher)

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