Guadalupe River Fly Fishing

This is the first part of a three part series on wade fishing the Guadalupe River at Higher flows.

The other two parts are forthcoming.

Fishing the Guadalupe River Tailwater in High Flows

Part I

River Flows, Rigging Up and Flies

Ah, Texas weather. 

Those who have lived in the Hill Country for any amount of time know that, while you might have a weather report you follow, you can never trust the forecast for more than a day, and at most three.  On a day in August, one almost believe that temperatures will never be below 90 degrees and the smell of rain is just a pleasant memory; but by the time December has come round, you have had numerous conversations with friends, coworkers and sometimes a random stranger, comparing each others wonder about how it is possible that a thunderstorm can produce 11 inches of rain in 12 hours, as you bundle under a second fleece to stave off the first strong cold front of the year. 

NiceTrout1Our rivers, and the fish in those rivers, take the full brunt of these seasonal changes.  Fortunately, the fish in the rivers of the Texas Hill Country are better adapted to the seasonal changes than any angler that pursue them with a rod and box full of flies.

For anglers who have come to know the Guadalupe River tailwater in recent years, the description of the Guadalupe is of a river that trickles rather than flows, and the low flows allow for easy wading and a concentration of fish in only a few, often easy to find, locations. 

Experiencing the Guadalupe River at normal or above normal conditions will, for many, bring a brief moment of joy, often followed by a feeling in ones stomach that can be best described as that first-day-at-a-new-school feeling. 

Everything is similar about what you are seeing versus the previous years, but there is a new that can rob you of  your confidence at that exact same moment.  For anglers who remember the years of higher flows, the first imperative is to try to recall where the fish were holding in those years, and how to safely wade a river when it flows like a river rather than a creek.

There are some simple things you can do to better equip and prepare yourself for fishing the Guadalupe River in higher flows.

Flows on the Guadalupe.

Flows for anglers can be broken into six general categories, based upon the flows in cubic feet per second, as measured by the USGS Guadalupe River -Sattler flow gauge.

Flows (cfs)

Rating

Description

Safe Wading Depth*

Notes

>100

Low

River flows slightly in areas where there is changing elevation.

Waist to Chest

  • Very Easy to wade.
  • Difficult for floating

100-250

Average

Current is noticeable in pooled areas.   Riffles and runs are running.

Waist to Chest

  • Inexperienced waders use wading staff
  • Good flows for floating above 150 cfs.

250-350

Above Average

Defined current running through smaller pools.   Slight current running through larger pools, especially in bends of the river.

Waist

  • All waders should have wading staff
  • Choose crossing carefully

350-550

High

Current is flowing well through large pools.  Riffles look more like small rapids.

Thigh to waist

  • Unsure waders are better to float than wade
  • All anglers should use a wading staff.
  • Only cross the river out of absolute necessity.

550-650

Very High

Current flowing very well in deepest parts of pools and rapids have become treacherous. 

Ankle to Thigh

  • Wading for only experienced waders, with a wading staff!
  • Do not try to cross river.
  • Great flows for rafts.

650<

Extreme

Rapids can range up to Class III, but more typically I-II. 

Bank to Ankle

  • Float only.
*Safe wading depth is merely a general recommendation for average waders.  Be honest in assessing your wading skills before putting yourself in a situation that you will come to regret.

USGS Water-data graph  

The Sattler gauge shows average flow for the Guadalupe that range from  120 to 160 cfs, depending on the season.  The primary purpose for the construction of Canyon Dam is to control flooding along the Guadalupe River, with additional benefits including a more reliable water supply downstream of the lake, hydroelectric generation, as well as the recreational benefits not only from the lake but also but also from the cool water tailrace that flows downstream of Canyon Dam.

The discussion of how and why the water releases from Canyon Dam is determined can get a little tedious for some, and for the purposes of this article, I only intend to present a brief sketch of those factors.

Canyon-DamCanyon Dam is an Army Corps of Engineers project, that began construction in 1958. The lake reached the designated conservation pool level of 909' msl in 1968.  Canyon Dam is a bottom release dam, meaning that, under normal operations, the water being release from the dam is coming from under, rather than over the dam, thereby creating a cold water fishery downstream of the lake.

Army Corps controls the day to day operations of the dam, and determines the amount of water that is released from Canyon Dam when the lake is at or above the 909' msl level, with their overall goal of returning the lake to the 909' level, but also helping to moderate any flooding that might occur along the Guadalupe River downstream of Canyon Dam.

When the lake is below the 909' msl, the the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority determines the amount of water that is released from Canyon Dam.  An agency established by the Texas legislature, the GBRA works with numerous stakeholders with varied views and claims to the waters of the Guadalupe River.

    When Army Corps controls the release, flows typically range from Average to Extreme.

    When the GBRA controls the release, flows typically  range from Low to High.

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Keep in mind that the Sattler gauge shows the flow of the Guadalupe River near Canyon Dam.  There are numerous springs and creeks downstream of the dam that add flow into the river which will cause an increases in flows, the further downstream you go.  In wet times, non flood times, it is not uncommon for the river to gain an additional 100-200 cfs at the Second Crossing, or the downstream boundary of the trout special regulation zone.  The guidelines above take this change in flow into account, but for anglers who are uncomfortable wading in higher flows that like to fish further downstream, don't assume that the flow downstream of Third Crossing is the same as the release from the dam.

Other things that can be affected by the higher flows include:

  • Water Clarity
    • Though there are seasonal changes to the clarity and color of the water on the Guadalupe, a higher flow can often make this more noticeable.
  • Added depth of the water
    • Be careful when stepping in an area that had been a little deeper in low flow years, you might find it to be a lot deeper. 
    • This is where a wading staff can save the day.
  • The fish are more spread out in higher flows
    • Being able to stand in one place and hook multiple fish becomes a treat and the makings of a good story.
    • It also means that anglers can spread out more
  • Riffles & pocket water become more viable holding locations.
    • The combination of more depth and fish being spread out, means that you will find fish in places that seem unexpected.
  • Debris, often put into the river in flood events, can change a fishing location and you can snag flies in areas that did not have snags before.  Floods can also removed old snags that had made a location difficult in years past.
    • This is most noticeable after larger flood events.
    • Landowners and stakeholders along the river do a good job of cleaning up after a flood, but it can take a few weeks to a few months to do so.
  • Floods bring stripers through Canyon Dam and into the tailwater.  Stripers love to eat trout. 
    • If you have a chance, or get a tip about where a big striper has been seen, bring a 6 or 8wt rod and try your luck. 
    • The state record striper on a fly rod came off the Guadalupe below Canyon Dam.  It was over 36 pounds, and currently ranks in the top 25 (Number 23, as of this writing) of all stripers caught and submitted to Texas Parks and Wildlife for weighing.
    • In the mid-1990's, three of the top five scoring stripers on the same list were caught in the same water, with the largest being just over fifty pounds.

 

Two Fly Nymphing

If you are new to fly fishing, or need a refresher on setting up a two fly nymph set, please take a moment to read this.

For those who are more familiar with this technique, please read on.

More Depth, More weight, more rod.

While flows for fishing the Guadalupe tailwater can be broken down into six categories, how you rig a rod for a two fly nymph set can be broken down into three categories, with overlap between the three.

Flow (cubic feet/second)

Rod Weight

Leader Length

Leader Size

Tippet Size

Split Shot Sizes*

Indicator Size

Top Fly Size

Trailer Fly Size

100-250 cfs

4-6

7.5 foot

4x

4x to 6x

01 & 06

1/2 inch

10-16

12-22

250-450 cfs

9 foot

3x to 6x

3/4 inch

450-650 cfs

5-8

3x

AB & 04

8-12

*AB=0.6g and 04=0.2g; while 01=0.3g and 06=0.1g (most shot found in fly shops uses this).  The combination of split shots means that, by carrying two, paried sizes of shot, three of the smaller size shot weigh the same as one larger. 

This system helps keep weight management simple, and helps to lessen the chance of bad things happening when there is too much shot on a leader.  Ideally, use two or fewer pieces of shot. 

The overall goal of adding weight is to be able to get your flies into the deepest part of the riffle, run or pool that you are fishing.  There are times in high flows when the trout will suspend, and fishing lighter can, some days be beneficial, but many of the fish will still prefer to be deep, so the flies need to be deep, as well.

How we set up the rod plays into not only the gear we use but techniques.  Both will be discussed in greater detail in the next parts of this series. 

The most important part of additional gear is a wading staff.

Second would be rod choice. A strong argument can be made for fishing a longer rod in higher flows.  I personally prefer a 10' rod in high water conditions for a number of reasons

  • A longer rod makes for easier to roll cast.
  • The longer rod will also assist in making easier mends.
  • The longer rod will also give greater leverage when playing a fish.
  • Other techniques for fishing in higher flows can benefit from a longer rod.
    • including drop shot,
    • high stick nymphing
    • various euro nymphing techniques.

 

Fly Patterns

The same fly patterns that work in low flows work in higher flows, but in higher flows we get to add in some larger flies, especially your attractor and streamer patterns.  Pattern selection will still be driven by what works.  Start with your confidence patterns, but experiment with larger attractors and slightly larger natural patters, especially if you are mimicking slate drakes, hexagenia or hellgrammites.

In this case, the high flows work in your favor.  Higher flows means stronger currents in the places bugs live; making it more likely versus low flow currents that a bottom clinging or crawling insect will get dislodged and swept into a feeding lane for a trout.

  • If there is a tungsten bead version of your favorite bead-head pattern, try those vs. the brass bead.
  • Streamer patterns become more useful, not only for the weight, but also to cover more water for the fish that have spread out.
  • See my previous article about bugs and fly selection for the Guadalupe River
    • There are many new patterns that have been developed since that article was written, but the basics are still the same.
    • Match the hatch with your flies.
    • The next time you walk into a fly shop, bring in your boxes and ask what you are missing or need to add to fill in the gaps in your fly selection.

 

What's next:

  • Part II
    • Gear Changes and Additions.
    • Safe Wading Practices.
  • Part III
    • Where to Safely Access the River
    • Additional Fishing Techniques

 

Services and Rates          Upcoming Clinics

Guadalupe River Fishing Report

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