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April in steelhead country is a time of long light, longer floats, and “just-one-more-cast” dreams. A time of high hopes lost to high water. A time of landed trophies and of long, quiet rides home. It is a time of last chances, of redemption, and of regret. Most of all, it is a time of memories, of magic.
Here in the high plains of north Texas, far from the rain-soaked forests of the Pacific Coast, April holds a special kind of magic, too. Here it is a time of warm afternoons and warming waters; when big mouth bass move into the shallows and cadres of white and black crappie run up the rivers. It is the time when the grasslands go from brown to green and blue bonnets blanket the highway medians. It is the time for wet wading and the time when water snakes leave their winter nests to sun themselves along the creek-sides, waiting to scare the bejeezus out of wandering anglers. It is a time of anticipation and a time of worrying that it will all be over too soon—sucked away by the inevitable scorch of oncoming summer.
Feeling the magic last week, I donned swim trunks and wading shoes and dusted off my trusty seven-foot, nine-inch three-weight flyrod—I keep the rod lined with an OPST Commando Smooth 150 and five-foot OPST floating tip (the perfect outfit for Texas creek fishing)—and headed off to my favorite local creek, anxious to see what had changed, what fish I might find.
The word “creek,” for a lot of folks, conjures up images of clear cascades flowing over glacially deposited boulders in some idyllic and wild setting. Not so in Texas. When I say “creek” thing more “tree-lined-drainage ditch.” By mid-summer this particular creek would be little more than a series of puddles connect by a mere one-half of a cubic foot per second of water flow. For now, though, the water was up, cool, and full of potential. I accessed the creek at a small diversion dam that has a decent little run below it. Standing on top of the dam, well back from the run, I tied on a heavily weighted, two-inch baitfish fly tied in the colors of a small bluegill—a go to pattern for me, particularly in the springtime. I like a rather large fly in the creeks because, while most of the fish caught will be in the four to twelve inch range, there are many occasions where much larger fish will be present (I’m not just talking black bass—gar, catfish, carp, drum, and members of the white bass/striper family all make appearances) and a larger fly has enough profile to attract their attention. With the OPST Commando 150 I can match the small size of the average fish with the ultra-lightness of a three-weight rod and still cast a relatively large fly, thereby not taking myself out of the game when it comes to some of the much larger predators that haunt these waters
Soldiers in formation ready for a swim. Photo by Richard C. Armstrong III
I had fished the run below the diversion dam enough to know the fish in there to be quite spooky. A long cast from an upstream position with an intermittent swing/strip presentation would be the ticket. On my third cast, I felt the violent yet frantic attack of a small fish. The three-weight bent to the mid-section and after some thrashing around the fish came to hand—a mature bluegill all of six inches long with a wide, heavily barred body. I will never get over the amount of aggression built into a bluegill, no matter how many times I have one rush to impale itself on a fly half its own size. This is fun, I thought. I don’t care what anybody says.
After releasing the bluegill, I moved on downstream, ducking through a large, under-road culvert (a spot my girlfriend once described as “a place you’d find a dead body”) before continuing down to my favorite pool in that part of the creek. I discovered the top half of the pool to be filled in with washed-out sediment from big rains in March and much of the fish holding structure had been lost. But halfway down a good log jam had setup on the far side and the high flows had carved out four feet of holding depth below it.
With a single-hand Perry Poke I cast my fly down and across into the jam, gave it a quick strip then a downstream mend to help turn the fly broadside in the dead slow current. I strip/swung the fly across the pool and just as the fly was turning into the “hang-down” a heavy fish struck the fly. I laid the rod to the side, the fish bucked, and my three-weight bent to the cork. I could have been on the Olympic Peninsula, in Skagit or Skeena country, or in Bristol Bay. The feeling was that same old one—like a junky who hits a new vein. The fish fought hard, testing my skills and making me thankful for the strength of my eight-pound test OPST Mega Strong Fluorocarbon tippet. After a five-minute battle wherein I nearly twice lost fish to strong rushes at the log jam, I leader-ed the thing—a four and a half pound, fat-bellied hybrid striper.
Hybrid Stripers are a hard-fight surprise for creek anglers in Texas.
Photo by Richard C. Armstrong III
It’s been nearly two years since I left the Seattle area, nearly five since I last swung a fly for steelhead, and yet with my move to Texas I’ve found myself surprised by a renewed interest in fly fishing and Skagit casting in particular. I suppose there’s a lesson here, something like the things you love will come back to you in unexpected ways. I don’t know if I believe that—probably too much cheese for my stomach to handle—but there is one thing I do know: Talk about the tug is drug. In Texas, hey, they got that tug is the drug stuff, too.