Austin has many excellent spots for fishing, and fly fishing is no exception. Before we talk about the spots, however, if you’ve never tried fly fishing, you might be wondering why you should try this method in the first place.
With all the tackle options for fishing, why would anyone choose fly fishing over a regular rod-reel setup? Why would someone don waders and actually get in the water they’re fishing from and wander around for hours? Or why, when they could be trolling from a powerful sport-fishing yacht, would someone opt for nothing more than a canoe and lightweight fly rod?
Established fly fishermen might respond with some questions of their own: Why drive an antique Model T over a Porsche? Why would someone prefer tai chi over kung fu? Or why would you hunt with a bow from a tree stand instead of with a modern laser-guided automatic rifle from a helicopter?
“The easiest way to catch fish is with dead bait,” says Shane Townsend, an Austin local and 30-year fly fishing veteran. He’s also contributing editor for Gaff magazine, author of the forthcoming book, Paddling Texas (fall 2014 release), and Senior Program Advisor at The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, so he knows a thing or two about fishing. “You don’t fly fish just to catch fish; you fly fish for the whole experience, to be in nature.”
“Sure, you’re trying to catch fish,” Townsend adds, as he leads me down a trail on Redbud Isle in Austin. “But it’s also about hiking through the woods to a hidden stream, reading the water and the flats. It’s about all the smaller skills involved in the greater practice. You have to be aware of everything around you, the rhythm of your casting, the action of the fly, water texture, wind, tree cover, bank shape, everything.”
Greg Welander, Fly Fishing Manager at [Sportsman’s Finest](sportsmansfinest.com) in Austin – the largest fly shop in Texas – agrees. “It’s about getting in closer and getting in tune,” he says. “A hunter likes to hunt with a rifle or she might like more of a challenge with a bow, and getting closer to your prey. In conventional fishing, you can make many long casts with a heavy pole that’s built to easily winch in your catch. When we cast in fly fishing, we’re targeting closer, and when we hook a fish, the more sensitive pole allows us to feel the fish more. It’s more sporting. And it takes you to beautiful places. You get in water and wade or in watercraft if it’s deeper, and you’re in it, in tune with the environment.”
The Austin area is a great place to get in tune and have a great time fly fishing. “Austin’s one of the best fly fishing areas in the state,” says Welander. “We have great terrain, with rock-base, spring-fed rivers like the Llano, Blanco, Guadalupe. And an hour south, we have the Lower Guadalupe, which is the southernmost trout fishery in North America, a tailwater fishery that comes from the bottom of Canyon Lake . ”
What sort of fish can you catch on fly around Austin? Welander says that most people only think of trout when fly fishing. “But here we also fish native species, like Guadalupe bass and various sunfish. And just a few hours away, we also go for redfish down on the coast, and we can fish 12 months of year for warm-water species.”
With such a variety of potential catches, you’ll want plenty of gear options and advice, and Backwoods and Sportsman’s Finest are the best places in Austin to get it all. In addition to all the gear you could ask for, they also provide training, casting lessons, free fly-tying classes, and they can set you up with fly fishing specialist guides.
More and more people, especially the younger generation, are getting into fly fishing these days, thanks in part to the efforts of various gear manufacturers. Take Patagonia, for example. Patagonia’s founder, Yvonne Chouinard, who has been an avid fly fisherman for many years, and wrote a book about “tenkara,” a centuries-old Japanese fly-fishing technique, which has been overlooked in modern day fly-fishing. Chouinard became interested in the technique after receiving a tenkara fly rod from a friend 25 years ago. Now, the company is about to release a new “Simple Fly Fishing Kit” that’s informed by this technique, specifically intended to attract people who may not have considered fly fishing before.
“The target audience is newcomers to the sport,” says Bart Bonime, director of fishing at Patagonia. Chouinard is confident that this program is the most appropriate gateway of attracting people to the sport. It’s simple, it’s highly effective and the cost of entry is far less than traditional fly fishing techniques.” Additionally, Patagonia is confident that, “If you can get young people excited about the sport they will really cherish the resources that provide the sport.”
Getting into the fly fishing craft, of course, is just like getting into any way of fishing, or any other activity. There’s a learning curve, and it requires an investment. With all its beautiful Hill Country rivers and streams, Austin is certainly a great place to invest in fly fishing. And according to those who are into it already, it’s more than worth it.
“It’s like therapy,” concludes Townsend. “But you can spend thousands on therapy, or a couple hundred on a fly set.”
By the way, here are the details on Patagonia’s new “Simple Fly Fishing Kit:
- Tenkara fly rod, available in 8'6", 10'6" or 11'6" lengths
- Simple Fly Fishing book, by Yvon Chouinard, Craig Mathews & Mauro Mazzo
- Simple Fly Fishing quick set-up guide
- Box of 12 Chouinard-recommended flies (12 count)
- Line & Leader
- Retail price for the entire kit is $259-$279, depending on rod choice.