Albino bluegill on beadhead prince nymph

Fishing Bull Creek

Most people know Bull Creek as the Austin park that’s constantly getting closed to swimming because of dangerous levels of fecal bacteria. But for those of us with fly rods and a penchant for urban assault fishing, it’s a collection of unsuspecting perch and largies.
Bluegill at Bull Creek
Third Degree and I hiked into the creek’s green space from the parking lot and the hordes of dogs and children. The first deep pool that was reasonably free of swimmers could only be accessed from the top of a ten-foot limestone cliff. That made fly casting an interesting challenge. The trees behind us made back-casting impossible, so it was purely a roll-casting game.

The water in the pool was reasonably clear, so we could see small bass and sunfish patrolling back and forth and rising to swallow our prince nymphs. It wasn’t until after I had caught a dozen little sunfish of various species that I noticed Third Degree was perched on a thin shelf of rock that protruded a couple of meters over the water. But it didn’t break under his weight, so I call that a victory.

Cliff fishing at Bull Creek

Cliff fishing at Bull Creek

We also moved upstream and prospected several pools surrounded by thickets of poison ivy. The green sunfish in particular were voracious there, taking my glow in the dark San Juan gummy worm on every cast. There was even a baby largemouth who took a black woolly bugger that was barely smaller than itself. You have to respect that sort of ambition.

eating bluegills from Lady Bird Lake

Eating Perch from Lady Bird Lake

bluegill on Lady Bird Lake near Holly St Power plant
I caught a decent sized bluegill on Lady Bird Lake recently, pictured here against the backdrop of the Holly Street power plant. I caught it about an hour or two before sunset, coaxing it into rising to a hand-tied foam spider.

That success led me to promise a friend that the next time we met, I would catch fish for our dinner. Now the great thing about this friend (the Peter Gabriel of previous posts) is that he’s willing to pick fish straight off the bone, head and all, and he doesn’t complain about the size. So yesterday I took my selection of hand-tied flies and went about the grim business of catching fish not for the sport but for the meat.

The bluegills weren’t as enthusiastic about the top water flies on Monday. Maybe it’s because I was using patterns that were too experimental, or maybe there was too much of a wind so they couldn’t cue in on the ripples as well, or maybe the cold front put them off. Whatever the reason, I eventually switched to sinking flies and did much better. In particular, the glow in the dark gummy San Juan worms got a solid hit on every cast. The fish actually chewed the worms apart. If I had more time to dial in the pattern and had more flies on hand, I could have caught a bigger meal, but I was able to bring in four fish with enough flesh on their bones to make the time spent scaling and gutting them worthwhile.

eating bluegills from Lady Bird Lake
I’m not going to include a sense of scale to the frying pan photo because I don’t want you to think worse of me for being a baby killer.

We fried up the Texas perch with salt and cornmeal, taking them out of the pan when they were on the edge of falling apart into meat flakes and ribs. Bulked up as they were with the cornmeal, they provided as much food as you might reasonably expect for the entrees for two people. The taste was even more fishy than I remember it, but tasty all the same. My friend agreed that they were delicious.

Then when I came in that evening, I found this pamphlet in my mailbox:
Lady Bird Lake toxin advisory
What are the odds that on the very day that I ate a couple of bluegills that the city watershed department would send me a picture of a bluegill on a plate with arrows pointing to it with deliberately unappetizing captions? I mean, it’s not even a prestige fish. Hardly anyone bothers to eat them. And Lady Bird Lake has about six different varieties of sunfish, several of which are typically larger than bluegills (and several of the other species are prettier too).

I bet some contract graphic designer chose a bluegill image for the pamphlet just because it was the fish that fit the plate graphic the best.


Fly Fishing the Mueller Development

Whenever I think of the Mueller development, I think of the quote from Misprint Zine which called it (and this is only a minor paraphrase): “A grotesque Truman Show social experiment.”

For people who don’t live in the Austin area, the Mueller development is the new housing subdivision built on the land of the old airport. The Mueller Airport was located conveniently close to downtown, which meant that planes were buzzing the ultra-gentrified Hyde Park neighborhood. So they moved the airport south of town so the planes would have to fly over the poor neighborhoods on the south and east sides. Subsequently, Austin found itself with a lot of undeveloped land conveniently close to downtown, so we held committees and public meetings and focus groups and ended up with a neighborhood that looks like a movie set, and not in a good way.

A feature of this new development is the standard hyper-engineered rainwater management system. Since we’re talking about an airport-sized run-off funnel here, they had to make a settling pond with a great deal of volume as the first stage. And according to the educational placards on the bike trail, this settling pond is stocked with bluegills and yellow perch.

In other words, a perfect target for the urban assault fishing of Austin fishing team!

I don’t know about the yellow perch, but there were definitely plenty of bluegills. Third Degree was cleaning them up with his usual bead head prince nymph setup. He would toss the line in, give it a count of three, and already there would be a fish on the end.

Third Degree and his panfish at Austin's Mueller

Third Degree and his panfish at Austin's Mueller

This was The Big C’s first outing with a fly rod and he took to it quickly. There was a bit more wind than we would have liked, but the settling pond is effectively at the bottom of a big pit, so the wind wasn’t too bad.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first fish that Big C caught. Third Degree and I had focused so hard on teaching Big C how to cast, that we forgot to tell him how to pull in a fish. The process is a bit different on a fly rod. There was some fumbling and confusion, but he got it in the end.

I myself had some good luck on my standard foam spider. There’s just something about watching a sunfish break the surface that’s far more satisfying that waiting for that tiny twitch of the line from a sunken nymph. After I lost all my spiders on back casts (there’s a lot of shrubbery and scrub around there) I switched to hoppers and did pretty well with them too.

I don’t think we caught anything even hand-length, but the fish were hungry enough that it was a fun outing. I talked to a guy with the standard rubber-worm Texas rig who was also there, and he said that he was angling for bass. It wasn’t clear if he’d actually caught any. But he did say that in one of the pre-settling pools (there’s a couple of cute little waterfalls in this pond) he caught some fish that seemed to match the description of bullheads.

I should point out that this wasn’t the main pond of the Mueller development, the one with the faux-Greek promenade. We actually finished up the day there, completely failing to catch anything of note. By really working at it, I was able to catch a couple of bluegills about the size of my index finger. Not sure why the public pond, which is much older than the settling pond would have such poor fishing comparably.

But the Fishing Team consensus is that in a couple of years there will be some hefty bluegills at the little pond. Plans are to make minor day trips out there from time to time.

Shoal Creek Fly Fishing Austin | 3rd St.

Adventures Fly Fishing Austin’s Shoal Creek

When I first came up with the idea of fishing Shoal Creek it was a bit of a joke. After all, most of the year there is either no flowing water, or little more than a trickle. It is a series of puddles, studded by drainage culverts and shadowed by luxury condominium high-rises.

But as it turns out, it has some of the best catch and release fly fishing that Fishing Team has encountered.

We started out at the lower end of the creek. There’s a an old concrete stairway leading down from the hike and bike trail. The bank is steep and unkempt. Hobo camps hide along the brush.

The creek is deep here, practically a spur of the lake. But the water is fairly stagnant. We have to drop our flies into a few clear patches in the film of algae.

The old standby of prince nymphs produces a healthy crop of sunfish and several largemouth bass, baby bass but bass just the same.

Shoal Creek Fly Fishing Austin | North of Cesar Chavez

Third Degree sets the hook and yanks this little beauty right out of the water.

Third Degree and I move further up Shoal Creek, beating through the brush. There’s a miniature waterfall dropping through flood-carved limestone. We pass beneath an old train trestle and a pedestrian bridge leading to the Austin Music Hall.

At street level is some of the hippest and highest-rent property in town. Lance Armstrong’s bike shop and La Zona Rosa. But down in the creek there’s snapping turtles the size of car tires and healthy tomato plants growing from bum feces.

There’s some deep pools here. Well, probably no more than three feet deep and maybe seven feet wide, but the pools are long and they have schools of fish that dart for cover at our approach, but still come out for a taste of prince nymph and hare’s ear.

Shoal Creek Fly Fishing Austin | Warmouth

I catch one of the biggest fish of the day. A lumpy old warmouth.

We were fishing on the giant limestone blocks that lined Shoal Creek to keep the flash floods from washing the condos away when we had the most exciting event of the day.

I had seen a snake swimming around the pool. It was a regular old brown water snake, a member of any one of a half-dozen Texas snake species. I hadn’t thought much of it, after all, I stood safely on that block of limestone, and unless the snake could jump there was nothing I had to worry about.

I caught a little sunfish, and that’s when I was shocked by just how fast that snake could move through the water. Before I could blink, I had two animals on the end of my line. The snake bit onto the fish and did it’s level best to swim off with it. The entire incident lasted so long that we had enough time for Third Degree to come and take my rod while I took some video.

The snake incident was so exciting that we took a short break from fishing, and got ourselves food and drinks at the Whole Foods flagship store. That’s one of the advantages of urban assault fishing: the close proximity of snacks.

We found several more productive pools. Third Degree had some good luck with the cichlids. In the deeper pools it seems vital to present them with the bead-head flies. I think it’s because the cichlid sticks close to the bottom, sometimes only picking up food that hits the ground. They also don’t run with the hook, so you have to be extra wary of the subtle tugs at the end of the line, and Third Degree happens to be pretty good at setting the hook when a cichlid has the end of the line.
Shoal Creek Fly Fishing Austin | Cichlid

The other big excitement is the first Mexican tetra I ever caught. I’ve read about these, but I had never seen them in the wild. They’re an exotic import that you may know from aquarium shops. I used to own a subspecies of the Mexican tetra, the blind cave tetra. These however were sighted tetras, and the one I caught struck a bead-head copper john beneath the Sixth Street bridge.

Shoal Creek Fly Fishing Austin | Mexican tetra

My first Mexican tetra

This little guy happens to be a miniature relative of the piranha. You can even see it’s cute little teeth.
Shoal Creek Fly Fishing Austin | Mexican tetra