shoal creek

Bull cichlid out of Shoal Creek

Five Days of Austin Fishing Redux

I think I’ve finally glutted my appetite for spring fishing. At least I’ve slightly dulled the hunger. This Friday marked the second week of continuous after-work fishing.

I tried covering new ground from last week, although I was limited by fishing holes that were more or less on my bike ride home.

Lying very much directly on my ride home is Blunn Creek, the drainage that runs through Big and Little Stacy Parks in the Travis Heights neighborhood. I’d never attempted to fish there before, and I can tell you that the best fishing always has an element of exploring.

Blunn creek pool

Blunn creek pool

But I was surprised to find that the creek appears to be entirely devoid of fauna for most of its length. I’d never seen that before. Even a shallow and seasonal pool would have a fair number of minnows, or at least whirligigs and tadpoles. But there was nothing, a certainly not fishable-sized targets. There was just a thick and sickly mat of algae.

I had to go almost all the way down to lake level before I found a pool filled with fish. But once I did, they displayed a challenging wariness that was extremely satisfying to overcome. I had to back up to the point were I was out of their line of sight, and then pitch the fly down a narrow lane of tangling bushes.

Warmouth at Blunn Creek

Warmouth at Blunn Creek

But once I found the pattern, the warmouth eagerly took the hand-tied prince nymph and hare’s ear flies that I stripped centimeter-by-centimeter through their little pool.

Have I mentioned yet that I’ve been tying my own flies? More on that later I suppose.

The best fishing of the week came at the same pool where last year I had caught a snake (or to be more precise, a snake attempted to catch the fish that I had already caught). The pool lies not far from the flagship Whole Foods, sandwiched between luxury condos. On my back cast the fly sometimes smacked against the windows of people no doubt far more important than me.

Even though there are warmouths as well as cichlids in these pools, they didn’t take the foam spiders I teased across the surface. I had to once again stand over the fish horizon and toss in the sinking nymphs. But that unlocked the best cichlid fishing I’ve ever encountered.

Bull cichlid out of Shoal Creek

Bull cichlid out of Shoal Creek

On every cast I dragged in a fish. I could see the Rio Grande cichlids dart out of hiding and chew on the flies with the edges of their toothy lips. From the perspective of the angler it’s a very distinctive hit. If you’re lucky, and the line is taut, you can see the leader floating on the surface make a quick vibration like a strummed guitar string.

The Rio Grande cichlids are probably the most beautiful fish you can catch in Texas. When you see them in the water, the smaller juveniles look like they have white heads and three vertical stripes between the dorsal fins and the tails. But when you get them up close you can hardly see those verticle bands. That macro-coloring melts away into beautiful peacock spotting.

Some other notable catches at that pool included the first Mexican tetra of the season, and a medium-sized warmouth that fought with such strength that I had to play out some line. Playing a fish is not something you expect to do when you’re in a creek narrow enough that you can touch the far bank with the tip of your rod.

Mexican Tetra from Shoal Creek

Mexican Tetra from Shoal Creek

I also returned to Waller Creek last week. In the North Campus area there’s a stretch of creek that has a stinky and gray sewage leak in one direction:
Sewage leak in Waller Creek

Sewage leak in Waller Creek

And a pristine pool that’s a play area for neighborhood children just a hundred feet upstream:
Waller Creek and child's bucket

Waller Creek and child's bucket

This was a very shallow pool, but it was deep enough to catch a hand-sized pumpkinseed in its full breeding coloration. Or at least what I’d been calling a pumpkinseed. The a visit to the freshwater fish identification page at Texas State completely failed to mention pumpkinseeds or clear up my confusion. But these sunfish are frequently hybrids, so I’m not being a stickler about taxonomy. The important thing is that the fish fought like a fist-sized hellion, and he’s probably still there for any brave souls who want to catch it on their line.

Pumpkinseed sunfish from Waller Creek

Pumpkinseed sunfish from Waller Creek

On Thursday, Third Degree and I met to re-enact one of our first and greatest urban assault fishing outings.

The Waller Creek riverwalk, Austin’s lame alternative to the San Antonio Riverwalk, is a great avenue for fishing. The best places to drop a fly were the heads of pools where schools of warmouth cluster around the inlets waiting for bits of Doritos to wash down to them. I was able to stand just a little over their horizon and toss a nymph down to them and enjoy the sight of dozens of fish rushing to take the bait. At least until they got spooked.

Let’s take just a moment here to enjoy the picture of a man with three hundred dollars worth of fly rod holding a three-inch sunfish:

Third Degree catches a warmouth in Waller

Third Degree catches a warmouth in Waller

And I’m sure it’s worth every penny.

Friday was the shortest fishing trip of the week, but it had it’s moments. While I was stringing up my line before jumping down into Shoal creek, a couple of college kids on bikes came up to me, and I was just about to break out the standard nondescript answers to civilian questions, “a few fish” and “no, I don’t eat them,” when I realized that they were there fishing too. I gave them some advice, but stopped short of telling them about my favorite fishing spot that I was headed to later, the spot that Third Degree and I have taken to calling “The Cichlid Hole.”

Sunset at The Cichlid Hole was a quiet and pleasant moment. The surface of the pool was littered with red blossoms. At first I thought they were lost fishing bobbers and I was a little angry at the thought that somebody else had the nerve to fish there, but they were simply nature’s way of decorating the end of an already beautiful week.
Bridge by secret cichlid hole

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