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urban assault fishing

Albino bluegill on beadhead prince nymph
Fishing

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.

Fishing

Behind a Big Box Store

big box with line
The fishing team got a hot tip that if one were to go to the hinterlands of Austin, to the sprawling suburbs, that behind a certain big box store there was a rainwater runoff settling pond, and that within that pond were some of the most voracious bass in town.

So of course we all got together and put our fly rods together, and piled into the Big C’s Kia for the long expedition.

You might notice that this post does not have any pictures of fish in it.

We wet our lines for an hour and a half, even going so far as to explore a nearby creek that had some promising populations of green sunfish in sporadic pools. But then it started to rain and we had to make a mad dash for the Kia’s parking spot, back by the big box store’s loading bays and dumpsters.

A promising but unproductive creek

A promising but unproductive creek


So the moral of the story is that sometimes you can’t believe the stories that other fishermen drop on you.

Bull cichlid out of Shoal Creek
Fishing

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

Fishing

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.
Fishing

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

Fishing

Waller Creek Fishing

Waller Creek fly fishing
It’s a place filled with refuse, both inanimate and otherwise. Back in the 70s, the civic leaders of Austin pushed to make Waller Creek a centerpiece of the city. They built walkways and walls. They compared the project to the riverwalk of San Antonio.

Unfortunately, their civil engineering wasn’t the equal of their civic vision. Unlike the riverwalk of San Antonio, Waller Creek was a living waterway prone to flash floods that tore up architecture and plastered every protrusion with plastic garbage bags and broken tree limbs.

The city is currently digging an overflow tunnel to make these events a thing of the past, but for the time being, Waller Creek is largely unused, despite running through the heart of the “entertainment district.” While we plied the concrete walks during a quick Sunday afternoon fishing trip, Third Degree and I saw plenty of bums and a pair of folks who gave a strong “oldest profession” vibe, but no actual citizens.

The closest we came to crossing paths with a respectable person was when a tourist watched us from an overpass while we fished in Austin’s Symphony Square.

A thin trickle of live water kept the pools of warmouth and green sunfish fresh. Third Degree was pleased to catch his first cichlid on a prince nymph.

I challenge anyone to say this is not an attractive fish.

I caught the largest fish of the day largely by accident. I mis-cast and my wooly bugger plopped just over the edge of the concrete steps that line Waller Creek near Eighth Street, right in view of the cop shop. While I struggled to untangle the mess I made of the line, a giant, squamous-bodied warmouth took the bait and dived into the algae mats.
Warmouth Waller Creek
I challenge anyone to say that is not an ugly fish.

The big surprise came when we explored the fishing options of the Austin Convention Center’s settling pond. This is part of the usual environmentally conscious storm runoff system. You can’t see from the photos, but it’s shaped like the State of Texas.

Bluegill Austin Convention Center settling pond

It also happens to be filled with tiny little bluegills. They must have been jammed into the pond shoulder-to-shoulder. The poor little hungry buggers snapped at anything that fell into the water. The only challenge was choosing flies small enough to fit in their cute little mouths.

 

Give them a few years and we’ll see some decent fishing in there.

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