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Category Archives: Temple Fork

Deep in the Heart of Texas: A Devil of a Fishing Trip

Legendary country crooner Charlie Daniels once spun the musical tale of a how the devil went down to Georgia looking for a soul to steal.

By song’s end, a passion-filled Peach State lad had turned the tables on Lucifer, dusting off the fiddle-playing demon with some sizzling music of his own.

Flip Pallot, the former host of ESPN’s long-running ‘Walker’s Cay Chronicles’ television show and the current host of The Outdoor Channel’s “Ford’s Fishing Frontiers” show, found a similar tale of redemption on a visit to Texas a few years ago.

Except this time salvation came via a fly rod instead of a fiddle.

That’s because Rick Pope, founder and president of the Dallas-based Temple Fork Outfitters Fly Rod company, shared with Pallot his discovery of a devil of a river deep in the heart of Texas.

A chilly stream in a wickedly harsh environment that is home to some heavenly smallmouth bass fishing.

Wicked little fighters at the end of a fly rod, smallmouth bass are making themselves at home deep in the heart of Texas down on the Devil’s River. USF&WS/Eric Engbretson photo

By trip’s end Pope and Pallot had hooked and landed nearly 75 bronzeback bass from the Devils River including a devilish smallmouth that came unbuttoned in the end.

“The best fish, which could have been my best ever (at the time) at about five pounds, I lost, right at the camera,” said Pope. “It’s not uncommon to catch five-pound smallmouth there.”

Since Pope has fly fished on some of the nation’s best smallmouth waters from the Pennobscot River in Maine to the John Day River in Oregon, that’s saying something.

What’s really saying something, however, is the simple fact that the chance to hook a smallmouth bass – typically regarded as a northern fish – even exists in the high desert plateau stream deep in the heart of Texas.

In fact, the scenic stream is so wild and wooly that it is difficult to access and fish as it transforms itself from flat currents to near Class III rapids falling through limestone walled canyons on its journey south towards Lake Amistad on the Rio Grande River.

“It pops up out of the ground about 40 miles north of Lake Amistad near Del Rio,” said Pope. “As I understand it, the smallmouths were stocked in Lake Amistad when it was built back in the 1960s. They love the river (since) it’s very cold.”

Cold due to the springs that well up and feed the stream on its journey southward through the Lone Star State, the surrounding desert landscape is filled with a variety of wildlife including whitetail deer, Rio Grande turkeys, and, of course, the western diamondback rattlesnake.

While fishing along a 15-mile long stretch of river frontage on the Nature Conservancy’s 88,000-acre Nix Ranch, Pope and Pallot tested out several nine-foot long four, five, and six-weight Temple Fork fly rods.

Coupled with floating lines and nine-foot long 1X leaders, there were ample hook-ups on Clouser minnows and a Pallot-tied variation of the Clouser, the “Bushwood” fly.

“It’s named after the name of the country club in ‘Caddyshack,’” Pope laughed. “The brown version of the “Bushwood” looks like the little brown gopher in ‘Caddyshack.’”

While smallmouth bass are famous for their explosive takes elsewhere, Pope and Pallot found most of their Devils River smallmouths lurking in the cracks and crevasses of the river’s limestone bottom.

“Most of the fish were caught sweeping a Clouser at or near the bottom down into these finger seams and cuts and rivulets (deeper) in the water,” said Pope. “It was a lot more like trout fishing, which has not really been the case in my previous smallmouth trips.”

What was similar to the fly rod manufacturer’s previous smallmouth bass fishing experiences was the ferocious struggle that bronzebacks put up when hooked.

“Size (for) size, a smallmouth will drag a largemouth all over creation,” said Pope. “It’s about as neat and tough a fly rod fish as there is.”

“If I could only pick one fly rod fish to fish for ever, that would be a serious candidate.”

Why such a selection by a fly rod manufacturer who has fished all over the globe?

Simple – look at the best qualities found in many other game fish and they all seem to find a home in the smallmouth bass.

“They have the stamina of a steelhead with the take of a northern pike or a largemouth bass,” said Pope. “They have both ends of the spectrum very well covered.”

“For all around performance and fight, they’re among the very best I’ve ever fished for,” he added. “They’re neat little guys.”

Actually, they’re neat little devils, especially deep in the heart of Texas.

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Texoma Striper Blues…

Lake Texoma is experiencing low water levels not seen since Jimmy Carter was in the White House.

October is normally a great month in these parts.

The first flashes of color on the Creator’s canvas.

Cool nights, mild days.

Waterfowl, shorebirds, and Monarch butterflies migrating south through North Texas.

And some great fly fishing action for Texoma striped bass.

But this year isn’t normal, far from it in fact.

Why? Newsflash: Texas is experiencing a major drought.

If you didn’t know that already, the current dry spell is the worst since the mid-1950s.

And that was a Lulu.

So is the current dust bowl, leaving the Lone Star State parched, burning, and left for dead.

Speaking of left for dead, that’s the status of the home water these days, the used-to-be 89,000-acre Lake Texoma, now at its lowest level since Carter was prez.

609.95 is the current level, 617.00 is the normal level.

Throw in a blue-green algae outbreak over the past month (Note: fishing and boating are still open but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is prohibiting contact with the water) and I’ve got a serious case of the blues.

Of the want to go kayaking and fly fishing blues.

But that ain’t going to happen anytime soon.

The latest tests from Uncle Sam say that the algae levels remain at warning levels. More cooler weather and rain – something that isn’t in the forecast – are needed to reduce the algae bloom and bring the toxin levels back to safe levels.

That all but puts off any kayak fishing plans I might have.

Now if you have a boat, all is good on Texoma. (Full disclosure: I don’t have a boat though I am always in the market for one. The wife and yours truly are negotiating a boat deal as we speak. No final deal as of yet, but we’re making progress since we’re only about $40,000 apart!).

Aside from the difficulty of launching a rig at some boat ramps, for those fortunate souls who do get on the water, Texoma is the big empty these days, all but devoid of any traffic these days.

And the stripers are still there by the gazillions. While it is commonly known that Texoma is perhaps the nation’s best sweetwater spot for catching a linesider, the current fishing is nearly epic.

Seriously.

In fact, one local guide complained on the Texas Fishing Forum a day or two ago about having a “sore arm” from catching dozens of striped bass at Texoma. Another boasted of an 82-fish day this week.

And their reports are the norm right now for those who can get on the water.

Amazingly enough, despite a horrid summer of triple digit heat and dry weather that produced lake temps in the mid-90s late this summer, Texoma’s famous striped bass population is in robust shape.

They have been chowing on shad all year-long and are fat, happy, and tough to land. Especially on an eight-weight Temple Fork fly rod.

Maybe one day I’ll remember what that feels like, a striper trying to expose the backing on my Orvis fly reel.

In the meantime, I try in vain to shake a serious case of the Texoma striper blues.

Algae, drought, and otherwise.

 

Essay: Chrome, Plastic and the Big Empty

When the alarm clock rudely lives up to its name, I can think of ample reason to groan, roll over, and drift back into dreamland. 

Not the least of which is the prospect of spending a goodly portion of my day perched upon – or cramped upon as my aching back is bound to proclaim – a 12-foot piece of rotomolded plastic being tossed about on a wind-swept inland sea in North Texas known as Lake Texoma. 

Ignoring an assortment of bodily protests, I will myself out of bed and move towards the day’s objective: the catching of sweetwater chrome, striped bass on the fly.  

Chrome, both from a Chrome Clouser fly and a kayak caught striped bass, both have a way of restoring the angler's soul.

 

If pursuing a pelagic fish species by way of a sit-on-top sea kayak and a fly rod seems a bit unconventional, I suppose it is. 

But then again, when it comes to outdoor pursuits, I’ve rarely been called conventional. 

The challenge is the thing, the central aspect that brings to me the allure of fly fishing, bowhunting, and kayak fishing. In short, the more difficult the outdoor pursuit is, the more sweet the rare reward when it comes. 

Today, however, what I am seeking isn’t just the chance to hear my Orvis fly reel sing as a well-shouldered striper peels line out into the deep. 

Thanks to the uncertainty of these times and a run of misfortune, I’m hoping to lose myself – figuratively, not literally – upon the “Big Empty” expanse of the 89,000-acre reservoir that separates Oklahoma from Texas just miles from my back door. 

A day of little if any problem solving, a dearth of contemplative thinking, and a minimal amount of cerebral energy spent is the goal. 

Instead, what I come to the lake actively seeking is a day in which to lose myself in the grand wash of physical senses as I see what the Creator’s daily canvas has to offer in the way of restoring my soul. 

And of course, to catch a striped bass or two in the process. 

If there is a fish made for the fly-rodder’s non-trout game, then it must be the striped bass, a sleek and muscular predator that prowls relentlessly in pursuit of its next meal. 

On Lake Texoma, that is shad, either threadfins or the larger gizzards, whichever species happens to be the most handy to these rockbass at the time. 

Like my guide pal Steve Hollensed says, “On Texoma, it’s always a shad, shad story.” 

While reservoir stripers in the southern Great Plains may in fact be distant cousins of their wild northeastern kin, the linesiders in my home water have made themselves quite comfortable in these local environs that mimic the current filled, wind tossed, and rocky waters of New England brine.     

With similar internal metabolic engines that rarely stop churning, the book on Texoma striper fishing success has routinely been to chase them over the vast acreage with a big boat powered by a large engine consuming many gallons of petrol. And when the on-board electronics show stripers below, toss over a live shad speared on a 2/0 hook and hang on. 

My 2/0 Chrome Clouser (a silvery Krystal Flash filled version of Bob Clouser’s original fly, tied up this way by a Texas Hill Country fly-rodder named Casey Smartt) will have to do. 

And so it does as I trail the fly behind my Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 and bear down on the paddle for a distant point. 

As sudden as a Texas spring storm, a linesider is on. 

Brought quickly to the boat, or my flimsy excuse for one, I unbutton this unexpected fish and admire its sleek form and simple chrome beauty as the warm springtime rays of early morning sun sparkle. 

I then release it to delight another angler on another day. 

Or terrorize a school of shad, whichever comes first. 

As I float bobber like in 60 feet of water, I come to realize that there is a minor point lying immediately in front of me, a blip in the lake’s bottom contour that I was about to speed by, admittedly a relative concept in any craft powered by muscle alone. 

So while a known commodity of past angling success lurks in the distance, I decide to turn my exploratory instincts loose and to see what this nearby structure might hold. 

It holds plenty of striped bass and white bass it turns out, both species reacting to the underwater topography that is allowing a southerly breeze to push the phytoplankton/shad/striped bass food chain into motion. 

Soon, I’m attached to another striper, a lean and mean 20-incher that puts a serious bend in my Temple Fork eight-weight fly rod. Brought to the boat and released, another linesider, and then another, and then another are all caught by the metallic looking creation tied at the end of my 15-lb. leader. 

In the process – and without realizing it –  the frantic pace that I hit the water with earlier is down-shifting into a lower gear as I adjust to the rhythm of the wind, the waves, and the fish. I do my best to intersect with that rhythm by the methodical casting of my fly line. 

After a period of steady action, I commit an angler’s unpardonable sin – leaving fish that are willfully biting – to continue my quest elsewhere. 

After a fairly short paddle, I reach a cove that looks deliciously inviting to the unrepentant black bass fisherman’s soul that lies within me…largemouths, smallmouths, and spotted bass beware.  

Problem is, as tempting as the cove is, I can’t find a single piscatorial critter at home among the rocks, the ledges, and the stick-ups. 

So I move on, pausing at another minor point jutting out from the rocky shoreline. 

This point, however, is a bit more shielded from the wind and as a result, I can only find a couple of stripers intent on the Morone saxatilis version of a “Happy Meal.” 

After another session of pulling hard on the paddle, I arrive at my intended destination. By now, however, I’m nearly a couple of hours into my day and it remains to be seen if the fish I expected to find are actually there or not. 

On Texoma, active schools of striped bass can cover a dozen or more miles a day in their never-ending quest for protein-rich sustenance. 

I’m banking on the fact that not all game fish in this vast reservoir possess such a nomadic spirit. 

Some stripers, according to my guide buddy Mark MacNamara, find “shad-trap” structure to their liking and more or less set up shop, at least as much as a wild striped bass is prone to do. 

A couple of casts across this point yield nothing and I begin to fret. 

But then the Rio sinking line is greeted by a sharp jolt and a strip-set strike later I am fast to the best fish of the day. 

Like his earlier pals – or is it her pals? –  this fish reacts to the sting of the hook with an initial bull-dogging run. 

But unlike the previous fish, this fish has plenty of muscle and continues to sound for the deepest contours of the lake bed below me. I grunt, lean hard into the fish, and allow it to get onto the reel where the see-saw battle slowly turns towards my favor. 

Finally, I catch a glimpse of the fish and its 24-inch frame in the water, H2O that has been made disturbingly clearer in recent months after the undesired arrival of aquatic filtering zebra mussels. 

But any concerns about the long-term effects of these invasive exotics on Texoma’s sizable and shad-driven striped bass population are momentary at best as I finally bring the quarry to hand. 

As I hoist this fine fish up for a photo and an admiring glance, a smile creases my face. 

A smile made possible by the gleam of chrome, a piece of space-age plastic, and the big emptiness of my home water. 

Back in its liquid home and revived, the fish turns and swims for the depths of the point below. 

Meanwhile, I pause and instinctively check my fly and leader…and unknowingly smile once again. 

And not because of the epic day of fly rod action that will continue to unfold around me over the next several hours. 

Instead, that outward sign of inward peace arrives on my face thanks to the realized and simple joy of being alive and blessed by God with another day upon this spinning rock. 

As that fills my soul, I gather the fly line into my hand. 

And I cast again.

 

Beginnings – Part 1, Equipment

After reading a query on how to properly gear up for fly fishing this week on Texas Fishing Forum.com, the thought occurred that a blog post like this one was in order.

If getting involved in this great pastime has ever intrigued you, then please note that getting off to a solid start in fly fishing begins with good equipment.

In this particular endeavor, that means a serviceable fly rod; a fly reel loaded up with a matching fly line and backing; leaders (monofilament line attached to the business end of a fly line), tippet material (extra monofilament line), and of course, flies to cast to the fish that you want to pursue. 

A properly balanced fly rod, fly reel, and fly line can be a joy to cast and fish with.

Today, very good quality fly rods and reels can be purchased for reasonable prices from such manufacturers as Temple Fork, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Echo, Gander Mountain, Redington, Ross, Orvis, Sage, Scott, and St. Croix among others. 

For the record, my own personal favorites are the Orvis Helios fly rod line – if money is no object – and the Temple Fork TiCr-X fly rod line if you are on a more modest budget like I am. 

Because fly fishing is an angling sport where the weight of the line actually casts the fly rather than vice versa, purchasing a fly rod, a fly reel, and a fly line that matches up and is appropriate for the type of fish you will pursue is important.

In other words, you don’t want to buy a tarpon rod to catch bluegills with.

Nor do you want to buy a bluegill fly rod equipped with a tarpon sized reel and fly line.

For most trout, river smallmouth bass, and lake or farm-pond panfish, I’d suggest that you start off with a four, five, or six-weight fly rod.

For largemouth bass, most striped bass, and most redfish, I’d suggest an eight-weight fly rod, although a seven-weight can work for smaller fish of these species.

For bigger saltwater species like the bull redfish that cruise inshore flats along the central Gulf Coast, double-digit stripers in the Northeast, or tarpon in the Florida Keys, a big fly rod ranging from a nine-weight to a 12-weight will often be necessary depending on the place and the species.

As for reels, the truth is that most fly reels that are designed for trout fishing or bass fishing are simply there to hold the fly line, not to fight the fish.

While I generally recommend buying as much quality as your budget will allow, less expensive fly reels can work for trout and bass anglers.

But when it comes to hard-hitting, hard charging freshwater or saltwater species, a high quality reel with a superb drag system and plenty of backing is sometimes a bit more of a necessity than it is a luxury.

So, does all of this seem as clear as mud?

Unless you’ve hung around a fly shop or two in your time, probably so.

So perhaps the best advice I can give concerning fly rods and reels — not to mention fly lines, leaders, and flies — is to do just that.

Visit with the fly fishing experts at a local fly shop, that is.

They can help you assemble a well-balanced outfit to make your start in fly fishing a fun and successful one.

And if that occurs, the odds are it will also be the start of something you’ll enjoy for the rest of your angling life.