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.
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.