Friday, July 20, 2012

Saint Mark

Since Kevin Hutchison's fourth edition of the Bud Priddy classic "Fly Fishing the Texas Hill Country" was published, I have been  anxiously looking for an opportunity to fish the San Marcos River. Kevin's obvious affection for this gem of a river ignited the desire to see it for myself.  With my bride out of town for a few days, it seemed the perfect time to make the sojourn.

Full disclosure, I had fished the river once before, from a private ranch that has considerable river frontage. I  only had  a couple of hours to fish, and the section I floated was closer to the river's headwaters. The river here is narrow, deep and fairly fast flowing. Several trees were down completely across the river in that section. This limiting my paddling, so I didn't get to see much of what the river had to offer, except for the huge smallmouth that broke me off in an instant.

Most of our Texas Hill Country rivers have melodic Spanish names, and I was curious how the San Marcos gained its moniker. A little research revealed that the river was named by the Spanish explorer Alonso de Leon  who led an expedition from Mexico to explore Texas and establish missions and presidios in the region. De Leon's party reached the river on April 25, 1689,  the feast day of St. Mark the Evangelist; the river was thus named the San Marcos.

Scientists believe the area around the San Marcos springs to be one of the oldest continually inhabited areas in this hemisphere. Given the constant 70 degree spring water, it's easy to understand why. 

For my first "real" float, I followed Kevin's advice in the book and drove east of the city of  San Marcos to Martindale, and there met the proprietors of  Shady Grove campground. Hard on the bank of the river, this is an aptly named place run by very friendly people.

Yak all prepped for the river at Shady Grove

A $20 bill paid for my shuttle and day entry fee to access the river. I unloaded my kayak in the campground, then followed the shuttle driver to the take out point about 5.5 miles downriver. On the return drive, the  driver gave us the rundown on the known hazards and how to negotiate them. In this section most of the challenges were large downed cypress trees, which were fairly easy to avoid. There were a couple of drops that required a bit of scouting before shooting them, but they were pretty mild.

Early in the float

On of the challenges of the day is that we got a couple inches of rain Saturday evening, and more was predicted for Sunday afternoon. The thought of being caught out on the river in a thunderstorm is unnerving to me, so I constantly checked the skies as I fished. I have an app on my phone that allows me to view weather radar, and I pulled to sand bars several times to make sure no storms would sneak up on me.

Never having floated this section before I was unsure how long it would take me to fish down to the take out. The shuttle driver said it was a pretty solid 3 hour float if you were on the paddles the whole time. I wanted to fish as much as possible and this river is full of fishy looking spots. My float lasted eight hours, with the last hour finding me paddling constantly to outpace the building storms.

I am a self-confessed bass popper junkie, so I spent most of the day tossing three different patterns as tight to the bank and structure as I could. I caught several respectable river largemouths. While they are related to the bass in impoundments, living in moving water makes them lean and they fight much harder. I was thankful for the backbone of my 6wt Ross Flystick when playing these fish.

First bass of the day

One of several that fell for Jim Gray's Llanelope popper...

I also caught several of the largest Red Breast sunfish I have ever seen on bass poppers. I was amazed how strong and aggressive these fish were. They would have been a handful on a light rod. I didn't get any pictures of them as I had to tend to my paddling in that area pretty closely.

Next time I will include a 4wt for fishing the slow backwaters that hold large Rio Grande cichlids I didn't catch any on this trip so I definitely want to target them next time. Here is a pic from a different trip for those who haven't seen these beautiful fish..

I would recommend weed guards on your poppers on this river. They will save you untold numbers of lost flies. 

Typical cover on the San Marcos. Elephant ears seem to be fly magnets

The clouds continued to build, so I thought it best to paddle through to the take out, where I packed up quickly and got on the road. I avoided getting stuck in the storm on the river, but spent the next hour and a half  in lightning and rain so intense that highway traffic crawled at no more than 30 miles per hour.

Heading into the fray...

I definitely plan to go back, this time with an earlier start and a better sense of where to spend my fishing time. And hopefully on s storm free day!

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