Chasing Texas Rainbows

The tailwater below Canyon Dam on the Guadalupe River at New Braunfels is a Lone Star pot of gold for fly casters.

On The Fly Freshwater

February 2023

Article and photos by Jimmy Jacobs

Surprisingly, rainbow trout fishing in Texas is not that uncommon. During the winter months the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department stocks those fish in a great many park ponds and stretches of streams. Those are strictly put-and-take operations on a very limited basis.

There is one fishery, however,  that stands out. The water coming off the bottom of Canyon Lake on the Guadalupe River, roughly 45 miles north of San Antonio hosts a much larger trout fishery.

Map courtesy of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

What is particularly surprising about this trout action is it sits just south of the 30th parallel of latitude. For reference sake that is a tad closer to the equator than Jacksonville, Florida and hardly a spot you would call trout country.

Yet, from December to March each year the river provides some interesting fishing for stocked rainbow and brown trout. Over the winter of 2022-23 the TPWD released a total of 20,528 trout in the 24-mile tailwater from Canyon Lake down to the Camp Hauco Springs, just north of the city of New Braunfels. The releases took place at Guadalupe Park at the foot of the dam and at Camp Huaco Springs, as well as at the second, third and fourth bridge crossings on River Road north of New Braunfels.

A Guadalupe stocked rainbow.

Released trout range in size from 8 inches up to 27 inches, plus there is some holdove fish in the river that gain some size as well.

One of the best options for accessing the action on the Guadalupe tailwater is float fishing. That’s because the majority of the land along the river is private, thus requiring permission of the owner to access the water. Some of the campgrounds along the stretch offer access for a daily fee for shore fishing or wading.

On the other hand, there are two free public accesses. At Camp Huaco Springs, public access is allowed from early December to early March. Anglers can fish from the shore or launch non-motorized watercraft from 30 minutes before daylight until 30 minutes after dusk.

On The Fly South’s Polly Dean preparing to head down the Guadalupe River Access Trail to the water.

The other, and best, access is at Guadalupe Park at the foot of Canyon Lake Dam. For the first 800 yards downstream of the dam, general Texas trout regulations apply, which means anglers can harvest five fish per day using any type bait. The Guadalupe River Access Trail provides a foot path along the south shore for that entire stretch. During periods of low water release from the dam, virtually all of the river is wadable or within easy casting range of the shore. Low water releases ordinarily amount to 55 to 95 cubic feet per second.

On the Guadalupe at the foot of Canyon Lake Dam.

From the end of the trail on down to the most easterly bridge over the river on Texas State Route 306, only artificial lures may be used and a 12- to 18-inch slot limit applies for harvesting brown and rainbow trout. Angler may keep a total of five trout per day of less than 12 inches, but the total may include one fish of more than 18 inches. All trout in the slot limit must be immediately released. The water deepens where this section begins on the river, making it more accessible via float fishing.

Targeting the area near the end of the Guadalupe River Access Trail.

From the TX 306 bridge on downstream to the second bridge on River Road north of New Braunfel, the artificial-lure-only rule still applies, but the bag limit changes to one fish per day that must be at least 18 inches in length. Below that bridge the general state regulations again apply.

It is worth noting that through April of 2023 ongoing work on the flood gates at Canyon Lake Dam will necessitate some periods of up to 10 hours when no water will be released downstream. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to increase the amount released during the following 14-hour periods.

For winter fly-casting in the tailwater, most of the action will be sub-surface. Some of the patterns local anglers turn to are Wooly Buggers, Pheasant Tails, San Juan Worms or Micro Eggs. If you do see some surface feeding, the first flies to try are Blue-Winged Olives or Midge patterns.

This Guadalupe rainbow hit a Wooly Bugger.

As always when venturing onto new water, spending a day with a guide can increase your learning curve before tackling the stream on your own. One good option for this is contacting Action Angler & Outdoor Center. Located on River Road, it is the only stream-side fly shop in the Lone Star State.  

Owner Chris Jackson and his guides can provide float trips on the tailwater. The shop also offers stream access, dawn-to-dusk access at the shop from November to May for a small fee.

When you are in the area, trying your hand for some trout in the nation’s southern most cold-water fishery can add a new dimension to a Lone Star visit.

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