Austin Fly Fishers Newsletter April-June 24

Page 1

April - June 2024

Volume 26 Issue 2

Justin Spence with Barracuda in Cayo Largo Photo by Dave Doucett














Membership Gary




President Vice
Pearson Outings
SKIFF Manuel
Webmaster Brandon
contact officers:
Fishing Cayo Largo and My Cuban Experience . . . . . 4 by Nils Pearson Chasing Winter Rainbows . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 by Gary Geddes The “Gabe” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 by Bill Buglehall Fishing Lake Travis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38 by Gary Heintschel In the Beginning, there was Fishing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42 by Austin Orr The Long Road to Mine Redemption . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46 by Keith Mars SKIFF –Soldier’s Kids Involved in Fun Fishing . . . . . 48 by Bob Maindelle Casting for Recovery . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 by Susan Gaetz Club Presenters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .52 Cari Ray, Cassio Silva, and Capt. Chris Conant Treasurer’s Report . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54 by Jim Robinson
Austin Fly Fishers
Photo taken at Compass Cay, Bahamas by Nils Pearson

Fishing Cayo Largo and My Cuban Experience

Upon returning from my fly-fishing trip to Cayo Largo, Cuba, I asked myself, “What makes this place so special that I am willing to go to considerable travel inconvenience and expense to fish in a destination lacking so many basic resources?” To answer this question, I ruminated on my time fishing in Cuba and found myself reflecting on my experiences when traveling to and from fishing this location. The circumstances surrounding this trip and many of the experiences that occurred are etched into my memory.

Proximity to USA and Access to the Caribbean

The Republic of Cuba is only about 100 miles south of Key West and 200 miles from Miami. You would think that given its proximity to Florida, the Cuban coast would not be all that different from the coast of the Sunshine state or other destinations. One big difference is that the southern coast of Cuba sits on the northwestern boundary of the Caribbean Sea. Those clear turquoise waters and white sand beaches that abound in the Bahamas and other Caribbean islands surround this coast. Many of the Cuban coastal regions have reefs that protect the interior shallow water flats allowing the formation of small islands and mangroves swamps -ideal habitat for bonefish, tarpon, snook, and barracuda. The opportunity to sight cast to these fish alone makes the Cuban coast attractive to fly fishermen. Ok, but there are plenty of other destinations in the Caribbean with these features…so what makes Cuba so special?

Fishing Pressure and Habitat Modification

For me, one the biggest reasons to travel to Cuba is that many coastal fishing locations receive no pressure from commercial fishermen, allowing the marine ecosystems to remain undisturbed. A little background information

on the formation of marine sanctuaries is warranted. The current Cuban govern ment was formed after the dictatorship Fulgencio Batista was overthrown in 1959 and a communist government was estab lished under the leadership of Fidel Castro. This Marxist-Leninist social state contin ues to today. What surprised me was that in the 1990s, this communist government followed its marine scientists’ recommen dations and set up marine sanctuaries over the island. Believe it or not, Cuba up 91 marine sanctuaries along its coast that are strictly regulated. By restricting access and development in these sanctuar ies, divers and fishermen from all over the

sanctuaries governdictatorship of 1959 estabCastro. continthat government recommenall set coast restricting sanctuarthe

world can take advantage of numerous reefs and fishing grounds that receive no pressure from commercial fishermen in an undisturbed ecosystem where plants and fish thrive.

Access to Cuba is Difficult for Americans

Unfortunately, the USA does not allow easy entry to this neighbor country to our south. Because of our country’s economic sanctions, it is difficult for Americans to gain access to these marine sanctuaries. This is where the Italian company Avalon Cuban Fishing Centers comes in. By acquiring a people-to-people educational or

research license they are currently licensed outfitters in Cuba and have exclusive access to Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen), Isla de la Juventud (Island of Youth), Cayo Largo (Long Key), Gardens of the King, Zapata Swamp, and Cayo Romano ( CUB/map/). Fly Fishermen can contact Avalon directly or use an American outfitter that has contracted with Avalon to reserve a spot on a week-long fishing trip to one of their destinations. Avalon has made it possible for American fly fishers to enter Cuba and fish in its licensed sanctuaries in full compliance with Cuban and American laws.

Jardines de la Reina Cayo Largo Sur de la Isla de la Juventud Cayo Romano Zapata Swamp Jardines del Rey Cuban Marine Sanctuaries are in the Shaded Areas

Called up as a Pinch-Hitter

My recent trip to Cuba was prompted by a phone call from Justin Spence. He and Nick Streit had set up a trip to Cayo Largo. Unfortunately, one of the original participants had to drop out for medical reasons. Because I had previously traveled with Justin to the Seychelles and Nick to Cuba, I got a call and had no hesitation in jumping on board when I found out about the opening. Every time I have joined either one of them on a trip, I have had a great experience. After receiving the go-ahead from my wife, I sent in my check to Justin’s travel company Big Sky Anglers Travel to secure my spot. Twelve fly fishermen would be on board the Avalon 1 mothership for 6 days of fly fishing in Cayo Largo, Cuba. After applying for and receiving my Cuban Visa over the internet and scheduling my flights to Havana, everything else was taken care of by Justin, which included the taxi from airport that included an interpreter, the lodging in Havana, transportation to the mothership, Avalon fees, and distribution of tips to guides and ship personnel.

Havana and Eating at La Guarida

After arriving in Cuba, I collected my luggage and was flagged down by my interpreter and she accompanied me in the taxi to my hotel. Making conversations during the ride using my terrible Spanish and the interpreter’s passable English we touched on many topics. I mentioned the number of Cubans immigrating to the US. They both told me that the country has been suffering a long period of economic misery that is driving the young people to leave the Island. I asked whether anyone is immigrating to Cuba. As soon as my interpreter relayed the question to the Cab driver, they both laughed hysterically. The answer, “no one would be crazy enough to immigrate to Cuba.”

After the ride from the airport, I checked into the Parque Central Hotel. Located near the capitol, this is probably one of the best hotels in Havana. If I were to review it, I would put it somewhere around an older Marriott. The staff was fine but the furniture, carpets, and artwork were unchanged from 1950s. After dropping off my bags in my room, I proceeded down to the lobby where I met some fellow fishermen and learned that we were going to dinner together that evening and to be back in the lobby at 6:30 to travel together to the restaurant.

Justin secured taxis and we made our way through the narrow streets of Havana to La Guarida. Our restaurant was located in a building that must have been a magnificent structure in its day. We entered through wooden doors at least 30 feet high and made our way up a free-standing marble staircase that featured a headless female statue on top of the first pillar of the railing. It was built in the early 20th century but hasn’t been repaired or renovated since that time. A large Cuban flag was painted on the wall next to the stairway along with the head of a bearded revolutionary wearing a cowboy hat in the middle of the flag. The phrase “Galeria De Martires” (Martyrs Gallery) was written above the flag. I couldn’t help but wonder if the Cubans who produced this mural could appreciate the irony of their statement. I also wondered if they designated this structure and most of the other buildings in Cuba that are in disrepair as martyrs to their revolution?

Martyrs to the Revolution Mural

Once we reached the third floor, we entered a privately-owned restaurant. Ten of us were seated in a comfortable dining room with an open-air view of the surrounding rooftops. After consuming drinks and sharing appetizers, we were served various delicious and well-prepared main dishes. The portions were small but adequate and the quality was as good as one would expect to be coming from any fine restaurant in the USA. However, paying our tab was very different from what you would encounter in our country. For one thing, American credit cards are not recognized in Cuba. Consequently, cash (i.e., Cuban pesos) would be used to cover our bill of about $250 US. Justin had secured a stockpile of pesos for this purpose. After receiving our bill, Justin started building piles of pesos Cubano on the table to cover the costs. After he completed his stacks of pesos Cubano to the amount of P75,000, Justin combined the stacks of bills into a box that had been provided. At this point, the waiter asked Justin to accompany him. Upon his return, Justin told us that he was taken to a backroom that had an automatic counting machine to handle the large volume of bank notes needed to cover the diner’s bills. It says something about the inflation of a country’s currency when you must use an electronic bill counting machine like those used by banks to reconcile a relatively simple dinner tab.

Cayo Largo Bound

The next morning after breakfast at our hotel, we boarded a modern bus for a 3-hour bus ride from Havana to our mothership. Even though this is my third bus trip across Cuba, I am constantly amazed by the large number of horse-drawn carts that carry people and goods along side of the highway. The few cars and buses that do move along the road speed past large groups of individuals gathered at intersections waving fists full of pesos at drivers in hopes of getting a ride. Slow moving motorcycles, usually carrying two people, hug the right lane. Long lines appear at gas stations that have fuel. For those lucky enough to acquire gas, the price they paid has risen five-fold in the past month.

After leaving the highway, traveling down 2-lane roads, we enter the last stretch of dirt road leading to our dock on the west side of the Bay of Pigs. Yes, that infamous landing area of the counter revolution that our CIA had promoted during the Kennedy administration. We finally get to the end of the road and park at an obscure dock that is in a state of ruin from decades of neglect. In stark contrast to its surrounds, our mothership, Avalon 1, was a well maintained, comfortable, and fully stocked vessel where guides and staff would spend the next 6 days with us.

Paying for Dinner
Horse Drawn Carts are common Cuba

Fishing Cayo Largo

As I have already described, the marine sanctuary of Cayo Largo has very little pressure from fishermen, is an undisturbed habitat, and includes large expanses of shallow water flats. It is no wonder that this area is widely regarded as one of the finest saltwater fly fishing destinations in the world. Given all that buildup, Cayo Largo did not disappoint: Everyone on the trip caught bonefish; some people also caught tarpon, snapper, barracuda, horseeye jacks, and snook. Most of the fishermen also had opportunities to sight cast to permit, however none were landed.

No matter how terrific the fishing grounds, you still have to find the fish. On this trip, a lot of the credit for the extraordinary number of fish landed goes to our skilled guides. In my experience, these guys were as good as they get. Our Cuban sentinels have been guiding in this area for many years and were able to follow the tides and take anglers to productive locations that their years of experience led them to. On this trip, anglers could request that the guide pursue a particular fish or situation (e.g., wading). Or, one could go with the guide’s recommendations for the most appropriate species and locations given the conditions of the day the option I prefer. Using this approach, even when we experienced the most awful weather conditions (i.e., high winds and pouring rain) we got to locations where we could sight-cast to fish. I need to thank the guides Amauri, Frank, and Yarito for their skill in finding fish, their patience with my less than stellar casting abilities, and their exceedingly good humor. That is to say that fishing with the guides was always a very pleasant experience and productive.

Disembarking the Mothership and Heading to the Fishing Grounds

Probably the main reason for the friendly atmosphere on the mothership and on our guide boats was the income that all of the staff earned from the trip. Our guides receive very little pay from Avalon or the Cuban government. Their main source of income was from tips. At the end of our trip, Justin and Nick collected US dollars from all the fishermen to reward the guides and staff. The amount collected for that week’s work was given to all the mothership staff. The guides received about $600 and the other staff received about $200 per person. To put this into perspective, according to Google, “medical doctors earn $141 per month according to the official rate, but only $56 at the street rates which tend to govern prices.”

Bonefish are one of my favorite fish to pursue. I never tire of watching schools of bones and singles swim in the narrow water. Sight-casting to these grey ghosts was a blast. Every day I caught some of these bad boys. I can safely estimate that some bones easily exceeded 10 lbs. Not having the best eyesight at this point in my life, I really appreciate the large single bones with broad shoulders that push a big wake as they glide over the shallow water. I was very fortunate to have had numerous opportunities to cast to these brutes as they swam across a flat, place my gotcha a couple of feet in front of him, hook up, and listen to my reel whine as the fish took off and got into my backing. What beauties! Landing one of these big bonefish makes my day and everything after that is simply a bonus. On my best day, I probably sight casted to 20 bones and landed 13.

Nils Pearson with Bonefish

Tarpon often called “silver kings” because of their majestic appearance, were lurking around the mangrove roots in the estuaries we explored. I was calling the 10 to 30 lb tarpon we encountered “juveniles” but it might be more appropriate to call them “babies”. While searching along the mangroves, Yarito spotted a tarpon resting next to roots. I made the short cast using a Puglisi peanut butter fly and had an immediate hook up. Because we were in the middle of mangroves, I never put the fish on my reel -it was hand-to-hand combat. I gripped my line and never let the tarpon swim back to his lair. After putting on a nice show of jumps and swimming under the boat, Yarito reached down and brought him on board for the pic.

Snook were often hiding in and around mangroves. The distinctive black line that forms a lateral stripe and lower jaw make these fish unmistakable. Living nearshore they are often found among mangrove roots. An interesting fact I recently learned about these fish is that they are hermaphrodites. According to the Florida Museum, during the course of their maturity, they morph from male to female. “As they mature and their pelvic and caudal fins are noticeably more yellow during spawn.”

Dave Doucett with Tarpon Justin Spence with Snook

Barracuda are always lurking in the slightly deeper water whenever you find yourself on the edge of a flat. These large predators with large teeth and fearsome appearance will take a fly. That is if it is attached to a wire leader. On this trip, we used big poppers with lots of trailing flash that were stripped rapidly past our targets… often to no effect. However, when one of these snake-like creatures turns and pursues a fly, the take and fight are a primitive spectacle. On this trip, we always kept a rod ready to do battle with these ferocious predators.

Permit are perhaps one of the most sought after and elusive fish for fly fishermen. This trip to Cayo Largo was no exception. Only one small permit was caught during the trip while the fisherman was casting into a mud. However, I did get to witness how a master fly fisherman pursued this prey. I was with Nick Streit on the south side of a small island when our guide saw a school of permit. The wind was blowing at least 20 mph and the deck was rolling from the incoming chop. Nick was on the bow at the time and making beautiful forward and back casts into the wind, with the wind, and across the wind. The little crab fly was landing just in front of the school. How he was able to make those casts under those conditions was beyond me. At one point he asked if I would like to take a turn casting the permit. I think I responded by saying that under these conditions, I would probably fall off the deck and never get a cast off, so he should please stay on the deck. Thankfully, Nick kept up his pursuit and I was able to enjoy watching a fly fishing expert make textbook casts that at times demanded back casting into the wind on a rolling deck. How he got that fly to land perfectly was just amazing.

Dave Doucett with Barracuda

Back in the USA

My entrance back into our country at the Miami airport clarified my Cuban experience. Before arriving in Florida, I had spent hours in the Havana airport awaiting my flight back home. As with everything in Cuba, the few tattered stalls that were open in the airport all contained the oh so tiresome old books and pictures of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara and other worthless trinkets of days gone by. I was leaving a country with staggering inflation, limited access to goods, scarcity of food, crumbling infrastructure, poverty-level wages, and wonderful marine sanctuaries. The experience of walking down the jetway into the lighted corridors of the Miami airport filled with every sort of consumer good in Miami was truly a jarring juxtaposition. My overwhelming threadbare Cuban experience had made for a stark contrast to the indisputable glittering signs of prosperity when I reentered our country.

I had exceptional access to incredible fishing in marine sanctuaries but our economic sanctions since 1962 and the withdrawal of support from Russia and Venezuela have left the Cuban people bereft. During one of our many conversations on board the mothership about Cuba, Nick Streit made the observation that the current economic crisis in Cuba would appear to be a good opportunity for the US to establish a relationship with it. From what I could see, the country and its people are no threat to the US. In fact, the many hardworking people we met would no doubt take full advantage of any access to American goods and services to better themselves. In the long run, wouldn’t allowing enterprising Cubans more opportunities be a simple and effective vehicle for improving relations between both countries?

US Amends Banking Policy with Cuba

After I finished writing this article, I learned that the US government has taken a step toward assisting private enterprise in Cuba. On May 28, 2024 the Official US Government Website announced that the US Treasury Department has amended regulations to allow US banking institutions to open and maintain bank accounts in the United States solely in the name of a Cuban national located in Cuba, who is an independent private-sector entrepreneur. Lifting this financial restriction is designed to boost private businesses on the island and create firms producing goods and services in Cuba.

If you and Justin Big Sky West 406-

you would like more information on fly fishing trips to Cuba other locations please contact: Justin Spence Nick Streit Sky Anglers Taos Fly Shop West Yellowstone, MT Taos, NM 646-7801 575-751-1312

Chasing Rainbows

Utah claims the “Greatest Snow on Earth”, but there is more to winter in the Bee Hive state than just snow sports - there is great trout action too. On a recent ski trip to Park City, I decided to take a day off from the slopes to try some wintertime fly fishing and I couldn’t have been more pleased. My first call was to Trout Bum 2 (TB2 in the local vernacular) located in Kimball Junction. TB2 is the premier fly shop in the Park City area with a stable of skilled and knowledgeable guides. They connected me with Aaron Adams, a Utah native who has fished the local waters since childhood. We synched up on a quick phone call to hammer out logistics and goals for our day on the water. The following morning he picked me up at my hotel with boots and waders, rods rigged and ready. It was a balmy 21F so this Texan was well layered up for a winter wade as we headed out for the Provo River.

The Provo is a Blue Ribbon trout fishery divided into three sections - the Upper, Middle, and Lower. The Upper is a freestone stream that forms high in the Uinta mountains and flows mostly through private land into the Jordanelle Reservoir. The Middle section is a 12-mile tailwater that begins below the Jordanelle and ends at the Deer Creek reservoir. The Middle boasts a dense brown trout population and good public access so it gets heavy pressure. While crowded in the summer, the winter gives the hardy angler opportunity to fish this wonderful water with some solitude. The Lower Provo begins below Deer Creek dam and runs through the Provo canyon. The Lower is known for its large rainbows and has good brown trout numbers as well. There is limited public access so be careful to respect private property here.

With dreams of landing a trophy rainbow, I opted to try the Lower and it was amazing! Our day started quickly with a nice 13” brown and the action never let up. I was so impressed with the beauty, strength, and health of these fish. I expect acrobatics from rainbows, but even the browns were big jumpers. Such handsome fish and the scenery is breathtaking, with postcard-worthy mountain vistas in every direction.

Gary Hooks up with a Big Rainbow

It was a bit early in the season for dry fly fishing so nymphing was the order of the day. Aaron fishes 9ft 4wt Scott rods rigged “Provo style”. The Provo or bounce rig puts a string of split shot at the end of the leader with the flies tied on 2”- 3” tag lines and is fished below an indicator. The benefits of the Provo rig are the string of weights are less likely to snag as they bounce along the bottom and the unweighted nymphs float more naturally on the tag lines than when tied in a typical tandem fashion. It is a little wonky to cast so a few practice drifts are advisable to get the feel of it before you hit the prime runs.

The Lower Provo is very wadable so you can cross the stream as needed to get into the best position to work a run. The fishing is up close with many fish eating the flies within a few yards of my feet. The drill is to make short upstream casts using a water haul to load the rod. Get good drag free drifts and fish the water in front of you thoroughly before taking a step downstream or outward. Like all fishing with an indicator, you want to set on any noticeable bump of the bobber making a downstream movement with the rod tip. Don’t be fooled into thinking you snagged bottom, it could be a fish. Be ready for that fat rainbow to light up once he realizes he’s hooked!

Typical winter fly selections include midge patterns, sow bugs, and scuds such as the Ray Charles. I’m not sure

A Typical Lower Provo Rainbow

how it got its name but I can only assume it’s because even a blind fish will eat this fly, it’s that deadly! We were fishing size 20s and smaller on 6.5x tippet. I don’t know how Aaron can tie those knots with freezing hands, but he made short work of any fly changes required. I was also very thankful for his skill with the net. These are big, healthy fish and a real challenge to land on the ultralight tippet. Fortunately, we had few breakoffs and brought many large rainbows to hand. A key to landing these fish is to keep the rod tip high and point the handle toward the fish to maximize pressure while protecting the tippet.

What a day we had! After releasing more fish than I could count I had to get to the airport for my flight back to Austin. We have multiple non-stop flight options and the proximity of this fishery to the SLC airport makes it very accessible for us Austinites. While mobbed in the summer, the Provo in winter is phenomenal. And with both the Middle and Lower to fish, the Provo is worth considering as a multiday expedition. The Weber and Green are also within striking distance for longer day trips. So whether it’s a break from the slopes or a dedicated fishing adventure, put Utah and the Provo on your list. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Where: Park City, UT

When: Dec-Mar

Who: Trout Bum 2 435-658-1166

Another Nice Rainbow, Healthy and Strong

The “Gabe”

Central Texas Blue Water site fishing at its best by Bill

I was born in Florida in 1972 and grew up on a medium size lake about an hour North of Orlando called Lake Weir. My hometown lake is a fisherman’s paradise, where fishing for Centrarchidae such as Largemouth Bass and Sunfish is not only a sport but a way of life. Some of my favorite childhood memories involve paddling around the shoreline in an old yellow canoe with my trusty Zebco 202 and a small tackle box that contained treble hook adorned crank baits, purple rubber worms, hooks, bobbers, and an old pair of rusty pliers. On this lake, large umbels of flowering Lilly Pads and reed beds shelter Bass and other Sunfish from the bright Florida sun while they wait for an easy meal. After 17 years in Florida, I joined the U.S. Army taking with me amazing memories and great fondness for warm water fishing.

Fast forward 30 years through my time in the military where I traveled the world experiencing life in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Through multiple deployments to war torn areas such as Bosnia and Kosovo, and the post 9/11 hell they called the “Global War on Terror” or GWOT for short, which inextricably changed the lives of many of our nation’s youth. After all that I found myself retired from the Army and settling down not far from Fort Hood (now Fort Cavazos) in a small suburb of Austin called Leander. I didn’t know when I moved here that I would soon get back to my childhood roots.

The San Gabriel River

The San Gabriel River, affectionately called the “Gabe” by local anglers, is a major watershed of the Edwards Plateau which originates in the heart of the Hill Country in Burnett County as two separate rivers called the North Fork and South Fork. The two rivers join in Georgetown, Texas, then flow into the Little River which flows into the Brazos River and eventually the Gulf of Mexico. (TPWD, n.d). Both the North and South fork of the Gabe flow through Texas limestone with beautiful cliffs, bluffs, and a lots of trees and other vegetation. Both

South San Gabriel River late afternoon near the dinosaur tracks

forks are fed by seasonal springs that come alive in late winter and early spring creating small waterfalls, which cascade over limestone cliffs into the clear blue waters below, and larger seasonal streams that cut through the limestone depositing cool clear spring water into the system. During heavy rains, both the North and South fork get a little wild, running fast and deep enough to provide moderate to low difficulty white water rafting and kayaking opportunities for the more adventurous soul. I personally have kayaked white water level flows between Liberty Hill and Georgetown with both my sons.

Fly Fishing the South Fork

This article focuses on the South Fork of the Gabe as it meanders through areas directly north of Austin between Liberty Hill and Georgetown and has more reliable year around flows than its northern twin. The South Gabe has multiple access points (with a range of difficulty) found mostly near bridge crossings and some nature trails that originate in neighborhoods. There is not much information out there regarding fishing the South Fork of the Gabe, but one good source is a book by Aaron Reed called “Fly Fishing Austin & Central Texas” (Page 113) which can be purchased at Living Waters Fly Shop in Round Rock (support your local fly shop!) or you can order it on Amazon if you are not local to the Austin area. Aaron’s book lists several access points along the South Fork including places like Wolf Ranch Shopping center in Georgetown, which is one of my favorite places to wade up from.

There are a variety of warm water fish species in the South Fork but the species I mainly see and/or catch are Bass (large mouth, and Guadalupe), Long Ear Sunfish, Green Sunfish, Rock Bass, and Channel Cats. I am sure I missed a few that I have caught but those are the most seen/caught species. The fishing usually turns on in late winter as the temps start to warm up. Fishing is reliable from March through June then starts to taper off in July as the extreme heat and lack of rain drives the target species into deeper pools and other cool dark places. Once the weather starts to cool a little and we get some rain in late September through early December the fishing improves a bit until it gets too cold for warm water fish to be active.

Nathan kayaking the South Fork in May 2023 during a high flow event. Not in frame is a 3-foot drop into a small pool below.

The fly patterns that seem to work best on the South Gabe for all species are Pat Rubber legs, Woolly Buggers (or other leach like streamer patterns), Crawfish, and small to medium size Clouser Minnows. It is difficult to get the Bass in this section of the Gabe to take dry flies or poppers, but the Sunfish will give you tons of top water action when using patterns mimicking beetles, crickets, or just about any fuzzy, buggy, floating thing you want to tie. The sunfish here are ravenous and will take just about anything they can fit in their mouths and some things they can’t.

Overall, the fishing on the South Fork is reliable and getting skunked is a very rare occurrence and typically happens only during the off season (Late July to Late September and Mid-December to Late February). Wading is relatively easy as the river is ankle to waist deep in most places with a few deep holes and dammed up areas that are simple to walk around. The brush around the river can be quite dense so I recommend waring some kind of wading pants and long sleeves to avoid all the itchy scratchy stuff. Kayaking and float fishing the South Fork is possible (I have kayaked from Liberty Hill all the way to Georgetown). If float fishing be prepared to drag through the riffles and portage around small dams and other rocky areas unless there is a high-water event like heavy rain within 2 days or so of your planned float. Heavy rain, however, will cause a lot of turbidity and fishing will not be as good until the flows drop back down and the water becomes mostly clear again. My favorite setup is a 2 to 4 weight rod (the shorter the better to keep you out of the trees), weight forward floating line with fluorocarbon leader for the clear water, and any of the patterns mentioned above. If you want to just have fun day and catch a bunch of fish, try a 2 weight with dry fly and target sun fish. If you are serious about Bass, then stick with a 4 weight.

Threats to the South San Gabriel River

The recent rapid growth in the areas north of Austin, though good for the economy and for bringing in more fly-fishing enthusiast from around the country, may have overwhelmed some of the water treatment plants. In re-

Bass caught while wading upstream from

from Wolf Ranch (I-35 Bridge). Brightly colored Long Ear takes a popper near 183 in Leander.

cent years there has been proliferation of algae blooms and other nutrient driven aquatic plant activity. Earlier this year (2024), a group of locals sued the Liberty Hill water treatment plant to get them to lower the amount of phosphorus released into the South Fork. “Commissioners with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) voted unanimously to approve the city of Liberty Hill’s wastewater discharge permit. The approval comes with the stipulation that the facility must reduce how much phosphorus is discharged into the river…. from 0.15 milligrams per liter to 0.02 milligrams per liter” (Lee, 2024).

I have witnessed these large algae blooms right next to my neighborhood which boarders the South Fork for about a half mile and is one of my favorite places to fish due to proximity and easy access. It can be annoying, causing subsurface flies to be constantly fouled by weeds and algae, but on the other hand it does provide a lot of safe space for fish to get out of the bright sun and the gaze of aerial predators. The blooms are worse during the hot weather in the summer when water flows are down, and temps are up.


I may be partial because of my proximity but comparing the South Fork to other creeks and rivers I fish locally like the Llano, Brushy Creek, and the Pedernales, I think it is just as good if not better due to the abundance of fish, beautiful scenery, easy wading, and plethora of access points. If you are interested in fishing the South Fork and would like more info on where, when, or how then feel free to contact me at William.buglehall@icloud. com.


Lee, J. (2024, March 28). TCEQ deals blow to Liberty Hill, orders wastewater treatment plant to lower amount of phosphorus discharged into San Gabriel River.

Reed, A. (2021). Fly Fish Austin & Central Texas. IMBRIFEX, Flattop Productions Inc.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). (n.d.). An Analysis of Texas Waterways.

Heavy algae bloom in one of my favorite spots in October 2023.

Fishing Lake Travis

On Tuesday April 16, Kathi and I went on a half day guided fishing trip on Lake Travis with Grahame Jones. Kathi was the lucky raffle winner at one of the club meetings. The water was very low but Grahame had access to a private boat ramp that still reaches the water. We were mostly using sinking lines with Kreelex flies. These are clouser type minnows made completely of flash. we were quite successful catching large mouth bass close to the bank. We had a great day and the lake still fishes well with low water. grahame-jones All Water Guides Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing Guide Service in Central Texas 512-571-3073 INFO@ALLWATERGUIDES. COM

In the Beginning, there was Fishing

This is a story about me, but not all about me. It’s a bit about my journey to get where I am now, as a full-time fly casting instructor based in Texas, a state that doesn’t usually top the list of worldwide fly fishing destinations.

My journey to attaining my FFI casting certification and subsequently to becoming a fulltime casting instructor has not been particularly linear. Predictably, it started much earlier. Young Austin was obsessed with anything to do with fish and fishing, with long hours spent memorizing the Bass Pro catalog and reorganizing my dad’s tackle boxes. I got a fly rod from my grandfather when I was 10, and struggled through those same initial frustrating stumbles encountered by every self-taught fly caster – exactly the path I’m now attempting to smooth out for others.

Just as importantly, I come from a long line of teachers. Both sides of my family have multiple folks who teach (or taught) at all levels of school, public and private, primary, secondary, and college. Whether it’s something that runs in my blood or just a series of behavioral habits acquired along the way, I’ve always been a teacher. I love sharing knowledge and delight in finding ways to convey complex concepts and techniques to other people in words and ways that they can understand easily.

That’s right. I’m a nerd.

And that’s exactly what’s needed for this job. I’m supposed (and strive) to be a qualified source of information for anyone in the local fly fishing community that walks up and starts asking questions. If I wasn’t through-and-through passionate about this stuff myself, I would be drawing on a shallow pool of knowledge. To

this day, I still seek out articles and information about far off places that I would love to fish one day. Can I recall what I ate yesterday or where I put my car keys? No. Do I remember that article from 2008 about sightcasting to free-swimming black marlin in Hervey Bay, or what some random guy on a now-defunct fly fishing forum said about getting a carp fly to flip over consistently? Oh yeah. That’s all in there, rent free.

I became a certified casting instructor in 2011, at the age of 23. At that time, I had already been living in Corpus Christi for a few years and was teaching a lot of folks how to cast at our local fly fishing club meetings. I was also fishing a ton – at least a couple hours most days and more than that most other days. That meant I was getting a lot of immediate feedback from the elements about what worked in a fly cast, and what didn’t. There were few other people in the area who I could turn to for guidance, so my buddy Don Alcala and I just fished hard and tried to figure it out. Kayaks opened up access to a lot of water, but so did our feet. We walked and waded vast swathes of shoreline and flats, exploring new areas and visiting familiar ones. We spent a lot of time on the coastal jetties, a notoriously unforgiving environment for flycasters. When the wind kicked up, as it inevitably seems to do on the Texas coast (and especially on those jetties), we just had to deal with it. We learned valuable lessons about knots, line management, casting in wind and how to deal with inclement conditions in general. We hypothesized, tested, refined, and proved or disproved many, many ideas about what could or should work.

Little Red River trip, 2008

Money was always tight; we fished too much and worked too little. Flies, lines, leaders, rods, reels – we just scrounged what we could. The kind folks in the fly club would occasionally donate an old line or half-spool of 20lb tippet to the scruffy kids who talked with animated excitement about the tarpon they’d seen roll that morning or the vast school of black drum tailing on this or that sandflat. We, in turn, were grateful for the patronage and would go forth to collect more stories for them to live through vicariously.

Fast forward to 2019. My wife and I were living in the city of Austin (yes, Austin lives in Austin – . . . I’m a marketing genius!), and I began looking for ways to give back to my local fly fishing community. There were a lot of folks interested in learning about saltwater flats fishing, and not many certified casting instructors have extensive saltwater experience.

I founded Elevate Fly Casting and started doing some occasional casting instruction, mostly just to see what might happen. Five years and a pandemic later, I had a steady clientele. My day job as a fisheries scientistthat’s right, all fish, all the time - had become increasingly onerous and less fulfilling, and it gradually became clear that I needed to make the leap to teaching casting full time. In April of this year, I did just that.

I look back now and chuckle at my younger self, a broke fish nerd, ostensibly trying to go to college but hopelessly focused on fishing, at times possessing only two fly lines for the one reel that I shared across my four rods. I’d won two of those rods – an 8wt TFO Pro II and a 6wt Echo 2 – from the Roy’s Bait and Tackle fly casting competition. The other two (another 8wt and a 10wt) were generous donations plucked from the dusty obscurity of a benefactor’s tackle closet.

Can you put a 10wt line on an 8wt rod and go catch a bunch of fish on it? Sure can. What about putting that 10wt line on the 6wt rod? That’s not a good idea. Don’t ask me how I know this – I just know.

Here’s the point that I’m getting around to making: I’ve made a lot of mistakes when it comes to fly casting and fly fishing, maybe most of them, and mostly without the advantages of the latest and greatest gear. I’ve learned many lessons the hard way, then did so repeatedly whenever it didn’t sink in the first few times. Flats fishing is a demanding passion that pushes us to become the best versions of ourselves, and I love that about it. There is no replacement in my heart for the sharpened edges that life takes on when my whole existence narrows down to two things – the fish, and the fly being presented.

Helping others experience that moment, that joy, with the very real chance to come tight on that fish? I can’t think of a better way to spend the rest of my career.

It’s been two months now of spending my days nerding out on casting and fishing, sharing the excitement of fly fishing with a broad range of people in Texas and beyond. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be here, but now that I am, it feels like it’s only the beginning.

Thanks to everyone who has helped make my dream come true, and I look forward to passing on the favor.

Let’s get those skills sharp – I’ll see you out on the practice pond!

You can find Austin Orr online at or on his Instagram @elevateflycasting

I’m in the orange hat; teaching kids to fly cast at a rainbow trout release in Corpus Christi. 2010

Fully converted to saltwater sight casting addict, 2009

The Long Road to Mine Remedi-

ation: The Good Samaritan Bill’s Uphill Battle

It’s summertime in Central Texas. Many of us head to cooler climates this time of year for relaxation and dropping a line. When on the water take a look up from that beautifully presented dry fly and take in the landscape to see how abandoned mines have impacted the fishery and know a better future that is within our grasp.

Abandoned mines litter the American landscape, scarring pristine environments and threatening vital ecosystems. For decades, the toxic legacy of these zombie sites have been the gift that keeps giving— the mine is long gone but the water contamination keeps on going. Enter the long gestated Good Samaritan bill, a legislative effort that promises to unlock the potential for meaningful remediation – if it can overcome the daunting obstacles that have impeded its passage.

The concept is straightforward: remove the legal barriers that have historically deterred organizations and individuals from voluntarily cleaning up abandoned hardrock mine sites. Under current laws like the Clean Water Act, those willing to undertake remediation efforts risk inheriting perpetual liability for the environmental

damage they aimed to address.

“This is a catch-22 that has paralyzed efforts to deal with a lot of these sites,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited, a leading advocate for the bill. “We have groups that want to be good Samaritans and clean up these mines that are polluting trout streams, but the current legal framework discourages them from doing so.”

The Good Samaritan legislation aims to provide a clear pathway for volunteer clean-up efforts by offering liability protections and establishes guidelines to ensure responsible remediation practices. However, despite broad support from environmental organizations, mining companies, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, the bill has encountered a series of roadblocks over the past two decades.

“Abandoned mines pose a serious threat to public lands, fish and wild-

life habitat, and water Land Tawney, president Backcountry Hunters Good Samaritan bill collaborative efforts problem while still accountable.”

One of the primary finding a balance izing cleanups and bust environmental stakeholders fear that ability protections could lead to inadequate remediation ate loopholes for polluters Conversely, proponents the current legal quagmire discourages any meaningful leaving the environmental unaddressed indefinitely. the perfect be the enemy Wood argued. “This critical opportunity ress on a daunting problem.”

water quality,” said president and CEO of Hunters & Anglers. “The bill would encourage efforts to address this holding bad actors primary hurdles has been between incentivand maintaining roenvironmental safeguards. Some that overly broad licould inadvertently remediation or crepolluters to exploit.

proponents argue that quagmire effectively meaningful cleanup, environmental degradation indefinitely. “We can’t let enemy of the good,”

“This bill provides a to make real progproblem.”

Navigating the complex web of overlapping state and federal regulations governing abandoned mine lands has also proven challenging, making it difficult to craft a cohesive national framework.

Despite these obstacles, the push for Good Samaritan legislation persists, driven by a growing recognition of the urgent need for action. “These abandoned mines are perpetual polluters, leaching toxins into watersheds and fisheries year after year,” said Tawney.

“We simply can’t afford to leave this issue unaddressed any longer.”

In recent years, there have been glimmers of hope as the bill has gained traction and support from diverse stakeholders. “We’ve seen a growing consensus that this is a solvable problem if we can find the right legislative vehicle,” said Wood. “There’s been real progress in bringing all parties to the table.”

One notable development was the inclusion of Good Samaritan provisions in the bipartisan infrastructure legislation proposed in 2021, though the overall package ultimately did not pass Congress.

The full legislation has largely been dormant since that time until it was resurrected in early 2024 in the Senate. The bill was unanimously voted out of the Senate Energy and Public Works Committee and goes to the full Senate for hearing. And most recently in March 2024 a companion bill was introduced in the House. These two bills have great promise in developing bipartisan legislation that are critical to curing the lasting damages to waterways across our country. I encourage you to reach out to your elected officials and show your support for fisheries and common sense legislation.

Abandoned mine image from Trout Unlimited


Soldiers’ Kids Involved in Fishing Fun (SKIFF) exists to offer professionally guided fishing trips to military children separated from their parents by military duty. SKIFF also serves the children of Gold Star families who have lost their service member while he or she was on active duty, as well as the children of bonafide disabled veterans unable to take their own children fishing.

Thus far in 2024, SKIFF has provided 13 such trips, placing 26 children on the waters of Lake Belton or Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir. The number of children participating in these trips ranged from 1 to 5 children. The children’s ages ranged from 5 to 18 years old.

I always eagerly anticipate the end of the school year as it is during kids’ summer break from school in which most of the year’s SKIFF trips occur. This year, summer fishing was dis-

rupted early on by which not only filled, ed, the two reservoirs duct the SKIFF trips.

As I write this, Lake 15 feet high, and Stillhouse der 18 feet high. Both to boat traffic. The of Engineers is releasing counting for 4+ inches duction daily. Simple will be without lake assuming we don’t flooding rains.

much needed rains filled, but then floodreservoirs on which I contrips.

Lake Belton is just over Stillhouse is just unBoth lakes are closed The U.S. Army Corps releasing water, acinches of elevation reSimple math shows we lake access into July, don’t have additional

Behind the scenes, Manuel Pena has been working with one of the companies operating electronic billboards along Interstate 14, the main artery serving military families in the Ft. Cavazos, Killeen, Belton, Harker Heights, and Copperas Cove area. Ad artwork has been agreed upon, with timing of the running of the ad now being discussed.

In what was this season’s most memorable trip thus far, I was joined on the morning of Friday, 19 April, by the Landry family. Mrs. Nikki Landry

brought her five kids – – Jhanna (16) Madison (13), Alayna (12), Brian (11), and Moslyn (8) out for a morning of white bass fishing on Lake Belton.

HOLDING THE LINE GUIDE SERVICE Belton & Stillhouse Hollow Lakes 254.368.7411
https://www.holdingtheline -

Casting for Recovery

The mission of Casting for Recovery is to enhance the lives of women with breast cancer by connecting them to each other and nature using the therapeutic sport of fly fishing, and empowering them with oncology wellness support — all at no cost to the participants!

This year, Casting for Recovery (CfR) is hosting its largest retreat ever, with 60 retreats planned across 42 states. We will introduce more than 800 women to the sport of fly fishing with the help of over 1800 volunteers nationwide. Some highlights of our retreat season include the June launch of a new retreat in Hawaii, serving women with breast cancer from seven of the islands. In September, CfR volunteers will be on the Kenai Peninsula, hosting the first retreat exclusively for Alaska Na-

tive Women with of these retreats are effort to bring our model to unserved our reach to underserved of women with breast

The CfR program es on Empowering vating confidence something new (fly outdoors; Mental by providing one-on-one support from medical

breast cancer. Both are part of a larger our innovative retreat unserved areas, and expand underserved populations breast cancer.

program curriculum focusEmpowering Women by culticonfidence through learning (fly fishing!) in the Health & Wellness one-on-one and group medical oncology and

psychosocial professionals throughout the retreats; and Conservation by prioritizing environmental stewardship, proper fish handling, and catch-andrelease principles.

CfR talks a lot about wellness and empowering women, but conservation is also a high priority, both at the retreats we host, and throughout the organization. Without clean rivers, streams, lakes and oceans, Casting for Recovery would cease to exist. Therefore, we have a role to play in reducing our car-

bon footprint, educating others, protecting the resources, and partnering with passionate organizations to extend our impact. We look forward to the opportunity to engage with Austin Fly Fishers on local conservation efforts!

For more information, visit: or reach out to Susan Gaetz, Executive Director, susan.gaetz@castingforrecovery. org

April, May & June Cari Ray, Fisher of Zen Casting Director, Texas Council FFI Certified Casting Instructor Fly Fishing Guide (CO, NM, TX) Cassio Silva, Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing in Central Texas

Capt. Chris Conant, Currently fly fishing manager at Sportsman’s Finest. He hosts fly fishing trips to Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge and Everglades National Park are one of the true last wild places in the Lower 48

Fishing Guide Service

You can learn more about Capt. Chris by checking out his appearance on the Outdoors Podcast with his buddy A.J. Eads.

June Presentations

AFF Financials

Club Resources

Cassio Silva – Central Texas Fly Fishing Guide

Aaron Reed – Author Fishing Guide

Austin Orr – Certified Casting Instructor

Ted Mendrek – Sportsman’s Finest Fly Shop

Chris Johnson – Living Waters Fly Shop and Central Texas Guide

Capt. Eric Glass – Fly Fishing South Padre Island

Nick Streit – New Mexico and Southern Colorado

Justin Spence – Fly Shop and Guide Service West Yellowstone, Montana

Cari Ray – Central Texas and Colorado Fly Fishing Guide and Casting Instructor

Capt. Chris Conant – Sportsman’s Finest Fly Shop and Hosted Trips

AFF Financials February March April Beginning Balance $26,982.86 $28,890.92 $29,282.06 Income: FFI New Member Dues $120.00 $190.00 $280.00 AFF Dues $35.00 $125.00 $70.00 Gary & Julie Geddes $500.00 McBrides $1,150.00 Merchandise (Square) $359.68 Total Income $2,164.68 $315.00 $350.00 Disbursements: AFFIpay $21.63 $5.84 $11.10 Austin Orr $150.00 Manuel (Program) $84.83 FFI (membership) $235.00 $35.00 Sommers Mkt $270.63 Waterloo Icehouse $27.01 Total Disbursements $256.62 $275.67 $458.74 Net Income $1,908.06 $39.33 -$108.74 Ending Bal-Check book $28,890.92 $28,930.25 $28,821.51 Bank Balance $29,271.71 $29,282.06 $29,323.32 Difference (outstanding cks) $380.79 $351.81 $501.81 Unencumbered Balance : $18,547.07 $18,586.40 $18,477.66 Casting for Recovery $1,650.00 $500.00 $500.00 SKIFF $8,693.85 $9,843.85 $9,843.85 *Ck Outstanding $351.81 $351.81 $351.81 *Ck Outstanding 28.98 $150.00
Bee Cave Road Austin, Texas 78738 512.263.1888
Monday: 9AM-7PM
Tuesday: 9AM-7PM
Wednesday: 9AM-7PM
Thursday: 9AM-7PM
Friday: 9AM-7PM
Saturday: 9AM-7PM Sunday:

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