Back-Trolling on the Guadalupe River, the Nation’s Southernmost Trout Stream


Looking up river towards the Canyon Lake Spillway

Aaron and I got together for a couple of beers on Friday evening. We wanted to discuss a fly-fishing excursion on the Guadalupe River, north of New Braunfels, Texas. The Guadalupe River holds the southernmost trout population in the United States and It also boasts the largest Trout Unlimited Chapter in the Nation.
I loaded up the Flycraft early Saturday morning. I kept wondering what this river would hold for us. Admittedly, I was skeptical about trout fishing in southern Texas. Being a Yankee, I have an image ingrained in my head of what the perfect trout stream should look like. It should have rocky banks and bubbling water. It should have frothy cascades and maybe a couple of willows lining the shore. When I imagined the Guadalupe River, an image of a slow, silty, meandering river filled with warm bathwater came to my mind. I imagined Aaron and I, ripping hooks into dumb stocked fish. Hell, these fish were probably so dumb, we could club them with our oars as we floated by.

I am happy to admit that my preconceived notions of this river were all dashed away as soon as Aaron and I shoved the raft into the beautifully blue and frigid limestone waters. The banks were aligned with huge Bald Cypress trees. The water was flowing just over 400 cfs from the Canyon Lake Spillway. The dam at Canyon Lake is what enables the trout to survive year-round in the Guadalupe. The dam discharges water from the bottom of the lake, which is about 125’ deep. This water is pretty cold, even in the hot summer months of south Texas.

With your mouse, click and drag on the image below for a 3D view of the Guadalupe River.

Lunch time

Aaron and I both noticed an abundance of mayflies coming off the water. We each tried using a cream-colored mayfly pattern. When that didn’t work, we switched to dry-droppers. This still came up empty handed. Well, I guess my ideas of stocker-bashing were wholly inaccurate. I started to feel a little embarrassed that I had thought this would be a cakewalk. We had been floating for a couple of hours and we had thrown several hundred casts but we couldn’t get a fish to even look at our flies. It was time to drop the fly-fishing ego and pick up the spinning rod.
As the raft approached a fast-moving chute, Aaron leaned back in his seat at the bow and asked me if I knew what back-trolling was. I didn’t. Aaron explained that he would cast his line straight down the chute and I would row hard against the current. We would very slowly work our way down the chute and the fast-flowing water would work the action of Aaron’s gold spinner. This method sounded promising and we incrementally started working our way down the chute.
Our first Rainbow nailed Aaron’s gold spinner. We dropped anchor while Aaron landed the fish. Once we snapped a couple of photos, we continued to back-troll the rest of the chute. Again, another Rainbow hit the spinner. This one was substantially larger than the first one. We dropped anchor and I scrambled out of the raft with the net.

Aaron with the second trout of the day

Once the fish was netted, we worked our way back upstream and hit the chute again. It was clear that the trout were stacked-up in the chute. Aaron’s line went taut yet again! As he fought the fish, I saw it come to the surface before running back into the faster moving water. It was big! Aaron fought the fish and brought it close enough to me so that it could be netted. This fish was beautiful! Its gill-plate sparkled with a pinkish orange hue and a kype protruded from the tip of its mandible! After a couple of high-fives and some pictures, Aaron released the big male back into the fast-moving water. He swam away and his camouflaged form melted into the rocky bottom of the river.

Look at that kype!

We were ecstatic! This was shaping up to be a great float. We continued to back-troll down every fast-moving piece of water. Aaron hooked into another nice sized Rainbow but unfortunately, we didn’t bring it to hand.

The last fish of the day

With our take-out insight, we back-trolled through one last section of water. Once again, Aaron hooked into a beast. This time, it was a large hen Rainbow. He fought the fish and brought it to the side of the raft where I was able to swoop it up in the net. Aaron and I were quite happy with the size of the fish. This was a great way to end the day.
As we loaded up the Flycraft, I thought about my first experience on the Guadalupe River. I felt happy and pleasantly surprised with how beautiful, fun, and unique this river was. My initial presumptions of this river, being a bathtub full of stockers, was way off-base. The river challenged us, and when we finally met the challenge, we were rewarded with some of the most beautiful trout I had seen in a while. I owe a big ‘Thank You’ to Aaron for teaching me the back-troll and for exploring this new piece of water with me.