09 June 2011

Fishing Without a Fly Rod!

In the April 2011 GRTU Newsletter, Shannon Drawe wrote an article about trout hunting in McKittrick Canyon in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  That is a great trip!  In March 2008, Cody and I embarked on this exact hunt and enjoyed it thoroughly.  At the time, I was the newsletter editor of The Leader, the Dallas Fly Fishers' newsletter and published an article on our sojourn.  Seeing that school is now out for the summer, it would be a great trip for any fly fisher.  For more pictures from our fish hunt, visit McKittrick Canyon Photos beginning with picture 173. 


Being a school teacher one common, yearly question asked amongst co-workers this time of year is, “What did you do for spring break?”  Traipsing throughout West Texas, the search for fish was one of this year’s quests. Much to the disbelief of my co-workers, this journey was done without a fly-rod. Yes, you read correctly, I was gone for 10 days and did not even take any one of my fly-rods with me. So, what was the purpose of this “fish hunt?”

In addition to running or tubing the river, I know that the fly-fisher can visit the Guadalupe River to fish for trout—stocked, maintained, and monitored by Trout Unlimited and the Texas Parks and Wildlife. I have the TPWD’s Freshwater Fishes of Texas print framed and hung on a wall at the office, and in the third column at the bottom, they portray the rainbow trout. I have often pondered how that fish can be portrayed and it not be an oxymoron. This fish is a stocked fish; it is not naturally reproducing and surviving the Texas summers. Therefore, this adventure sought to answer the question, in true Mythbuster’s style, does Texas have trout that live and reproduce naturally?

To learn the answer to this question, one must hike 1.4 miles and 5,100 feet high in to the heart of McKittrick Canyon, located in the northeast corner of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park where maples and Texas madrones (a rainforest tree) thrive. Once a part of the Permian Sea (250 million years ago), McKittrick Canyon (and Carlsbad Caverns) formed from the exposed reef of the sea. While fascinating, fossil hunting was not the end result of this particular trip.  Crossing the creek, Cody and I saw our first rainbow (for the GPS fanatic: N31° 59’ 06.1” W104° 45’ 57.6”), but seeing one trout does not satisfy the question. Fortunately, .2 of mile farther in to the canyon, we saw our second rainbow at N31° 59’ 09.2” W104° 46’ 10.2”.  This little fellow was having a bit of a difficult go, as the creek was forcing him downstream along the rocky bed, against his wishes, but he found a nice little, reeded pool in which to rest and hide. Do two fish constitute an answer to the question? Not really, so ever onward we trekked searching for the answer. 

Stopping at McKittrick Canyon Trail’s 2.4 mile mark, we found Park Ranger Hal Cottingham giving tours of Wallace E. Pratt’s 1930s stone cabin. It was from Ranger Cottingham that we learned two things—first, the creek did disappear randomly below the creek bed into unseen depths of the canyon, and secondly, our answer lay just a little farther up the trail.  Having already seen sunfish, the other two fish species naturally occurring in the park (the Green Ear Sunfish and the Long-ear Sunfish, but one species we saw was a mutated cousin of the two), we sought that beautiful, pink stripe of the rainbow trout.  Hiking alongside but high above McKittrick Creek, a sweet, little honey hole opened before us teeming with four to eight inch rainbow trout. 

How, you might ask?  In 1930, two ranchers, Judge J.C. Hunter, whose 70,000 acre ranch encompassed part of McKittrick Canyon, and Wallace E. Pratt, whose 5,632 acre ranch covered another area of the canyon, introduced two new species to the crystal clear, cool creek waters.  Judge Hunter brought in rainbow trout, and Wallace Pratt introduced black bass.  Unfortunately, the creek flooded soon afterwards, destroying Pratt’s black bass, but Hunter’s rainbow trout survived, and they lived to produce the offspring seen today.

Being in a national park that does not permit fishing of any kind, this trout is not available to fishermen, even those many who practice catch and release, so the only way to capture these beauties is through the camera lens. While the population may be few in number and small in size, rainbow trout have become native to the creek, (Cody and I saw a total of 13 rainbows averaging 7”-8”), and thus answers the question: yes, DFFers, at 5, 238 feet and N31°58’ 43.6” W104° 46’ 58.2”, rainbow trout do reproduce and occur naturally in Texas!


  1. I love stuff like this. Proof trout cant adapt and survive in a dry environment. There's a place in Baja Ca where trout have learned to survive water temps almost up to 80degrees.

  2. Wow, sounds like an excuse for another fish hunt. Do you have photos from this spot? I would really love to see these fish.

  3. The first photo of the fish dry environment is probably the most beautiful I've seen on your blog. Amazing job!

  4. Thanks, Fishing in Tasmania. That is West Texas in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park and is a great place to visit especially in the fall due to the Maple Trees and gorgeous fall colors.


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