An Ode to the Texas Creek Freak and Native Dirty Bass | Hatch magazine


As a kid growing up in East Texas, I can count on one hand the number of times I actively fished the many small streams and tributaries that flowed into the big, muddy Sabine River near my home. There were many reasons for this, not the least of which was that most of these small runs were hidden on private land, where property owners were quick to set them up against trespassers or, just as often, tear them down to create irrigation. holes for Brahma or Angus cattle or private farm ponds stocked with bass and panfish.

There were a few “urban” streams running through our small town, but access was difficult and, frankly, when I bothered to fish it was almost always disappointing. Small fish. Muddy, dirty water. It was easier and more productive to just pull into a small neighborhood pond on the grounds of an old, abandoned (and definitely haunted) mansion and take our chances with the railroad transitions that traveled by freight train in the Texas of yesteryear. 1980.

Besides, stream fishing … that’s a mountain thing. A trout thing. I still do it today – it’s my favorite type of fishing. Hiking and wading in a cool, clear mountain stream for wild trout amid the alpine backdrop is hard to beat.

But truth be told, if I had access to a time machine, I would go back and find a way to let my 12-year-old self know that I was missing her. I’d say there are creek ghosts in East Texas, and there are fish—seriously good fish, too—ready and willing to be caught by just about anyone who can muster up the nerve to venture into the cool woods. and shadowy brooks flowing just a little stained and dark through the pine woods.


A native spotted bass - fly fishing in Texas

A native spotted bass (photo: Chris Hunt).

That it took me about 40 years to figure it out is a little embarrassing. But thanks to my friend Rob McConnell, author of Fly Fishing the Sam, I now know what I wish I knew when I was young and too naïve to fear the copperheads, cottonmouths, and giant turtles that snapping alligators. East Texas wild stream fishing is one thing. And the fishing is good. really good.

A few weeks ago, Rob and I hiked a tributary of the San Jacinto River on a rare patch of public land in East Texas – the Sam Houston National Forest. The creek runs about an hour north of Houston through a beautiful stretch of pine and oak forests near the small town of Coldspring. The real draw for most anglers, however, is not the delicate little fork of the San Jacinto. It’s bass country, and the nearby impoundments of Lake Livingston and Lake Conroe draw tackle anglers from around the region.

Fishing in the creek in “Sam?” There is a small cult of creek ghosts, of which Rob may be the reluctant Grand Poobah. These egoless anglers strap on 3-weight fly rods and head into the woods to chase fish in water that, in many areas, is easily passable. And no, these people are not catching giant fish – mind the environment. While anglers may find a true largemouth bass in the small creeks hidden in the woods, those fish will not be trophy quality. Instead, they derive satisfaction from the fact that, aside from the aforementioned largemouth, most of the fish they bring in are true Texas natives. Red-breasted sunfish, long-eared sunfish, channel catfish and native spotted bass. The latter are the humble trophies of the East Texas backwoods—bold and aggressive, they’ll take an appreciative turn on a lightweight fly rod, and they’re handsome fish that have forged their little fork in the American family tree of sea ​​bass. .

Technically native from southern Kansas to southern coastal Texas and east to West Virginia, the Southeast Texas spotted bass has adapted to the flowing waters of the region, from the Sabine to the Neches and west to the Trinity and San Jacinto. In really small water—like the small stream that Rob and I fished—spotted bass behave much like other small-water predatory fish, including trout. They don’t shy away from current and will hit dry flies, nymphs and small streamers. Rob’s favorite fly – the San Jac squirrel – mimics everything from a floating dragonfly nymph to a baitfish. The dirty bass of the quiet streams of the Sam Houston National Forest absolutely love it. But over two days spent fishing small water in the San Jacinto system, we caught spotted bass on everything from articulated streamers to honest-to-God trout flies like an Adams Parachute (no, I’m not joke).


Texas creek freak flies

Texas brook flies (photo: Chris Hunt).

Spotted bass should not be confused with Guadalupe bass, a much more heralded subspecies of black bass found in the streams and creeks of the Texas hill country. While the Guadalupe bass enjoys the honor of being Texas’ designated state fish, the pine forest spotted bass is often forgotten as a fishing afterthought. They’re generally not targeted by anglers looking to harvest fish because, well, they just don’t get that big—a long-spotted bass is a rarity outside of a large reservoir where they compete with their larger mouths. large, strain in Florida. cousins. In fact, the Texas state record for spotted bass is a modest 5.56 pounds, and it came from Lake o’ the Pines in Northeast Texas in 1966. By comparison, the state record for largemouth bass weighed in at 18, 18 pounds and was caught in Lake Fork in 1992.

But for avid small-stream anglers, the spotted bass punches above its weight class. It is acrobatic, prone to jumping out of the water. But it can also be a bulldog and tie an expanding fisherman to the structure, like underground root fabrics. Its best attribute is its aggressive nature – like many predatory fish in small water, it absolutely hates to see a meal get away. Many of the fish we brought in hand hit the flies just as they were about to be removed from the deeper water and into the shallows. Opportunistic fish caught flies on the swing and on the strip, but they really liked flies that looked like they were just about to be pulled to safety.

Fishing for spotted bass and their native brethren in the small waters of the Sam Houston National Forest was reminiscent of a country trout run, minus the majestic views of craggy peaks and frigid snowmelt. Instead, the canopy of pine, oak, and sycamore blanketed the small stream, and the water collected from countless fresh springs pooled to create the ideal habitat for these native fish. No, the scenery is not as dramatic, but it is no less stunning to the eye of a confirmed small stream angler.

And, thanks to Rob, I’ve achieved Texas creek freak status—something I wish I’d been able to accomplish all those years ago when I lived among the towering pines in the region’s river country. Add in the fact that there are several areas of public land along the eastern side of the Lone Star State, and it got me curious about small stream fishing elsewhere in the area.

There’s only one way to find out, right? Soon I will be back in the familiar pine forests of East Texas again and I will let my inner 12-year-old kid through the woods to play.

Better late than never, right?



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