As I've written many times before, I'm a big fan of the stocked trout program in Texas. It hooked me, at an early age some decades ago, on these fun fish and on flyfishing and ultra light sport fishing for fish that will fight and jump. I was already a big destined to be lifelong fisher of all kinds and places, but the Texas trout stocking program, particularly in the Guadalupe in the 1970's, made me a fan of winter fishing for trout.
I'm not a hunter much anymore. Haven't been hunting in years. Do a lot of shooting but that's targets and occasional snakes mostly. Did a lot of hunting in younger years as a kid coming up, of all kinds but now I like to spend deer season chasing rainbows in Texas.
As my friend Cowboy says, if there's a sink with 6" of water in it, I'm asking somebody if anyone ever caught any kind of fish in that sink.
Of course, not that bad but almost. Old forgotten farm ponds and deep creeks with undercut ledges have always been great places to hang out, set up a fishing camp and do some great fishing. Some of the best fishing I had as a kid (and I've had some pretty legendary days on the water) was on the small ponds and lakes on a world famous golf course in Houston. We'd sneak over there at night, and those small waters held some big fish.
So going along with the idea of being able to catch rainbow trout in Texas, normally a cold water species, is the idea of visiting some pretty cool places where they are stocked by the State. Some State Park lakes are ideal for smaller kids, having gently sloping shorelines in case somebody falls in. El Fisho Jr, my son, was raised fishing around many of these parks during the winter, and he still really doesn't fully "get" the idea that in some places people don't go fishing in the winter, because he's been doing it so long.
So these parks, both in the city and county parks and in some locales away from home in State Parks where the rainbow stocking takes place, are often great places to not only let your child catch a fish but have family services and safety in mind. Restrooms. Cabins, both day and evening sometimes, piers, canoes and other rental boats at times and just whatever services the park you visit has to offer.
I've always found that the rainbow get a lot friskier and hungrier the colder it gets. And a drizzling rain or the rare light snow doesn't hurt either. The absolute craziest fly and spin fishing for trout in Texas that I've ever done was in VERY COLD weather. The fish were literally dancing like porpoises across the top of the water hitting some dry flies, that resembled small black flies or mosquitos, which maybe they had flying into the stock ponds they were raised in.
So that's my theory on why I've always caught more trout the colder and more intolerable it is. Unlike ice fishing in the land up yonder, in Texas you're exposed to the elements for the most part. Layers help and as the day waxes and wanes, layers are good to have to peel off. The outer layer needs to be some kind of Gortex or something similar, breathable that will resist water.
I have not been able to keep up with whatever news releases accompany the annual Trout Stocking in Texas, but usually they release a lit around the first of November with the fairly firm stocking dates and places. It's always good to call the location or the hatchery before you head off on a trip if you're going when the stocking occurs to make sure of no cancellations.
Also, if you get the chance to be there at the time the trucks deliver the fish, and usually it is early like around 6 a.m to 8 a.m. the times I've seen it, it is a very cool thing to see.
Let me give you another friendly "tip". If you take the wife and kids along, and it's a wintery day, they will not want to spend all day in the wind chill factor air. Get a room in a nearby town with cable and hopefully a restaurant or store nearby. Spend time there too. Have fun. Better than camping in the bitter cold, but you can make your forays in the early AM before sunrise solo whilst the family is warm and snuggly and get in a couple two-three of hours of prime fishing. I know Mrs. El Fisho is far more tolerant when she has a warm and comfortable place to read a book or watch cable/satt/dvds as the children and I go forth into the wilderness.
Yes, camping is cool and camping is nice. I've done a lot of it in my life. But for fishing in Texas, unless the State were to Stock some remote locale which made camping a necessity, then motels are the way to do it with a rented campsite and a tent set up for hanging out at the State Park or the locale you fish at.
FRESHLY STOCKED TROUT: Although some say that fishing is poor when fish are freshly stocked, I disagree. I have found them to be hungry and have caught many fish at times after stocking occurred. Remember, these rainbows are meant to be eaten because they cannot survive all year round in the hot Texas temps, and if you're not going to eat them, filet them and give them to a friend, who will appreciate some real fresh and good tasting rainbow trout raised with tax dollars.
COOKING AND FISHING: I've sometimes had a fire going near our fishing spot in a permissible location. A small skillet, butter and a few side dishes and supplies are all you need for some very nice rainbow filets or deep fried portions. And of course a good filet knife. The stock trout tend to the small side, and I can tell you that a limit for yourself can fill you up nicely with perhaps a bit left over. Bring easy to prepare or prepared dressing or potatoes and some veggies and salads and have a mega feast with some safe fish to eat from a Texas State Hatchery.
I've eaten freshly caught trout, grilled in butter over an open fire, streamside or lakeside on several occasions in very nice locations. Once, several decades agao, in thirty degree weather with eggs, bacon home fries and several fishing buddies (and volunteer cooks!) just a little over an hour outside of Austin, Texas about an hour after sunrise on a early deserted Saturday morning at a small lake where a little known Federal Fish and Game department used to stock rainbows in a public access park facility on Federal property. Permit costs $5 a person then. It was a screamin' deal.
FISHING METHODS: For me, I'm fly and ultralight spin fishing. A 3 wt. Orvis ( or an Orvis 6 wt if very windy or large water). I mostly use floating line but will use a spool of sinking line for nymphing and streamers when it's hot outside and I'm trying to get down as deep as possible. But usually before I change the spool I switch to spinning tackle.
For me, tiny spinners have always worked best. Mepps work great too, just remember these are tiny fish and a size 8 hook is kinda on the big side. I'm mostly fishing 10's and 12's but two of my best twenty year plus trout producers are spinners that are sized 14 and 16, gold and green, respectively.
My friend Jeff from Sugar Land always had good luck with a variety of sized and colored Beatle Spin lures on the part of the Guadalupe near the dam where the larger stocked Rainbows and Browns can survive year round in the ice cold discharge from Canyon Lake. Jeff once caught a really big six pound brown and eight pound rainbow tube on the same 3" black beatle spin while fishing from a fishing tube rig in the the area down below the dam in March of one year. Those fish had been around for awhile.
Sober and verifiable authorities were on that trip with him, who photo'd and quickly weighed the fish before releasing the giants back to their home in the cracks in the rocks along the shoreline.
For the easy fisherman, the lazy bank fisherman, the tried and true easy catch method, particularly for kids still fishing, is corn kernals, the kind packed in water in the can, not the cream kind.
Salmon eggs work better, and are cheap but usually you have to get those off the internet from somewhere other than Texas, unless a mega-store like Cabelas or Gander or such other stores has them.
There's a ton of effective scented bait tails and other creatures made of plastic out there. I've had good luck with Berkley Gulp! lures for other types of fishing, and I'm not sure what would work good on stocked rainbows, but I'm sure something would. As always, the Texas Fishing Forum is a great place to find chatter about stuff like this in a searchable format and with lots of folks who have posted about Texas Trout Stocking and their tips.
Trust me, there are enough "fishing experts" out there ready to advise what works that common themes emerge.
LOCAL FLY SHOPS: One place I like to really get expert information is from a local fly shop, if there is one. I buy me some local lures there, and support a local business. And sometimes, just sometimes, there are used gear deals or ore importantly, spare parts you can get for something you already have and that can be had at cheap and often giveaway prices. You never know what you'll find in a local fly, fishing, hunting or sporting goods store, sometimes with years old back stock.
The guys in the big city fly shops know too about what's biting in various stocking locales, like at Orvis and other places, cause they and their co-workers hit these places themselves and get reports and I've never had anyone at any fly shop, be it Orvis or a one man operation, try to oversell me anything.
And the various flies and lures that have been recommended and suggested to me have worked pretty well, so well that I go back and get more. For over 20 years now.
MY BASIC FLY SELECTION: In general, black flies work well for surface work, in small sizes. I have caught rainbows both wild and stocked on Homer Circle's famous sponge rubber green/yellow/white spider with the white elastic legs. You can find variants of these everywhere. Bass love them. Panfish love them. I've even caught speckled trout in the bays on these.
But trout will hit them. Squeeze them in water to put a little weight into them so they'll sink a bit.
Small grasshopper and cricket imitations and various nymphs and streamers work well, and I'll leave those to the recommendations of others. There are no grasshoppers or crickets in the winter usually, but the simple Dave's Hopper is a very successful fly for me when it is BITTERLY COLD AND WINDY and the trout are feeding at or very near the top, being very frisky because their genetics tell them THiS IS THE WAY IT WAS MEANT TO BE FOR YOU, COLD AND FROSTY, has been the small grasshopper, twitched. Twitching is easy under these circumstances because you are shivering, no matter how bundled.
Get a variety of small flies, as these stocked rainbows are small, so be sure to focus on some teeny tiny flies in the 14,16 range.
I'll add this caveat: My first fly fishing rod, a cheap but functional bamboo affair gotten with S&H Greenstamps, came with a huge assortment of cheap flies, many resembling nothing I've ever seen in fly catalogs or store selection bins. Over the years, in buying used tackle and garage saleing and ebaying and such, I've acquired quite a few interesting flies of cheaper origin. Nonetheless, about 50% of these have caught fish at times when nothing else would, and the garish ones tended to do as well as the more sedate patterns that sort of resembled established basic fly patterns.
CHEAP FLY FISHING GEAR You can get a nice balanced fly rig for as cheap as $30, needing only the flies. I've fished some nice rod sets in this range, particularly Scientific Anglers cheap rig. Walmart, Academy and of course the sports superstores have them as well, with matched line, rod, reel, backing and sometimes some flies. A nice 5 weight would be ideal, but 6 weight is what mostly resides in this price range.
I started with that bamboo rod and progressed quickly to some garage sale fiberglass rods and then some graphite rods and \ then ultimately to a low end Orvis rod, and I'll say my decent fly fishing got a million times better after 20 years of fly fishing with the purchase of the hallowed first Orvis rod.
But I caught lots of trout and bass and panfish on a Berkley graphite Bounty Hunter rod that sold for about $12 in the seventies and damn decent Kmart knockoff of a Shakespeare that sold for the amazing sum of like $2.97 on sale. So I had plenty of fun with that great casting rod and some good Orvis line. A good solid and frequent decade of fishing with that rod, and now it belongs to El Fisho Jr. as again, it's a good learning rod. He's been fishing with this rod for quite some time now.
I found that buying good fly line goes A LONG WAY to making it easier to learn to fly fish and to fly fish better, and a nice weight forward taper for beginning casters is at once both forgiving and enabling. Spend some cash on a good brand of actual name brand fly line, Orvis or Scientific Anglers will do, and again, don't forget bargains on ebay and the like.
Don't forget that some of those tiny spinners and plastic scented lures might not work well with a simple hook on a fly rod, drifted down a river or taken around structure. Just because it's a fly rod doesn't mean you can't put some split shot on the line and get some kind of unconventional lure out there with a fly rod. I've caught catfish this way, on the fly rod, just not using a fly. It was a hoot and a battle royal for about 30 minutes, as it was about a 4 lb. channel cat.
THINKING ABOUT SOME GOOD OLD DAYS: When I was running around with the Llano boys, friends of mine from Llano and Mason and China Springs that I hung with alot back in my twenties, we'd go to various rainbow stocking spots and catch, clean and cook as we had a good old times. We hit places all over central Texas and the Hill Country, including some private land where the landowners had private stocks of non-gubment rainbows from private hatcherys stocked, and that was some good fishing.
There are people who do private stocking now on their own lands and in creeks that run through their lands. If you look around, you can find these. I'm not telling you mine. A man's gotta have some fishing secrets.
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