This is George's write-up........
Devils River Adventure –Four TFF’ers make it out in one piece!
Matt Blyth, Travis Rock, Don “Puck” Puckett, and George Sutherland spend three days in a remote corner of some of the most rugged terrain Texas has to offer – and catch some really nice fish!
I’m sitting at home one evening last November when my cell phone rings. Checking the number, I see it is Matt Blyth calling. “Have a proposition for you,” says Matt. “I’m putting together a trip to the Devils River in March, and wanted to see if you’d like to go.” My mind immediately throws the “heck yeah!” switch, but I have to look into calendars and budgets. A brief debate between the small angel and devil who sit on my shoulders, and I confirm in a day or two. I’m in. The group is Matt, Puck, Travis Rock, and me. We’re booked though guide and outfitter Brent Hodges, with ReelFly Fishing Adventures
. A three- day trip of fly fishing for smallmouth bass, floating, and camping on the river islands. Cool!
The River and Logistics - Wow… the Devils River! I’ve heard about the river, but knew nothing more than it is a great experience to fish and float, and you must have it on your bucket list. Researching the river yields some rather surprising results – that there is simply not much written about it. A remote river in West Texas, it rises from springs out of limestone near Comstock, Texas, and travels 47 miles where it empties into Lake Amistad near Del Rio. Spring fed waters means the river is crystal clear, cool, and it has been designated as the cleanest river in Texas. In an area where the South Texas brush country converges with the Chihuahuan Desert, the river forms a beautiful strip of bright blues and greens that passes between high arid bluffs of gray limestone, prickly pear, yucca, and juniper. The colors of the river are really quite Caribbean, against the rugged arid backdrop of the desert. Very remote with highly limited access, the river crosses private property the entire length with the exception to two state natural areas. And one of those is still closed to the public! Access to the river has only been available through the state in the past four years, and that is very closely controlled. Only twelve people are currently allowed through the state property onto the river per day. So anyone who gains access will see very few people during their trip. The only other public access is at Baker’s Crossing, which makes for a very long trip but people make it in canoes and kayaks. No services along the way, no cellphone coverage. So if you have a problem you must be prepared to deal with it until you reach your destination. The local landowners are rather independent, and trespassing is simply not a good idea regardless of the reason. So it is remote, no restaurants or hotels, no guide services other than ReelFly
, and thus not any media coverage, websites, etc. All the reasons there is not very much information on the internet about the river.
We arrived on Thursday evening, after the seven hour drive from Katy. Heading West from San Antonio on Hwy 90 brought out many deer camp memories – I hunted deer and turkey for years in that area, we passed Castroville, D’hanis, Sabinal, Uvalde, Brackettville. I’ll bet I’ve hunted or had a chicken fried steak in every one of them. We stayed at the Bunk House, a rather rustic but very comfortable B&B who put us up for the night. The proprietor, Marlene, also assists with shuttling to and from the river. We’re greeted by the ReelFly
team, Brent Hodges, Ryan, and Zach who will guide us on the river and do all the real work. A few cocktails, and early and substantial breakfast, and we load our gear and it is off to the river.
And getting to the river is a bit of a jaunt in itself. About a thirty minute drive north on the highway, then 22 miles further on a gravel, dirt, and caliche road (generous term) into the Devils River State Natural Area. Once there we quickly ready the rafts and load the gear. I say “we,” but I really mean the ReelFly
guides. They did all the work, and frankly preferred that we keep out of their way. Ok, I guess I can be good with that! So off we go, in three inflatable “Aire” boats, two with two anglers each and one guide on the oars, and the third boat trailing with all the camping gear.
Fishing and the fish – The Devils River is probably the finest smallmouth bass fishery in the state, and we all caught more than we counted. Many were in the 2.5 to 3 pound class; pretty stocky for a smallmouth. Many largemouth bass, a whole bunch of longear sunfish, and even one spotted gar. In many cases we were sight casting to these fish! This river is so abundant in habitat the entire thing looks fishy. Cuts, deep pools, large rocks, undercut banks, grass lines, overhanging trees – it is all there. Almost all fish were caught on two flies. Puck’s renowned Mardi Gras Minnow was powerful, particularly in taking larger fish. A smaller crawfish pattern brought more fish to hand, and a greater variety of species.
Matt caught this hefty largemouth as part of a double hookup. We were floating along the bank, and had come across a deep undercut with overhanging branches. Thinking “if I were a bass that’s where I’d be,” I did my best Flip Pallot imitation and managed to present a crawfish fly right into the opening. Sinks for a second or two, then…wham! A nice smallmouth jumps the fly and the fight is on. I’m playing the fish out of the undercut and to the boat; when about five more fish come streaking out of the undercut as well, almost flying in formation as they are actually attacking the hooked smallmouth. They keep circling the fish, and Matt starts to throw his mardi gras minnow at the others while I keep the hooked fish on the line. Not unlike offshore dolphin fishing. One shot, two, then on the third shot this large bass peels off and jumps on his fly! The double is on! Whoops, hollers, and both fish landed and released. That’s one we’ll all remember for a long time!
We continued fishing, with more caught than could be described. I caught this nice smallmouth, who behaved more like a redfish. Appeared out of nowhere, near the boat, and I was able to put a fly in range. He turned, hammered the crawfish fly, and the fight was on. A few aerial leaps and the fish was soon brought to hand.
Here was a new one – a spotted gar caught on a fly. Puck and I were fishing when was came across this guy. We both cast to him, Puck’s mardi gras minnow and my crawfish fly land about eight inches apart. One of us must’ve been potlicking, you can decide who. The fish now has a buffet choice to make, and he took the crawfish. Pure luck - the fly lodged in the corner of his mouth, otherwise it might not have penetrated his bony beak. Holding this thing was like holding a rattlesnake…too much muscle and dangerous teeth. Not a big gar, but pretty cool to catch on a fly!
The only fish we could not seem to catch was a carp. You know how excited Matt gets around those leviathans, and we saw many in the shallows where they were spawning. With love on their minds they refused every fly we presented. Ah, well… maybe next trip.
Floating the river – Just the trip down the river was both a real pleasure and a real challenge. You’ll find yourself frequently wading through rapids and clambering over rocks, while the guides pull, push, and float the boats through riffles and rapids. A very physically demanding river and you need to be in pretty decent shape to make the journey. Shortly after the launch point we encounter Dolan Falls, the highest natural waterfall in Texas. Not very big as waterfalls go, but there it is. Unload all gear from three boats, drop them over the side on a controlled drift, and reload them downstream.
There is quite a historic site along the river, you’ll see these pictographs which are said to be between 500 and 1,000 years old. They can be seen in a rock shelter about 80 to 100 feet high on the bluffs. Images of coyotes and turkeys painted on the sides of the cave. You can’t see the scale from the photo, but these images must be about four feet in height. I was unable to find anything written on whom, or what people, may have left this artwork for us to see many years later in the year 2014.
Camping on the river – This was a big part of the fun. There are no established campsites available, and camping on the river banks is trespassing. So… we camped on islands on the river. Brent and the guides have located a couple of very rough but very suitable campsites. Meals were very good, breakfast tacos in the mornings, sandwiches on the river, grilled brats with sauerkraut and steaks for dinner. A couple of bottles of bourbon, some ouzo, and some fine red wine and we were well fed! Pack light and waterproof. Only one scorpion, which Matt encountered while sitting on a rock. He may even have been sitting on top of it. We slept in individual hammock tents, which swayed gently in the breeze. A combination of gentle swaying, sound of the river, wind in the trees, and bourbon provided some of the best sleep I’ve had in years!
Off the river – As we neared the end of the journey we encountered a stiff headwind. Winds blowing at a steady 30 mph plus made for some tough rowing for the three guides! For paddlers who attempt to traverse the river all the way to Lake Amistad it is said that exhaustion is a common reason for rescue as these headwinds are pretty typical. Also made for difficult fly casting as we wrapped up our trip. We made it to the take-out point, and Marlene was soon there with the ReelFly
van and trailer, ready to haul us back to the B&B where we would unload, repack, and make the journey back to Houston and back to reality.
It was quite a trip, and quite an adventure! I can’t say enough good things about the total trip. The fishing was great, but the entire experience of fishing, floating the river, camping, and enjoying the scenery with good friends was the real pleasure and what will keep me retuning. Also – heavy kudos to Brent Hodges and the ReelFly
team for making a great trip out of very challenging conditions!
Here we are after three days on the river, but wishing it was longer. We’ll be ready for the return trip next year! Here’s George, Ryan, Brent Hodges, Zach, Puck, Travis, and Matt. Maybe you’ll come with us too!