Q: I’m an avid trout fisherman who was raised in Oregon, which is blessed with many cold rivers and streams that support trout. I’ve very recently moved to your great state, specifically Georgetown. Is it true that the Guadalupe River is the only river in Texas that is cold enough to support trout? I’m looking forward to learning much about the incredible state of Texas!
Ed Cleland, Georgetown
A: Welcome to Texas, Mr. Cleland. Hope the picking up and re-throwing down of stakes went well. The Texanist, who is admittedly biased, suspects that the more you learn, the more you’ll love it here in your new home.
Oregon, what with all those abundant brisk and babbling waters, is indeed a trout fisherman’s paradise. The Lone Star State, as you’ve apparently gathered, doesn’t hold a candle to the Beaver State in the trout department. (Or in the beaver department, for that matter.) But what we may lack in trout, we make up in the diversity of our catchable piscifauna, including gargantuan bass, the freshwater fish for which Texas is probably best known. On the saltwater front, redfish and speckled trout rule, along with, of course, your larger varieties of game fish.
That said, it is not, in fact, the case that the Guadalupe River, which originates in the beautiful Texas Hill Country and flows on down to San Antonio Bay on the Gulf Coast, is the only river in Texas cold enough to support trout. The truth, the Texanist is sorry to report, is that there are no rivers in Texas, the Guadalupe included, that are cold enough to support a real trout fishery. This information, though, comes with an asterisk. Two asterisks, actually. Asterisk number one: There is one place in Texas where trout do thrive, but it is a creek, not a river. Specifically, McKittrick Creek, which runs through the Guadalupe Mountains (no relation to the Guadalupe River), near the Texas–New Mexico border. This unassuming brook is home to the only self-sustaining population of trout in Texas, a remarkable remnant of a rainbow trout stocking program from way back in the early part of the last century. Asterisk number two: McKittrick Creek is situated inside the borders of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, where fishing is prohibited. And since one can’t fish McKittrick Creek, it can’t be considered an actual fishery.
So why is Texas a nearly trout-free space? As you will come to learn about six months from now, it gets hellishly hot here in the summertime, and while the state’s many rivers and creeks can maintain refreshingly cool temperatures through the warmer months—if, that is, they don’t completely dry up and blow away—they do not, McKittrick Creek notwithstanding, stay chilly enough to support trout, who prefer a sub-70-degree water temperature. (The Texanist prefers to do his swimming in water with a temperature just above the 70-degree mark, cool but not too cold.)
Now, had you moved to Texas, say, 150 years ago, the situation would have been different. For one, McKittrick Creek would have been fair game for fishing, as Guadalupe Mountains National Park wasn’t established until 1972 (although the Texanist has no idea if there were trout present before those early stockings). For another, back then there were other waterways in far West Texas that actually did support native populations of trout, specifically an indigenous species known as Rio Grande cutthroat trout, so named because these denizens of the Rio Grande have a distinct ruby-colored band along the chin area that sort of resembles a cut throat. These beauties, who, with other species, likely expanded their range southward from their original more northern home during the Wisconsin glacial period, some 11,000 to 75,000 years ago, were once found not only in their namesake Rio Grande but also in the Devils River and Limpia Creek, in the Davis Mountains, as well as San Felipe Springs in Del Rio. Alas, as West Texas warmed and dried over the millennia, only relict populations of cutthroat remained. Their modern-day range has been reduced to portions of southern Colorado and New Mexico, where they are the official state fish. (Texas’s official state fish, by the way, is the Guadalupe bass.)
But before you get your dauber down and are overcome with woeful regret about your move to Texas, you should know that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has found a pretty good workaround for Texas’s troutlessness. Each year, the good folks at TPWD stock hundreds of fishing spots around the state with hundreds of thousands of ready-to-catch rainbow trout. The current state record, FYI, pulled from the Nueces River in 2010, stands at 8.92 pounds and 26.5 inches in length. Hot tip: The Canyon Lake Dam tailrace, on the Guadalupe River, is a perennially popular spot. There are even tales of some stocked trout surviving well into spring and even through the summer on that stretch of the Guadalupe, which is likely the origin of the story that brought you to the Texanist in the first place. Perhaps another asterisk is in order.
This year, TPWD is planning to release some 334,000 trout at locations around the state, a number of which—Blue Hole Park, Shirley McDonald Park, Kingfisher Pond—are situated right in your new backyard. And, Mr. Cleland, you’ve chosen a particularly fortuitous time to make your arrival, as the first of the releases occurred in November and the last will take place in March.
Just like you, these trout are not native, but Texas is happy to have them—and you—all the same. Here’s hoping that you find the elevated temperatures more advantageous than Oncorhynchus mykiss does. Please note: the Texanist is not sure how things work in Oregon, but in Texas there’s a daily bag limit of five trout, with no minimum length requirement. Again, welcome to the greatest state in the union. And happy fishing!
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.