Top 4 Rivers to Fish - Texas Edition
There are many different rivers in Texas to kayak and fish, and fortunately I have been able to get on a few of these rivers. Of course, I have not covered every single river in Texas, and most of the rivers I have been on have only been for a small section of that river. For this top 4 countdown there are a few qualities that will all be considered: Scenery, Water Quality, Fishing Quality and Overall Atmosphere. Lets go ahead and get started right away with the number 4 river for the Top 4 Rivers to Kayak Fish In Texas.
4. South Llano River
One aspect of Texas that a lot of outsiders might recognize is the Hill Country. I have two rivers from the Hill Country on this list of which the number four spot goes to the Llano River. Part of what makes the Llano River a great spot to visit is the location. On the outskirts of the Hill Country, you will find plenty of hills, large granite formations and a significant amount of boulders in the water. There are two primary locations I visit, but for thepurpose of selecting a certain section of water, I have chosen the South Llano River near Junction, Texas. In this portion of the Llano you will find hills all around you which make for quite a pleasing scenery. Wild Turkeys, deer, hogs, and rattlesnakes are abundant in this area and all add to the beautiful, yet sometime dangerous scenery.
Water Quality (7/10)
The water quality is decent depending on time and conditions, but overall is probably the worst water quality out of this list - this doesn't mean it isn't good though. I typically only have a few feet of visibility because of a silt that I commonly encounter on the water. The one aspect about the South Llano River that is especially pleasing is the amount of vegetation you will find. Alligator Weed and lily pads are abundant and provide great water for big bass to roam in. Although the Llano typically is rock bottom, this region is somewhat a hit and miss for rock bottom and sand / dirt bottom. I prefer rock bottom, but sometimes there isn't rock everywhere. This is part of the reason why the South Llano is the number 4 spot on this list, as it lacks the water quality of the top three rivers.
Fishing Quality (6.5/10)
One of the primary reasons the South Llano River made it on this list was because of the fishing that can be done. The first few times I went to the South Llano River the fishing was spectacular with catches ranging in the 3-5 pound size. As time progressed, the fishing seemed to get a little rougher each time. This could be due to random conditions and such, but when the sun is out on the South Llano River, fishing gets very hard. This is another reason that the South Llano is on the number four spot. This may sound like the South Llano River shouldn't have made this list, but due to the overall fishing I have had on the Llano, I felt as though it would be impossible not to include it.
One of the lures I particularly like to throw is a weedless topwater frog. The lily pads and Alligator Weed are excellent spots to target with the frog, as often times you will work a frog through the vegetation only to have a massive explosion happen on the water from a big bass trying to catch a meal. Spinner baits also work well if it is partly cloudy as do crank baits in more open regions of water. Texas rigged soft plastics can be pretty effective, but really you need some sort of cloud coverage. This sounds crazy as this usually doesn't effect soft plastics, but for some reason it seems to be an important aspect to fishing on the South Llano River. Another valuable option that is always a go to for me is a Worden's Rooster Tail. I have caught many fish on the South Llano River with a Rooster Tail, including several decent Guadalupe Bass.
The fishing always is a key word for many people, as if the fishing isn't good why go "kayak fishing"? However, the South Llano River may agitate you every once and a while. It is not the easiest river to fish in my opinion due to the drastic changes in water level that can occur during the summer months, and the almost unbearable temperatures that can occur in the summer months as well. I would suggest going in the early spring or fall for the South Llano River. All said, the fishing can be tremendous if all of the variables are aligned correctly.
Overall Atmosphere (7/10)
The South Llano River is a great spot to visit. I highly recommend visiting the South Llano River State Park, as it is a very family friendly park that is well laid out with a lot of other things to do besides kayak fishing. The one thing that keeps me coming back to the South Llano really is the overall atmosphere. The fishing isn't optimal, the water is pretty good but not great and the fishing is pretty good as well, but as a whole, the South Llano River is an excellent spot to visit and give a shot.
3. Frio River (Leakey, Texas - Garner State Park)
No doubt, the Frio River is by far one of the most beautiful rivers I have been on in Texas. Huge Cypress trees with crystal clear water flowing through the best of the Texas Hill Country is hard to beat. I really enjoy the pure rock surroundings, as you will not find much dirt in this area (this is partly why the water is so clear). Although the Cypress Trees block a lot of the views of the hills / small mountains, every once and a while you will catch a glimpse of some amazing scenery outside of the banks of the water. I can't stress enough how beautiful the scenery can be, or more so is, as I fell in love with the Frio River the first time I saw it.
Water Quality (5/10)
You might be confused why I gave the Frio River a water quality rating of 5/10. The reason is due to the huge fluctuations in water level. Whereas the South Llano is usually pretty low, but typically runnable in a kayak, the Frio can drastically differ at times. I have not personally encountered horrible conditions when I went, but from friends who also kayak fish, it seems as though the Frio River is not even capable of running a kayak at times. Due to this the rating has to be a 5/10.
However, if the water were a little more stable, the rating would easily be a 10/10. It is quite a sight when you see just how clear the Frio River is. It is amazing to watch big bass swimming through the weeds in the distance and see the water column in real life. There is actually quite a bit of Alligator Weeds and Lily Pads in certain regions of the river which are hotspots for the bass, just like on the South Llano River. You will also find a significant amount of fallen Cypress Trees in the water, which can once again be great for finding bass.
One aspect of the Frio River when it is flowing good is the rapids. You will encounter somewhat wild rapids (up to class III) if the flow is significant, but they are extremely fun if you are experienced enough to run them. I have encountered countless amounts of rapids on the occasion I went and fortunately I never flipped over, but I did get a hook stuck in my thumb from grabbing the side of my kayak during a rapid chute...not fun at all. I would always suggest portaging if you are not confident with your ability to run the rapids and also keep in mind that your kayak can play a crucial role in how successful you can be in rapids. I use Jackson Kayaks which have a strong heritage of whitewater kayaking, and thus the fishing kayaks share a little bit of this heritage as well. Other kayaks however, including some in the Jackson line-up are more focused at speed - a very bad aspect when going down rapids. If you do choose to run some rapids, remember to always have on your life jackets, such as a MTI Adventurewear. You should always wear a proper PFD while out on the water, but make sure you have one on when running rapids.
Fishing on the Frio River is a little like the water quality, it could be higher, but the fluctuation in water flows have a drastic impact on quality fishing. When I went to the Frio River in early June of 2016, I went with three other friends. On this trip I could easily say we caught over 100 bass in total. It was the most unbelievable thing I had every seen. These were big bass too - ranging in the 3-7 pound range quite frequently. That was really all I was targeting on this trip, as it was for a photoshoot and big bass seem to make for better pictures then 1/4 pound bluegill.
Topwater frogs are once again quite good, as the clear water can be difficult to fish so the topwater aspect provides an advantage. I like to use a translucent green pumpkin frog and throw it in pretty heavy cover. Swimming the frog seems to work optimal, but always throw in a few twitches and pauses to spark some attention. Space Monkeys from Rage Tail also work well with a Texas Rig outfit. I use a finesse spinning setup most of the time due to the clear water. Six pound mono is a good option, but I'd throw on a fluorocarbon leader if you have the patience to do that or just run straight mono. I actually used 10 pound braid on the Frio River as well for throwing in some of the cover and it worked out pretty well, but obviously mono or fluorocarbon would be the better option overall.
Overall Atmosphere and Conclusion (8.5/10)
The atmosphere on the Frio River is pretty awesome. I would give it a 10/10, but it is so popular to visit that it can get a little crowded at times thus hurting the atmosphere for me as a kayak fisherman. The fishing in combination with the water quality make it an outstanding place to visit, but the fluctuation in water flow makes the Frio River somewhat unreliable. Even if the water levels are low, it will make for a nice trip, just expect to drag your kayak quite a bit in certain regions. The cliffs and hills in combination with the water is really a ticket for success and if it weren't for the few variables that hurt the Frio River, it would most likely be my number one choice for the top kayak fishing river destination in Texas.
2. Brazos River (Below Possum Kingdom Lake)
The Brazos River is often recognized as a muddy and flooded river that runs through Texas. While for the most part this is true, there is a section of water on the Brazos that is quite astonishing to kayak and fish. Below Possum Kingdom Lake you will find the Brazos River flowing through the Palo Pinto Mountains. There are very large cliffs surrounding the Brazos in this section of water with large boulders everywhere, including in the water.
Most of the area is rock, so this provides a rather nice landscape. Sunsets and sunrises are especially nice on the Brazos River, as it will creep through the Palo Pinto Mountains and give a nice sight to view. You will commonly see hogs and deer, but the primary attraction simply is the river and the Palo Pinto Mountains around it.
Water Quality (8.5/10)
The water on this section of the Brazos is something especially interesting. It has a copper tint to it, but is quite clear as it flows through the rock bottom river. Visibility has always been good when I have gone and what I like to consider great fishing clarity - meaning clear enough to enjoy but not so clear that fishing because very difficult
There are a few rapids that you will encounter on the Brazos, but all of them are very easy to navigate for the most part and are not something to worry about. Water levels fluctuate depending on time of year, but obviously spring and fall are the best time to go. Typically flow rates are around 200 cfs, but optimal flow in my opinion is around 300-400 cfs. This will make the rapids a little more exciting, but still not too dangerous. In the heat of summer the water levels can drop a little low and you will need to get out in a few areas to pull your kayak, but there is still plenty of quality water around to fish.
From all of the rivers I have fished in Texas, it would be pretty difficult to beat the fishing quality on this section of the Brazos River. I have caught numerous amounts of bass on this section and a lot of huge bass as well. Of course, my most memorable bass was a twelve pound monster that I landed as an unofficial record for the Brazos River. Although this was a bass I will never forget, I have caught plentiful amounts of four pound plus bass on this section.
You will want to target the structure in the water with one particular lure - a Rage Tail Space Monkey in a Green Pumpkin coloration that is Texas Rigged. I cannot tell you how productive this setup has been on the Brazos for me. Throwing it around the infinite amount of rocks and boulders in the water seems to be the perfect ticket for catching monsters. Square bill crankbaits are also another great option if you do not have the technique of finesse Texas Rig fishing down. Topwater has had very little success for me, which is quite rare, but for some reason I cannot land bass with a topwater lure on the Brazos so I would lead you to try something else.
If you want to catch big bass, this is the place to go in my opinion. I would like to say that even when I am having a great day though, I typically am only catching a bass every 30 minutes or so, but they are good bass. Just enjoy yourself and be ready for that big bass to bite your line.
Overall Atmosphere (8/10)
I really enjoy visiting the Brazos River and I have gone to this section many different times. Although the water is not crystal clear and the fishing takes a lot of skill, it is by far one of my favorite locations to go and that is why it is clearly in my top four rivers to kayak fish in Texas. The only thing that really hurts the Brazos River is the amount of traffic it can receive at times. You will especially encounter a lot of fly fisherman in the winter-spring months, as trout are stocked in this section of water. I do not fish for trout heavily, but you will land some every now and then if you go to the Brazos regularly. It is a very Texas river, meaning it is rustic and looks like you are in a western while you are paddling down the water, at least a peaceful western. No doubt you should give it a shot, it is worth it.
1. Devils River
The Devils River is clearly my favorite river to fish in Texas if you follow my website. I talk about the Devils River quite a bit and for good reason. I really love the scenery that the Devils River consists of, as very large hills and cliffs are in every which direction as you are in the middle of nowhere. You will not find many trees outside of the banks of the river, as much of the vegetation is cactus and Texas Sagebush.
If you enjoy being remote and isolated at times, you will appreciate what the Devils River has to offer. You might run into some people every now and then, but for the most part you will be by yourself. This makes the scenery even more appreciable in my opinion, as you feel like you are very privileged to be encountering such a sight.
One particular sight that I enjoy very much is Dolan Falls, just south of Del Norte (Devils River State Natural Area) and the springs that are just upstream from Del Norte. The water is particularly clear in this region of the Devils River because of the large amount of springs.
Water Quality (9.5/10)
The water you will find on the Devils River is extremely high quality, mainly due to the Devils River being spring fed; almost entirely. The water is simply spectacular as you will only find rock bottom with large boulders, but also a fair amount of vegetation such as Alligator Weeds.
There is a wide variety of rapids on the Devils River, some of which are pretty serious and others that can be pretty fun but not as overwhelming. Definitely do not run Dolan Falls, but outside of this all of the rapids can be run if you are experienced and confident enough to give them a shot. I would not run the rapids if you are in doubt because there is not cell service and most of the river is very remote, so receiving help can be very difficult.
Typically, the water is crystal clear, but I have gone one time after a flood and the water was pretty murky, but it cleared up pretty quickly.
Fishing on the Devils River is quite good, but not great. Since the water is so clear, it can be pretty hard to not spook fish. You really have to be cautious of how you position yourself so that you have optimal chance at landing some fish. Always place your shadow behind you so it doesn't cast out over the water and make sure to use proper line. If you aren't throwing topwater frogs, try to utilize fluorocarbon or at least monofilament with a fluorocarbon leader. Fish can be pretty scared by the slightest things, so give yourself every chance you can.
Topwater frogs are great in the Alligator Weeds, but you will want braided line and a baitcasting setup here. A twitch and pause retrieve works best, but vary up your retrieval style. Rage Tail Space Monkeys are another great option to use, but use as light of a weight as possible and work your Texas Rig a little quicker than usual so fish cannot get a good look at the jig. Rooster Tails are especially productive in rapids, but can also be effective in open water.
You will not catch monsters every time you go to the Devils River, but fishing is pretty good. When the hot summer sun is out it is pretty hard to catch quality fish, but be patient and try some different lures out.
Overall Atmosphere (10/10)
The Devils River is pretty much my ideal river. It is what I call a pool and rapids river, as there are many rapids and pools that all interconnect one another. I enjoy the change up of running rapids, slow fishing the pools, and every once and a while having to portage. It provides a nice changeup so you aren't experiencing the same thing over and over.
The hills and cliffs are spectacular and just the pure remoteness of the river is awesome. You will be able to see some amazing stars, scenery, have great fishing as well as some excitement out on the water. Snorkeling is a great option here if you enjoy it, so definitely bring your gear if you have it.
If I had to describe the Devils River in a sentence it could be the most beautiful river in a desert you could ever think of. It is pretty mind-boggling to be walking in the middle of desert only to come to a crystal clear river that is a great location for fishing.