Striper fishing in Texas is something special. During the late spring/early summer, the wildflowers are blooming, storms are rolling in and out, and most importantly, the fish are aggressive. Every species in the river seems to have a chip on their shoulder. The flies we toss in front of them really seem to piss them off.
This was my first winter/spring in Texas. I moved to New Braunfels, in between Austin and San Antonio, for the season to experience a warm water fishery with my boyfriend, Dylan Mendoza, who guides on the Guadalupe River. The “Guad” is a unique fishery on the Trout Unlimited top 100 list and is known as the southernmost trout fishery in the U.S. But what some may not notice about this tailwater is the thriving striper fishery that feeds it.
Canyon Lake is known for its striper population, and it’s responsible for the giants that now reside in the Guadalupe River. In recent years, there were a few catastrophic floods that resulted in Canyon Lake releasing the maximum amount of water into the Guad to avoid overflow. So, giant bottom-dwelling striped bass and many others were released into the mix. Once they entered the river, they quickly found their meal of choice: the rainbow trout. The water body record for stripers stands at 50 lbs. (caught in 1996), just three pounds shy of the state record. Since then, there have been several catches close to those standards.
A couple weeks prior to my encounter with a giant, we had a long stint of hot, sunny days – which was great for black bass and carp fishing, but not ideal for targeting stripers. We were watching the weekly forecasts and saw one day that had a front coming in with some rain. We eyed this as an opportunity to try our luck at a big striper. The conditions looked near perfect: cloudy, dark skies, light rain, and the river slightly off color from rain the night before. We rigged an 8wt with 350-grain sinking line and an 8-inch trout imitating double deceiver that was tied on with 15lb. flouro. We knew we would have a good chance at schoolies (striped bass who travel together and are much smaller), but did not think a giant was going to eat. If we had done it over, we would have used some heavier tippet! Nevertheless, we started the pursuit and caught a few small ones right out of the gate.
We then approached a promising spot that is notorious for large stripers. Within seconds of my first cast, the fly still sitting near the surface got inhaled. I gave him two hard strip sets and he was off! I was out of the boat casting from the bank and had to jump in the water to chase him downstream. My main focus was to avoid losing him to a large brush pile that had interfered in the past. He started heading toward the brush pile and had all the momentum on his side. I wasn’t able to turn him but kept holding pressure hoping that I could slow him down. There was a moment when he stopped fighting and I thought the brush pile may have won, but he caught a second wind and kept surging downstream. Finally, 100 feet later I was able to turn him and slowly gain my fly line back. We got him close, but still worried he might spit the hook with all the ferocious head shakes. Dylan wasted no time, jumped in and grabbed him by the lower jaw.
It was incredible the amount of fight that fish still had in him. It reminded me of the last time I went tarpon fishing (where you get your first hold on the fish and that’s another battle in itself).
We were both in water up to our waists, in awe of what just happened. My hands were still shaking as Dylan and I switched positions for a few photographs. The strength and weight of this fish were astounding once I got my hands on it. As we snapped a few shots, I couldn’t lift this fish up any higher than in the photo. I knew that this was the biggest and baddest striper I will catch in my lifetime! We released the fish and received one last splash in the face from his tail.
In most fish stories, there’s always the one that got away. However, in this story, I was fortunate enough to capitalize on the opportunity and have a longer story to tell. It’s moments like this that keep me pursuing new adventures, new friends, and new fish.
If you are in the Central Texas area and looking to get on some fish, contact Dylan Mendoza Fly Fishing at his website or via Instagram @dm_flyfishing where you can keep up with his fly fishing trips in the hill country and up in Colorado during the summer months.
You can find me in Basalt, Colorado during the summer months guiding for Taylor Creek Fly Shops. The rest of the time you’ll find me running around with a fly rod and camera in hand. Check out my photography at my website or follow along on Instagram @shannonouting!