The Central Texas scene is growing and maturing at a remarkable rate.
Davin Topel arrived at the put-in first. I offered him a still-warm donut. The professional distiller and fishing guide reached into the back seat of his truck and handed me a bottle of his latest Real Spirits Single Barrel malt whiskey release (which I had paid him for) and a second bottle (which I had not paid him for): a soon-to-be-released Texas gin that I really enjoy with Fever Tree’s Elderflower tonic water.
Edgar Diaz showed-up late, but with Christmas fast approaching we were happy the busy artist was able to get away from his studio and workshop at all. As Edgar stepped out of his truck, he lifted his hand and sent a black circle spinning my way.
It was one of his signature Sightline Provisions cuffs, this one with a silver-toned Rio Grande cichlid profile. Rios, the only cichlid native to the US and then only to Texas, are one of my three or four favorite species to catch anywhere. Edgar knows that.
“Merry Christmas, man,” he said.
With those unexpected acts of generosity, we began a mid-day, mid-winter session on an urban creek with no real expectation – post-flood, and after overnight lows near freezing – that we would catch a lot of fish, but the certainty that we would have fun trying and we all would enjoy the company.
Two of us were carrying handcrafted landing nets made by another friend, Dustin Scott, out-of-town that day. Dustin’s Heartwood Trade nets were named finalists in Garden & Gun magazine’s prestigious “Made in the South” awards this fall.
As we waded upstream, we engaged in the angler’s traditional call-and-response: “Watcha got on?”
Davin: “Rio Getter.”
Edgar: “Ha! Me too.”
Turned-out we had all independently determined that the weighted nymphs from local commercial tier Matt Bennet were an appropriate first course. Throughout the day we would switch it up a couple of times, but I’m pretty sure none of the flies had been tied more than 15 miles from where we were fishing: Wes McNew’s micro game changer, available through his (appropriately enough on this day) Onion Creek Fly Co.; Matt’s carp-it bombs and Brunch Money streamers, available through Fly Geek Custom Flies and Umpqua; a Scarpian from Chase Smith at FishChaseFlies.
If I wasn’t wearing a Howler Bros. cap, it’s only because I inadvertently left it in the Jeep. For part of the day, Edgar was casting his beautiful, custom cane rod from Williamannette Rod Co., the creation of our friend Craig Dunleavy over in Dripping Springs. I was throwing a handmade C. Barclay Fly Rod Co. Synthesis 68L – a glass rod that Texas native and North Carolina transplant Chris Barclay says was inspired by a creek on the north side of Austin, where he still has family and visits frequently.
Meanwhile, Davin had a YETI Panga submersible pack slung across his back. Both Howler Bros. and YETI are national brands by now, but they are hometown companies still headquartered in Austin.
If you’ve read this far, you might think that I’m just name-dropping, or trying to keep my “sponsors” happy. I’m not. None of these folks “sponsor” me (though I do sometimes benefit from “friends and family” discounts – thanks, guys!), and unless you are local or really into gear, you probably haven’t heard of some of them … yet.
But do you see a trend, here? I do, and it is this: fly fishing in Austin is hot right now – the sport, and culture, is growing and maturing at a remarkable pace in Central Texas.
This is at least partly due to “introduction to fly fishing” classes hosted by local shops; Living Waters Fly Fishing routinely hosts 30-60 new anglers each month – newbies whose first fish on the fly will be a bass or sunfish or cichlid on Brushy Creek, just around the corner.
My good friend Donovan Kypke, who is more than a year into his ownership of the Reel Fly shop in Canyon Lake just opened a second location in Wimberly. He has been a driving force in launching the first Pig Farm Ink events in Central Texas – freewheeling, community-building events like Get Trashed on the Guad and Iron Fly.
I’m guessing some part of the blossoming of fly fishing culture here also is simply a function of the area’s phenomenal growth in population, much of it driven by tech company relocations and expansions from sunny California or the Pacific Northwest where outdoor recreation is a way of life. Mountain and road biking, rock climbing, and paddling also have seen local increases in participation over the past decade.
But in the fly fishing community here – and it’s a community, not an industry – makers of rare talent have emerged. The area supports four full-on fly shops and several more retailers who offer fly fishing equipment along with other goods, or guide services.
Among the guides are Orvis-endorsed pros like Alvin Dedeaux, one of the early professionals in the area, and Kevin Hutchison, who continues to do the hard work of keeping the original Bud Priddy Fly Fishing the Texas Hill Country fresh and up-to-date.
All of this is cool and interesting and – I think – a sign of the state of the sport in Central Texas today.
What is even cooler, though, is the vibe. Obviously I’m not immersed in the culture in other parts of the country – and my experience is that fly fishers everywhere are remarkably helpful and generous, but my tribe in Central Texas seems to take it a step further, creating a mutually supportive and encouraging atmosphere that is nothing short of inspiring.
It could be that – with the exception of our single tailwater trout stream – our rivers are uncrowded, and there are a lot of them; we have plenty of room for new participants. It could be that there is enough business here for everyone to get a piece of the action and a rising tide is lifting all the boats.
It could be we’re just all Texas-friendly, or Austin laid-back.
Whatever the underlying reasons, it has become increasingly clear to me, and to others – some of whom were voices in a catfishing and bass boating wilderness long before I arrived – that something special is happening in Central Texas.
Mostly it happens one fishing trip or creek session at a time, forging relationships that carry over into passion projects and commercial ventures and conservation efforts and an open-armed, open-hearted belief that everyone should have the opportunity to become part of our tribe. Photo at the top of the page: Time on the water forges relationships that transcend fishing. L-R: Edgar Diaz, Aaron Reed, Davin Topel. Facial hair optional. (Click on the images for larger size.)
Here’s to more of the same in 2019.