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Texas rivers offer paddlers a wide variety of angling opportunities


www.houstonchronicle.com

Houston Chronicle (05/18/2006)
By Shannon Tompkins

Inland waterways are the lifeblood of the Lone Star State, offering paddlers a wide variety of angling opportunities.

Alvin Dedeaux paddles and fishes crystalline rivers in Chile and Argentina, as well as spends weeks during the summer haunting legendary trout streams throughout the American West.

It's his occupation — river fishing guide.

The exotic waters of Patagonia or the near-mythic streams of the West's High Country intrigue and thrill him.

But his heart belongs to the Guadalupe, San Marcos, Llano and other Texas rivers.

"They are amazing places — full of fish and incredible things to see, and it's a new experience every time," Dedeaux said of the Central Texas rivers he haunts from his base in Austin.

"I can't see myself not spending time on rivers," said Dedeaux, a Houston native who grew up fishing bayous and irrigation canals around his Klein home before becoming enamored of the clear-water streams of the Hill Country. "Even if I wasn't a fishing guide, I'd be out there "

Nothing against reservoirs; it's just that rivers are ... well, alive.

"They're living, breathing, moving things," he said.

Andrew Sansom sees Texas rivers as living organisms, too. And as more.

Executive director of the Texas Rivers Institute at Texas State University, Sansom is involved in research, conservation, education, public policy issues and the other myriad matters surrounding water resources.

But he's also a life-long paddler/angler/camper who has travelled hundreds of miles upon the breast of dozens of Texas waterways and sees those streams and the water in them as one of the state's most important natural resources.

"Rivers are one of the last, great public places," Sansom said. "They're like parks — places where people can leave behind the world they live in every day and have experiences that they otherwise would never have."

The potential variety of those experiences is reflected in the stunning amount and diversity of Texas' inland waterways.

Fifteen major river systems vein the state. And their character — their personalities — are as distinct as those of any group of living things.

Some Texas rivers are mild and user-friendly. Others challenge users physically, mentally and logistically.

Some are deep, languid, liquid paths through jungle-like forests.

Others race and rest, then race again down shallow, rock-strewn paths carved through desert landscape so sear it seems impossible for such a waterway to survive.

Some flow with water the color of strong coffee.

In others, the water is so clear — so transparent — that a canoe or kayak floating on its surface seem suspended in air.

Almost all hold outstanding fishing potential.

"A lot of people don't have any idea of how good the fishing can be on rivers," Sansom said.

A section of the San Marcos River, which bursts full-grown from the tremendous springs in San Marcos, is a fine example, he said.

"There is a tremendous diversity of fish in that section," he said of a portion of the San Marcos he likes to paddle." I've caught and released as many as 75 or more fish in a day — sunfish, Guadalupe bass, smallmouths, largemouths. It's just amazing."

"River" fish often tend to be smaller than their relatives living in reservoirs, a function of the more sedate lifestyle and generally more abundant forage found in the lakes.

But there's more to fishing than the size of the quarry, said Bruce Gillan.

"I grew up fishing the Colorado (river) up in Mills County, and I still love to fish rivers and streams," said Gillan, operator of Canoesport, a Houston business specializing in paddlecraft and fishing from paddlecraft. "You drift and paddle down this quiet, beautiful piece of water with no one else around — you might as well be the only person in the world.

"And you have to learn where and how to fish tight places — undercut banks, downed trees. It's not the size of the fish; it's the place and the challenge," he said. "When you're paddling and fishing a river, you discover the same wonderment with it all that you did when you were a kid."