"Fly Fishing Austin & Central Texas" by Aaron Reed - A Book Review
Updated: Jan 25, 2020
Having broken the spines, scribed the pages and practically memorized entire passages of numerous fishing guidebooks, spending just half an hour with Aaron Reed's "Fly Fishing Austin & Central Texas" proved it was my new favorite fishing folio and will be riding shotgun on every Hill County excursion for years to come. From front to back, Aaron has created the definitive blueprint for any fly rod-wielding Austinite or ambitious angler within 80+ miles of SRV's poncho-donning statue at Ladybird Lake. This book will steer you to some incredible out-of-the-way Texas fisheries (and some right under your nose) and will get you fishing NOW! Let's begin with the cover and go from there.
At first sight, the book is immediately pleasing. Cover concept, colors, fonts and heft in the hand are all thoughtfully done. The foldout map on the inside cover will be a welcome tool for anglers who love maps but lack the cockpit room and tolerance for toting around the XXL Texas-sized DeLorme topo gazetteer. I'm guilty of carrying an unnerving array of cartographical origami accouterments when exploring for unknown fisheries, most of which never get properly refolded. But this one-stop-shop map hits a homerun. Reed utilizes a numbered icon system for logical, legal access points, each POI being thoroughly explained with exact driving distances (using the aforementioned statue as ground zero), GPS coordinates and preferred parking descriptions within each chapter. As a nomadic angler myself I'm often struggling about pillaging new waters and finding their best (i.e. legal) put-ins. This map gives them all up, and in spades! You'll see the map three more times in the book, broken yet further down into Northern, Central and Southern waters, which is also delightful. I was elated about the maps the moment I cracked the cover. What's more, the maps also happen to be accurate. Many maps in books are dumbed down, simplified renditions or general representations of areas. Not these. These are REAL maps, which I think every reader will appreciate.
Another aspect of the edition I think many may take for granted is the quality and craftsmanship put into the printing. As a published author I know first-hand how much effort goes into getting a book this far. It's exhaustive work where others' egos and creative differences can ruffle feathers quicker than a savage bass on a high-floating popper. But this one is done right, boasting gobs of full-color photos, a rather creative and functional layout, high-quality stock and world-class content (which we'll get to shortly). It speaks volumes about the level of coordination and trust Aaron and his publication team had in one another.
Before diving into the fisheries, Mr. Reed devotes some warranted pages to explaining the format of the chapters to follow, the importance of the Austin fly fishing community, how he became the introspective angler he is today, taking kiddos fishing, preferred gear, the Central Texas fly box, environmental ethics, icon explanation, and more. Many writers can wear readers out early with prolonged prefaces, uninteresting intros, altruistic dogma, pretentious anecdotes... Reed's first forty pages are informative while thought-provoking, even essential, which audiences of all skill levels will acknowledge and reflect upon frequently.
On to the waters! Reed progresses logically through his Hill Country hot spots moving from north to south (broken down further into Northern, Central and Southern waters), basically starting with Lampasas and wrapping up in New Braunfels. From the beginning, it's as if Reed intimately knows every tree, plant, stone and fish in the water. His welcoming patience is revealed in his writing style, never rushed or forced yet utterly deliberate with each word, and to the point. By the time I was on the San Gabriel chapters (pg. 87) I felt befriended, as though Aaron had taken me under his tutelage, sitting next to me at his favorite cantina, sipping frothy craft beers while he describes in jovial detail the width and depth of the last of four disconnected pools I'll encounter near a cliff, where I may find a certain number of carp cruising a cut bank under an overhanging tree, which stretch of the trail I'll need to watch for poison ivy, and which side of the river I need to be on once I pass a certain mile mark. Reed's specifics about each fishery's characteristics is utterly granular while putting his arm around his readers and quite literally "guiding" them down each stretch of stream, step-by-step.
While incredibly knowledgable, Reed's endearing, humble tone and gentle instructive approach won't alienate readers like other instructive non-fiction works you may have put away. In fact, as I absorbed each chapter I savored the notion of what micro-brewery Aaron might mention at the end (I'm so looking forward to stopping in at the Real Ale Brewery), which pint of suds he suggests tipping back when stepping out of the drink (can't wait to sample that Red Poppy Irish Red Ale at Rentsch Brewery in Georgetown), and what song he suggests as the chapter's tone-setter (I too dig a good James McMurtry tune)! I love these artful elements imbedded within the instructive parts, as it illustrates Aaron's realness and overall love of living life in Texas, not just as an angler but as a human being being human.
The chapter on bass identification is of particular interest because, yes, I too have trouble from time to time distinguishing between Micropterus (bass) species in Central Texas. When I lip a fish I inherently want to know what the hell it is. That's just me, but it ain't that easy with bass in the Hill Country. During my younger years I might have held a specimen out of the water a few moments longer than I would feel comfortable today while checking for the tell-tale signs of a Guad - tooth patch on the tongue, colored scales extending lower on the belly, eye/jaw alignment... (Sorry to call out the @TPWD here, but jeez, their old, dated, poorly-drawn black and white comparison chart I've been using for years is really junk and never really helped me distinguish a Guad from a gator or anything else for that matter.) I do think Aaron's chapter on this topic is "spot on" and definitely helped me realize I'm not alone in this fish I.D. conundrum, and I now better understand what I'm looking for when I snag a bass on the fly.
Reed also goes in deep on Texas River Law where the public's rights to the Lone Star State's recreational water are concerned. It's a touchy subject and in this day and age, it's a damn shame there is still even a pixel of grey area on the topic. I encourage every Texas landowner and every Texas angler to read, re-read, and then read this chapter again. If you're an angler looking for Aaron's take on the subject, look no further than his story on pg. 333 where he and his then 3-year old son are shot at (or at least shot near) while fishing a Hill Country stream two decades ago. If you're an angler looking for justification to politely navigate and fish a Texas river or stream, look no further than page one of S.B. 155 which Reed highlights on pg. 340. If you're a Texas landowner who believes you own the river your property abutts, please study S.B. 155 for a wakeup call. Unlike many other states, Texas boasts less than 1.5% public/gov't. land (compared to Wyoming 48%, Nevada 80%). But our rivers and streams are 100% OURS. I applaud Mr. Reed for including this chapter in his book.
Other favorite chapters include the Pedernales River chapter (because the Guads are colored differently there and I didn't know that until now), the San Marcos River chapter (because ever since my older brother was a Freshman at TSU in 1987 I've been dreaming to get back there to wet a hook, but still never have) and the Onion Creek chapter (because I, like Shrek, like onions... and I also like Rio Grande Cichlids, aka, the Texas Cichlid). I think every reader will connect with different chapters based on their individuality, but no doubt there are remarkable fisheries in the book for everyone - from expert to newbie, from children to the elderly, from guys to gals - the fish are here for all of us to enjoy.
Then there's trout, for which I have a soft spot in my heart. The book's chapters on rivers and streams befittingly end on the Guadalupe, downstream of Canyon Lake Dam. Reed does a fine job of balancing his opinion of the Guad against the norm - not only describing the honest, modern-day status on this ruggedly refined river, but also painting some history on the stream, as well as dropping some salivating photos of these Texas-based salmonids. Protected by the country's largest Trout Unlimited chapter, from the standpoint of this trout lover the Guadalupe is basically a manmade Fort Knox of a fishery, a true Texas trout treasury, but one I probably only need to visit once every 5 years or so. The tactics tend to be a little technical, the flies a little small, banks a little crowded. When I'm targeting trout I'm usually tying on a #12 Stimmy or #16/18 Royal Wulff dry fly. For the author, the fabled tailrace represents some of his fondest childhood Spring Break memories fishing for smaller stocked trout at the now non-existent Camp Beans - still one of his favorite stretches. But also, Reed explains that (though maybe an unpopular opinion) the Guad is a product of its own success and therefore the solitude he often seeks when fishing is elusive there. I agree, but still want to net a chunk trout from time to time. Whatever the angle, anglers of any and all afflictions may find the chapter on the Guadalupe the most intriguing and complex due to its unlikely beginnings with the Lone Star Brewery, it's year-round dichotomous undulating seasons of tubers vs. anglers vs. tubers, and as well its overall natural beauty that's difficult for nearly anyone to resist.
In short, Fly Fishing Austin & Central Texas isn't just another guidebook on fly fishing around the Austin area. Turns out it's much more than that. I found it to be a mesmerizing manifesto on sampling all the good things in life in the heart of the Lone Star State - yes fishing, but also local cuisine, backcountry hiking, communing with comrades, canoeing/kayaking, bird-watching, fossil-finding, gator-gawking, history learning, craft beer sampling, art appreciation, playlist-swapping, and conservationist riverkeeping. Sure, Mr. Reed's book will keep you in the sweet spot when waving your wizard stick and will keep you within the letter of the law where access goes. But he also shares with all of us numerous personal gifts that quintessentially define the all-around Austin, Texas experience, whether you call this place home or you're just crawling through for the weekend.