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Greater Austin area's great outdoors will float any boat

Mike Leggett

The Texas Hill Country stretches from the eastern edge of the great escarpment along Interstate 35 far out across the Edwards Plateau to its junction with the edge of the Trans-Pecos mountain ranges of the west.

The boundaries are grand in scale: west from San Antonio along Highway 90 past Del Rio on the Rio Grande to just about Pumpville, then north and east to Brownwood, then east nearly to Waco.

Think of the Hill Country as the literal heart of Texas.

That area boasts an enormous chunk of mountains and plains real estate, not to mention rivers and streams that flow through on their way to the Gulf of Mexico. There's a diversity unknown to many states, and we're talking about just one piece of Texas.

The area is so large and diverse that the Brazos River starts in one ecological region, cuts through the Hill Country and then exits into a completely different region as it nears the Texas Coast. The Nueces River begins its run southward as a clean, clear mountain stream far up on the Edwards Plateau and then becomes sluggish and green after it leaves the plateau near Uvalde.

One of the beautiful things about this part of Texas is the river system that provides an amazing outdoor opportunity for anglers, whether they be serious, hard-charging tournament bass anglers or just a guy who wants to kick back with a beer and a lawn chair and let the world glide by while he takes a nap.

Here's a quick look at a few fishing methods and some of the best places to try them out, all of them within a short drive of Austin:

Juglines

This isn't really the lazy man's way to fish, but it's an easy way to sack up a bunch of fish for the angler who gets bored just casting to the bank or riding around from tree stump to logjam.

Basically, a jugline is just that, a short heavy line fixed with one or two hooks baited and then tossed overboard to float with the wind or current across a lake.

There are some rules you have to follow, like tagging your equipment and picking it up at the end of the day, but those guidelines are easily met. Just see the Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Annual for overall regulations and rules on your particular lake.

Crappie guide Tommy Tidwell, who mostly fishes Granger Lake near Taylor, is a firm believer in juglines. He likes to bait up a dozen or so jugs and toss them overboard as he begins fishing and then follow them as he moves from brush pile to brush pile.

On a typical day, Tidwell is able to put a number of very nice catfish, usually blues, in the ice chest for his customers to enjoy when they get back home.

You can get all the line and hooks you need for about $15, and jugs can be anything from old plastic bleach bottles to the long, brightly colored floaties that kids use in a swimming pool. Tie the line to one end and when the floatie tips up, you know you have a fish.

Kayak and canoe

Kayak fishing is maybe my favorite, especially since the floats almost always carry me through some of the most beautiful scenery the Hill Country has to offer.

The San Marcos River, from just outside San Marcos down close to Luling, could be my favorite, but I love all of the Llano. Then there's the Blanco, the Guadalupe, the Colorado, the Pedernales. I guess I love them all.

Pay attention to private land along the river. You don't want to get out on people's property. Arrange for a shuttle from drop-off to pick-up, and you have a trip. There are great fly fishing and light tackle opportunities when you make these trips with canoe or kayak. It doesn't matter.

On the Guadalupe River, there are full-service canoe liveries at Gruene. They will let you park on their lots, then drive you and a canoe or a kayak back up the river where you can put in and float your way back down just to get a taste of the style. Perfect.

Bass boat

I would say this is mostly self-explanatory. The bass guys know where to go. But two of the very best bass lakes in Central Texas are right here in Austin on the Colorado River chain of Highland Lakes: Lake Austin and Lady Bird Lake.

Yes, both are urban, but both are quality bass lakes. Fact is, Lake Austin annually produces one or two of the largest fish caught each year in Texas.

Fly rod trout

Yes, there are trout in Central Texas. Look for them in the Guadalupe River, along a several-mile stretch down river from just below Canyon Lake Dam. Take care in this area. Much of it is privately controlled. Still, there are memberships available if you want to walk in, and there are guides who'll take you through the area in float-boats.

Trolling

Take a big boat, some giant jigs and downriggers, and you have the makings of a day trolling for stripers and hybrids. The center of this universe in Central Texas is Lake Buchanan.

Some anglers like to use live bait and to drift through some of the better locations on the lake, which is at the top of the Highland Lakes chain.

The fish are big, usually accessible, and you can let the guide do all the real work. You just do the "reel" work.

Sitting on the bank

Now we're talking about fishing suitable to the Austin lifestyle and a fish that's perfect for Austin style fishing, the carp.

Tackle is easy: a long rod and simple reel with plenty of line. You can buy the whole rig in a store for $50, or just use what you have.

Most people use dough bait for carp. It's available commercially or you can make your own.

Just roll it onto a treble hook, toss it out into the current in Lady Bird Lake, pop open a cold one and close your eyes for a while. Lake Austin is good, too, although access is more difficult.

If you catch something, great. If you don't, you've had a nice day sitting in the shade.