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The Devils River - A Hidden Oasis

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The Devils River - A Hidden Oasis

Clint Taylor

For those of you who have been following my series on the Devils River called "Preparing for the Devils River", you are probably quite familiar with the difficulty of going to the Devils River along with some of the dangers that the Devils River can present. Just in case you have not had a chance to read these articles, here are the links to them:

 

Preparing for the Devils River 1

Preparing for the Devils River 2

Preparing for the Devils River 3

You will probably want to check out my article on my personal experience on the Devils River, which you can find below:

The Devils River - A Hidden Oasis

 

In general, most people will not recognize Texas as a state with crystal clear pristine water and cool running trout streams. While for the most part this is correct, these people also couldn't be more wrong. With rivers such as the San Marcos River, San Saba River, Guadalupe River, Llano River, and Comal River, Texas has a good amount of what can be considered pristine rivers. Sure these aren't a mountain spring river from the Rocky Mountains, but more so a beautiful piece of hidden beauty that runs through the rustic Texas landscape. What most people do not know about is a hidden body of water that runs along the border between Mexico and Texas... the Devils River.

Without a doubt the Devils River is by far my favorite river that I have ever paddled, camped, and or fished on in my experience as a fisherman. Not until a few years ago did I ever hear about this place where the water is clear enough to snorkel in while at the same time catch a smallmouth bass in such a southernmost body of water. Located near Del Rio, Texas and Sonora, Texas, the Devils River encompasses everything that I would want in a river, as it is 100% spring fed, flows through solid rock, has a good variety of vegetation, good fishing, multiple water features, and of course good fishing. As you can imagine, it was an adventure of a lifetime.

Planning for the Devils River was quite extensive considering this was my first time to go, and I have no family in the area to assist with lodging. This meant I would have to do everything in a self-reliant manner. The plan that I set up after a large amount of research was to camp at the Devils River State Natural Area midway between Sonora and Del Rio. You might think that this is a park, but it is far from that as it is practically a large amount of land owned by Texas Parks and Wildlife to conserve the Devils River. There is basically a loop of rough gravel roads with a few cleared areas to camp, but there is no electricity and or water hook ups. The gravel road leading to the Devils River State Natural Area is 22 miles long and will quickly tear up your tires if they are not a good quality and or in good shape. There is no cell phone coverage in the area, and the nearest hospital is in Del Rio, which is approximately 60 miles away, but ends up being at least an hour and a half to two hours away considering you cannot go very fast on these gravel roads. In case of an emergency, you are not in good shape, as depending on where you are, it may be many hours before you can reach the hospital. If you are out on the water and an emergency happens, you will literally be up a creek, as you will have to find a way to get back to your vehicle a couple miles away. The reason I say this is because you can only get 1 mile from the river in your car. The rest you have to walk through rugged terrain and small mountains. You have to be prepared and respectful of your surroundings at all time, as there is many dangers including wildlife, the landscape, and the dangers of being so close to the border of Mexico. With lots of planning and a prepared plan, I was ready to go though.

I reached the river around 2:00 p.m. and started setting up my base camp and getting everything ready for that night immediately. I would not be one the water until 3:45 p.m. though, as the hike to the river and setting up camp would take quite some time. Hiking to the river through the hilly rugged limestone landscape was quite interesting, as temperatures of 100 degrees made for quite a physical journey, not to mention hauling a 14' kayak with gear all weighing up to more than 150 pounds. My adrenaline was pumping in anticipation of seeing the Devils River for the first time though, so this helped out quite a bit. After about 30 minutes of walking I finally got to step foot into the cleanest, most pristine, most remote, and most dangerous river I have ever been in. It was a memory that will last a lifetime. The water was crystal clear with a cool temperature from the spring fed water even though the outside temperature was in the triple digits. Considering there is no vegetation over six feet for miles, along with no sign of grass, the Devils River is most definitely like a hidden oasis. I say this because you are surrounded by a very dry and rough landscape that is primarily limestone with Texas Sagebrush all over the place and then you come to a clean cool flowing river with large trees and vegetation all along the riverbanks. It is quite a sight to see.

After I took in a little bit of the scenery, I wasted no time to getting on the water and start fishing out of my Jackson Kayak Big Tuna. The Big Tuna worked great for me, as it allowed me to store a lot of gear while at the same time having a light weight platform to travel down the Devils River. My primary target was bass, in which for the first time ever I could target both Largemouth Bass and Smallmouth Bass. To start out with I decided to throw some of my classic lures; the Rooster tail, a spinner bait, a KVD Square Bill Crank bait, and a little jerk bait action.  For a while not much action was occurring because I was too concerned with the scenery and couldn't believe how a place like the Devils River could exist. Eventually, I started to get some action on the old Rooster tail. If you consistently read some of my articles, you are probably well aware of how much I am a fan of this versatile lure. If I had to take one lure with me for the rest of my life, it would no doubt be the Worden's Rooster tail. As me and my dad paddled downstream the Devils River in the Jackson Kayak Big Tuna, it became much more apparent that the Devils River had far more to offer than any article or video can express. The water is so pristine that you somewhat forget that you are still in the U.S. or even in Texas at that. This just goes to show how too often people try to search for the greener grass when it is right where they are standing. Many fisherman think that for an fishing style expedition they have to go to South America, or hundreds of miles from wherever they might live, but in reality everyone has a little bit of oasis somewhere in their own backyard. For me, this just happens to be the Devils River, and man is it a good one.

As we made our way down to Dolan Falls, the tall mountain cliffs that border the Devils River is quite a scenic experience. After a few hours, we made it to the headwaters of Dolan Falls. Dolan Falls is a 10 ft. class IV whitewater waterfall that is not too well known in the world of fishing and kayak fishing. As I had already decided before even arriving at the Devils River, me and my dad would not be running Dolan Falls, as the risk of an injury out in the middle of nowhere is a risk that I did not want to take...especially when you are in a 14 foot tandem kayak. However, I did do a little swimming and diving below Dolan Falls into the cool, clear, flowing water. There was quite a few gar below Dolan Falls along with some schools of shad. There was also quite a few fish which appeared to be Largemouth Bass, but it was hard to be for certain because they were pretty deep in the water. After quite a bit of messing around at Dolan Falls, we began to head back upstream to our base camp. I am sure you are asking why I would head back upstream to the Devils River State Natural Area, but this is far more complex than a few sentences can express. I would recommend you read my article over researching where to put in and take out out here.

On the way back, I knew the fishing would be a little better, as fish tend to face upstream in order catch the weaker fish that are caught in the current flowing downstream. This would be very beneficial, as I would be able to cast upstream and retrieve downstream in the same manner as the weaker prey that the bass eat. Just a few steps away from Dolan Falls my dad made a few casts in a section of flowing water and soon got hooked into a Smallmouth Bass. This was quite an occasion as neither one of us has ever caught a Smallmouth Bass before, so we were pretty excited. It was only about a pound, but it fought pretty hard because of the current it had been accustomed to. We would have to walk about one hundred yards upstream before we could begin to paddle again, as the river narrowed in to a fast flowing stream right before Dolan Falls which made paddling upstream impossible. Although this was quite a hike in the current with our Big Tuna, but it is really what I prefer to do, as my roots of fishing was almost exclusively wade fishing. This brought back some of those memories when I use to walk the creeks and rivers of Texas, as it allowed some time to cast into the pools and eddies that the flowing water produced. Some people might overlook this style of fishing, but I look for this type of fishing because I enjoy the adventure of having to do something a little difficult. As we walked and fished upstream, I noticed a small swirling eddy which looked like it could hold a few bass. I grabbed my light action spinning rod paired with four pound test and a 1/16 oz. Rapala Countdown. I have never casted this lure until this moment, as I just recently found the lure online when I was looking for some new light action lures. I casted the Countdown back between some overhanging branches that skimmed the water and soon hooked into what appeared to be a Smallmouth Bass. No later though did this fish come off. I quickly casted back hoping to get the fish again, and a few casts later I was hooked up again. Unfortunately, it came off as well. I was just about to switch to a Roostertail, but I gave it a few more shots. Eventually, I hooked into my first Smallmouth which made for a great day all in itself as both me and my dad had caught a fish we have never caught before in one day. Not to mention that we caught it in the Devils River which is for the most part the southernmost stream that is a habitat to Smallmouth Bass. I think the reason why the fish kept coming off was because of the small treble hook that the Countdown has. I will definitely be replacing the hook on the countdown with a slightly larger hook for next time, but boy did the Rapala Countdown produce some strikes. We also caught a few other small bass and a couple of panfish along the way with both the Rapala Countdown and a Worden's Roostertail, but nothing big enough to take a picture of.

After we reached the headwaters of the main stream that led to Dolan Falls, we were able to hop back into our Big Tuna back towards camp as the river widened significantly which allowed for the paddle upstream. We only had a little less than three hours of daylight remaining, so we knew that we could only fish for two of those hours, as the remaining time would have to be used to hike the mile back to base camp. In these two hours was some great fishing though. Casting a Roostertail and a Countdown was our main tackle as we were after some more Smallmouth Bass. My dad caught several small Largemouth Bass and a few panfish with a Roostertail and I caught a few as well, but nothing very large. We tried switching to some large crankbaits, jerkbaits, and even some topwater but still no large bass. I caught a decent sized bass with about an hour of sunlight left with my Countdown, but the fish darted into some vegetation. I wasn't able to control the fish, as I only had my light action spinning rod in hand. This led to the fish getting stuck in the weeds. I had to jump out of the kayak and untangle the fish from the weeds to find a good looking pounder. We decided to head back to start our hike back just after this, but we soon decided to throw a few more as dusk was setting in.

Part of the reason we decided on this was because of a hidden lagoon we found on our way back. This lagoon was fed directly from a spring, as we could see a large amount of crystal clear water coming straight out of the ground. It was unbelievable how clear this half acre lagoon was. The Devils River is clear water, but this lagoon was even clearer. The water also had a blue tint to it, which made the water all that much more amazing. Due to this we would call this lagoon the "Blue Lagoon". We threw some Roostertails into the crystal clear lagoon blindly, but we suddenly started to see 3-5 pound bass all over the place. It turned into a frenzy in which we would cast to one and then see another and quickly switch to casting towards it. All of this excitement partly scared most of these bass, as clear water bass are significantly more skittish than murkier water bass. It was getting dark quickly and we had to make the decision to stay or head to base camp immediately. We decided to go back to camp as we didn't want to be hiking in the mountains in the dark with a kayak. My dad made one more cast on the way back though and hooked into a nice two to three pound Largemouth Bass. It put up a great fight and was extremely colorful. It was amazing how vibrant the coloration was on this bass, as the green colors were had so much contrast that it almost didn't look like a Largemouth Bass. We both wanted to catch some more of these Largemouths, so we made a plan to accomplish this task. We would go to camp and eat dinner after we cleaned up a little. We decided to wake up before sunrise and head straight to this hidden lagoon. Surprisingly though, the Devils River had different plans as we would wake up at 4:00 a.m. to an unexpected thunderstorm. This just goes to show how prepared you have to be, as anything can happen on the Devils River. Luckily we were prepared for the weather, but we wouldn't go back to sleep after we woke up. The thunderstorm stopped around 5:30 a.m. and we decided to head to the Blue Lagoon even sooner than planned, but this was for the better.

We reached the water around 6:45, which was perfect timing as there was just enough sunlight to see, but we were still plenty early. The plan was to throw some topwater lures into the Blue Lagoon due to the overcast skies and the early time of day. This all added up to some great action. I was throwing a Strike King topwater frog because of some vegetation on the surface of the water and soon was rewarded for my decision. I hooked into a large bass only to have it come off like the Smallmouth Bass that I was targeting in the stream above Dolan Falls. I casted back again with no interest whatsoever. I did so many more casts with the same result. I had just about lost hope, but I soon hooked into the same bass in the same area. It was a monster weighing in at right around 4 pounds. It also had very vibrant colors like the bass we caught the night before. Shortly after this I hooked into two more Largemouth Bass, both of which were a good two pounds. I decided to switch to a Heddon Zara Spook after this along with my dad going to a Roostertail. We caught quite a few more bass on both of these lures. Soon all of this excitement would turn into worry though as a small mistake led to a little chaos. Me and my dad had decided to switch positions in the kayak in order for each one of us to cast at some different angles. Unfortunately, somewhere during this switch our pliers must have fallen out of the boat. This was our second mistake...but what was the first mistake? Our first mistake was only bringing one pair of pliers with us. Of course this was not a good decision, but we wouldn't realize this until a little later. A few minutes after we switched positions in our kayak I caught a nice two to three pound bass on my Zara Spook. If you have ever had any experience with this lure, you will know that the hooks seem to get hooked anywhere and everywhere in a fish’s mouth. As I brought the fish into the boat I soon realize I couldn't find my pliers. To make a long story short, over twelve minutes went by in which we couldn't unhook the fish by hand or find the pliers. In a desperate effort to save the fish, my dad somehow got the fish loose and released the fish back into the Blue Lagoon. Fortunately, the fish made it but we would not be out of the unpredictability of going to the Devils River.

About a minute after releasing this fish, the rain began to fall. Just a few moments later it began to pour. One of the good things about the Big Tuna and any kayak is scupper holes. Unlike a canoe, scupper holes allow any standing water in the kayak to drain instantly like an automatic bilge pump. Thank goodness for this simply yet highly innovative design from whoever first invented this feature in sit on top kayaks. For the most part, we would not be able to fish anymore because of the fear of not being able to unhook a fish with our hands. The good news is that we would be coming back a couple of weeks later.

Fast forward about six weeks and we were back at the Devils River for the day to finish up some filming work for my film over the Devils River along with doing a little fishing. This certainly wasn't a lot of time to accomplish all that we wanted to do, but it was certainly enough time for some more unexpected events to occur.

There is a certain fish that I have been trying to catch for a few years now called a Rio Grande Cichlid, also known as the Rio Grande Perch. I have never actually seen one in the wild, but the Devils River made another first for me. We paddled back into the Blue Lagoon and I suddenly caught a glimpse of a strange looking fish. I didn't know quite what it was but then I realized what I had saw was a Rio Grande Perch. I was so excited that I saw my first ever Rio Grande Perch ever and had to seal the deal with catching one. I grabbed my light action fishing pole set up with a Roostertail which is ideal for this situation and handed it to my dad. I kept my eyes on the fish and guided my dad in casting to it. Due to the clear water, it was hard to make a great cast that was within the vicinity while at the same time not making a large splash to scare the skittish clear water fish. After a few casts, the fish got scared and darted off. It was aggravating, but we soon saw many more Rio Grande Perch. I started guiding my dad again and all of a sudden he was hooked on a Rio Grande Perch. In the back of my mind I thought it might come off like some of the other fish we had hooked on the Devils River, but sure enough it was reeled all the way into the boat. It was no more than half a pound, but it was more exciting than catching a five pound bass. Although this fish may not be extremely rare, it is somewhat rare in the fact that it can only be found in such a small area of Texas and the world at that.

The Rio Grande Perch was actually referred to as a Guinea Perch as its discoverer thought it resembled a Guinea Fowl. It eventually received the name of a Rio Grande Cichlid, which is also known as a Rio Grande Perch as you already know. Something interesting about this fish is that it is related to the Peacock Bass of South America. Quite a far ways from the Amazon and also quite a bit smaller than a Peacock Bass, but nonetheless an amazing fish to catch.

Just like last time, we caught quite a few more bass in the Blue Lagoon along with a few along the way back from Dolan Falls after we completed some filming work, but not many that were over a pound or two. 

It is hard to imagine all that happened while on the Devils River, as many firsts occurred. For starters I simply made it to the Devils River...something that not many people will ever get to do. Me and my dad also caught our first Smallmouth Bass along with a Rio Grande Perch. Seeing Dolan Falls and swimming in crystal clear water was quite an experience as well. Although there was really only two trophy fish caught with the four pound Largemouth Bass being one of them and the Rio Grande Perch being the other, just being able to witness the amazing scenery of the Devils River and the beautiful landscape was quite an experience. All of this took an amazingly large amount of research in order to both have a successful and safe trip to the Devils River. One thing is for sure, it was an experience of a lifetime, but I just hope that I will be able to experience it several more times.

I would like to thank my sponsors for the great gear that they provide for me, as without them I would not be able to do these types of expedition fishing trips. MTI Adventurewear has provided me with the life jackets which have served much more than just a safety device. They are extremely comfortable and ergonomic unlike many of the life jackets on the market. You can find all of their great gear here. I personally recommend the Dio F-Spec and Dio life jacket for fishing and recreational kayaking. For my paddle I use no other than an Aquabound Paddlesports Manta Ray Aluminum to propel me across the water. You can find their paddles here. My kayak of choice is the Jackson Kayak Big Tuna of which is no doubt the best tandem fishing kayak on the market for what I do. You can find the Jackson Kayak Big Tuna along with all the other kayaks from Jackson Kayak here.