September 14, 2015
Legendary country crooner Charlie Daniels once spun the musical tale of a how the devil went down to Georgia, looking for a soul to steal.
By the song’s end, a passion-filled Peach State lad had turned the tables on Lucifer, dusting off the fiddle-playing demon with some sizzling music of his own.
Several years ago, well-known fly fisherman and television personality Flip Pallot ventured into the wilderness of South Texas to discover a similar tale of redemption, except this time with a fly rod in hand.
While fishing with Rick Pope, founder and president of the Dallas-based Temple Fork Outfitters Fly Rod company, Pallot discovered a devil of a river in Texas, a harsh stream that was – and still is – home to some of the state's most heavenly smallmouth bass fishing action.
Before they were done fishing the difficult to access stream in southwestern Texas, Pope and Pallot hooked and landed nearly 75 bronzeback bass from the Devils River.
Not included in the count was one huge, demon of a fish that came unbuttoned at the very end of the adventure ... on film, no less.
“The best fish, which could have been (one of) my best ever at about 5 pounds, I lost, right at the camera,” Pope once told concerning the trip. “It’s not uncommon to catch 5-pound smallmouth there.”
Pope's enthusiasm for the Devil's River is strong, no matter the difficulty in reaching and fishing the ultra-clear stream that feeds into Lake Amistad north of Del Rio.
And that's saying something since the highly likable fly rod man from Big D has fished on some of the nation’s best smallmouth waters from the Penobscot River in Maine to the John Day River in Oregon.
What’s really saying something, however, is the simple fact that the chance to hook a smallmouth bass – typically regarded as a northern fish – even exists in the high desert plateau stream found deep in the heart of Texas.
In fact, the scenic stream is so wild and wooly that it is difficult to access and fish as it transforms itself from flat currents to near Class 3 rapids falling through limestone walled canyons on its journey southward towards the Rio Grande River.
“It pops up out of the ground about 40 miles north of Lake Amistad near Del Rio,” said Pope. “As I understand it, the smallmouths were stocked in Lake Amistad when it was built back in the 1960s. They love the river (since) it's very cold.”
Cold due to the springs that well up and feed the stream on its journey southward through the Lone Star State, a rugged landscape filled with a variety of wildlife including white-tailed deer, Rio Grande turkeys, and, of course, the western diamondback rattlesnake.
If the smallmouths seem out of place on the Devil's River, there is one South Texas critter that seems right at home in what Pope dubbed as the “Bat Cave.”
Minus the caped Crusader, of course.
“There is a cave across the river up on top of this plateau called “Fern Cave,” Pope explained. “It has what (has been) purported to be 1.2 million Mexican freetailed bats.”
While fishing along a 15-mile-long stretch of river frontage on a tract of Nature Conservancy land, Pope and Pallot sat near the cave one evening and found out first hand if those numbers were accurate or not.
“I think everyone of them flew in front of the camera lens as we sat down and watched,” said Pope. “It was phenomenal watching the bat cave. In fact, you could have done a show just from that alone.”
If the flora and fauna where the Texas Hill Country, the South Texas Brush Country and the Chihuahuan Desert collide is unique, then the fly fishing action is nothing short of heavenly.
Even on one of the most devilishly unique waters to be found anywhere in the U.S.
Using 9-foot long 4-, 5-, and 6-weight Temple Fork fly rods coupled with floating lines and 9-foot long 1X leaders, there were ample hook-ups on Clouser minnows and a Pallot-tied variation of the Clouser, something dubbed the “Bushwood” fly.
“It’s named after the name of the country club in Caddyshack,” Pope laughed. “The brown version of the “Bushwood” looks like the little brown gopher in Caddyshack.”
While smallmouth bass are famous for their explosive takes of topwater poppers in other parts of the country, Pope and Pallot found most of their Devils River smallmouths lurking in the cracks and crevasses of the river’s limestone bottom.
“Most of the fish were caught sweeping a Clouser at or near the bottom down into these finger seams and cuts and rivulets (deeper) in the water,” said Pope. “It was a lot more like trout fishing, which has not really been the case in my previous smallmouth trips.” What was similar to the fly rod manufacturing guru’s previous smallmouth bass fishing experiences was the ferocious struggle that bronzebacks put up when hooked.
“Size (for) size, a smallmouth will drag a largemouth all over creation,” said Pope. “It’s about as neat and tough a fly rod fish as there is. If I could only pick one fly rod fish to fish for forever, that would be a serious candidate.”
Why such a selection?
Simple – look at the best qualities found in many other game fish and they all seem to find a home in the smallmouth bass.
“They have the stamina of a steelhead with the (powerful and explosive) take of a northern pike or a largemouth bass,” said Pope. “They have both ends of the spectrum very well covered.”
“For all around performance and fight, they're among the very best I've ever fished for,” he added. “They’re neat little guys.”
Actually, they’re neat little piscatorial devils.
Especially when they're at the end of a fly line being fished deep in the heart of Texas.