AUSTIN – In 2017, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), the Llano River Watershed Alliance and Bass Pro Shops partnered together to help celebrate conservation successes in the South Llano River and recognize the ecological, recreational and economic importance of Guadalupe bass.
As part of that effort, TPWD stocked 35 tagged Guadalupe bass in the South Llano River at multiple locations including the South Llano River State Park, the South Llano Paddling Trail, and the County Road 150 River Access and Conservation Area. Anglers who catch these tagged fish can redeem the tag for fly fishing gear donated by Bass Pro Shops through Dec. 31.
So far, anglers from five cities around the state including San Antonio, Arlington, Pflugerville, Kerrville and Junction have caught 11 of the 35 tagged fish. Among this group are a youth angler, an out-of-towner visiting the South Llano River to escape bad weather, a fly fisherman affectionately dubbed the “stocker stalker,” and a few lucky locals who have caught multiple tagged fish during the same fishing trip.
“I think it’s a really cool program in that way, getting people out to explore this place,” said angler Robin Fuquay of Junction, who caught the third tagged fish in the contest. “We call Junction ‘The Land of Living Waters’ – and it’s very alive with Texas fishing. It truly is a hidden gem in the hill country.”
For Fuquay and JD Davila, who recently moved to Junction from the Austin area, one of the tagged Guadalupe bass created quite a fish tale for the couple.
In November 2017, Davila unofficially caught the third tagged Guadalupe bass. That catch was unofficial because he didn’t realize until after he got home and checked the internet that it was tagged for a prize program and not a tracking or movement study from the local university.
“I threw it back after we had taken a few pictures, and when I got home I went to look up Guadalupe bass and I found the TPWD [prize giveaway],” Davila said. “I was howling…I was going crazy once I found out.”
But Fuquay wasn’t willing to label it the Guad’ that got away. The next weekend Fuquay said she put on her game face, grabbed the same fishing tackle used to catch the fish initially and revisited the fishing hole where Davila released the fish.
“I really thought ‘let’s just go back to that same fishing hole and catch that fish,’” Fuquay said.
The plan worked. After fishing in the same spot for a little while, Fuquay pulled up a Guadalupe bass that appeared to have the same tag in the same location on the fish. After they got home and compared pictures of the fish they said there was no mistake – these fish had the same scale pattern all the way to the tail.
“It was exciting…it felt like it was a ‘welcome wagon’ from the river when we caught it again,” Fuquay said.
In February 2018, angler Albert Vasquez of San Antonio caught the fifth tagged Guadalupe bass in the South Llano River after a storm diverted his group to find a fishing spot west of San Antonio. Although he did not set out to catch a tagged Guadalupe bass that day, he said he and his group of fishing buddies, the Lone Star River Riders, joked about the possibility during the 2-hour car ride from San Antonio.
“When we were headed up there we were joking with each other about catching one of them,” Vasquez said. “Right below the state park the river kind of split – I went left and my buddies went right and I ended up catching one. It was cool to think that at that point I caught one of the 15 initially stocked in the river.”
An avid kayak angler who fishes more than 20 Texas rivers each year on the River Bassin’ Tournament Trail, Vasquez said he is no stranger to catching plenty of black bass in his travels. But even for this seasoned veteran, catching the state fish of Texas is always a special experience.
“I’m kind of a Guadalupe bass nerd,” Vasquez joked. “I feel proud catching them. They fight like a train – the colors and patterns on them are awesome – it’s a beautiful fish to be our state fish.”
Although the prize giveaway provides extra incentives for anglers to explore the South Llano River in pursuit of the state fish, the broader goal of the program is to inform the public on the decade long effort that TPWD has put in to restore the population of Guadalupe bass in this stretch of the river. It wasn’t long ago that the Guadalupe bass population there was threatened by hybridization from smallmouth bass stockings that occurred nearly 60 years ago.
In 2010, TPWD partnered with the Llano River Watershed Alliance, the Texas Tech University Llano River Field Station, areas landowners, and an extensive list of other local project partners to hatch a plan to restore Guadalupe bass to the South Llano River. Between spring 2011 and spring 2017, more than 700,000 genetically-pure Guadalupe bass were stocked in the river and today, less than 2 percent of the Guadalupe bass population now consists of hybrids.
Because of this effort, the South Llano River now supports a healthy, thriving population of pure Guadalupe bass. For those who want to try their luck catching one of the tagged fish, Fuquay has one recommendation.
“Go out with your game face on, and believe that you are going to catch one,” Fuquay said. “Those fish are still out there waiting to be caught.”
For more information about Guadalupe bass restoration and prize giveaway rules, visit https://www.llanoriver.org/guadalupe-bass.