Texas Parks and Wildlife

Guadalupe Bass

Guadalupe Bass

Season 1 Episode 7

Guadalupe Bass

Under the Texas Sky: S1:E7: Guadalupe Bass | Park Life | Shout Out

Major support for this podcast comes from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation: Conserving Our Wild Things and Wild Places for Over 25 Years.

We receive additional support from the Sport Fish restoration program, funding sport fish conservation and restoration in Texas.

[SFX—RIVER RIFFLE W/COURTNEY & BRANDON]

[Courtney and Brandon Robinson]

[Courtney] Agh, Dang it!

[Brandon] That a fish?

[Courtney] Yes, He was right in that foam line!

Courtney and Brandon Robinson love to fish the South Llano River…

[Courtney] We have kind of two branches of the river converging right here.

They’re fly-fishing for Guadalupe Bass. And they’re just two of the folks you’ll meet in the podcast—which is a fish tale of passion for the clear running streams of the Texas Hill Country…from people who love those rivers…and that fish.

Stay with us…

[MUS—HOWDY]

From Texas Parks and Wildlife…this is Under the Texas Sky …a podcast about nature…and people… and the connection they share…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

[SFX—FLOWING WATER]

The Guadalupe bass is a feisty little fish that makes its home in the cool, clear-running waters of Hill Country streams and rivers. It’s the State Fish of Texas, and Courtney and Brandon Robinson fish for it whenever they can.

[Courtney and Brandon]

[Courtney] We’re not looking at a whole lot of deep pools, it’s more shallow water, skinny water.

[Brandon] Fish on! This is why I love catching Guads, they’re little fish, but they use the river to fight!

[SFX—FLOWING WATER]

The Guadalupe bass gets its name from the Guadalupe River, a stronghold stream for this lone star native, which the legislature dubbed the state fish of Texas in 1989. Catching Guads hasn’t always been easy.

It’s taken decades, and a whole lot of dedicated work. Yet today, our state fish is coming back. What’s more, the beautiful rivers it lives in have a new army of passionate advocates, people working to keep our waters clean and healthy.

Tom Harvey reels out our story…

[BEGIN TOM HARVEY NARRATION]

Why do some people love to fish so much? And if I don’t fish, why should I care?

Well, there are lots of reasons, actually. In the case of the Guadalupe bass, this fish is moving people to save our rivers. And rivers are the lifeblood of Texas. They bring the water to fill our reservoirs, for people in cities, for farmers and ranchers, for jobs and businesses. And, for wildlife and wild things. Every living thing needs clean water, and the little Guadalupe bass helps keep the good stuff flowing.

[Courtney] Um so we’re gonna see little bass in the shoal’s area like in that little rapids area over there. Oh, there we go! Just a little guy!

There are bigger fish to catch, for sure. But this one is special, and some anglers just go ga-ga to catch ‘em. To learn why, I drove up to Round Rock north of Austin, where Chris Johnson owns a store called Living Waters Fly Fishing. He’s also a fly-fishing guide.

[Chris Johnson] I don’t like to fish; I love to fish. For me, fishing is just a way of life. It’s what I do when I work, it’s what I do on my days off, it’s what I’m thinking about in between then, and I love to do it.

I actually used to tournament bass fish. When I graduated from high school I took all my yard mowing money and got a Ranger bass boat. That’s the first thing I did; and I wanted to fish tournaments and run lakes and do all that sort of stuff… and it was fun, but my heart was still on the river. I like moving water. I like a place where I can sight fish.

[SFX—BRUSHY CREEK FLOWING WATER]

[Chris Johnson] We’re really blessed in Central Texas because we can chase everything. We have largemouth bass, Guadalupe bass, a wide array of sunfish. We have the really popular Rio Grande cichlid, which is the only native cichlid in the US, and we’ve got ‘em all throughout the Hill Country. So, we have people coming into the fly shop now that are targeting that fish from all across the nation, just cuz they see it on social media. I can post a 40-inch king salmon from Alaska and then I’ll post a 10-inch cichlid, and I’ll tell you which one I’ll get more comments and likes on.

Just five minutes from the fly shop is Brushy Creek, a beautiful spring-fed stream that flows past city streets and country lanes…

[SFX—DRIVING ONTO GRAVEL/DIRT]

We roll into a little city park on the creek, and there, at a low water crossing where clear water rushes over the road, is a guy on the bank fly fishing. It’s 84-year-old Pat Blessing from nearby Pflugerville.

[Chris Johnson and Pat Blessing]

[Chris] How it’d fish?

[Pat] I was trying one of your crayfish jobs, an…uh… it’s in the tree.

[Chris] It’s in the tree. (Laughs)

[Pat] It’s in the tree.

[Chris] Brushy Creek comes by its name honestly.

[Pat] But that’s…uh…you know that’s the way you learn to tie flies anyhows. You’re supposed to tie one, hang it in the tree and then go tie another one. So that’s, uh…

[SFX—NATURE SOUNDS/BRUSHY CREEK

Even here, in urban Round Rock, a mile from the freeway noise of Interstate 35, there are Guadalupe bass swimming in Brushy Creek.

[Chris Johnson] The Guadalupe bass, I feel, is really one of the Texas treasures, if you will. You know, a lot of people know what our state flower is…a lot of people know what our state bird is…

[SFX—MOCKINGBIRD]

… but when you ask what the state fish is, a lot of times you’re gonna get blank stares…or questions…or things of that sort… and…uh… the Guadalupe bass is very unique in the fact that it only exists in the Hill Country of Texas…that’s the only place that it is: is right in the middle of the state. The fish is aggressive, it’s got a great personality as far as fish goes. If it wants your fly, there’s no way you’re going to get it away from it...

[SFX—FIGHTING FISH ON REEL]

…they are just entirely aggressive. I’ve watched them kill stuff just for fun. They really wake up every morning of their life in a bad mood—and that’s a great thing for a fish…uh… that you want to chase with a fly rod.

And they’re beautiful. The markings are unique; they’re very special—they look like Texas. When I think Hill Country, I think the Guadalupe bass.

[MUS—JOURNEYMAN]

Yet it wasn’t long ago that our state fish was in trouble. In the 1970s, state biologists stocked non-native smallmouth bass in Texas rivers. They didn’t expect smallmouths would cross-breed with native fish. But they did, producing hybrid offspring that were no longer pure Guadalupe bass. And by the 1980s biologists feared that our state fish seemed headed for extinction.

[Preston Bean] We’re on the South Llano river and we’re electroshocking Guadalupe Bass. There’s some fish in there! Seeing how the population here that we’ve been working on the last few years is doing…

It’s been a heavy lift, but it’s not just about one species. Efforts to bring back the Guadalupe bass have helped many other wild things.

[Tim Birdsong] Guadalupe bass is sort of representative of that whole set of species and some of those are considered imperiled; they may only occur in one river and nowhere else in the world. And it's a little bit more difficult to get enthusiasm around conserving a minnow or conserving af mussel but what's good for Guadalupe bass is generally good for those other species.

Tim Birdsong once played pro baseball for the Cincinnati Reds, from 1998 to 2001. But he hung up his glove to go back to school and get a graduate degree in fisheries biology. Today he leads Texas Parks and Wildlife efforts to restore and protect river watersheds for fish, wildlife and people. He describes how they came up with a simple yet novel approach to save the state fish.

[—Tim Birdsong] We would just stock so many pure quality bass that hopefully those numbers would just flood the system and you would be left with a higher percentage of guads that remain and persist compared to hybrids, and that was really successful over a 20-year period….

[SFX—FISH SAMPLING/UNKNOWN BIOLOGIST]

[Unknown Biologist] Yep. There’s a large one there.

[Tim Birdsong] From the early 1990s through roughly 2010 almost a million Guadalupe bass were stocked in the river and it drove down the hybridization rates dramatically…

After the Guadalupe River, the team focused on the South Llano River near Junction. Here they found a big opportunity. They could work with a river that was more pristine, to restore it and rally people around it while it was still in great shape.

[SFX—RIVER WATER FLOWING/NATURE SOUNDS]

[04—Chris Johnson] When you get to the South Llano, there’s literally nothing out there. I mean you float that river and it’s you, and the fish, and the birds, and that’s it. It’s also a spring-fed river…the water color can be really clear, sometimes it has a little bluish tint… it’s just amazing. If you’ve never been on that river and anyone’s consider it, it’s a must-do.

[Brandon & Courtney Robinson]

[Brandon] Good size Guad!

[Courtney] Nice!

[Brandon] That’s why the Llano River is such a great river to fish, because these fish are here!

[SFX—PADDLING CANOE/NATURE SOUNDS]

[Tim Birdsong] I remember our very first paddle trip--we put in at the Llano Springs Ranch and paddled downstream and spent the entire day on the river. All these different organizations talking about what could be accomplished in just trying to develop a shared vision for where we could go and implement this collaborative elaborate stewardship approach. And it was just really The Perfect Storm of events that occurred…

Besides stocking fish, they planted along the streamside, working with landowners who owned the river banks to reduce erosion and improve water quality.

[Tim Birdsong] So in a really short time we went implemented close to 10,000 acres of habitat restoration projects, we stocked over 700,000 Guadalupe bass in that system. We by 2018 had achieved our genetic restoration target for Guadalupe bass. We had also just really moved the needle on habitat restoration.

So, we have committed real similar approaches in the Pedernales River Watershed, Blanco watershed. And just kind of continue to progress across other focal watersheds in the Hill Country. And every time we step into a new a new sub-Watershed we've continued to find very willing partners and a lot of interest. And so it's almost as if we just came move forward quick enough.

What’s good for fish is good for people too. It all comes back to conserving rivers, the natural and economic lifeblood of the Lone Star State.

[Tim Birdsong] Texas has moved from a rural state to this decidedly urban state, and with that comes a whole new set of strategies to try to maintain the health of these natural systems. And we're just starting to see this really strong interest and participation in river-based recreation.

And rivers more so than just about any other landscape are affected by what's happening in the uplands and what's happening around them. The health of these streams is going to be dictated by the management actions that we implement on the land.

[MUS—EVER UPWARDS]

For sure, conserving our land and water is important. But for a lot people, it’s about the pure joy of being outdoors, the peace of mind that brings, and the fun of casting a fly rod. More and more people are finding out the water’s fine. Chris Johnson.

[Chris Johnson] Take Brushy Creek…all the parks up and down it, San Gabriel River through Georgetown, same thing, parks all along it. Those are places people go on weekend, with their kids, take a picnic basket or grab a fishing rod, and they’ll use it as a rec center and as a place to just blow off steam and be with the family. And if there wasn’t a river running through it, in many cases it wouldn’t be a park, and if that river was dry or mossy or stank, people wouldn’t go.

And that’s the important part to me, that we’re fighting to keep something beautiful for the sake of the fish, but also for the sake of the community at large. It’s just the right thing to do.

At end of the day, lovers will always work harder than workers. And if you love what you’re doing, and you love what you’re about, you love your fish, you love your water, you love your state, you love the ground that it flows through, then you’re going to fight to protect it.

I want my kids to catch Guadalupe bass, I want my kids’ kids to catch Guadalupe bass. And I want them to be able to do it in the same places that I do.

So, we’ve done the rivers a favor by creating an army of conservationists who are in it for the love of the fish and the enjoyment it gives them, and that’s the part where giving back now matters more than ever.

[CECILIA NARRATION RESUMES]

If you want to learn more about the Guadalupe Bass, you can find information on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

[SFX—FISH SPLASH]

Better yet…get out to one of our beautiful Hill Country rivers and cast for this feisty state fish of Texas.

[MUS—RAISE THE BAR]

This is Under the Texas Sky from Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti…with a quote from American essayist, poet and naturalist, Henry David Thoreau. He said: Many men go fishing all of their lives… without knowing that it is not fish they are after. That’s one of my favorites. Do you have a favorite quote or poem about the outdoors? Share it with us at underthetexassky.org.

Support from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation allows us to bring you stories from Under the Texas Sky. In fact, since 1991, the Foundation has raised more than $190 million to conserve the lands, waters and wildlife of our state. You can help by becoming a member. Find out how at WeWillNotBeTamed.org

Earlier in the podcast we waded into the waters of the South Llano River with Courtney and Brandon Robinson as they fished for Guadalupe Bass—the state fish of Texas. We have a park named for that river, and that’s where we’re headed next.

[MUS—MARZIPAN]

When you visit a Texas state park and have the good fortune to meet one of our uniformed park personnel, have you ever wondered: do any of them actually live here? Fact is… it’s not uncommon for state park managers to live on site.

Abe Moore, one of my colleagues from the award-winning Texas Parks and Wildlife Television series wondered what it would be like if your home sweet home was a Texas state park….

[ABE’S PRODUCED PIECE]

[Abe Moore] I did a story at South Llano River a while ago.

[Scott Whitener] The main draw is probably the river, which is why it gets its namesake.

[Abe] And I met the park manager here Scott Whitener.

[Scott] And even though you can be sitting in the campground with fifty other campers, you only walk a hundred yards and you are going to be all alone in the woods.

[Abe] And his passion and energy was just amazing, and I just thought, what a character, he lives here at the state park, he works here, he plays here, so I just thought he might be a fun story. So that’s what we’re doing.

[Scott] It is a, seven forty-five am, and it’s time to go to work.

[Abe] Scott's the kind of guy that would be right at home in the pages of any outdoor catalog.

{Door creaks}

[Scott] Leaving home and open the gate, I think I can count the paces, about twenty-five feet.

{Gate opens}

[Scott] And we’re at work.

[Abe] The parks headquarters is an old ranch house

[Scott] Morning Regina!

[Abe] And Scott manages a staff of seven to nine folks depending on the time of year.

{Computer turns on}

[Scott] Open the office up so we can start getting everybody checked-in.

{Door opens}

[Scott] How you doing sir!?

[Camper] How are you?

[Scott] I’m doing great thank you!

[Camper] I’d like to make a reservation.

[Scott] All right!

{Computer clicking}

[Scott] You gotta make sure you are there for your people, sometimes that means I’m the front desk guy, last week it was when I got a sick, sick employee, I’m the only one here, it doesn’t matter how busy it is you still gotta serve people that walk through the door.

{Computer clicks}

[Scott] So, would you prefer something on the back side? Like over here where the bird blinds are. Ok let me see if I can move you somewhere over there.

{Birds flap around at bird blind}

[Abe] I’m surprised you’re not a birder Scott, how come?

[Scott] I didn’t start out a birder,

{Birds flap around at bird blind}

[Scott] I’ve learned more about birds in the two years I’ve been here than I think I knew from my first forty-three years of life. And, I learned the hard way by thinking certain birds weren’t real.

[Abe]

What do you mean?

{Yellow-billed Cuckoo calls}

[Scott]

Somebody said that we had a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and I said nah, that’s not a real bird! And then they showed me on the list, and then showed me pictures of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo and said you’re an idiot.

{Yellow-billed Cuckoo calls}

[Abe] Scott’s road to South Llano River State Park was a windy one.

[Scott] Well I moved to Austin when I was nineteen I guess. I finally got a job on an Alaskan fishing boat.

{Boat hits waves}

{Scott] Went to Lake Tahoe…

{Chainsaw}

[Scott] Trim all the trees on these forest roads.

{Shoveling dirt}

[Scott] A job working on an organic farm in upstate New York. Drive cross country.

{Car drives by}

[Scott] And hit a bunch of national parks.

{Jungle}

[Scott] Spent three months travelling in Guatemala by myself. Kinda all building up to one thing which was, I’m gonna have to figure out something eventually that I’m going to do for the rest of my life. And I did all this before I turned thirty.

[Abe] He eventually went back to college, got a degree, and started teaching.

{Kids at school]

[Scott] I taught kids with autism, cerebral palsy, and ugh, I won teacher of the year.

[Abe] You did?

[Scott] Yeah, I won teach of the year, and then the next year I quit cause of stress.

{Music}

[Abe] So, at thirty-nine. He took a nine dollar an hour seasonal clerk position at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.

[Scott] Literally the day I started at Enchanted Rock, it was like I want to know how you are doing this, and I want to learn every aspect of how this works. My former supervisor just said, ya know, Scott this isn’t rocket science. It’s about how you deal with people, I stopped letting all the technical stuff get to me, and started well I can work with people.

{Footsteps}

[Scott] So were walking towards the camping loop where everybody down in this one little section of the park of fifty-eight some camp sites.

[Abe] And who’s the dog?

{Dog whines}

[Scott] The dog is Lulu, Lulu the wonder dog.

[Abe] Lulu…

{Dog whines}

[Abe] Say hi!

[Scott] Kind of my nightly thing is just to take the dog, gives me an excuse, not only to walk the dog, but to check on people that are staying with us.

{Footsteps}

[Scott] Ah, Steve! What’s going on Steve, how are you sir! Welcome back, welcome back dear!

We’re glad to be back.

[Scott] Karen and Steven Grasty, they are veteran park hosts.

[Abe] Veteran huh!

{Scott] Veteran.

[Steven] Got a lot of experience under our belt. Ha-ha,

[Scott] Just a little!

[Abe] So, tell me for someone that’s new to this park, what’s this park like?

[Steven] It’s fantastic, fantastic park.

[Karen] Beautiful

[Steven] Beautiful, in the spring when the birds start coming back and all that it’s, it’s beautiful, and you’ve got some deer coming in, ya know in and out, so!

[Scott] Oh yeah!

[Karen] We’ll see ya later.

[Abe] All right, thank you for your time.

[Scott] Bye ya’ll, welcome home!

[Abe] Nature calls to Scott…

{Dog whines}

[Abe] That’s a big one!

[Scott] Lulu,

[Abe] And on this walk it calls to Lulu, too.

[Scott] Ya know, this is the worst part about walking the dog and having to follow your own rules.

[Abe] That was a big one.

[Scott] Out of that little dog, I’m telling you man! This dog is regular.

{Trash lid closes}

[Scott] Whew, nasty!

{Abe] Whew, nasty!

[Abe] And tonight, even after a quick dog walk there’s still enough time to get in a bike ride.

[Scott] It takes ten seconds to get to the trailhead from the back door.

{Mountain bike tires on dirt}

[Scott] That’s one of those nice things about living in the park, that’s how far I have to get to get on the trail.

{Mountain bike tires on dirt}

[Abe] Is this the way to your favorite spot?

[Scott] Oh absolutely, as soon as we pass one trail you’re in my favorite spot I’d say.

[Abe] These trails twist and turn and seem to go for miles.

[Scott] Ya know if you’ve got 18-19 miles of trail in the backcountry, you rarely see a person which is what it’s all about.[Abe] Which is good for Scott, he needs the miles to prep for ultramarathons.

{Mountain bike tires on dirt}

[Abe] I guess you’re not training now are you or you are?

[Scott] I guess you’re always training, you’re just training to finish. People ask me before, it’s like so how does it feel like running fifty miles. Well it hurts, it hurts. I will admit I’ve never come in dead last but, uh, I will always finish. It just might not be pretty.

[Abe] And as the sun sets on my visit, we finally arrive at one of Scott’s favorite spots.

{Crickets}

[Abe] How far if you wanted to do the primitive would you have to walk to get back here, a mile, mile and a half?

[Scott] A little over a mile and a half, yeah. I always tell people to do bike in camping. If you can fit a backpack with a tent on your back, just ride everything in it’s much faster. Most people look at primitive as the afterthought, cause they couldn’t get anything else that’s more convenient. And I would say this would be my ideal campsite, it’s peaceful back here.

[Abe] I hadn’t thought about that, but yeah, this is the perfect bike in camp spot. I don’t want to tell anybody.

{Owl}

[Scott] The wonderful thing about South Llano River State Park and why people should care about this place, it’s uh, you can go to the river and I think that’s what people think is the draw, they don’t think about the other twenty-one hundred acres that’s back there, that’s just waiting to be tapped into. That’s what’s so special about. Because there is space to be had out here, and its solitude and to me that’s nature.

[RUN NAT SOUND AT END OF SOUND BITE UNDER NARRATION]

[CECILIA NARRATION RESUMES]

Want to experience the peace and solitude that Scott’s talking about? Then check out the South Llano River State Park page on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website and learn about all the park has to offer…and make your camping reservations online, too.

[MUS—INFECTIOUS SMILES]

Meanwhile, I hope you’ll have no reservations when it comes to contacting us at underthetexassky.org to share your feedback…story ideas…or your Shout Out to the Wild…like my friend Doretta Conrad of Round Rock, Texas did.

[Doretta Conrad]

Hi there. I’m Doretta Conrad from Round Rock, Texas. I’m a local artist who makes handmade, natural stone jewelry. And I’d like to send a Shout Out to the Wild about the South Llano River State Park.

[SFX—NATURE/BIRDS]

We found this lovely state park while on one of our road trips recently. This beautiful park is on the South Llano River as you can tell from the name of the park. But what impressed me the most about this state park is its birding area.

They have well-marked trails, with a variety of viewing stations. And I also found that the state park rangers know a whole lot about birding, and they’re very helping in helping you to determine what birds are in the area when you’re there, and when you should come back to see birds when they are migrating through.

It was very cool, and I very much enjoyed it. I plan to go back, and you should plan to go check it out.

Be like Doretta Conrad of Round Rock, Texas and tell us what you love about the Texas outdoors…whether it’s spending time our state parks…natural areas…being on the water boating or fishing…or doing some wildlife viewing…whatever it is… Go to underthetexassky.org and tell us your story. We’ll be in touch.

[MUS—TO ORBIT YOUR SOUL]

And so, we come to the end of another podcast. Under the Texas Sky is a production of Texas Parks and Wildlife and is available at UndertheTexasSky.org or wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks to Tom Harvey for enlightening us about the state fish of Texas: the Guadalupe Bass…and to Abe Moore for his “day in the life” segment about what it’s like to live at a Texas State Park.

We record the podcast at The Block House in Austin, Texas. Joel Block does our sound design.

I’m your producer and host, Cecilia Nasti, reminding you that life’s better outside when you’re Under the Texas Sky.

Major support for this podcast comes from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation: Conserving Our Wild Things and Wild Places for Over 25 Years.

We receive additional support from the Sport Fish Restoration Program…funding sport fish conservation and restoration in Texas.

Join us again next time for Under the Texas Sky.

[SFX—REELING IN FISH]