Within Casts' Reach
Mar 01, 2018 09:18AM ● Published by Maleesa Johnson
Fly fishing has long been recognized as a more artistic form of angling. Stock footage of lone figures, knee-deep in picturesque streams with yards of fly line swirling gracefully behind them has worked its way into many a tourism commercial. Southlake is no stranger to the sport, with an Orvis directly off of Southlake Boulevard and a rod and reel manufacturer housed on Commerce Street. And while there are plenty of places to buy the gear locally, it's still a commonly held belief that you have to venture all the way up to Colorado for the closest fly fishing haven.
A Dragon Out of Southlake
Only three hours away, a Southlake Carroll alumna makes a living putting eager anglers on some of Southeast Oklahoma's hot spots. A class of '07 graduate and former Dragon volleyball player, Morgan Banner lives to be outside. After college, Banner moved back to the Metroplex, where she had a job in pharmaceutical sales for about four years.
"Then I realized that 9 to 5 grind was not for me and set out on a different adventure,” she says.
That different adventure included selling everything two years ago and moving to Oklahoma where she and her fiance, Trey Prater, spend the majority of their time in the great outdoors. The two work in Broken Bow, Oklahoma – the gateway to Beavers Bend State Park and home to Broken Bow Lake, both of which are part of the Ouachita National Forest. The forest features towering pine trees and plenty of wildlife.
“My fiance and I sold everything, bought an RV,” Banner says. “The plan was to travel, have a life of adventure and find work along the way. Make a life, not a living.”
Banner works on a zipline course and as a fly fishing guide for Beavers Bend Fly Shop. And while she may not be in the Lone Star State anymore, she estimates that 75 percent of her clients are Texan. She does half- and full-day guided trips for anglers of all levels. The trout are plentiful, and for the most part, year-round.
Banner first started fly fishing six years ago. Prater had previously introduced her to bass fishing with a baitcaster, and she was hooked. She didn’t think she would like fly fishing as much, but the challenge turned out to be addicting.
"It's just the feeling of fighting a fish on a fly,” she says. “It's so technical. You're using tiny little hooks, and it's definitely more of a challenge. It's the challenge of fly fishing and tricking the fish into thinking something that you tied is an actual bug that is just so rewarding."
While Banner thoroughly enjoys pulling trout out of Oklahoman waters, she is quick to add that Texas has its own vibrant fly fishing scene. In fact, a species that she can only hook in Texas turns out to be one her favorites to pursue:
"The state fish, the Guadalupe Bass, is one of the most fun fish to catch on the fly,” Banner says. “Or at least I think so, maybe I'm biased."
"There are so many places in Texas to fly fish,” she continues. “Anywhere you can back fish, you can fly fish. It's not like you're limited to only catching trout on the fly rod. You can catch bass, crappie, gar, bluegills, whatever. And Texas has all of that."
Have Water, Will Fish It
Banner isn’t the only one combatting the myth that fly fishing is exclusively limited to trout. Les Jackson, the education director for the Fort Worth Fly Fisher’s board of directors, has heard his fair share of misguided stereotypes.
"There's a lot of people that think that they need to go out of state," says Les Jackson, the education director for the Fort Worth Fly Fishers. "The biggest misconception about fly fishing is that it has to be for trout."
In order to blow that misconception out of the water, Jackson will often share his own personal story of finding fly fishing success in North Texas. He took up the sport in 1995, but his local discovery took place in '99.
“I just wasn't that skilled at that point," he says. "I was showing some friends of mine how to do some casting, but it was like the blind leading the blind.”
To give his friends a taste of the sport, he took them to a portion of Rush Creek in Arlington. The creek system flows through Arlington and eventually drains into the Trinity River. The particular branch of the river that Jackson and his friends were at ran past a small pond in Jake Langston Park. With a playground and set of swings nearby, it didn’t seem like the most predictable spot to bust out a flyrod.
Much to Jackson’s surprise, however, a decently-sized bass was swimming around. He looked closer and saw several others.
“It wasn't much of a lake, but the bass were congregating there,” he says. “I fished it over time and had a blast. Over the years, I learned my craft by fishing there and just playing around in the creeks all throughout Arlington.”
Jackson uses this anecdote to further his main point: you can fly fish almost anywhere that there is water. Last year, at the upper part of Rush Creek, Jackson landed a four-pound bass, or in his words “a hog,” though he admits that the catch was an anomaly. Typically, local fly fishers will catch local species of sunfish and small bass out of the creeks and ponds in the area. For example, Big Bear Creek, which winds its way through Southlake and Colleyville, is a great spot to wet a hook, Jackson says. Fossil Creek and Denton Creek also promise close-to-home fun. He emphasizes that anglers should enter the water through public access spots.
Of course, how could one overlook the largest body of water near Southlake? Grapevine Lake features its own fishing thrills, though it is more commonly fished from a boat. This doesn’t stop Jackson: he hops in a kayak, fly rod and all, and paddles out to the dam.
"It's a really good body of water,” he says. "You can catch the white bass run. You can catch black bass in the coves. You can even bank fish down below the tailrace."
A surprising strategy that Jackson disclosed was simply checking Google Earth. Sometimes when he is driving, he’ll see an enticing pocket of water and drop a pin to the location on his phone.
"People ask where I fly fish and I just say, 'Everywhere!'" Jackson chuckles.