The rainbow trout, though not native to Texas, makes for a wonderful winter fishing excursion in the Highland Lakes. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department releases thousands of the sport fish for anglers. TPWD photo
UPDATE: The trout release has been moved to Jan. 4 when the water in Hamilton Creek is expected to be cooler, announced the City of Burnet on Tuesday, Dec. 28. The release is set for 10 a.m. in Hamilton Creek Park. The release date was initially set for Dec. 30.
“They offer a way for anglers to continue to fish in what is otherwise a slower time of the year,” said Carl Kittel, TPWD hatcheries program director. “They’re a good fighting fish and lots of fun for anglers to catch. And, they’re a good eating fish.”
Each year, TPWD stocks more than 300,000 rainbow trout from late November to early March in bodies of water across the state. In the Highland Lakes, the 8- to 12-inch-long, cool-water fish are released in the Llano River at Castell and a few downstream locations, including Blanco State Park in Blanco, Lyndon B. Johnson State Historic Park in Stonewall, and, this year, Burnet, thanks to a request from the city.
“When we first moved to Burnet, we would take the kids to Hamilton Creek Park to fish for trout when they were released,” said Burnet City Manager David Vaughn. “We wanted to give others that same opportunity.”
A release at the park will be a great opportunity for families to enjoy time together and create memories, he said from experience.
“When I was younger, I always enjoyed going to the trout release in Salado,” he recalled.
TPWD began its winter trout stocking program in 1966 with a release in the Guadalupe River below Canyon Lake Dam. Anglers loved it, and, over the next two decades, the program expanded to other state parks. It has continued to grow over the years to include streams and small rivers in communities.
Kittel calls it a “put-and-take” process since the cool-water fish won’t survive in Texas waters once spring and summer arrives; however, they love the state’s winter temperatures.
“There’s a five-trout-per-day limit, and we encourage people to keep those and take them home to cook,” he said. “We want them to take the trout, and, in many places, we stock several times through the winter.”
Once water temperatures begin climbing in the spring, any remaining rainbow trout will die off.
The department closely monitors the trout population, noting that their short lives in Texas waters keep them from competing with other species for food. If the trout do prove to be a problem in a particular body of water, the department will stop stocking them at that location, Kittel said.
The fish are purchased from a supplier in Missouri and delivered to Central Texas at A.E. Wood Fish Hatchery in San Marcos. Hatchery staff bring the trout to designated spots for release.
“When the trout get released, there are people lining the bank ready for them,” said Blanco State Park Superintendent Ethan Belicek. “It’s become a nice little tradition here at the park. A lot of the locals look forward to it, and it also brings in anglers who may not visit our park otherwise.”
During the first several days following their release, the trout are fairly easy to catch and will hit on just about any type of bait: spinners, spoons, jigs, PowerBait, salmon eggs, corn, and even small marshmallows. After a couple of days in the water, however, the sport becomes more challenging.
“Even though they’re hatchery raised, they seem to become more like a native fish and get a little more picky,” Belicek said. “They’re still a lot of fun to catch. And, for families with kids, it’s a great way to introduce the kids to fishing, especially those days right after a release. (The trout) will eat just about anything.”
Lightweight rods are recommended for the small fish with lines in the 4- to 6-pound test range. A spinner or jig between 1/32 ounce and 1/8 ounce is a good choice as are small casting spoons.
You can fly fish for the trout, but it’s not the only way to catch them, Kittel said. Even a cane pole with bobber and worm works.
To fish for rainbow trout, anglers 17 years and older must have a valid fishing license with a freshwater endorsement for public waters. None of that is necessary to fish inside a state park from the shore.