Set your sights on the Highland Lakes for hunting and fishing
With the advent of fall and winter, you have quite a few options for enjoying the Highland Lakes. But two things that come to mind are hunting and fishing.
In fact, they just go hand in hand with the Hill Country.
The Highland Lakes region boasts one of the best white-tailed deer populations in the state of Texas, but it’s not the only game in town.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist Dale Schmidt, who works in Llano County, predicts the 2016 deer season will be a “banner” one. The key, Schmidt said, goes back to the spring rainfall, which late summer and early fall precipitation just seemed to bolster.
“We’ve seen a high number of fawns this year,” he said.
He credited it to the rainfall providing great native vegetation.
The TPWD’s Erin Wehland, who serves Burnet County, said she’s seen the same situation in Burnet and Lampasas counties.
The late-summer surveys revealed a high number of fawns, which equates to a strong population. If does are healthy enough to have a high number of fawns and then raise them through the summer, it’s a good indication of the overall deer population’s health.
And while the increased vegetation because of the rainfall is a good food source for the deer, it can be a challenge for hunters.
“If the there’s good, native vegetation out there, then deer might not come to feeders as much,” Wehland said.
In those cases, Wehland recommended hunters try to get a good line on whitetail movements and patterns.
“See what plants are out there that they are eating and look for those trails the deer are using,” she said.
The big bucks also have a weakness, and it typically peaks in November: the rut. It’s the timeframe that does are ready for breeding. While bucks may throw caution to the wind and race around after does — even forsaking food — there are some things hunters can do to bring a feisty buck in close.
“Rattling during the rut, can definitely bring in them in,” Schmidt said.
The rut typically hits the Highland Lakes in early November through the later part of the month or even into early December. Schmidt said it peaks around Nov. 15 in Llano County, while Wehland said the peak falls a bit closer to Nov. 7 in Burnet County.
But rattling (knocking together two antlers or using a specially designed call) can pull in bucks a week or two prior to the peak to a few weeks following.
Deer season runs Oct. 1-Nov. 4 for archery only; and Nov. 5-Jan. 1, 2017, for general season.
For a change of pace from deer hunting, give quail a shot.
“We are hearing quail out there,” Schmidt said.
This is good news for quail enthusiasts because it means the spring and summer rains have also helped bolster bobwhite quail numbers.
Still, Schmidt doesn’t see the Highland Lakes becoming a quail hotspot like South Texas; the area just doesn’t have the typical ground cover and vegetation quail prefer for habitat.
Quail season runs Oct. 29-Feb. 26, 2017.
Typically, dove season is late summer and early fall, but as cool fronts start ushering northern white-winged dove into Texas, October and early November are great times to keep the shotgun handy.
This year, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department added a few more days to the fall dove season. It runs Sept. 1-Nov. 6 with a short season Dec. 17-Jan. 8, 2017.
Don’t put away that fishing pole just yet; fall and winter are great times to be on the water.
And even though we have five Highland Lakes from which to fish, don’t overlook the area’s rivers, particularly the Llano River.
The Llano River draws anglers from across the state, even in the colder months.
“Fall is a great time to go because the temperature is dropping and the bass and sunfish are feeding and getting ready for winter,” said Chris Johnson, a fly fishing guide who operates on the Llano River. “The fish don’t hibernate, but they do slow down during the winter.”
He and his wife, Emily, also own Living Waters Fly Fishing Shop, which caters to fly casters across Central Texas and the Highland Lakes. Go to livingwatersflyfishing.com for more.
If the temperatures are a bit warm in the fall, Johnson said he’ll toss out topwater baits or flies such as a small popper.
“But as it starts to get cooler, I’d go to more of a streamer pattern, something that gets just below the surface,” he said. “Something that resembles a minnow.”
When it gets cold, fishing can take a hit, but if you’re willing to get out there, Johnson said it’s important to get the presentation — for fly casters, this typically involves a nymph and weighed line — down deep in the feeding and strike zone.
The other benefit of angling on the Llano River in the colder months is the addition of rainbow trout. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department stocks the trout in several spots on the Llano River from Llano’s Grenwelge Park on the southeast side of the Texas 16 bridge to several low-water crossings up river and in Castell.
The TPWD announces the locations in November. Go to tpwd.texas.gov for those sites.
Rainbow trout can feed aggressively, striking small spinners and spoons. For the fly angler, Johnson said small dry flies work well as does a nymph dropper rig if the current is active.
Though he doesn’t guide on the Llano River as much during the fall and winter, he does get lots of folks sharing how the fishing is going at his shop.
“So people can just call the shop (at 512-828-FISH) for a fishing report,” he said, “and we’ll probably know how things are going on the Llano.”
Before heading out to hunt or fish, make sure you have all the proper licenses and stamps. Go to tpwd.texas.gov for rules and regulations as well as places you can purchase licenses.
And be sure to share photos of any big ones on the 101 Fun Things To Do in the Highland Lakes’ Facebook page.
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