Book review: Fly fishing Houston and southeast Texas

A guide to urban fly fishing in one of the U.S.'s largest metropolitan areas
fly fishing houston and southeast texas
Photo: Chris Hunt

The directions were a bit odd for a meet-up to go fishing. I’ve joined fishing buddies at campsites, mile markers, highway intersections and rural road crossings. I’ve met up at bars and convenience stores. Once I met a buddy from Utah at an abandoned liquor store in the middle of nowhere in southeast Wyoming.

But Rob McConnell’s directions for me as I drove north out of Houston were the strangest I’d ever heard.

“When you get off the highway, take the overpass and the little access road to the creek is right behind the furniture store,” his text to me read. “Be careful, it’s easy to miss.”

Easy, indeed. After missing the turn the first time, I found myself in a gnarly mess of urban construction traffic, and I had to reboard the freeway, return south to an earlier exit, and just start the whole process over again. When I got there about 15 minutes late, I apologized for the traffic and my tardiness.

“I saw you,” he said, with a laugh.”You drove right by the access road.”

I nodded, and then looked around. The hum and buzz of freeway traffic was constant. That road construction? It was going on just across the West Fork of the San Jacinto River–crews were working on the shoulder road over the river bridge.

“We’re fishing here?” I asked, a little deflated.

“Yup,” Rob said. “Don’t worry. It gets better.”

Well, I thought to myself, it has to get better. Because this is … I looked around at the weedy patches of grass that met the highway asphalt and concrete, and the usual garbage and trash that tends to collect in little grottos beneath highway bridges like this one … this is gross.

And it did get better. Significantly better. We walked through the overgrowth at the river’s edge and eventually stepped into the murky water of this urban fork of one of Texas’ famed waterways. We were after native spotted bass and, frankly, anything else that would hit a fly. On this warm and sunny October day, the river’s fish put aside the fact that they lived in a mucky city creek and acted like the wild and wonderful creatures we all hope to find when we seek out a real creek-freak experience.

fly fishing houston and southeast texas
Photo: Chris Hunt

In all, I spent a week in and around Houston, exploring the waters of the nation’s fourth-largest city (and growth projections have Houston overtaking Chicago for the third spot in the near future), and, with Rob as my guide, I had one of the fishiest urban experiences I’ve ever enjoyed. But that’s a tale for another time.

This is the story of a labor of love–an endeavor only a die-hard fly fisher would undertake. This is the story of a guide book to the waters and the fish of Houston and Southeast Texas, and how Rob, a Pennsylvania transplant who couldn’t shake the desire to wander along creek banks in search of fish, even after he shook the woods and waters of Pennsylvania off his boots and went to work as engineer in the Texas oilpatch.

Only now, he fishes for red-ear sunfish, spotted bass, channel catfish and gar, not beautifully speckled brook trout plucked from crystalline creeks in one of the troutiest corners of America.

fly fishing houston and southeast texas
Photo: Chris Hunt

Rob’s new book, Fly Fishing Houston and Southeast Texas, is the product of his curiosity and, frankly, his fearless determination to force the fishing in his new home into the mold of the fishing from his old home. And, undoubtedly, he’s come to realize that, while he’s likely gotten close to his brook trout roots, he’s now fishing up a completely different tree altogether.

And, I know a thing or two about guide books, having penned a few myself. Rob’s effort–his second–is a complete and thorough fly fishing guide to the urban waters of inner-city Texas and the surrounding piney woods that include little-known streams in the Sam Houston National Forest and beyond.

I’ve fished with Rob a couple of times on his home turf – he’s an intuitive and thoughtful angler. To our benefit, he’s also an intuitive and thoughtful writer. Any angler interested in getting to know the bayous, creeks and rivers within an hour’s drive of Houston should have this book at hand. Complete with excellent writing about specific angling destinations (including QR codes that pop up in Google or Apple Maps on your phone), thoughtful prose on the habitat and the state of it (let’s face it–it ain’t all pretty in a city of millions), and really good, informative writing about the fish in these waters, the book is a must-have for Bayou City anglers.

fly fishing houston and southeast texas
Photo: Chris Hunt

Rob’s best writing is about the fish. He’s clearly taken to the unique – and often invasive – species of the greater Houston metro area. And he’s not fooling, either, when he writes with such awe about fairly modest fish. I’ve seen him moon over stunning little sunfish in the water of the East Fork of the San Jacinto, and, if I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought he was admiring a foot-long brookie from a remote Alleghany trout stream.

It’s refreshing–and probably a necessity, to be honest–to find an angler who can drive over a muddy city bayou and find something to appreciate rather than something to degenerate. Rob’s ahead of his time, with his appreciation for the fish and the waters of his adopted city. If we’re to enjoy the small-stream angling well into the future, there’s a very real chance that much of that angling will be done in waters that most of today’s anglers would shun as polluted and disgusting.

And, while the book is definitely focused on Houston and the surrounding area, it offers a chance for any curious urban angler in just about any American metroplex to go to school on Rob’s abundant research. Every little urban creek is a fishery in his mind, and he spent years exploring these overlooked gems.

It’s a good lesson for any city angler. Sometimes the best fishing is in the creek that flows beneath the freeway. You just have to be brave enough and curious enough to give it a shot.