When I first visited the Devils River in 1990, it was an experience for me second only to my time spent in the canyons of Big Bend National Park. Unlike Big Bend, where the experience was simply moving down through the canyons on a float trip, the Devils River was purely a fishing trip. The Devils River is by far the best river in Texas. Crystal clear water; spectacular smallmouth and largemouth bass fishing; isolated rocky, hilly and creosite-and-cactus-carpeted landscape. It’s a classic pool and drop river that runs through rugged terrain and tree lined banks. The Devils River trip is a wet one, meaning you will be getting in and out of your kayak or canoe to navigate the many shallow rapids and cane-filled twist and turns on the river.
When I speak to people about fishing in Texas and once I ascertain they are a serious fisherman, I usually ask them if they’ve been to the Devils River. Rarely do I encounter people who have even heard of the Devils River much less been on the river. It is a secluded river, tough to get to and even tougher to plan a trip there. Although not much has changed on the river in the past 23 years, change is on the way. The State of Texas implemented its first river permit system on the Devils River this year in February. Paddlers accessing the spring-fed, crystalline, fish-filled waterway now must get a permit before venturing onto the Devils River. After spending a decade in California where every river has a permit system, I understand the value and reasoning behind the permit system and simply hope the State’s interest in the Devils River does not ruin its grandeur as an isolated fishing haven for us who enjoy breaking away from civilization once in a while.
The draw for most people who venture to the Devils River is the waterway’s wilderness setting, crystal-clear water and high-quality recreational fishing. Paddlers on the Devils face challenging conditions. The river is shallow in many areas, with unusually abrasive rocks that can quickly wear holes in kayaks and canoes, peppered with maze-like thickets of cane and has several small but potentially dangerous rapids. You must be prepared for many issues when on the Devils, and a premium is placed on planning and carrying the right equipment and supplies.
I’ve been fortunate over the years to establish many working relationships with ranch owners, other fishing guides and many outstanding fishing friends. These relationships are the key to successfully navigating a trip on the Devils. I applaud the State for their desire to educate the public on conservation issues and environmental impacts concerning the Devils River and look forward to many more decades of access. The Devils River Access Permit (DRAP) is a pilot program designed to begin addressing some of the issues.
All of this and you may ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” Yes, without a doubt. The Devils River is and probably always will be the best “wilderness waterway” in Texas. The Devils River is home to Dolan Falls, the largest waterfall in Texas. It’s home to some of the best smallmouth bass fishing I have ever experienced. It’s a trip I do a minimum of twice a year and when I’m lucky I get out there even more often. My kids are still too young to venture out there with me, but I look forward to the day I can bring them along to experience this true wonder in our beautiful state.