Out of Bounds

Guads for a Day

Guadalupe bass are surviving, but they face threats

By Rob Breeding

I love road trips but I can be a bit impulsive. I make up my plans on a day-to-day basis, which really means no planning at all. 

I made it to Texas earlier this week, to visit an old friend in Round Rock on the outskirts of Austin. This is my third visit to Austin, one of the few American metropolises to which I’d consider relocating. 

If you like smoked meats there may be no better city in the known universe and that goes for live music as well.

I arrived with a notebook empty of ideas for my column but figured something would come up. I tried my best to think of an outdoor angle for brisket. I still might find that path, but I came up with an even better idea: Guadalupe bass.

When it comes to Hill Country fish, there’s no better subject than Guads, as they are sometimes called. Guadalupe bass are the state fish of Texas and the species’ limited native range is a handful of rivers that flow out of the high country northwest of Austin, draining the Edwards Plateau into the Gulf of Mexico. 

As is the case in much of the South, largemouth bass are king when it comes to freshwater game fish. Guadalupe bass bear a passing resemblance to largemouth, so much so the two species were once thought to be closely related. It turns out Guads are kissing cousins with smallmouth, and that close relation might be the fishes’ downfall.

Before I get to the troublesome news — sadly, there’s always troublesome news when it comes to native fish — let me say that Guadalupe bass are maybe the most beautiful of the black bass. Their background color is that iridescent olive green bass anglers immediately recognize, and they have black barring down the lateral line similar to largemouth. But Guadalupe bass also have a row of black splotches that run along either side near the spine. Farther down, below the lateral line, that olive green extends into the stomach where a largemouth’s belly goes pale.

The effect is a series of belly stripes running head to tail. 

Guadalupe bass share characteristics with smallmouth as well. The most obvious is the size of the mouth. When a Guad’s mouth is closed, the jaw extends only to the eye, rather than behind it as it does on a largemouth. The eye is not fiery red like a smallmouth, however.

My data point is only one bass, though I’ve got a few more days to fish before I heed the old black river’s call. The little 8-inch rocket I caught raced out from behind a boulder to eat my fly in Brushy Creek, where it passes under I-35 in downtown Round Rock. The aggression of that little bass made me think that the warm Texas stream had been stocked with trout. 

Another nickname for Guadalupe bass is “Texas brook trout” and dang it if I didn’t think I was in the Northern Rockies somewhere fishing a headwater stream.

The fight was deceptive, too. Guads don’t grow as big as largemouth — the world record is 3 pounds, 11 ounces — but my little dink made me work for it. These fish prefer the fast currents of stream life and fight with a vigor largemouth of a similar size could only imagine.

Guadalupe bass are surviving, but they face threats. Most of the rivers in their native range have been dammed and the Austin region is in the midst of a development boom. Dams and people rarely bode well for water quality. But the biggest threat are non-native smallmouth bass. Stocked on top of Guadalupe bass, smallies hybridize with the natives and swamp the gene pool, replacing Guads the way rainbows hybridize cutthroats out of existence in Montana streams.

For now, however, this native of central Texas has a fighting chance at survival.