Trail Description and Landmarks
Trail Length: ~14.3 miles
Float Time: ~4 – 8 hours (depending on water levels and flow rates)
The upper- and mid-reaches of the river are impounded by six reservoirs, whereas the lower 300 miles of the river is un-impounded and free-flowing below Longhorn Dam. It flows through the cities of Bastrop, La Grange, Columbus, Wharton, and Bay City before entering Matagorda Bay. Though “free-flowing” below Longhorn Dam, flow through this portion of the river is affected by the Highland Lakes, and specifically regulated by Buchanan and Mansfield Dams. As such, the river is readily influenced by rainfall runoff that may create temporary high flows and less desirable water quality conditions. Flow and water quality information is available to paddlers on the web at the LCRA Water Quality Index and waterdata.usgs.gov/tx/nwis/uv?08159200.
The Wilbarger Paddling Trail is wide and slow-moving with a few minor rapids but no man-made obstructions, although snags and debris should be avoided. This trail is where the river intersects the Carrizo-Wilcox major aquifer outcrop resulting in unique geological formations and groundwater-surface water exchanges. The flood plain is flat with limestone outcroppings and several exposed cut-banks. Frequent sand bars and islands provide suitable areas for resting.
Sport fishing is very good in this section of the river. Popular game fish are Guadalupe bass, blue, channel, and flathead (opelousas) catfish, and freshwater drum (gaspergou). Largemouth bass and sunfish are common in the backwater pools. Light-line and small lures such as jigs, plastic worms, and spinner baits are recommended for spin casting. Heavier tackle is needed for bottom fishing and larger game fish attracted to live bait. Kayak fishing is gaining in popularity. Local fishing guides are available through outfitters.
Wildlife and Ecology
The riparian corridor of the Wilbarger Paddling Trail supports a great diversity of plant and animal life along the river and beyond its banks. Trees to look for include pecan, cottonwood, American sycamore, black willow, bald cypress, hickory, ash, American and cedar elm, roughleaf dogwood, flame-leaf sumac, and red-mulberry. A variety of grasses and vines can be found growing among the trees, while maidenhair fern can be seen clinging to the river banks.
Birders can hope to see Crested Caracaras, Ospreys, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, kingfishers, vultures, woodpeckers, Great Blue Herons, Wood Ducks, and Killdeer. In the summer, swallows and Purple Martins are abundant.
The Wilbarger Paddling Trail also provides unique habitat for the blue sucker, a fish species that is depleted throughout its natural range and is listed as threatened in the state of Texas. The blue sucker is one of the most common fishes in the river between Webberville and Smithville.