Fishing & Boating News

Devils – Fishing

Doing the Devils – Paddling and Camping.

by: Michael Banks, DDS,

Devils River
Photo by courtesy TPWD
(Apr 17, 2015 - )

The closest city to Devils River is Del Rio, Texas, which is about 25 miles. About because who knows where Devils River ends and Lake Amistad begins.  The River drains into the lake from the north in Texas, but Lake Amistad is on the border between Texas and Mexico. Devils River is appropriately named as it is difficult, unforgiving and attempts to control you.

Here is what others have said about Devils River, and I am glad I did not read these before our adventure.

“Note that cell phone service will not be available on the river.  While we strive for a safe experience, you must be aware that you consent to be completely responsible for all your decisions and actions on this trip, and recognize the potential of this river to create situations disabling and/or injurious to your pride, health or life.  Access to the river at any point is difficult and problematic at best, restricted by side canyons and only by mostly unmapped and unimproved high clearance private ranch roads if lucky, and any medical help will be hours, if not days, away.  You will solely be responsible for any cost of your medical ground or air evacuation, if required.”

Alamo City Riverman Club

“A float down the Devils River is a far cry from a leisure stroll down your favorite stream. As the name implies, the river is isolated and unforgiving. The river is a test of vigilance and resilience for even the most seasoned paddlers and campers. The feeble need not apply.”

Skinny Water Culture

“But boy, getting down the Devils is hard work. They call it a “wet” river, which means that you’ll be in and out of your boat as you pull it through endless shallows and down rapids, all the time hanging on to that webbing for dear life while yelling at your partner. (Think twice before taking your significant other. The Devils is a jealous river.) The rapids are fast and pugnacious and come up on you quickly, so expect to simultaneously try to find the best line of approach and the right channel through the dense canebrakes before you are swept into a rock wall.”

Texas Monthly “Devils River”, by Charlie Llevellin, May, 2010
“Despite the beautiful setting, a trip down any stretch of the Devils River can be difficult and challenging, exhausting to navigate and life-threatening, even for the most seasoned paddler.  It is critical for paddlers to prepare for a physically demanding, remote river trip.  Camping on islands can be extremely dangerous.  Camping along the river above the gradient boundary will
be considered trespassing.”

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
I have been fortunate to have had many paddling, camping and fishing adventures across the United States but Devils River was probably the most significant.

We set out as most paddlers of the Devils do after a night or part of a night at Who Cares B & B.  The six in our party slept on the screened front porch. Reel Fly outfitter and concessioner of TPWD carried our 5 kayaks and equipment to the put in at San Pedro Point Paddle Camp.
There are only four access points on Devils River. The most northern is Baker’s Crossing.  Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has accesses on two Devils River State Natural Areas –Del Norte and Big Satan to the south.  We put in on Del Norte and took out at Devils Back on Big Satan. The other access point is in between these SNAs and is controlled by a private outfitter. All the remaining property along the Devils is private property and access to paddlers is usually denied.

The distance from Baker’s Crossing to Rough Canyon Marina on Lake Amistad is 47 river miles.  Our itinerary was to cover the 14.5 river miles from Del Norte SNA to Big Satan SNA in two and one half days.  We planned to camp the two nights on islands to avoid private property.  That is what we did.

We put in on a Friday morning in early April after an hour’s ride over rough roads in a van with our kayaks strapped to a trailer.  I knew two in our group and had only met the other three that morning.  Adventure brings folks together.

We had to carry everything we needed for the trek.  My Hobie Quest kayak handled the load well. I loaded most of my gear in the compartments in the hull which kept my center of gravity low giving me balance going over the rapids.  Strapped on top I had my food (freeze-dried) and my extra cloths in two air tight bags.

We started fishing and immediately caught fish – a good sign.
After a short distance we came to our first obstacle – Dolan Falls.  We assisted each other in carrying our kayaks the ¼ miles to the falls.  Then we worked together to lower our boats fifteen feet over the boulders back down into the river.  With ropes we led our boats down the river to a point where we could reboard and continue with the paddle.

Stretches of the river are connected with rapids which we negotiated by either walking our kayak through with a rope or shooting the rapids.  With each decision on how to get through a rapid, we gained experience.  It was less strenuous and more fun to shoot the rapids but the consequence on turning over was not good.

The scenery was stunning – canyon walls raising up hundreds of feet from the river’s edge.  Wildlife was there; we saw deer and Aoudad goats along the banks.  It was Rio Grande Turkey breeding season, and I had brought my turkey hen call.  I had a gobbler answering my calls until he realized this calling hen was on the water.

The weather was a tirade. The first day it was 92 degrees and sunny.  Those who didn’t use sun screen got burned.  A dry cold front came through and the second day had a high of 64 degrees, and I was shivering all afternoon.  The third day was perfect – 74 degrees with sun.

We camped on islands since we had to avoid private property along the way. The other guys slept in hammocks tied between trees.  I chose to find rock slabs for my pump up air mattress and bed roll. I slept well.  We had a pump filter system so we could take drinking water from the river and a propane burner to heat water for our freeze-dried meals.  Not a bad system.  When one is tired and hungry, it doesn’t take much to be satisfied.  We all enjoyed the camaraderie of camping.

Those who do Devils River like us, putting in or taking out at either of the State Natural Areas are permitted and regulated by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.  TPWD only issues twelve permits per day for access to Devils.  The cost is $10 per person.  This does limit availability of going on the river and in a way protects the river from being overrun.  We felt like we had the river to ourselves not seeing other campers/paddlers in our three days on the river.

State wide regulations for kayakers are that one has a PFD (personal floatation device) available and a whistle or air horn.  Specific regulations for the SNAs on Devils River are that there are no fires, no glass containers and that you take out all trash, including your solid human waste.  A method to do this is using WAG (waste alleviation and gelling) bags.

The outfitter’s fee to get us to the river and back to our vehicles was $90 each plus tip, but I did the whole trip – transportation, food, B&B, everything – for under $300; not a bad price for a three day adventure!

Doing Devils River was an unbelievable experience.  The Devils River is both plural and possessive; the Devils gets a hold on you.  I plan on going back.

Until we put in again,