Get Friendly With Amistad

By Ann Dermody

Photo of two men fishing on Lake Amistad Borderland Fishing: Some of the best bass fishing in the country is found among the cactus at Lake Amistad, Texas.

Last year was a record-breaking year for visitors to National Park Service destinations. As several of these have extensive bodies of navigable waterway, we thought it timely to run a series on five of the best, if not always the best-known, parks for boaters.

Amistad means "friendship" in Spanish, and if you ask any local or returning visitor what makes Amistad National Recreation Area special for boaters, you'll get a smile. Then, they'll likely enthuse about the beautiful scenery, pristine waters, and isolated otherworldly feel of the place. Ask Greg Garetz, Chief of Education and Resource Management however, and you'd better have some time on your hands. If you do, he'll tell you about the 57,292 acres of federal property set aside for recreational enjoyment; the abundant prehistoric rock art; the vibrant cross-border culture; the wide variety of plant and animal life - and of course that great big body of water known as Lake Amistad.

photo of anglers boating past the limestone cliffs on the Pecos River Limestone cliffs add a dramatic backdrop to boating on the Pecos River

Getting out on the water is really what this place is all about. Formed in 1969 on the Rio Grande along the border of the US and Mexico, Amistad Dam was primarily for flood control. Since then it's had its battles with low water levels, most recently from 1992-2002, but at its current 1115.03 feet, things are great for boaters.

After you've decided on one of the park's 11 boat ramps, you can head for the Rio Grande arm of the reservoir that extends 79-miles upstream from Amistad Dam; the 14-mile Pecos River arm; or the 24-mile Devils River tributary, for your water-based explorations. You can even venture to Mexico (see box) for a true cross-border cruise.

Unlike other areas around the country, as Garetz happily points out, nobody is polluting the lake from upstream; there are no cities or industries upriver, and the fishing? Well, in short, the fishing is spectacular.

Largemouth black bass (the record is 15.56 lbs), striped bass (lake record 45 lbs), white bass, channel catfish, flathead catfish, freshwater drum, and the occasional crappie, all like to call Lake Amistad home. And that's the small stuff. Bow fishermen make the trek to Amistad for Alligator Gar that can run to six feet and weigh more than 180 lbs.

If you're a boat owner who'd rather not reel up, you're still in for a treat with water-skiing, tubing, sail boating, canoeing, kayaking, house boating, and even scuba diving to keep you busy and on the water.

Photo of the Diablo East Boat Ramp Diablo East boat ramp

Be warned though, holiday weekends tend to get busy at the boat ramps.

"The reservoir is so large it can absorb a significant number of boats, and the boats tend to spread out on the water, but we do get congestion at some of the boat ramps," says Garetz. That happens primarily during major black bass fishing tournaments that can involve up to 200 boats. ÒRough Canyon boat ramp also gets busy on holiday week-ends with lots of boaters launching here for a shorter boat trip up the Devils River to Indian Springs. On the water the only areas that get somewhat congested are the Castle Canyon and Upper Devils River between Rough Canyon and Indian Springs, because they're good water skiing areas."

Map of Amistad National Recreation Area

All 11 concrete boat ramps maintained by the National Park Service are currently open thanks to the lake's high water level. Personal Water Craft (PWCs) are also allowed at Lake Amistad and parking is available at all of the boat ramps. The National Park Service requires a $4 per day Lake Use Permit to operate a motorboat on the lake and those permits can be purchased at automated machines at the Diablo East, Rough Canyon, and Pecos boat ramps, as well as the Visitor Information Center on Highway 90, eight miles west of Del Rio. Annual permits can be purchased for $40.

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License & Permit Requirements

All boats using the United States portion of Amistad Reservoir are required to have State registration and must have an Amistad National Recreation Area (NRA) Lake Use Permit. These permits are required regardless of where the boat is launched. Daily or annual permits are available. Texas fishing license requirements apply when fishing on the U.S. side of Amistad Reservoir. for more details.

Note: Mexican fishing regulations differ considerably from Texas State Regulations. Numbered buoys running along the main channel of the Rio Grande indicate the border with Mexico.

On the Texas side you can fish from shore anywhere outside of harbors and designated swim areas. Courtesy fishing docks are located at Blackbrush Point, Rough Canyon, 277 South, and Box Canyon.


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