ABOUT THE FISHING
In a typical year, my clients catch lots of redfish, lots of seatrout, a respectable number of snook, several tarpon, and all kinds of incidentals including ladyfish, black drum, flounder, jack crevalle, mangrove snapper, comb and gag grouper, lookdown, king mackerel, and tripletail, all on fly. However, I think it's safe to say that redfish are king. The majority of my clients prefer to sight-fish if at all possible, and redfish represent the best opportunity to catch a good-sized gamefish in very shallow water by sight-casting. We hunt for redfish on the flats by looking for several different things. Tailing redfish move along in very shallow water in a head-down feeding posture which often shows the triangular tips of their tails. Tailing fish occur as singles and pairs, small groups of 4-6 and in large groups up to 50 fish. We also look for a behavior known as backing. Backing fish cruise in water too shallow to cover them, often along gently sloping shorelines or on open grass flats at the lower stages of the tide. With decent light, many of the fish that you cast to will be what are referred to as "cruisers". With polarized sunglasses, you're able to make out the entire fish in the water. In low light conditions, cruising fish often push a v-shaped wake as they travel which gives them away.
While redfish are the undisputed main attraction on the Laguna Madre flats, they're not the sole inhabitants. Other species commonly encountered while sight-fishing for redfish include ladyfish, black drum, sheepshead, and some very large spotted seatrout (three current IGFA tippet class records). Three species of snook also occur in the lagoon, the only fishable population in the state. A favorite species, we catch most of our snook near Brazos Santiago Pass, in South Bay, around lighted docks near the city of South Padre Island, and in the Brownsville Ship Channel. With the exception of lighted docks, south Texas snook rarely present sight-casting opportunities, but there is a definite visual element to the fishing when they're popping sardines and bay anchovies at dawn or dusk.
Tarpon round out the inshore "big four" for south Texas anglers. Virtually all of our tarpon fishing is done in Brazos Santiago Pass at dawn or dusk. Like snook, south Texas tarpon rarely present sight-casting opportunities in the classic sense. The normal incentives are sporadically to frequently rolling fish, although it's fairly common to see aggressive surface feeding at dusk, especially when there are dense schools of sardines (pilchards) and bay anchovies ("rain minnows") around. Most of the tarpon that we catch are babies, from 10 to 40 pounds. Many of the snook that we catch are taken incidentally while tarpon fishing.
Laguna Madre fishing is productive year 'round for some species and seasonal for others. Tarpon usually show up in April or May and there are normally a few around through November. Snook are available year 'round, but are less active and have a contracted range during the winter and early spring (Dec.- Mar.) Redfish and seatrout are available year 'round and it is possible to sight-fish for them year 'round. A myth persists that sight-casting opportunities are nonexistent during the winter; this isn't true. The "quality" of the fishing varies almost as much between days within a given month as it does between months, and I'd take a sunny, calm day in January over a windy and cloudy day in June in a heartbeat. The peak sight-casting season for the really big seatrout is from late spring through late summer (June - August). The peak sight-casting season for redfish is from early spring through late fall (April - November). Winter and early spring (December - March) sight-fishing for redfish can be very good, given fair weather and decent visibility.
About the Laguna Madre
The Laguna Madre of south Texas is the largest hypersaline lagoon system in the country. The lower basin is approximately 50 miles in length and four miles in width, with an average depth of less than three feet. What this means from an angler's perspective is that there are very large expanses of shallow, clear water where it's possible to sight-fish in the classic manner. Much of the western margin of the lagoon is part of the 50,000 acre Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, and virtually all of South Padre Island is either National Seashore or Nature Conservancy property. Average annual rainfall for the area is only 26 inches, so the upland areas along the mainland shore are covered with plant communities that would look right at home in southern New Mexico. These thickets consist of mesquite, huisache, yucca, prickly pear, retama, cenizo, Texas ebony, and others. Together they comprise an ecotype referred to as Tamaulipan thorn scrub. It's beautiful, unique, and the last place you'd ever want to have a nudist's convention.