by John Childs
A Fishing Guides Holiday
Holiday might be a stretch, since the point of heading to Texas for a week was to attend my sisters wedding, but when you're already there shouldn't you take some time for yourself? Especially when there's fish to be caught? I needed to spend some time with my family anyway, but they know my leanings on sneaking off to fish whenever I can fit it in, so it worked out great!A sibling photo after the reception. From the left, Me, Elizabeth, James and Peter. Man do I miss my family!
I grew up in South Texas and luckily my dad retired in Corpus Christi, so I have a home base when I visit, right near my old homeport! It's a wonderful thing having a place to stay, enabling me to fish the water I grew up fishing. I even keep my own tackle at my dad's place, so when I get there I just have to take stock of what I have and then go hit the water!
Last time I visited South Texas, I decided to take my fishing gear home. I've looked at my gear the last couple times I fished Texas and kept wondering if I could use it at home for salmon, steelhead and even tuna. It was an interesting idea. I've tried it the other way, bringing salmon and steelhead gear to South Texas; why not try it the other way around? I've found that our wiggle warts in all their fancy colors tempt a bevy of Texas saltwater denizens, and that my very favorite wart, red with black herringbone, is one of the best colors there as well. I've tempted ladyfish, speckled trout, spanish mackerel, and redfish with them, and I'm sure they'd work for other species too. Why not try some of my Texas soft plastics or gold spoons in Oregon along with some of their fishing techniques, and see if they tempt our fish too? So I brought home a bevy of my gear my last visit, and when it came time to pack for my sisters wedding I had a WHOLE bunch of stuff to bring back to Texas!
I got it assembled and weighed (yes, I did say weighed!). It always brings an amusing look from the airline counter clerks when I show up with boxes and bags that are 48.5 to 49 pounds! I ended up only having to pay $20 extra for checking 3 bags (1 is my rod tube), and I feel I'm getting off awfully lucky. A few years ago I went to fish a big tuna/marlin tournament out of Puerto Vallarta, and I ended up with $500 in extra baggage charges (I think I had 10-12 boxes of tackle on that trip)! That was a bit insane, but in Mexico you often can't find what you don't bring! So $20 seems like an absolute steal.
So I finally get to Texas with my booty. I arrive at 6:30 in San Antonio where I'm picking up my rental car for a leisurely drive to Corpus Christi. My sister's rehearsal dinner was the same night as my arrival, so my family isn't expected home until around 9:30 or so, which should coincide nicely with my arrival time. I retrieve my bags, get my rental car and I'm heading south on I-37 within a short half an hour. I'm totally looking forward to seeing my family. I haven't seen my two brothers in a couple years, and my sister for 18 months, so this is going to be a treat!
I arrive at my parent's house shortly after their return from dinner and we have a wonderful evening catching up while drinking one of my favorite Texas libations, Shiner Bock Beer; a great time! We talked till the early morning hours, and truly just enjoyed getting to hang out together.
During our late night visit, I find out my dad wanted to have breakfast with us boys in the morning, while my mom, sister, and sister's in law all head over to take care of last minute wedding details. After our breakfast I don't have to be anywhere until 4:00 p.m. at the church. I catch my little brother Pete's eye and motion to him a fishing rod. He get's a big grin on his face and enthusiastically agrees! Sweet, we'll get a couple hours of fishing time in and still make it to the wedding with plenty of time to spare.
The next morning, after breakfast, I assemble my gear and find in my haste of getting everything together I left my box of soft plastics back in Oregon. Dang, what an idiot maneuver. I remember having the box in my hand, but I set it down while looking for an extra Curado reel, and never did pick it up again. Well this is a minor set back. We'll just have to swing by Roy's Bait and Tackle to pick up some plastics. I also realize I took my wading boots home and forgot to bring them back as well, so I'll need to pick these up also. (Amazingly, for the last week in November, the weather and water is still warm enough to allow me to wet wade without freezing my fanny off! Not all Texas residents would agree with that statement, but they also don't spend 8 months a year running around in 50 degree rainy weather!) Just a slight set back, but we need to get licenses anyway.
As soon as breakfast is done, Pete and I are headed for the flats, ready to see if we can't find some redfish and speckled trout before the wedding, with a quick stop at Roy's for licenses and gear. I figured out a while back that when you're at a store that sells fishing equipment, the staff is much more likely to give you some good information about what's currently happening when you're purchasing some merchandise. I find one of the clerks and ask him what's currently working for our intended quarry on the flats. I follow him into the incredibly well stocked isles and buy several packages of the items he suggests, some Berkley Gulp Shrimp, and Saltwater Assassin jerk baits, along with 1/8 ounce jig heads in chartreuse. I find some inexpensive wading shoes, get our licenses, thank the clerk and boogie towards one of my favorite easily accessed flats. The flat I fished with my brother Peter.
As I get the rods out of the truck and put some leader spools, plastics, jig heads and other assorted tackle into my little shoulder tackle pack, my brother and I cheerfully chat about our amazing luck at being let out of the house to chase a few fish! We both agree we couldn't be luckier!
A cold front had blown in over night, and we had a pretty stiff wind out of the west, which blows directly into your face on this flat. The first thing I notice is this flat has changed drastically. With the drought conditions and no hurricanes or other major water moving storms, this flat has filled in. We are fishing on the backside of a barrier Island on the north tip of South Padre Island. There are several cuts along the island where storms many years ago had punched a hole through the barrier island, connecting the shallow bay with the Gulf of Mexico. These passes never last long though, because the Gulf has very little tidal movement. Most of these tides move less than a 1-2 feet a day. With such little tidal movement along with a very shallow Gulf entrance they sand in very quickly. Then it's just a matter of time as the island slowly reclaims its hold on the cut. The cut we are planning on fishing has had an amazing amount of land fill in. Just 18 months ago it had been shallow close to the bank where the cut opens up into the main part of the bay, and then it gradually worked out to deeper water, and within a hundred yards it was waist deep. It had become deep enough I had never attempted to keep wading once I hit belt depth water, and there were no color changes to indicate anything but a slow but steady increase in the depth. (The water on these flats is typically gin clear. It's easy to see the deeper spots indicated by green water, where the shallows are identified by being able to see the color of the bottom, which is typically dark green over the grass flats, and light tan over sanding bottoms. The deeper the water, the greener it is.) There had always been a gut down the middle of this cut, and it still appeared there was one, but I could see shallow water on each side, and a guy was wading along the edge in what would have previously been water that was deep enough to be over my head. Even more startling was a new bar about 200 yards out that paralleled the bank, and was shallow enough to show exposed sand at the low tide we arrived on.
An interesting aside on tides in the bays along the Texas coast: For some unfathomable reason, there is only one tide set per day…meaning there is only one high tide, and one low tide daily, not the normal 2 highs and lows. Very strange, and this, coupled with the fact mentioned earlier of very small tidal exchanges makes for little current on most of the flats. The further you get from open Gulf passages, the less current you have. It also means winds create some of the most important currents along these flats, which is the case today with a strong wind out of the West, blowing current over the paralleling sand bar and hopefully pushing some bait towards the deeper guts we plan on fishing.
I've always approached this flat by wading out towards the deeper water at the center of the cut, then moving out towards the middle of the bay while casting into the deeper water along the cut. The big change was now once I got a couple hundred yards from the bank, I would run out of deep water and run into a shallow sand bar. The good part was it looked as if the old deep trough took a perpendicular turn at the sand bar and began running perpendicular to the bank as it opened up into the main part of the bay. It made the choice of how to fish it pretty easy, wade out along the cut like usual, fishing the deeper water, then climb up onto the shallow bar and follow it south and continue fishing the deeper water between the bar and the bank.
This is exactly how Pete and I approached it, and while I can't say we hammered the fish, we didn't do poorly, especially considering it was our first time on the water in South Texas in over 18 months! We began fishing along the cut and were both being grabbed pretty consistently on our Gulp Shrimp, but it was obviously some piggy perch (also called pinfish or grunts), who were tearing us up! We slowly worked our way towards the sand bar, and when I got to the deepest water just shy of the bar I hooked a small speckled trout, followed by a decent but undersized red. Sweet, there are definitely some fish kicking around. My bother was working along the edge slower than me, and I urged him to catch up, because often where there's one, there's a bunch more! Unfortunately it didn't work out that way, and we didn't hook any more fish from the deep corner where it met the sand bar. Our first fish, a decent but undersized redfish.
We climbed the sand bar and began working our way down the bar, still fishing out into the deeper water between the bar and the bank. Not long after climbing onto the bar I saw Pete with a deeply bent rod. It definitely looked like a fish to me, but he seemed unsure. As it got closer to him I saw a couple definitive headshakes, so I knew he was hooked up, yet he still seemed unsure. As the fish surfaced right in front of him I realized what the confusion was all about since it was a door mat flounder! Flounder don't always fight all the way to you the way many fish do, they come up as just a lot of wait, but decide to fight once they break the waters surface right in front of you. This particular fish turned out to be one of the biggest flounder I've seen in a long, long time. I found myself immediately wishing for a stringer, but unfortunately I hadn't brought one. Oh well, I reminded myself we had to be at a wedding in 3 hours, and there really wasn't the time or inclination to deal with cleaning a few fish! I tried to snap a few photo's of Pete and the big flatty, but he tried to grab the line and lift the fish out of the water which ended in an abrupt release, so the only pictures I have are as he fought the fish. Regardless, it was a very nice flounder, probably 21-23" and close to 6-7 pounds. Pete Hooked Up!!The nice flatty coming to hand.
We kept fishing down the bar until I realized it was close to 1:30, and we needed to be to the church by 4:00. We both needed to shower and get our suits on, so it was probably time to make our way back towards the truck. We began fishing our way back and caught a couple more flounder and another undersized red. It ended up being a great day, especially considering it was a freebie in that neither of us had expected any opportunity to escape the day of the wedding!Peter with a beautiful little red!
After we got back to the truck, took off our wet shorts and traded them for dry ones, put the gear away and began the 30 minute drive back to the house I got a frantic phone call from my mom. She asked me, "are you aware you have to be at the church by 4:00?" I responded to the affirmative. She then said, "well nobody knows where you guys are and we're getting worried you aren't going to make it." I realized they were probably freaking out from normal worries of everything not getting off without a hitch, so I reminded her of the normal guy detail of only taking 5 minutes to shower, and another 10 to get dressed, so I figured we'd be early, and that's exactly what happened. By the time Pete and I returned to the house, put our gear away, showered and changed, we were dressed and at the church by 3:40. I do have to admit watching my mom give a big sigh of relief when she walked us walk in!
To be continued…