Laguna Madre fishing for reds and speckled trout

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Submitted photo
From left to right: Brandon Butler, Captain Mike Mahl and Steve Brigman with some fish for the Laguna Madre freezer.

By BRANDON BUTLER
bbutler@driftwoodoutdoors.com

If you love seafood and the beautiful stretches of Gulf Coast beach as well as fishing, you must head to South Padre Island at the southern tip of Texas. As an angler, you come to Laguna Madre for the large number of rockfish and the legitimate chance of catching a trophy-sized speckled trout. You will find that the island atmosphere turns this special place into a lively sporting destination.

The Laguna Madre, which in Spanish means “Mother Lagoon”, is one of the six known hypersaline lagoons on the planet. This means it is saltier than most seawater. Create a unique ecosystem for fish, animals and plants. Seagrass beds are abundant in the lagoon. It’s very shallow, with an average depth of around 3 feet. In total, the lagoon stretches 275 miles from Corpus Christi to La Pesca, Mexico. It is connected to the ocean by only two inlets.

Steve Brigman is a Texan. And like all my friends in Texas, Steve is proud to let you know that Texas is the best place in the world. After telling him how much I loved fishing for rockfish in Louisiana, he decided to convince me that Texas had to be considered a top destination for rockfish. Having many connections to the island, Steve organized the entire trip including our guide, accommodation and itinerary. It was nice to show up and get on the boat.

We fished for two days with Captain Mike Mahl of M&M Charters. Mike has been guiding Laguna Madre fishermen for 20 years. He quickly proved that he knew where the fish were and how to catch them. Which requires running a special tunnel transport skiff through water less than a foot deep. Don’t carry your bass boat to the lagoon thinking you can run anywhere and do it yourself. You will quickly find that most of the water is too shallow for traditional boats.

We started our fishing trip before sunrise. The water was so calm you could see ripples of tiny insects hitting the surface. Mike handed Steve and I each a cane and told us to be ready when he slowed the boat down. He accelerated quickly until he found what he was looking for, a school of reds taking bait. He pulled the throttle and as the boat settled down Steve and I both threw in the large school of fish. Instantly, we got hooked on a double.

After sunrise the fish took longer to cover up so we had to work a bit more for them. We were throwing corks with jigs, spoons and surface water caps. A lot of people use shrimp, but we stuck with artificial bait and we did well. We fished a mixture of redfish and trout in the same places. Of course, there was the big one who escaped. I hooked a fish so big it felt like I was trying to pull a vehicle from the bottom. I’ve never seen it, before it’s spit my hook. What I really missed was my fly rod. Targeting the reds in clear, shallow water would make this trip special.

Laguna Madre is a great destination for a cast-and-blast. The lagoon is the wintering ground for about 77 percent of North American red ducks, according to the National Park Service. Many other species of waterfowl occupy the winter home at Laguna Madre, including a healthy population of northern pintails.

I always love chatting with local experts, and when it comes to Laguna Madre, Danno Wise is exactly that. He’s a sort of Renaissance man; a writer, photographer, fishing guide who doubles as a local teacher. Danno has published three books on the area – “Quick Start Guide to Coastal Fly Fishing”, “Tips for Fishing the Texas Coast” and “Fishing for Photographs”. The first two are short, to the point of publications that give you the basics of what you need to know to start fishing in the lagoon. The photography book is great because it shows you what your experience will look like. I recorded a Driftwood Outdoors podcast with Danno. You might want to check it out to learn more about the area and fishing in the lagoon.

If you are making a trip to South Padre and have more time to travel, you should consider venturing across the border to Nuevo Progresso. I am aware of concerns about the safety of crossings to Mexican border towns, but I have crossed there twice and each time have found this small shopping village inviting, fun and perfectly safe. I went there during the day both times and stayed on the main drag. I never felt in danger. I like the shops and the street vendors. You will find many unique souvenir options at prices you will enjoy. There are a lot of pharmacies, doctors and dentists for Americans in Nuevo Progresso, so I think that influences the safety and cleanliness of the city.

See you soon on the track …


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