On The Fly Saltwater
Featured photo courtesy of the National Park Service
by Andrew L. Dear
Springtime weather in Texas is unpredictable, to say the least. Just the other day I saw a meme on the internet that read “Texas; where the weather forecasts are made up and the seasons don’t matter.” While it is true that our weather patterns here, especially in the spring, can be both varied and extreme, for the determined fly angler with the moxie to embrace the elements and face them head on, springtime on the Texas Gulf Coast can offer the goods like no other season of the year.
Gerardo Lopez with a 30-inch seatrout taken on the fly in Laguna Madre. Photo courtesy of Andrew L. Dear.
Much like the other three seasons, the primary targets on the Texas flats are redfish and spotted seatrout. Spring, however, presents a unique scenario for the fly angler to tangle with large sow trout – in some cases very large trout. Once the water temperature reaches the upper 60s, speckled trout begin to move out of the deeper water and onto the flats in a pre-spawn pattern to gorge themselves on finger mullet and menhaden in preparation for the upcoming spawn. It was in fact during the late spring spawn that the most recent Texas State record speck – a 37.25-inch, 15-pound. 6-ounce behemoth was landed and released by fly angler Bud Rowland.
Along with its well-earned reputation for mammoth-sized speckled trout, the Laguna Madre is equally famous for its population of oversized “bull” redfish. Thirty-inch-plus fish are a daily occurrence here, and fly-caught fish in the 40-inch class are not considered rare in this fishery. In fact, my good friend Captain Freddy Lynch has made a career out of chasing these giants in the Laguna Madre. Since 2007, an astounding three state record fly-caught redfish, and one IGFA fly record have come off the deck of Freddy’s skiff.
Capt. Freddie Lynch on the poling platform in the Laguna. Photo courtesy of Andrew L. Dear.
The Mother Lagoon
The Upper Laguna Madre is roughly 40 miles long and extends from the JFK Causeway in Corpus Christi south to the man-made channel known as the Land Cut. It is separated from its sister lagoon the Lower Laguna Madre by the 20-mile-long Saltillo Sand Flat. Bordered on one side by Padre Island, the longest barrier island in the world, and the privately owned King Ranch and Kleberg Ranch on the mainland side, the Laguna Madre has remained largely unscathed by commercial or residential development. The Laguna Madre also shares the unique distinction of being one of the most hypersaline lagoons on earth.
Branching off to the west of the Upper Laguna Madre is the legendary Baffin Bay and its three satellites – Alazan Bay, Cayo de Grullo and Laguna Salada. Baffin and its contemporaries occupy an almost mythic status among speckled trout anglers due to their ability to regularly kick out trophy-sized specks year-in and year-out. What makes the Baffin Bay complex so unique and so prolific a fishery are the reefs formed by a type of polychaete worm known as serpulids. These reefs were formed, in some cases, thousands of years ago and are found nowhere else on the Texas coast. Although the reefs are no longer growing, they have become home to a multitude of organisms that provide a valuable food source for the local gamefish population.
Because much of the shoreline of the Laguna is privately-owned, public access is limited to several marinas with boat ramps in the Corpus Christi area, as well as in the town of Riviera on the west end of Baffin Bay/Cayo de Grullo. For the foot-bound fly angler or those with a kayak, there are several access points that at any time could produce a wall hanger. Bird Island Basin on the Padre Island National Seashore provides boat, kayak, and wade access to the Upper Laguna Madre and the adjacent NightHawk Bay. If you own a 4WD vehicle, a kayak, and an adventurous spirit, the recently re-opened primitive road that cuts through the dunes of Padre Island to the area locally known as Yarborough can put you right in heart of some of the finest trophy trout water in the state. For the angler looking to explore the deeper reaches of the Baffin Bay network by kayak, there are numerous access points both in and just outside the town of Riviera. These include Williamson’s Boatworks and the lesser known Site 55 that provide access to the remote stretches of Laguna Salada.
Angler Jeff Clarkson brought this sow trout to the boat while fly casting in the Laguna. Photo courtesy of Andrew L. Dear.
What to bring
Standard saltwater combos in the 8-to 10-weight range will serve you well when chasing the brutes of the Laguna. A word of warning: the winds this time of year on the Texas Coast can be downright evil. You are advised to put in some casting practice before your trip, and be ready to overline your rod to facilitate more efficient presentations with weighted flies in the wind.
A well-stocked fly box of baitfish, shrimp and crab imitations in sizes 2 to 1/0, with small to medium lead eyes will cover most situations you encounter while fishing the Laguna. Per the recommendation of Captain Lynch, I now tie all patterns on Tiemco 600SP or Gamakatsu SL12S hooks. Not only for their wicked sharp points, but equally as important, their resistance to straightening under the prolonged weight and force of heavy fish.
There’s a popular saying among locals that “Everything is bigger in Texas.” During the spring, that includes the fish and the wind gusts! Even though the wind can be challenging and often downright diabolical, spring time in Texas can present some spectacular sight fishing for the fly angler. When the conditions are right, it’s the opportunity to punch the tag on the fish of a lifetime in one of the most unique saltwater estuaries on Planet Earth.