There are plenty of coastal anglers that dont own boats, whether by circumstance or design. Plenty of anglers just cant afford or justify the expense of a boat in the current economic climate. Some simply ascribe to the idea that BOAT is an acronym for "Bust Out Another Thousand" and refuse to pull the trigger on the purchase. Even so, these anglers want to fish and succeed when they do.
The Gulf of Mexico shoreline of South Padre Island offers options to fulfill the piscatorial goals of the shore-bound angler. When water warms and south east winds begin pushing warm water along the beach, baitfish and predators alike find new territory to roam in over the bars and in the guts of the SPI shoreline. Speckled and sand trout, redfish, whiting, Spanish mackerel, and even tarpon and snook late in the month are all present to satisfy fishing appetites both subtle and gross. The lucky angler who catches four or five different species in one trip should not be surprised.
Perhaps the most underrated species that roams the suds and sand of SPI is the jack crevalle. "Jackfish," are true hoodlums who look for every opportunity to wreak havoc and chaos among hapless baitfish and anglers. The smaller species---3 to 8 pounders---storm the beaches in schools and rip into schools of baitfish with malicious abandon. In the 2008 feature "Brute Thugs," I likened a school of jacks attacking a school of bait akin to a drive-by shooting; they attack quickly, everyone scatters, and when its over there are no witnesses to recount the ordeal. The big ones---beasts that can reach 30 bruising pounds---live the solitary life of a rogue and mete their antisocial behavior on anything that can fit into their mouths. Plenty a beach angler has tossed a soft plastic or spoon into the breakers or guts and have almost had their rods torn out of their hands in a wrenching strike and watched helplessly as line was ripped of their reel in spasms until all thats left are a bare spool and broken heart.
Jackfish lack the table qualities of a redfish or trout. In fact, youd have to be pretty desperate to choke down a bloody, coarse chunk of jack. But what the fish lack in food quality, they make with availability. In May, jacks may only be surpassed by whiting in how plentiful they are in the surf. When the trout and redfish are scarce, and the smacks are beyond casting range, the jackfish will save the day (unless you want to catch a bucket full of whiting, and thats okay, too).
The angler who decides to tackle a beach bully like the jack neednt worry about lure selection. Much to a more discriminating anglers chagrin, the jack will hit the same array of soft plastics, plugs, and spoons that more desirable game fish like. Still, the most productive lure, perhaps because of the relative durability of the product, is the classic Mirrolure. The ageless 51-M is a very good choice. Spoons such as the Tony Acetta or Johnson Sprite are also effective, and can be cast more effectively into the wind when Southeasterlies are gusting.
Drive down the beach and watch both the water and the shoreline. If you encounter an area with heavy shell on the beach, pull over and make a few casts. Start in the first gut---especially on high tide, when the water can be up to three feet. Work your way out to the second gut if there is no reaction. Dont hesitate to turn around and make some casts behind you. I latched into a 30-pound jack once that was closer to the beach than I was, and then it about knocked me over when it stormed by me.
Also watch the water for jumping bait or hovering or swimming birds. A seagull or pelican swimming in the gut is a sign of a milling school of bait. Where there is bait, Blackjack Crevelle is usually lurking.
As stated earlier, jackfish arent the only fish you will find in the May surf. Once the water reaches above 70 degrees, speckled trout and redfish also move along the beach to forage. These trout are nice tide runners who seldom need to be measured to determine if theyre legal fish. Real trophies are a bit rare, but most of the fish are a solid 2 to 4 pounders. The redfish can range from barely keepers in the 20 inch range to some thugs over 30 inches that can give the jackfish a run for its money.
Its a good idea to use a short wire leader on any of your tackle, especially if you are going to make casts out into the second gut and beyond. Spanish mackerel are ever present in the spring and on into summer, and they can winnow down a lure selection in a real hurry. If you want to target these speedsters, which include some line-peelers stretching to 24 inches, the afore-mentioned Johnson Sprite or Acetta Spoon in gold or chrome are great choices. Chance out the treble with a #1/0 Sproat or OShaugnessy hook and a red plastic curlytail to facilitate easy hook removal. Smacks rarely jump, so you can even pinch down the barb to make hook removal even easier.
Most of the fish you encounter in the surf do have a habit of making long runs, so equip yourself accordingly. A 3000 or 4000-sized spinning reel loaded with 30 pound braid and a 7 ½ foot medium-action rod is ideal. You can use extra line capacity if a big jack or red grabs your hook.
The question is do you have the heart for a good brawl.
THE BANK BITE
Location: Convention Center Shoreline
Species: Speckled trout, redfish
Techniques: Wade to the sand/grass line and cast either live bait or soft plastics.