An asset that makes Lower Laguna Madre such a remarkable place to fish is the wide variety of fish available to anglers. There literally is something for every fishing preference. Besides the usual suspects, speckled trout and flounder roaming the bay, there are also mangrove snapper and sheepshead milling around structure and waiting to go knuckle-and-skull with anyone who dares flip a live shrimp into the shadows of their dens (or frozen one; they arent very picky). Tarpon patrol along the Brazos-Santiago Jetties and in the surf, or sometimes school up and go on wilding parties in the bay itself to terrorize unsuspecting fishermen who may by looking for smaller more cooperative prey. There are Spanish and king mackerel within casting distance of surf and jetty bound anglers (the latter of which are partial to large chrome/blue lipless crankbaits).
And then there is the snook.
Photo: Pipehorse, canstock
The robalo of Lower Laguna Madre has developed quite a following among Texas anglers in recent years, much to the chagrin of some locals who wanted to keep the secret entirely to themselves. I have run into fishermen from as far away as the Texas Panhandle and just south of the Canadian River who have made trips to Port Isabel and South Padre Island for the sole purpose of latching into Ol Linesides. The fish has an exotic mystique to it that bespeaks of the tropical and wild, but still possesses a defiant contrariness that is equally appealing. The snook is the tycoon in faded blue jeans, the debutant in pearls and cowboy boots. The snook is caviar washed down with a Longneck. In short, the snook is pure Texan.
Snook have become more plentiful over the last decade and a liable to pop up anywhere as far north as the Land Cut; however, if you are looking to pick a fight with a Lower Laguna Madre snook, your best shot is to look to South Bay, 26.017606, -97.183685. South Bay holds a stable population of snook that take up residence from mid-Spring until the first major cold front in Fall (which could be as late as early December). The mangroves that line shoreline, the grassy flats, and deeper channels and boat guts offer ideal habitat for the linesiders. When the tide is up or incoming, snook will gravitate to the cover and forage provided by the mangrove trees and strafe mullet, pilchard, and small pinfish. When the tide starts moving out, theyll fall back into deeper water and water and wait for the current to flush bait off the flats and to them.
While fishing around the mangroves, your best bet is to move stealthily into position with by either poling or using a trolling motor. Watch for fish holding in the shadows and under roots and overhangs. When you spot one, cast a soft plastic such as a ¼ ounce DOA Shrimp, a chartreuse or pearl Bass Assassin, or a Logic Lures Tandem in clear/glitter. Do not cast directly in front of the fish or you may spook it. Work the bait past the hidey hole. Use a 20 pound fluorocarbon leader tied to your line with a uni-to-uni knot or blood knot to prevent a breakoff if your quarry drags you across a limb.
Early on calm mornings, you might spot snook chasing bait along the surface near the mangroves. When these fish are actively feeding like that, your favorite topwater can really prove effective. Try a Spook, Jr. or a Saltwater Chug Bug in bone or white. If the fish are missing the plug on the strike, switch to a sub-surface bait such as a Catch 2000 or Bomber Saltwater Grade Badonk-a-Donk SS, also in bone or white for better hookups. Soft plastics such as the afore-mentioned Bass Assassins and Logics work well, too.
I have also begun playing around with a River2Sea Wideglide (river2seausa.com), which is a subsurface plug with a very unique action. The weight is mostly forward in the head of the plug, which gives it a very wide "walk" when worked on a twitch-slack line retrieve. The end result is that the bait doesnt so much walk the way traditional plugs do. It glides two feet in each direction. Whether it is a more natural presentation or simply different from what snook (and trout and redfish, for that matter) have seen, the Wide Glide has gotten some promising results.
Of course, natural baits are also very effective for treed snook. The first choice is a live finger mullet, with large shrimp a very close second. Hook the mullet just above the anal fin, use the smallest weight possible for casting distance, and lob it towards the mangrove. Popping corks are more a liability than an asset in this application because of the risk of them getting snared in the limbs of a tree. Moreover, the water averages 2 feet or less, so a cork is not necessarily effective.
If you are using a soft plastic or live bait, do not be surprised if you latch into a big flounder. Flatties hide in ambush along the mangroves sometimes, and arent averse to taking a shot at a finger mullet or a soft plastic that should meander by. In June of 2011, I had a 4-pounder hammer a Spook, Jr. while I was walking it back after missing a big snook that was cruising the tree-line. It was my largest flounder of the year.
Even when you are looking a specific target, you can end up with a little variety.
THE BANK BITE
Location: Holly Beach
Species: Speckled Trout, Redfish
Tips: Use topwaters along the shallows early, fish live bait or soft plastics in the deeper water later in the day.