For years Ive written almost exclusively about the different Hot Spots in Lower Laguna Madre and the remarkable variety of species the visiting angler finds there, and with good reason. The Western Hemispheres only hypersaline lagoon has fishing as unique as the venue itself. However, the speckled trout, redfish, snook, flounder, mangrove snapper and sharks of Lower Laguna Madre are not the only quarry fisherman can go after. The South Texas Coast has some of the best nearshore and offshore angling in the state. Its a colorful fishery, often in shades of black and silver.
October brings large numbers of blackfin tuna into range of most offshore anglers with a taste for fresh sashimi. Charter captains such as Richard Bailey (956-369-5090) and Chad Kinney (Bam Bam Fishing Charters (956-802-2269) have had great success finding anchored shrimp boats that are culling their catch early in the morning. Among the feeding bonita, mahi, and jacks are schools of "footballs" (blackfins in the 10 to 15 pound range) darting in and out and indulging in the floating smorgasbord. A few chunks of bait tossed out on the water will get the tunas attention, and when they start schooling around the boat, they hide a small hook tied to a 30 pound conventional or spinning rig in a chunk of bait and toss it over the side. It isnt long before the reel begins screaming. The key is to use no weight and a big enough chunk to offset the weight of the hook so that it floats naturally among the other chunks. The tuna may be ravenous, but they arent too gullible.
Trolling is also effective for technique for larger blackfins. The larger tuna hang further away from the shrimp boats and avoid the crowd around the main boat. Trolling with rigged ballyhoo, mullet, or jetheads or bubblers draw their attention and, often, strikes. Again, 20-30 pound tackle is ideal for blackfins and should have enough moxie to handle a big kingfish if it should come streaking through the spread.
October is also known for large mullet schools migrating up the coast and baitballs of small baitfish (known as "rain minnows") aggregating along the Gulf shoreline. A variety of predators begin to ravage the schools of baitfish and gorge themselves in the process. Among the predators making their presence spectacularly felt are tarpon.
These spectacular piscine acrobats cruise up and down the surf line of Andy Bowie Park looking for the easy meals offered by baitballs. On an incoming tide, theyll often cross over the first bar and hunt in the 3 wade gut, where the clouds of hapless baitfish are trapped between the beach and the deep blue sea.
Bailey and other captains will cruise up and down the beachfront and keep a watchful eye for the darker water that hints at bait aggregate, and begin watching for tarpon blasting into the school or rolling around the perimeter. Then theyll make a variety of casts at the school with baits varying from pearl colored soft plastics to bone topwaters such as a Skitterwalk or Top Dog. Fly fishermen have a great time tossing Clousers and Chicken Feathers in solid white or similar shad-imitating patterns.
A great lure choice for beach bum tarpon is a Gulp! Jerk Shad in mullet or glow. The baits non-mechanical darting action is very attractive to poons. Thread the Jerk Shad onto a 5/0 Sproat-style worm hook (no need for Texas-Riggin out here) and cast it around the edges of the school. If no tarpon are spotted rolling, put a #3 split shot on the leader and fish a little deeper in the water column. If you get no takers move on to another school.
The great thing about tarpon cruising the beach is that a stalwart angler can reach them via the shoreline. A truck or SUV with four wheel drive will get you up and down the beach, although, at this time of year, the beach near the surf line is hard packed enough that you might get away driving a regular 2wd vehicle. Limited slip differential, though, is a must, as is a shovel in case you hit a soft patch of sand and need to do a little digging.
Choose a calm, sunny day for best spotting conditions, and keep a sharp eye. Diving or hovering birds are a hint that a large predator is working the area, and its always worth a cast or two. Jumping baitfish is another giveaway to be on the watch for.
The venerable MirrOlure 51M in green sardine (green back/silver sides). This twitch bait has caught thousands of tarpon over the years, and they still work after all these years. Not only that, these lures have enough heft to make long casts to get to the tarpon if the bait balls are a bit farther out. The color and smaller size of the plug best mimics the primary forage that these tarpon are feeding on; small mullet and scaled sardines. If you dont want to take the retro approach to fishing, then a Catch 5, Catch 2000, or Bagley Mullet in similar patterns should fit the bill quite well.
Handle these fish with care. If youre lucky enough to land one of these great fish, leave it in the water or at least on wet sand if possible. If you are going to lift the fish for pictures, cradle it in both arms rather than lifting it by the jaw (which could cause the internal organs to drop into the lower abdomen and cause membranes and connective tissue to tear). Use gloves to handle the fish.
October is known for the harvest moon and fall colors. For the South Texas Coastal angler, those colors will include black and---on a good day---silver.