As February settles over the Texas Coast and water temperature settle into seasonal lows, fish start to develop a case of the winter grupies. Speckled trout and redfish sulk into their winter haunts and jaws clamp shut. In contrast, however, fishing on Lower Laguna Madre keeps at a steady, consistent pace. Trout and redfish continue to feed on mild days, even when th4e wind is cranking out the southeast. Sheepshead congregate around pilings, rocks, and seawalls in preparation to sow their piscine oats. Black drum also join in on the fun and feed in earnest.
Fishermen are often faced with having to choose what to chase. Do you go after trout and redfish, even though numbers of anglers increased as the new year wears on, now that dear season has closed and the last football whistle has blown? Do you go seek out some fat black drum for the table? Maybe a tussell with sheepshead. Decisions, decisions...
Of course, you can always try and hit all of the above by making a run up into the Brownsville Ship Channel. This big ditch is the artery that links Lower Laguna Madre and the IntraCoastal Waterway to the Port of Brownsville, the southernmost major port in the United States. The combination of deep water, ledges, pilings, shoreline structure, and side canals also provides for excellent fishing opportunities for anyone willing to make the long run up the Channel.
One of the most accessible fishing sites on the Ship Channel is the area known as the Y. This linkup between the Port Isabel Canal and the Ship Channel has a large island that bisects the intersection between the two water bodies. The shoreline of the island holds good-sized redfish, especially where small guts push into the island. On a flood tide, it is possible to see redfish tailing inside these guts and indentations. On calmer days, large speckled trout also hang out along the shoreline and closer to the dropoff edges. The best bet to tempt these bruisers is a live shrimp under a Mansfield Mauler or Cajun Thunder, especially if the wind is up. The standard marsh lures---topwaters, gold spoons, and spinnerbaits---are also excellent choices for this fishing situation.
If a cold front does cause temperatures to dip, or if the trout and redfish dont seem to be very cooperative, back up a bit and fish the dropoff around the edges of the island. Trout hold on the edges, as do sheepshead. Black drum of varying sizes (ranging from slot-sized fish to beasts over 40 inches) also roam up along the deeper part of the channel, especially on the south side of the island.
If you move further up the channel, youll note some concrete rip-rap lining the edge of the shoreline. It doesnt hurt to pull up to these formations and bounce a soft plastic, Gulp! Shrimp, or live shrimp on a split shot rig to see if anyone is to home. Redfish like this area, and when there is a warm trend you will find some solid mangrove snapper and sheepshead sharing the area with the bronze bombers.
Even further up the channel is the Highway 48 Boat Ramp channel and Low Water Bridge. Even though more anglers start to fish Lower Laguna Madre in February, there is comparatively little boat traffic coming out of this ramp. Fish the points that are formed by the mouth of the channel with live or fresh shrimp on a Carolina Rig for both drum and snapper. Dont be surprised if you latch on to some 12-14 inch croaker while working the area. The loud panfish is starting to have a greater presence along the lower Texas Coast, and Texas Parks and Wildlife indicates that numbers are beginning a slow, but steady increase.
Once you start to approach the industrial part of the Ship Channel, you will begin to notice side channels. The riprap on the points of the channel entrances hold sheepshead and mangrove snapper, and some of those fish can get rather large. Use live shrimp (when available; otherwise, frozen shrimp will do quite well) on a free-line rig, and let it sink along the contour of the point. Standard trout tackle will work, but leave the 10 pound test at home. These fish require at least 14 pound, and perhaps even 17 pound line to horse them out of their environment (8/30 braid is even more effective, and if the fish are really holding tight to the structure, Ill go to 10/40 or even 12/60).
Trout and redfish will also cruise along the rip rap, especially in areas where it lines a section of the Channel. Theyll also take a live shrimp that is intended for other species. If you want to target them specifically, bounce a shrimp tail or Gulp! Shrimp down the rocks. Ive also had some success with large-billed crankbaits parallel to the shoreline. Just like with freshwater bass, redfish will hit the crank when the bill collides with a rock and forces the bait to come to a sudden stop. Let the plug ascend slowly for a bit before re-starting your retrieve. Ive had trout and redfish pop it on the rise.
The docks in the industrial area are fish magnets, but exercise caution and common sense while fishing up in the ship channel. A lot of these areas have work going on around them 24 hours a day, and the dockworkers and security personnel dont take kindly to boats getting too close because of safety and security concerns.
THE BANK BITE
Location: Highway 48 Bridge at Laguna San Martin
Species: Snook, Mangrove snapper
Best Baits: Live Shrimp, finger mullet. Soft plastics in red/white, chartreuse/white.