March on the South Padre Island beach usually means Spring Break, which usually translates to a focus on things other than fishing. That’s especially true during Texas Week, when tens of thousands of Texas college students flock to SPI for sun, fun, and trouble.
In spite of month-long parties, South Padre Island was a fishing community first and March is one of best times to begin fishing the surf. Any angler willing to drive far enough north on the sand can find some remarkable surf fishing for some very sought after species such as the Florida Pompano.
The surf offers a great fishing opportunity for the land-bound angler – or even for the boat owner – who wants a change of pace along with saving a few bucks in gas money. The same vehicle with four-wheel drive that you take to the deer lease is well-suited to negotiate the sand of the beach. Believe it or not, the sand along the high-tide line is packed down enough that some two-wheel drive vehicles can get out to the suds (take a shovel with you, though, just in case you need to dig yourself out of a soft spot).
When you get to the surf, there are a variety of fish that will readily grab a bait presented by even the most inexperienced neophyte angler, many of these fish being excellent table fare.
The most common fish that swims up and down the guts and bars of the Padre Island surf in March and through early spring is the whiting. Actually, there are two types of whiting: the Gulf Whiting and the Southern Whiting (on the Atlantic coast, the latter species is also called a kingfish). The Gulf Whiting is most common in the surf and is silver in color with a sleeker profile. The stouter, squattier Southern Whiting is more common in the bay and around passes where it is a popular species among the party boat crowd. It is also present in the surf, especially around the Brazos-Santiago jetties.
These are strong fish that will give a good hard yank when first hooked, then after a token resistance, will obediently come along when they realize resistance is futile. These guys are plentiful—it doesn’t take long to catch enough of them for even the biggest fish fry—and they are surprisingly large (they average 12-13 inches but it isn’t uncommon to catch a half-dozen bull whiting measuring between 18 and 20 inches during a fishing trip). And what’s more, the clean white fillets fry up beautifully.
A second fish that is worth every surf fisherman’s attention, and is actually a prize catch on any trip, is the afore-mentioned Florida Pompano. These scrappy cousins of the Tyson-esque jackfish and the cosmopolitan permit zoom up and down the surf in search of shrimp and sand fleas to gobble up and will sometimes grab a baited hook. They also average between one and three pounds, but their short, powerful bursts and bulldog determination make for sport on all but the stoutest Hatteras Heaver.
As for their table qualities, a whole pompy baked inside a paper bag with butter, white wine, green onions, and mushrooms is a delicacy worthy of an Iron Chef (although Morimoto-san would probably turn it into ice cream or gelato or some other abomination).
Both the whiting and the pompano are not difficult to catch. A 7 ½ to 9 foot surf rod matched with a 4000-6000 sized spinning reel spooled with 14-20 pound line is ideal. Most of the fishing is going to be done in the wade gut, or up against the first bar, so pyramid and disc sinkers in the 1-2 ounce range are fine and a box of #2 (not 2/0) Eagle Claw 066N 2X-long shank hooks should cover your needs. Most fishermen get the pre-fabricated double-stage leaders (the kind that you can get at Wal-Mart or at the bait shop) by the dozen for their terminal tackle. Many wily fishermen know, however, that a hand-made leader made from 30-pound mono is more effective in fooling leader shy pompano.
Once rigged, pin a peeled bit of shrimp on each hook and flip your rig near the bar where the waves are breaking. It normally doesn’t take too long for a whiting to find your rig and give it a yank. Sometimes, a second whiting grabs the other bait while you’re reeling the first one in and the doubleheader is good for a few whoops as you drag it onto the sand.
If you hook into a pompano, then the whoops get even louder.
Many anglers will look with some hesitation at the strong southeasterly winds that are endemic to South Texas during March and the rowdy surf that accompanies the 20 knot gusts. That rough surf, however, can be a boon. The roiling surf can rouse more crustaceans out of their sandy hidey-holes and thus ring the piscine dinner bell.
There is a very good reason this month to rig with heavier line: redfish and jackfish begin to roam the surf in March. Some of these bad boys are still roaming the surf and they’ll grab one of your little whiting/pompano rigs out of pure meanness and spite. When they do, they can make the drag on your spinning reel sing.
That’s when the whooping gets loudest of all.
Location: Dolphin Cove
GPS: N26 4.02, W97 9.42
Species: Black Drum, Sand Trout
Techniques: Fish with shrimp or crab on a bottom rig. Use heavier tackle if you’re after drum.
Email Calixto Gonzales at [email protected]