T he angler who is willing to live with a little wind and a mildly bumpy ride can really do well in March. Redfish and trout begin to return to springtime patterns as water warms up and southeasterly winds begin to prevail.
Coastal fishermen anxious to work out the kinks in their joints and fishing line should look to do a little springtime island hopping along the spoil banks that dot the Lower Laguna Madre between Port Isabel and Arroyo City.
The stronger spring tides that begin in March push more water onto the flats, and you’ll find deeper water around Three Islands. Redfish cruise around the grass and algae clumps looking for emerging baitfish, small crustaceans, and larger finfish that survived the long winter. They’re hungry, and they’re aggressive.
Redfish-minded anglers should set up a drift near the color change between the deeper sand and mud flats near the Intercoastal Waterway and the clearer water of the grass flats. Redfish cruise on the clear side of the change, but they will use the murkier water both as cover and as an ambush point. Baitfish also tend to hold near to the color change because it will provide cover (unless, of course, there is a hungry redfish lurking in the clouds, then it’s just another place to die).
Live shrimp increase in availability during March. This is the bait of choice for anglers who make the long run from Port Isabel or South Padre Island—or the shorter run from the Arroyo Colorado.
Most fishermen use a large 4 to 4 ½, brightly colored popping cork with a live shrimp pinned on a No. 4 treble hook suspended 24 to 30 inches below it. The treble hook tends to tear up smaller fish, so more conservation-minded anglers will trade the treble hook for a No. 1/0 Kahle or Octopus hook.
I’ve had some success with a smaller circle hook, which does, in fact, lodge in the corner of a fish’s mouth, but many fishermen would rather avoid the adjustment period it takes to train themselves from trying to set the hook, and the resultant missed hook-ups. If you are going to use a treble hook, roll or mash down the barbs to minimize the trauma to the fish. If you keep the line tight, you won’t lose a fish.
Use the brightest cork you can find, by the way. When the wind kicks up a chop, a tall cork in florescent orange or Kelly green is much easier to spot. If you can’t spot it, reel until your line comes tight and set the hook. A red has probably taken the bait and has swum towards you.
Lure aficionados will be shelving the top waters for the most part this month. The combination of deeper water and stronger chop makes a Top Dog’s effectiveness an iffy proposition unless you hit a spoil bank shoreline early enough that the wind hasn’t cranked up.
Most grinders will fling soft plastics such as the Down South Lures Shad in Limetreuse or Morning Glory. Kelly Wiggler Balltail Shad in Fire Tiger and LSU are also popular choices. The Berkley Gulp! 5-inch Jerk Shad is also an excellent choice. Use a 1/16th ounce jighead to slow their descent and keep them out of the slop.
Shrimp imitators are also quite popular. The 3-inch Gulp! Shrimp in New Penny is the standard choice, but Glow has also gained quite a few fans. The ¼ DOA Shrimp in Glow or Glow/pink have started to show up in more and more tackle boxes.
The most common method is to fish these baits under a noisy float such as the aforementioned popping corks or a 3 ½-inch Alameda Rattle Float (which is produced by Comal Tackle). The latter float’s squat shape makes it a little harder to see on the water’s surface during a choppy day, but the internal rattles give off a louder, more constant sound as the cork bobs along. It makes the Alameda Float well worth the extra effort.
If the redfish aren’t in a cooperative mood, move your boat to deeper water near the ICW edge, rig up a fish-finder or split-shot rig, and plumb the depths for black drum. These bruisers cruise the ICW drop-offs through March, and their proletarian image shines through. Wind and chop doesn’t bother them, and a Big Ugly would have to be full to the gill to turn down a live shrimp.
No special tackle is required for black drum. The same medium outfit you use for redfish is more than adequate. Cast a shrimp-baited rig out just beyond the Waterway edge, and let your bait tumble along with the current. It won’t take very long before a pod of hungry grunters will come along. The pick-up isn’t a sudden event. Rather, the line slowly comes tight as the fish sucks in your bait and continues his merry way. Lower your rod tip, let the line come tight, then bring up your rod tip, and you’re on.
Contrary to popular belief, a drum is a tough fighter. A fish in the 22-30-inch range will offer a stout fight with hard runs. When he isn’t peeling drag, a good-sized drum will sit in the current and sulk, forcing you to try and drag him up and toward the boat. That’s when he’ll make another run. You’d be surprised at the sophisticated fighting tactics that this piscine version of Brock Lesnar can offer.
Moreover, the broad, thick fillets fry beautifully and make for a good meal, especially when you sit down to watch the Spurs whip up on the Rockets, or vice-versa.
March is the sort of month that (Three) Islanders should enjoy.
Email Calixto Gonzales at [email protected]