M AY IS WHEN THE SOUTH TEXAS coast ends its brief spring and starts settling into summer patterns. Warm southeaster lies, puffy white clouds, and clean water in the bay and surf are the rule of the season.
Anglers can really start getting into some great action in May. Plenty of coastal anglers don’t own boats, whether by circumstance or design. Plenty of anglers just can’t afford or justify the expense of a boat.
Some simply subscribe to the idea that “BOAT” is an acronym for “Bust Out Another Thousand” and refuse to pull the trigger on the purchase. Even so, these anglers want to fish and succeed when they do.
The Gulf of Mexico shoreline of South Padre Island offers options to fulfill the piscatorial goals of the shore-bound angler. When water warms and southeast winds begin pushing warm water along the beach, baitfish and predators alike find new territory to roam in over the bars and in the guts of the SPI shoreline.
Speckled and sand trout, redfish, whiting, Spanish mackerel, and even tarpon and snook late in the month are all present to satisfy fishing appetites both subtle and gross. The lucky angler who catches four or five different species in one trip should not be surprised.
Perhaps the most underrated species that roams the suds and sand of SPI is the jack crevalle. “Jackfish,” are true hoodlums who look for every opportunity to wreak havoc and chaos among hapless baitfish and anglers. The smaller species—three- to eight-pounders—storm the beaches in schools and rip into schools of baitfish with malicious abandon In the 2008 feature “Brute Thugs,” I likened a school of jacks attacking a school of bait akin to a drive-by shooting. They attack quickly, everyone scatters, and when it’s over there are no witnesses to recount the ordeal.
The big ones—beasts that can reach 30 bruising pounds—live the solitary life of a rogue and inflict their antisocial behavior on anything that can fit into their mouths. Many a beach angler has tossed a soft plastic or spoon into the breakers or guts and has almost had his rod torn out of his hands in a wrenching strike. Then he watched helplessly as line was ripped of his reel in spasms until all he has left are a bare spool and broken heart.
Jackfish lack the table qualities of a redfish or trout. In fact, you’d have to be pretty desperate to choke down a bloody, coarse chunk of jack (and don’t believe what Andrew Zimmer tells you as he pops a piece of one of those gnarly boogers in his mouth; he’ll eat anything). But what the fish lack in food quality, they make with availability.
In May, jacks may only be surpassed by whiting in how plentiful they are in the surf. When the trout and redfish are scarce and the smacks are beyond casting range, the jackfish will save the day—unless you want to catch a bucket full of whiting, and that’s okay, too.
The angler who decides to tackle a beach bully like the jack needn’t worry about lure selection. Much to a more discriminating angler’s chagrin, the jack will hit the same array of soft plastics, plugs, and spoons that more desirable game fish like.
Still, the most productive lure, perhaps because of the relative durability of the product, is the classic Mirrolure. The ageless 51-M is a very good choice. Spoons such as the Tony Acetta or Johnson Sprite are also effective. and can be cast more effectively into the wind when Southeasterlies are gusting.
Drive down the beach and watch both the water and the shoreline. If you encounter an area with heavy shell on the beach, pull over and make a few casts.
Start in the first gut—especially on high tide, when the water can be up to three feet. Work your way out to the second gut if there is no reaction. Don’t hesitate to turn around and make some casts behind you.
I latched into a 30-pound jack once that was closer to the beach than I was. Then it about knocked me over when it stormed by me.
Also watch the water for jumping bait or birds hovering or swimming. A seagull or pelican swimming in the gut is a sign of a milling school of bait. Where there is bait, Blackjack Crevalle is usually lurking.
As stated earlier, jackfish aren’t the only fish you will find in the May surf. Once the water reaches above 70 degrees, speckled trout and redfish also move along the beach to forage.
These trout are nice tide runners who seldom need to be measured to determine whether they’re legal. Real trophies are a bit rare, but most of the fish are solid two- to four-pounders. The redfish can range from barely keepers in the 20-inch range to some thugs over 30 inches that can give the jackfish a run for its money.
It’s a good idea to use a short wire leader on any of your tackle, especially if you are going to make casts out into the second gut and beyond. Spanish mackerel are ever present in the spring and on into summer, and they can winnow down a lure selection in a real hurry. If you want to target these speedsters, which include some line-peelers stretching to 24 inches, the afore-mentioned Johnson Sprite or Acetta Spoon in gold or chrome are great choices.
Change out the treble with a #1/0 Sproat or O’Shaugnessy hook and a red plastic curlytail to facilitate easy hook removal. Smacks rarely jump, so you can even pinch down the barb to make hook removal even easier.
Most of the fish you encounter in the surf do have a habit of making long runs, so equip yourself accordingly. A 3000 or 4000-sized spinning reel loaded with 30-pound braid and a 7½-foot medium-action rod is ideal. You can use extra line capacity if a big jack or red grabs your hook.
The question is do you have the heart for a good brawl.
Location: Convention Center Shoreline
Species: Speckled trout, redfish
Techniques: Wade to the sand/grass line and cast either live bait or soft plastics.
Email Calixto Gonzales at [email protected]