I N SPITE OF ALL THE CONCERTS, in spite of social hot spots, in spite of Dolphin Watch cruises, jet skis, and Schlitterbahn, South Padre Island was a fishing community first, and June is one of the hottest fishing months of the year.
The vicious winds of spring are a thing of the past, and the cupcake conditions of summer prevail. The Lower Laguna Madre becomes a fisherman magnet, as anglers drive come from all over the state and even the country to try and hook into a trophy trout, or a limit of redfish.
June is also one of Prime Times to begin fishing the surf. The soft southeasterly breezes that make the LLM a friendly place to fish has worked its magic on the suds, too. Waves shrink, and sand settles. It’s hard to describe the excitement of watching the clear, green waves roll over the bars and to see a sizeable fish silhouette dart through it.
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, and 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. A variety of fish will readily grab a bait presented by even the most inexperienced, neophyte angler, almost all of them excellent table fare.
The most common fish that swims up and down guts and bars of the Padre Island surf 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, squatter 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. 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, and 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 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 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.
Both the whiting and the pompano are not difficult to catch. A 7 ½-to nine-foot surf rod matched with a 4000 to 6000 sized spinning reel and spooled with 14- to 20-pound line is ideal. Most of the fishing is going to be in the wade gut, or up against the first bar, so pyramid and disc sinkers in the one- to two-ounce range is 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 you can get at Wal Mart or at the bait shop by the dozen for their terminal tackle, but many wily fishermen know that a hand-made leader made from 30-pound mono is more effective in fooling leader-shy pompanos.
Simply pin a peeled bit of shrimp on each hook and flip your rig into the, 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 double header is good for a few whoops when you drag it onto the sand.
If you hook into a pompano, then the whoops get even louder.
June is also a time of squalls and rainstorms rolling in off the gulf, with surf that accompanies the 20-knot gusts. That rough surf, however, can be a boon. The roiling surf can roust out more crustaceans from their sandy hidey-holes and thus ring the piscine dinner bell.
There is a very good reason to rig with heavier line. Redfish and jackfish begin to roam the surf in June. 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 and can make the drag on your spinning reel sing.
That’s when the whooping gets loudest of all.
Location: Dolphin Cove
Species: Mangrove snapper, panfish
Baits/Lures: Fish with shrimp or cut bait on a float rig. The float keeps the bait above the rocks and away from snags.
Email Calixto Gonzales at [email protected]