THE VAST MAJORITY OF WINTER visitors who come to South Texas during the cold months of the year cannot afford a boat. It simply is not in the budget of a retiree.
Not only that, with gas prices tickling $3 per gallon, the cost of schlepping a boat all the way down from the Great White North is prohibitive. A boat is simply not in a budget-minded winter Texan’s equation. Unfortunately, that makes many of the classic Laguna Madre fishing spots beyond their reach.
Some will hop aboard a head boat for the opportunity to catch of few of the residential red snappers that congregate in state waters. But it’s a crapshoot because of the cold fronts that blow down here every three or four days. Again, even the reduced rate of a winter party boat can put a crimp in a winter Texan’s wallet.
Still, these elderly ladies and gentlemen catch their share of fish every year. Sometimes, they do better than some of the longtime residents. Their secret?—a little sand, a little silver, and a taste for white meat.
Winter Texans take advantage of the South Padre Island surf for the sort of fishing action they crave. Take a drive down Padre Boulevard on SPI, or up and down Highway 100 through Port Isabel. You’ll see a plethora of out of state license plates on trucks with pvc rod racks battened to their front grills, all of them bristling with 8- to 12-foot long surf rods.
Clusters of these trucks are parked up and down the island in February. Their occupants are sitting in lawn chairs, their rods now off the truck grill and in wrought-iron rodholders, baits out among the suds. Sooner than later, a rod begins bucking, and another fish is hauled onto the beach.
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 four wheel drive vehicle that you take to the deer lease is well-suited to negotiate the sand of the beach. Also, 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 in February are the two types of whiting, the Southern and Gulf.
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, but 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, they 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, averaging 12 to 13 inches. Still, it isn’t uncommon to catch a half dozen bull whiting between 18 and 20 inches, and the clean white fillets fry up beautifully.
A second fish worth every surf fisherman’s attention is actually a prize catch on any trip, the Florida Pompano. These scrappy cousins of the thuggish jackfish and the cosmopolitan permit zoom up and down the surf in search of shrimp and sand fleas. Sometimes they’ll grab a baited hook.
Pompanos 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 such abomination).
Neither the whiting or the pompano are difficult to catch. A 7 ½- to 9-foot surf rod is ideal. Match it with a 4000- to 6000-sized spinning reel spooled with 14- to 20-pound line.
Most of the fishing is in the wade gut or up against the first bar, so pyramid and disc sinkers in the one- to two-ounce range are fine. 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 at Wal Mart or at the bait shop by the dozen for their terminal tackle. However, many wily fishermen know that a hand-made, 30-pound mono leader is more effective in fooling leader-shy pompanos.
Simply 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 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.
A very good reason to rig with heavier line is redfish. 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 make the drag on your spinning reel sing.
That’s when the whooping gets loudest of all.
Location: Dolphin Cove
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]