WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT, the variety of fish species that Laguna Madre fishermen have in their home waters is astounding.
Besides the usual suspects, speckled trout and flounders are roaming the bay. Also, there are mangrove snappers and sheepsheads. They’re all milling around structure and waiting to go knuckle-and-skull with anyone who dares flip a live shrimp into the shadows of their dens.
Tarpons patrol along the Brazos-Santiago jetties and in the surf. Sometimes they’ll school up and go on wilding parties in the bay itself to terrorize unsuspecting fishermen. Spanish and king mackerels are within casting distance of surf and jetty-bound anglers (the latter of which are partial to large chrome/blue lipless crankbaits).
Then there is the snook.
The robalo of Lower Laguna Madre has developed quite a following among Texas anglers in recent years. The lack of a fish-killing freeze in recent memory has enabled snook numbers to grow steadily over the last decade, and the fish’s availability has correspondingly increased.
I have run into fishermen from as far away as the Texas Panhandle and just south of the Canadian River who have made trips to Port Isabel and South Padre Island for the sole purpose of latching into “Ol’ Linesides.” The fish has an exotic mystique to it that speaks of the tropical and wild, but still possesses a defiant contrariness that is equally appealing. The snook is pure Texan—vulgar and refined, genteel and Bohemian.
If you are looking to pick a fight with a Lower Laguna Madre snook, your best shot is to look to South Bay. South Bay holds a stable population of snook that take up residence from mid-Spring until the first major cold front in Fall (which could be as late as early December).
The mangroves that line the shoreline, the grassy flats, deeper channels and boat guts offer ideal habitat for the linesiders. When the tide is up or incoming, snook will gravitate to the cover provided by the mangrove trees and strafe mullet, pilchard, and small pinfish. When the tide starts moving out, they’ll head back into deeper water and wait for the current to flush bait off the flats to them.
While fishing around the mangroves, your best bet is to move stealthily into position, either by poling or using a trolling motor. Watch for fish holding in the shadows, under roots and overhangs.
When you spot one, cast a soft plastic such as a ¼ ounce DOA Shrimp, a chartreuse or pearl Bass Assassin, or a Live Target Mullet.
Do not cast directly in front of the fish or you may spook it. Work the bait past the hidey-hole. Use a 30-pound fluorocarbon leader tied to your line with a uni-to-uni knot or blood knot to prevent a breakoff if your quarry drags you across a limb.
Early on calm mornings, you might spot a snook chasing bait along the surface near the mangroves. When these fish are actively feeding, your favorite topwater can really prove effective.
Try a Spook, Jr. or a Mirrolure Top Pup in bone or white. If the fish are missing the plug on the strike, switch to a sub-surface bait such as a Catch 2000 or Yo Zuri Crystal Minnow, also in bone or white for better hookups. Soft plastics such as the afore-mentioned Bass Assassins and DOAs work well, too.
I have also begun playing around with a DOA Airhead, which is a soft-plastic swimbait. The broad body and larger-than-normal paddletail have a unique action whether twitched or retrieved with a “Do Nothing” action.
The broad profile of the bait also gives the appearance of a pinfish or other broad-bodied bait. Whether this gives the appearance of a more familiar forage fish to the snook is open to conjecture. I just know that they work well.
Of course, natural baits are also very effective for treed snooks. The first choice is a live finger mullet, with large shrimp a very close second.
Hook the mullet just above the anal fin, use the smallest weight possible for casting distance, and lob it toward the mangroves. Popping corks are more a liability than an asset in this application because they often get snared in the limbs of a tree. Moreover, the water averages two feet or less, so a cork is not necessarily effective.
If you are using a soft plastic or live bait, do not be surprised if you latch into a big flounder. Flatties hide in ambush along the mangroves sometimes. They aren’t averse to taking a shot at a finger mullet or a soft plastic that should meander by.
I had a saddleblanket climb all over an Airhead that I was swimming along some mangroves in back of South Bay on a recent snook trip. I didn’t catch any linesiders that day, but that flattie was a worthy consolation prize.
Even when you are looking for a specific target, you can end up with a little variety.
Location: Dolphin Cove
Species: Mangrove Snapper, panfish.
Techniques: 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]