JULY BAY WATERS crawl into the 80s during the teeth of the day. Days can be brutally hot with little wind and monstrous humidity.
The bite is usually early in the morning or late in the afternoon, unless of course, it’s during the full moon when everything bites at night. Almost everyone plans their vacation for the middle of summer, so Laguna Madre’s classic spots resemble parking lots.
July can be a feast or famine month on Lower Laguna Madre. After a long stretch of blazing hot weather, the fishing might tail off. The flats become too warm for even redfish, and everything backs into deeper water by mid-morning. You can catch fish, but my goodness, you’ll have to work for it.
Some fishermen in the know, however, take the opportunity to head out to the Brazos Santiago Pass. There they’ll have a go at the tarpon that seem to be rolling everywhere this time of year.
For years, tarpon were one of the mainstay sportfish of LLM. They were ingrained into the cultural identity of South Padre Island.
The Texas International Fishing Tournament and the annual Tarpon Rodeo focused more on industrial-sized poons and less on “food fish” such as trout and redfish. Their numbers dropped off precipitously up and down the coast after World War II.
However, the silvery fish have been so successful in coming back over the past two decades that Jeremy Ebert of Deer Park, Texas broke the state tarpon record in 2006 with a 210 pound, 11 ounce behemoth. He hooked and landed the huge tarpon while soaking menhaden for redfish in the Galveston surf.
Several years ago, Port Isabel tarpon aficionado Larry Haines hooked into a tarpon he estimated at 220 pounds. He fought the monster from the Boca Chica jetties and from Captain Randy Rodger’s skiff for more than eight hours before succumbing to heat prostration.
Had Captain Rodgers not broken the fish off to get Haines back to Jim’s Pier on Padre Island for immediate attention, the story would’ve ended badly.
There are some big fish rolling out there, waiting for the stalwart angler to have a go at them.
A properly equipped fisherman has a shot at latching onto one of the tarpon that cruise the Brazos Santiago Pass. Early in the morning, you can actually see pods rolling along the Boca Chica side of the Brazos Santiago Jetties.
These tarpon are not necessarily feeding, but they will take a swipe at a topwater or a ¾-ounce gold or chrome Rat-L-Trap. A soft plastic like DOA’s Airhead or Baitbuster swimbaits are just as effective.
A great feature of the latter is that, once a tarpon eats it and begins fighting, the body will slide up your line, so the tarpon can’t use it for leverage to throw the hook. Live baiters can try an oversized shrimp, six-inch finger mullet, or palm-sized pinfish fished under a balloon.
If you’re shorebound, you might be well-advised to equip yourself with a large-capacity spinning or casting reel and a 7½- to 8-foot medium/medium heavy rod. These fish can wreak havoc on lesser tackle.
As the day progresses, fishermen who are still working the area should focus on the deeper hole at the end of the jetty. Some tarpon—and a few snook—will still be holding in the cooler depths, waiting for the current to push something edible by their noses. Again, a live shrimp or baitfish fished deeper in the water column will not last long.
Lure fishermen should look to an oldie but goodie, the Mirrolure Series 65M switchbait in red head/white body. The 65M features the same action as the more popular 51MR, but the heavier weight allows the lure to fish deeper in the water column. Rock walkers can also make longer casts with the 1.25-ounce plug.
Fly casters should not shy away from trying for these kings of the granite. A 9 to 10 weight fly rod with plenty of backing should work well in most applications. The most popular fly is a white monster called the Tarpon Bunny, which seems to be stiff mojo for tarpon of all sizes. For more information on how to properly equip yourself for jetties tarpon, contact Larry Haines at the Shop (956-943-1775).
Schools of smaller tarpon are always roaming the surf beginning in July. When southeasterly winds push clear water all the way up to the beach, you can actually see the pods of tarpon cruising through the waves or in the guts during high tide.
The great thing about these fish is that they are perfect opponents for the typically-equipped surf fisherman who is chasing trout and redfish. A 40-pound tarpon is great fun on a 7 to 7½ foot trout rod and a reel loaded with 12- to 15-pound line.
You can fight him from the shore, and if the fish starts a greyhound run parallel to the beach, you can hoof it keep up with him.
To some anglers, a loaded reel is a relative term. You will want to have a 400-sized casting reel or 4000-sized spinning reel at the minimum.
The increased line capacity of either reel not only prepares you for a big tarpon, but also for a couple of other fish. Kngfish and 20+ pound-class jackfish lurk around the jetties and in a summer surf. A 25-pound jack can peel 120 yards of line in a flash.
These beach-combing tarpon will strike the same lures and flies that trout and redfish strike. If you target them specifically, patterns that include white or red seem to work best, and noisy plugs are very effective.
Don’t be surprised if one of these junior thugs sucks down a shrimp under a popping cork, either. These fish aren’t very discriminating. Jeremy Ebert’s fish showed they’ll even take cut bait.
It may not seem appropriate behavior for so cosmopolitan a fish as the tarpon to slurp down a chunk of cut mullet, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a fisherman who will complain.
Email Calixto Gonzales at [email protected]