I REMEMBER THE DAY VIVIDLY. I was making my run back down the Brownsville Ship Channel to the welcoming arms of the Lower Laguna Madre.
It had been a good day. Sandie and I had caught a box of mangrove snappers, and even a couple of nice speckled trout to boot. We were zipping along, and suddenly my motor made a loud pop and that awful cadence: whackwhacwhackCLUNK! WhackwhackwhackCLUNK!
There was no way to deny the truth. My lower unit had tanked, and I was soon to be shore-bound for a good, long time in the middle of the best part of the South Texas fishing season.
Fixing the lower unit wasn’t the problem. Paying for it would be—on a teacher’s salary.
Fortunately, the balky engine wasn’t the end of my fishing season. It was time for some old-school footwork. I would simply revert to what I used to do back in my boatless days—hit the jetties, and hit them hard.
Fishing the jetties in late summer/early fall isn’t a journey just for whiting and sand trout. Some of the most underrated summer fishing in South Texas takes place along either side of the Brazos Santiago Jetties.
These jetties bookend the pass by the same name, which feeds in and out of Lower Laguna Madre. These jetty systems are accessible from land—the north jetties from South Padre Island, and the south jetties from Brownsville via SH 4. Then turn left onto Brazos Island (known locally as Boca Chica Beach. This offers excellent fishing for everything from the four parts of the “Texas Slam” (trout, redfish, flounder, and snook), mangrove snapper, Spanish mackerel, tarpon, and even Kingfish for the properly equipped.
Certainly, the most sought-after species are speckled trout and redfish. Both fish can be caught from the jetties on the same trip. However, different techniques are called for.
Speckled trout will be usually holding closer to the rocks and patrolling up and down the gut that runs parallel to the jetties (this is especially true on the north jetties, where prevailing currents create gentler eddies and currents that, on an outgoing tide, push water and bait against the surf side of the rocks). Redfish prowl the surf away from the jetties and in the guts that intersect them.
An incoming tide and soft southeast breezes send clean water in from the Gulf and make early mornings magical off the rocks. A fisherman can do well throwing live bait under a popping cork near the rocks for trout and mangrove snapper, which almost become a nuisance with their abundance. For a Carolina rig out in the surf for redfish, the bait bucket, isn’t necessary.
A box filled with chugging topwaters is perfect to keep you mobile with lures such as the Storm Chug Bug or Mirrolure’s Poppa Dog, a couple of chrome/blue Rat-L-Traps, a ½ silver spoon or two, and a collection of your favorite plastic tails in red/white, or chartreuse patterns and some 1/8 ounce jigheads.
If the wind is straight from the south, you can still fling topwaters parallel to the rocks. In fact, the trout seem a little more aggressive in the more active water.
Start an early morning expedition on the jetties by casting back towards the corner where the rocks meet the beach and work the lure back along the bottom. Trout should be there, but there may also be a few big flounders waiting in ambush. From those casts, expand out into the guts and cast parallel to the beach to see whether there are redfish.
It doesn’t hurt to take a few wire leaders in your tackle box. This time of year, schools of Spanish mackerel tear into bait balls in front of the jetties. They aren’t discriminating, and can clean you out of tackle in a hurry.
On the south jetties, the surf is a bit rougher, and the rocks are not laid as smoothly. However, the presence of snook in the suds more than makes up for the tougher work.
These fish will also attack the same trout and redfish lures with abandon. However, they offer some gill-rattling jumps for your thrills.
The question always comes up about the sort of tackle needed for the jetties. Honestly, your traditional inshore 10- to 12-pound tackle is enough, but if you hook into a big red or snook, you are going to be in trouble. Upping slightly to 14- to 17-pound tackle is a safer bet to handle just about anything that swims the suds. Also, it gives you a little more power in reserve if Mr. Big comes calling.
If you are feeling a little ambitious, walk all the way to the end of the jetties to take a shot at a kingfish or tarpon. Tarpon prowl the currents and eddies on the channel side of the jetties when the tide is running. Mullet-imitators such as a large Rapala, Bomber Long A, or Money Mino are the best bets to get a poon’s attention. Fly fishermen can use a large Tarpon Bunny or Chicken Feather-type fly on an 8- or 9-weight fly rod.
Calm days bring blue water right up into the rocks, and kingfish follow bait into casting range. Use a Magnum Rat-L-Trap in Chrome/blue or a fresh ribbonfish on a classic kingfish rig. Large menhaden (pogies) are best if you can get some that are fresh.
If you intend to go big, don’t skimp on your tackle. Upgrade to a surf rod and high-capacity reel. Back in June of this year, I hooked into something that nailed my DOA Baitbuster and stripped 300 yards of braid off of the Calcutta 400B just like that. As far as I know, whatever it was is halfway to Yucatan.
You never know what might show up and rock your world.
Location: Coast Guard Station
Species: Speckled Trout, Flounder
Tips: Wade-fishing with live shrimp/soft plastics under a Mauler.
Email Calixto Gonzales at [email protected]