The Seven Tails Of the Mother Lagoon

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Seven tails.

Seven beautiful bronze tails with a dot in the middle.

That’s how many I counted before shooting a white shrimp-patterned fly their direction.

The first cast got no response but on the second my rod immediately doubled over and the fight was on.

That was the first stop on the first morning of a three-day fly fishing odyssey in Lower Laguna Madre out of beautiful South Padre Island, TX.

The author was stoked to catch his first big red on the fly. He used a custom Mudfish Adventures 8-weight Higher Calling Wildlife edition rod. To learn how to get your custom rod click here.

My friend Gray Thornton invited me to join him, and his longtime guide friend Capt. Eric Glass and I could not resist.

Over the last five years I have come to love flyfishing and spend a lot of time at home in Southeast Texas pursuing largemouth bass, bluegill, and crappie.

But I had never been on a proper saltwater flyfishing trip, which is kind of ironic. I live on the coast and have spent untold hours on the water seeking everything from redfish to flounder and even bonefish.

Just not with a fly rod.

The red that hit was in the 22–23-inch class and fought like crazy. It was a surreal moment landing my first-ever fly red and soaking in the environment.

The huge sand dunes, seagrass flats and clear waters look more Florida than Texas and allow an angler to easily escape from life’s daily burdens.

Thornton is President and CEO of the Wild Sheep Foundation and has a travel schedule and workload that’s quite intense. I have a lot on my plate with a ministry as well as a wildlife journalism career, so it was just nice to be guys out fishing.

Gray Thornton with a beautiful red.

When Thornton caught his first red of the trip, Captain Eric Glass told us the remote area we were in can be good for finding tailing reds in the morning and it did not disappoint.

I immediately picked up on Glass’s reverence and knowledge of the habitat and the creatures of Laguna Madre.

“This area here was covered with grass like you’ll see later in another area. Now it’s all black mangrove. The mangrove has really done well down here and even weathered the freeze of ’21 with minimal damage,” he said.

It was uncanny how he would say things like, “There will be a redfish on that tiny little sand flat there.’

And there would be a redfish on that tiny sand flat.

Gray Thornton fights a nice red.

Fishing conditions were challenging at some level the whole time due to high winds. The first two days we saw lots of redfish along with tons of sheepshead, black drum, and stingrays.

I will be the first to tell you I’m a moderately skilled fly fisherman. My casting in the wind needs work and I’m sort of a bull in a China closet with the gear, but I somehow manage to catch fish anyway.

Fly fishing has become a passion because it is a challenge but mainly because in the sort of close-range, detailed pursuit of fish required by fly gear you learn so much.

Each trip is like a fisheries biologist class of sorts, but it’s a whole lot more fun than sitting in a class listening to some professor.

It’s about matching the hatch, sometimes of the day and mimicking nature in a form that forces you to learn more about it.

And I learned a lot watching Thornton fish. He put on a master class on day two, catching four reds and three trout.

I squeezed out one nice red and a small trout and was grateful for that.

But I was more grateful for being in this majestic area with two great guys talking about an appreciation for the ecosystem, fisheries, and conservation.

Glass uses barbless hooks on all his trips and promotes catch-and-release.

On the way back to the dock on day two, I looked to our west about 15 yards from the boat and saw a tailing fish. It wasn’t a red.

And it wasn’t a trout or a drum or sheepshead.

“It’s a pompano,” I shouted.

Thornton said, “Yes, it is.”

Southern pompanos are not uncommon in South Texas and are occasionally caught in Lower Laguna Madre.

But their close cousin the permit are showing up more frequently on the Texas Coast in recent years.

Is it possible that we saw a permit, the most coveted flats fish on the planet on the flats out of South Padre Island?

We will never know but it was a point of conversation off and on for the rest of the trip.

permit in Texas

Rider Colvin caught this juvenile permit while fishing with Capt. Brian Barerra in the South Padre area. Catches like this are rare in Texas.

(Photo: Brian Barerra)

That kind of excitement and the kind we experienced catching reds on the fly can only come in the great outdoors. There is a deep love for wildness that rejuvenates a person when they encounter the creatures they grew up dreaming about.

And it lets you know that no matter what kind of crazy thing is going on in the world or in your life, great things can still happen.

Our final day was a test in endurance.

The winds howled, tides were low, and the skies were dim, making fishing tough.

Thornton managed to catch a black drum at the end of day, which added some diversity to the trip’s bag. And although we both hooked into reds, they got the better of us.

But that’s fishing.

It only made me want to go back and give it another try to experience more fly fishing in Lower Laguna Madre.

The Mother Lagoon is a special, special place and it is worth of every bit of admiration it receives.

As development engulfs the Texas Coast, we need to be mindful of how places like this impact our lives.

The author loves the beautiful flats of Lower Laguna Madre.

Redfish need a place to roam, and fishermen need a place to pursue their passion.

Life is better on the water, especially when there’s a raging redfish on the end of your line and good friends surrounding you.

Chester Moore

(To get a Mudfish Adventures custom fly rod built to your specifications click here. Ask about getting your own Higher Calling Wildlife 8-weight tested on big redfish and big bass. You can also reach the company’s owner and rod maker Capt. Steve Stubbe at 1-844-MUD-FISH or email captsteve@mudfishadventures.com)

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