Fishing Laguna Madre for Reds and Speckled Trout

Submitted Photo
From left: Brandon Butler, Captain Mike Mahl and Steve Brigman with a few fish for the freezer from Laguna Madre.

By BRANDON BUTLER
bbutler@driftwoodoutdoors.com

If you enjoy seafood and gorgeous stretches of Gulf Coast beach along with fishing, you need to check out South Padre Island at the southern tip of Texas. As an angler, you come Laguna Madre for the large numbers of redfish and the legitimate chance to catch a trophy-sized speckled trout. You’ll find the island atmosphere packages this special place into a vibrant sporting destination.

The Laguna Madre, Spanish for “Mother Lagoon”, is one of six known hypersaline lagoons on the planet. Meaning, it is saltier than most seawater. Creating a unique ecosystem for fish, animals, and plants. There is abundant sea grass in the lagoon. It’s very shallow, with an average depth of approximately 3 feet. In total, the lagoon stretches 275 miles from Corpus Christi to La Pesca, Mexico. It’s connected to the ocean by only two inlets.

Steve Brigman is a Texan. And like all my Texas friends, Steve is proud to let you know Texas is the best place in the world. After telling him how much I enjoyed redfishing in Louisiana, he set out to convivence me Texas needs to be considered as a top redfish destination. Having many connections to the island, Steve set up the entire trip, including our guide, lodging and itinerary. It was nice, just showing up and stepping onto the boat.

We fished two days with Captain Mike Mahl of M&M Charters. Mike has been guiding fishermen on Laguna Madre for 20 years. He quickly proved to know where the fish are and how to catch them. Which requires running a special tunnel haul skiff into water less than a foot deep. Don’t haul your bass boat down to the lagoon thinking you can run anywhere and do this yourself. You’ll quickly find out most of the water is too shallow for traditional boats.

We started our fishing trip before sunrise. The water was so still you could see ripples from tiny bugs hitting the surface. Mike handed Steve and I each a rod and told us to be ready when he slows the boat. He sped around rapidly until he found what he was looking for, a school of reds cashing bait. He pulled back on the throttle and as the boat settled, Steve and I both threw into the large school of fish. Instantly, we hooked up on a double.

After sunrise, the fish took more to cover so we had to work a little harder for them. We were throwing popping corks with jigs, spoons and topwater plugs. A lot of people use shrimp, but we stuck with artificial baits and did well. We caught a mix of redfish and trout in the same spots. Of course, there was the big one that got away. I hooked a fish so big, it felt I was trying to pull a vehicle off the bottom. I never saw it, before is spit my hook. What I really missed was my fly rod. Targeting reds in clear, shallow water would make this trip special.

Laguna Madre is a great destination for a cast-and-blast. The lagoon is the wintering range for approximately 77 percent of North American redhead ducks, according to the National Park Service. Many more waterfowl species take up winter residence in Laguna Madre, including a healthy population of pintails.

I always enjoy talking with local experts, and when it comes to Laguna Madre, Danno Wise is just that. He’s sort of a renaissance man; a writer, photographer, fishing guide who doubles as a local teacher. Danno has three books published on the area – “Coastal Fly Fishing Quick Start Guide,” “Tips for Fishing the Texas Coast,” and “Fishing for Photographs.” The first two are short, to the point publications that give you the basics of what you need to know to get started fishing the lagoon. The photography book is great, because it shows you what your experience is going to be like. I recorded a Driftwood Outdoors podcast with Danno. You may want to check it out to learn more about the region and fishing the lagoon.

If you make a trip to South Padre and have additional time to travel, you should consider a venture across the border into Nuevo Progresso. I’m aware of the concern about safety crossing into Mexican border towns, but I have crossed there twice and both times found this little shopping village to be inviting, fun, and perfectly safe. I’ve gone during the day both times and stuck to the main street. I’ve never felt unsafe. I enjoy the shops and street vendors. You’ll find plenty of unique souvenir options for prices you’ll appreciate. There are a lot of pharmacies, doctors and dentists catering to Americans in Nuevo Progresso, so I believe that influences the safety and cleanliness of the town.

See you down the trail…




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