Welcome to Salt Water Fly Fishing

Welcome to Fly Fishing The Salt! If you are just discovering the joys of fly fishing the salt (or salt chuck as some call it) here you will find information to steer you in the right direction. Tips on what equipment to use, why, where and how to fish. And we will try to include a little inspiration to get you going. For the experienced salt water angler, there will be personal stories about real fishermen and their experiences, tips on what flies for which fish and techniques that work. Your stories and articles are also most welcome. Share the knowledge and adventure. Pass it on! This is for you.

Laguna Madre and Padre Island

By Capt. Eric Glass

The Laguna Madre of south Texas is the largest hypersaline lagoon system in the United States. The lower basin is approximately 50 miles in length, with an average width of four miles. Laguna Madre is bounded on the east by the 115-mile-long Padre Island. Much of the western margin of the lagoon is part of the 50,000-acre Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, which provides important habitat for the endangered ocelot and several hundred species of birds. Several of these bird species, including aplomado falcon, plain chachalaca, green jay and great kiskadee, are unique to south Texas.

Lower Laguna Madre map In an average year, the south Texas coast receives less than 30 inches of rainfall; the upland plant community if dominated by hardy species well adapted to the arid climate. Elevated areas are typically covered with a dense growth of mesquite, huisache, yacca, prickly pear, retama, cenizo and other species. Red mangroves are absent in south Texas because hard winter freezes cause complete mortality. Nevertheless, a narrow belt of black mangroves exists along many of the shorelines, especially near Brazos Santiago Pass at the extreme southern end of the lagoon. Because freshwater flow into the lagoon in the recent past has been only slight and because much of the lagoon floor is occupied by seagrass meadows, Laguna Madre is one of the clearest by systems on the Texas coast. Flats on the western side of the lagoon support luxuriant beds of turtle, shoal and manatee grass. In contrast, the flats along the eastern margin are covered by wind and storm-deposited sands and resemble misplaced bonefish habitat.

A variety of game fish my be encountered on the clear sand and grass flats of the lagoon, but redfish (red drum) and seatrout are the undisputed main attractions. Anglers search for "tailing" fish in grassy areas and "backing" fish along the shorelines. These two "showy" forms of behavior are most common early and late in the day, and during overcast periods. Large seatrout are often encountered in extremely shallow water in spring and summer, especially during the early morning; three IGFA record seatrout have been landed here.

As the prey chart illustrates, [below] a wide assortment of forage species occur here. Most local fly-fishers favor fairly small shirmp and crab imitations (size 4-6 hooks), and the concensus is that larger baitfish imitations (size2-1/0 hooks) are often more productive for the larger (25 inches plus) seatrout. For school seatrout in 4- to 5-foot deep basins and along channel edges, small Clousers (size 4-2) fished on sink-tip lines are hard to beat.

Three species of snook occur in the lagoon and are most commonly encountered at the southern end of the basin. The Brownsville Ship Channel, Arroyo Colorado and the Rio Grande River appear to be the principal wintering areas for resident south Texas snook, with dispersal in the spring toward Brazos Santiago Pass, the Padre Island surf and the lower end of the main lagoon. Carry an assortment of finger mullet, sardine and bay anchovy imitations and let the fish pick their favorites. Snook are regarded as relatively rare jewels in Texas, and the Lower Lanuna Madre Fly Fishing Association is working by example to promote a catch-and-release-only fishery for them.

Prey Availability

The communities of Port Mansfield, Port Isabel, Arroyo City and South Padre Island are the principal access points for anglers fishing Laguna Madre. All of them have a range of available lodging, good restaurants, public boat-launching facilities and marinas. Guides familiar with the technical aspects of fly-fishing are available in each of these communities. . .[a list of these guides is provided in the book.] Visiting anglers wishing to explore on their own can find shallow draft rental boats in each of the coastal towns. With the notable exception of South Bay, extensive oyster reefs are absent within the lagoon, but vast expanses of very shallow water are present. Consult the charts, navigate cautiously and monitor depth closely.

A productive venue for shorebound anglers is the Padre Island surf. A 4-wheel-drive vehicle will allow you to patrol the 28 miles of beach between the southern tip of Padre Island and the East Cut, a manmade channel that bisects the island to the north and provides Gulf of Mexico access from Port Mansfield. During late summer and fall, the surf can be calm and clear, with a variety of gamefish present. Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, seatrout and redfish are fairly common, with jack crevalle and tarpon showing up from time to time, particularly in the vicinity of large schools of scaled sardines, bay anchovies, gulf menhaden and Atlantic thread herring. The granite jetties at Brazos Santiago Pass and East Cut are good places to try and jump a tarpon. Local tarpon anglers fish 3- to 4-inch sardine imitations (1/0 to 3/0 hooks) at dawn and dusk, keeping an eye out for the rolling pods of tarpon. Migratory groups of large jack crevalle are usually present along the beach and around the jetties during May and October. When the light is good, look for their silhouettes in the nearshore swells.

Fish Availability

Local fly-fishers favor 7- or 8-weight outfits for the mid-size game fish such as redfish, seatrout, black drum and snook. During calm conditions, we occasionally scale back to 5- or 6-weight outfits for these same species. For tarpon, king macherel, cobia and large jack crevalle, a 10- or 11-weight is more appropriate. Most tarpon fly-caught locally are not especially large, but they can be difficult to lift up from deep water; a bigger gun will allow you to release them in good condition. Reels for these inshore species should be capable of holding a floating line plus 125 to 150 yards of 20-pound backing. For sight-fishing to redfish and seatrout on very shallow flats, I prefer 12-foot leaders with 10- to 12-pound tippets. Shock leaders are required for tarpon and snook: 60 - and 30-pound, respectively, work well. ~ Capt. Eric Glass Eric Glass

About Eric

An avid fly-fisher since age 12, Capt. Eric Glass has fished the lower Laguna Madre for 16 years; working as a full-time fly-fishing guide for the past six years. His credentials include a degree in aquatic biology. Eric has made numerous instructional appearances for regional angling expositions, fly-fishing clubs and fly shops, plus an appearance on ESPN's "Orvis Sporting Life" with Rick Ruoff. Eric has been a Scott Fly Rod Pro Staff member for the past three years.

Saltwater Fly Fishing


This article is an excerpt from Saltwater Fly Fishing, From Maine to Texas, Edited by Don Phillips and published by Frank Amato Publications. Check out the Review section for a complete review.

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