A Troutbum on the Texas Coast

I didn’t plan on coming to Texas at all.  A year ago I was wrapping up a stretch of work and planned on spending Summer in Montana… it was glorious for the most part.  But by the middle of October I had to make a decision on where to go next, and since it was getting bitterly cold in West Yellowstone, I wanted heat and headed for the only spot on the map that had it at the time, western Arizona.

I got to exercise my dirtbike in the desert sand and rocks. I fished in the Colorado river and caught little bass and bluegill on the 3 weight.  I pretty much laid around like a proper bum.  It was OK.

Then my Mom asked if I was interested in meeting up in San Antonio after Christmas to spend some time with family, and that sounded OK too. It is eleven hundred miles from Yuma to San Antonio though, so Texas would have to offer up more than a weekend visit. I checked freecampsites.net and there were a few places on the coast that I might be able to base from to stalk some saltwater game fish.

As it happened, the government was shut down when I arrived at Padre Island National Seashore, and I was able to set up there for free for three whole weeks. But the weather was not particularly amenable to sight fishing the flats of Upper Laguna Madre. Cold water, high winds and overcast skies ruled most of the time I was there. I managed to catch one red, one trout, and one whiting in three weeks.

Next I went up Mustang Island to Port Aransas, where I’d read that you could camp on the beach for three days at a time… an annual permit for only $12!  It turns out, if you move camp every three days, they don’t seem to mind how long you stay. I ended up staying two weeks, and since I moved every three days, I never even unloaded the bike; I just used the RV to get around.  I fished in the surf, I fished off the jetty and I fished off the edge of the ship channel… none of it particularly productive. Though the word is that you can catch tarpon and big jacks off the jetty a little later in the year. I started to think about sticking around for the weather to turn and the warm water to bring in some fish…

Port Aransas Beach in January
Port Aransas Beach in January

I drove east to a little town called Magnolia Beach in Calhoun County on the edge of Matagorda Bay.  This is the first place I’ve found in four years of traveling that has no rule on how long you can stay. There was a front page story in a local paper about the problems that could generate, as you might expect, with homeless people making a mess.  But while I was there, I only saw a couple of potential problem cases. Most of the visitors were from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ontario and Quebec. There were a few low-rent types, shabby motor homes with cheapskate drivers (who, me?) but also some high-end buses and fifth wheels.

Magnolia Beach Puppy Drum
Lots of little reds were in this inlet off of Magnolia Beach.

I stayed for two weeks, mostly fishing the inlet to Old Town Lake, as weather permitted. I caught many flounder and little red drum, but the water was never clear enough to sight-fish.  On to dump the tanks at Port Lavaca and overnight at Wal-Mart, where I restock the fridge and sometimes rent a movie from Redbox.

Across the bay, on the other side of the huge industrial eyesore that is the Alcoa Aluminum and Formosa plastics plants, the town of Olivia has a park on Keller Bay that allows free camping for five days.  I caught some nice speckled sea trout there, casting from the breakwater, and I didn’t even have to get my feet wet.  I also heard that the reds will come up into the grass when the tides are big enough, but that didn’t happen while I was there.

Keller Bay from Olivia Haterius Park
Keller Bay from Olivia Haterius Park

Another Wal-Mart overnight and then back to Magnolia for another two weeks. I bumped into a wintering salmon guide from Quebec who gave me some good intel from his time fly fishing on the Texas coast.  I decided that if I was going to have any chance at finding tailing redfish, I was going to have to add a kayak to the garage so I could cover more water. I’d resisted the idea because my rig is already too heavy with the entire garage contents behind the rear axle, and now it’s really crowded back there.

Rockport has a fly shop and a Wal-Mart, so I got some advice and tying materials at the shop, then bought a Kayak and spent the night at Wally’s. I called the permit office at Aransas Pass to find out about camping on the flats in the middle of Redfish Bay, which I’d read was $15 for a week.  They had changed the policy and no permit is now required, but they asked to limit your stay to three days at a time, and to call the police to let them know if you planned on staying longer.  How very friendly!

Turns out, Springtime is windy on the Texas coast.  I had decided that forecasts of 10-15 mph were my upper limit to consider paddling out, and there have been only six days in three weeks that fell below that range.  I have not yet found that pod of eagerly feeding reds to cast to; I’ve barely figured out how to spot them! The flats have been full of fish, big boils in the water as my kayak approaches, but I think they are almost always big mullet. The water hasn’t been clear enough to tell, except for one day when I was able to identify the fleeing fish. I spotted several reds that day, but only when close enough that they spooked before I could think about a cast. The next day a windstorm blew through and dirtied the water again.

Lighthouse Lakes from Harbor Island at Dawn
Lighthouse Lakes from Harbor Island at dawn, with dolphins.

I’ve got to go back to work in June and put my troutbum lifestyle back on hold while I restock the accounts. Not so many weeks left to get this redfish deal figured out. I’ll head back to Padre Island to fish the Laguna Madre again, and the western side of Mustang Island. The long South Jetty out of Port Aransas will figure in mid-May; I can’t ignore the chance to get a tarpon without going all the way to South Florida.

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