Thanks to its sub-tropical climate – it is located just a dozen miles above the Texas/Mexico border – Port Isabel offers fishermen year around angling opportunities. Additionally, the warm climate and shallow, clear waters of the Lower Laguna Madre offer a variety of species and habitat not found elsewhere in the United States, with the exception of South Florida.
Without a doubt, the most popular activity for fly fishermen heading to Port Isabel is sight-casting to redfish on the shallow flats. This, too, is an activity that can be enjoyed all 12 months of the year. Depending on the season, redfish will transition from sand flats to grass and mud flats. However, with the exception of a rare hard cold spell, there will always be redfish to be found in less than two feet of water.
Also lurking on these shallow flats will be speckled trout. The Lower Laguna Madre has long produced speckled trout of legendary proportions. In fact, the current state record fish – caught, incidentally, by a fly fisherman – was taken within sight of Port Isabel’s historic lighthouse.
From late spring through fall, snook can also be found on the flats. As winter spreads across South Texas, the snook don’t leave, they simple transition to the deeper water within the Port of Port Isabel and the Port Isabel Shrimp Boat Basin, where they are still within reach of fly rodders willing to throw sinking lines.
Tarpon are another popular target in the Lower Laguna Madre. Although there is a small resident population of juvenile tarpon that are available year around, the vast majority of Silver King migrate through the area between April and October. Tarpon are taken sporadically from the bay, but can be consistently targeted in the Brazos Santiago Pass, which connects the shallow waters of the Lower Laguna to the open Gulf of Mexico.
Equipment needs for anglers heading to Port Isabel are relatively simple. Floating lines can be used in every situation except fishing the Pass for tarpon and the Port for snook. In these instances, intermediate sinking lines are preferred. On the flats, 6- to 8-wt rods rule the day. When fishing the deeper water areas, anglers use 9- or 10-wt rods for snook and 10- to 12-wt rods for tarpon. However, an 8-wt rod with spools filled with floating and intermediate lines can be used to subdue fish on the flats, as well as mid-size snook and juvenile tarpon in their deep water haunts.
Fly selection is also fairly basic. Virtually any shrimp or baitfish imitation tied on size 4 or 6 hooks will work on the flats, with Clouser Minnows, East Cut Grass Shrimp and SeaDucers being among the favorites. Larger baitfish patterns such as Half & Half Deceivers and heavily weighted size 2 Clousers work well for deep water snook. South Texas tarpon seem to prefer ‘bunny’-type flies as opposed to traditional Keys-style tarpon flies. Bunny leeches, Snake-flies and Clouser Minnows with bunny-strips attached are among the favorites.
Getting to Port Isabel is relatively easy, although it does require some driving. The most convenient major airport is Valley International Airport in Harlingen, some 45 minutes away. Whether flying in and renting a car at the airport or driving down the entire trip, anglers must pass through Harlingen via US 77 South to the State Hwy 100/South Padre Island exit. From that point, follow State Hwy 100 east for 21 miles and your find yourself in downtown Port Isabel, just moments away from a memorable angling adventure.
Although it is often overlooked by modern-day travelers in favor of the it’s sister city South Padre Island, the historic waterfront community of Port Isabel has been providing anglers access to incredible inshore angling for more than a century. As one of the oldest ports in Texas, both commercial and recreational fishermen have been utilizing Port Isabel as a means to reach the Lower Laguna Madre since the mid-1800s. Today the commercial fishing traffic has been reduced to a trickle. Recreational fishermen, however, continue to come to Texas’ southernmost bay front community in search of speckled trout, snook, redfish, tarpon and more.
Fly Fishing the Lower Laguna Madre from Port Isabel