Deep South Texas is known for its wind. Rarely is the wind any stronger than it is in April. In fact, the fourth month of the year generally attracts more windsurfers and kite boarders than anglers to the Lower Laguna Madre. However, the fishermen who do make their onto the flats between South Padre Island and Port Isabel will more often than not find plenty of willing fish in April.
April sees water warming at an increasing quick clip. As this happens, the fish become more and more active. While the west side of the Lower Laguna Madre can still provide solid action during April, it is the area located directly behind South Padre Island that really turns on during late spring.
South Padre Island's Sensational Shallow Water Spring Fishing
April action is steady all along the east side of the Lower Laguna Madre. But, is the action directly behind South Padre Island that really stands out. The flats behind town (just north of The Pasture), The Convention Center Flats, the flats behind The Shores Subdivision and the area south of Gas Well Flats provide anglers good fishing for both speckled trout and redfish without the inconvenience of a long boat ride. Additionally, the high dunes and buildings on South Padre Island provide a wind break from the prevailing southeast spring winds, giving anglers somewhat protected waters on some of the season's windiest days.
Although the strip of bay between the Intracoastal Waterway and South Padre Island is relatively narrow, it proves to be quite a diverse fishery. Moving westward from the back side of SPI, the flats slow toward the ICW. The Tompkins Channel, which runs parallel to SPI from just north of the Queen Isabella Bridge to just south of the Convention Centre, provides the only deep water for fish on the shallow flats hugging the island. Closer to the ICW, the flats are as deep as six feet. In between is a range of depths.
The most common feature of this area is grass. There are large areas of grass flats pocked with sandy holes. There are also some areas of mostly clean bottom with clumps of grass and/or large grass beds -- particularly in the deeper areas closer to the ICW. Then, a bit further north, hugging the shoreline of the island, is an area of smooth, clean sand bottom. Each of these areas offers anglers angling opportunity, although the species and tactics are a bit different in each area. As a general rule, the shallow sand flats will hold mostly redfish, while the deeper grass flats and grass beds will hold mostly trout. The mid-range grass flats will hold a mixture of both species.
The visibility in the waters behind South Padre Island is generally good -- which is somewhat unusually in itself during spring, when high winds churn the mid-bay and western bay waters. The water over shallows closest to the island is almost always clear. In fact, this water can be almost too transparent at times, offering anglers excellent sight-casting conditions, but also making fish a bit more wary. The deeper flats, closest to the ICW but furthest from the protection of the island, are the quickest to "dirty up." But, even there, unless there is a sustained strong wind (more than one day), the water usually just turns sandy green -- just clear enough to make out grass beds and sand holes. The grass flats that lie in between -- in 2 to 4 feet of water -- can range from crystal clear to emerald green, but usually offer at least decent visibility even in the windiest of conditions.
One of the most popular pursuits for fishermen fishing the back side of South Padre Island during the spring is to hunt for redfish the shallows. Both the shallow sand flats and the shallow grass flats will hold plenty of redfish during April. Often, the fish are concentrated along the grass line, where the bottom composition drastically changes from a carpet of grass to bare sand. At other times, the reds will be nose down on the clean sandy bottom, rooting out a meal of marine worms and crabs from the bay floor. The warmer the weather, the more reds will be found on the sand. While the weather and water is definitely warmer in April, there is still no need to be out extremely early for good redfish action. In fact, reds will be on the flat throughout the day and will actively feed with any water movement during late spring.
More often than not, most speckled trout will be found a little deeper. The exception is trophy-size specks, which will work the shallow grass and along the grass/sand break. At times large trout will be mixed in with reds, but usually they will be prowling solo, looking for an easy meal. Working around potholes or grass lumps is one of the best ways to find trophy trout on the east side during April. But, as is the case anytime anglers are chasing sow specks, their pursuit is not a numbers game. Fishermen need to be patient and thoroughly work an area for a few strikes from quality fish.
Anglers looking for good numbers of quality specks (fish in the 17 - 23-inch range), can usually find them in 3 to 6 feet of water during April. Stained or green water usually produces better results, so fishermen should avoid areas of crystal clear water. One of the best ways to rack up good numbers of solid specks during April is working the color changes on the east side. When working a color change, anglers should experiment until they find where fish are holding. At times they will be on the green side. Other times they will be working the muddy side. Then there are times when they will be holding right along the change. However, the one constant is fish will never be too far from the color change itself. Rather they will be concentrated on a rather narrow swath on either side of the color break.
"During April, we can have good redfish anywhere on the east side," said Austin Camacho of Austin's Fishing & Hunting Guide Service. "The trout will be along the color changes, around the spoils or along the drops. Really, where and how I fish during that time of year has a lot to do with the weather - the wind in particular. Basically, if it's nice and calm, I'll fish the drops and some of the spoil areas. If the wind is really cranking, I'll drift and fish with popping corks."
Throughout April, the prey items available in this area will change rapidly and drastically. Shrimp, glass minnows, shad, blue crabs, marine worms, pinfish and, of course, mullet will be abundant at some point in April. As a result, what the fish are eating can change from week to week or day to day. Anglers need to be aware of what fish are feeding on at any given time and need to use lures to match the corresponding prey item -- shrimp, glass minnows, mullet, shad, etc. Fishermen using natural bait should go with whichever bait the fish are feeding on at that time.
"A lot of times in April and May, I bring three baits -- shrimp, mullet and piggy perch," said Camacho. "Again, we'll get some pretty good size trout that time of year, so I'll be using some fairly big perch. We'll use shrimp under a popping cork to catch numbers of trout and use the mullet for redfish."
When baitfish are the main source of food, topwater plugs work well -- especially "Jr" size baits. When deep bodied baitfish like shad or piggies are the main target of specks and reds, shad-shaped crankbaits like Heddon Swim 'n Image can produce good results, especially when worked around potholes. On those seemingly rare light wind days in April, straight-tail soft-plastic jerkbaits still work well. If glass minnows are abundant, Hogan Rat Tail Worms are a good choice. Paddletails like the Egret Bayou Chub and Down South Southern Shad are good "all around" choices during April.
On really windy days, even artificial lures may need to be pinned beneath a cork. Artificial shrimp under popping corks work really well in dirty water. Egret Vuduu Shrimp, DOA Shrimp and GULP! Shrimp are a few of the better examples.
"When the wind is blowing, I will fish with popping corks quite a bit," said Camacho. "Of course, we'll fish shrimp, mullet and piggies under corks. But, I'll also fish lures like DOA and GULP! under a cork. I use a lot of New Penny GULP! Shrimp under a popping cork in April."
In cleaner water, old standbys like silver, gold or copper spoons work well -- especially if fish are feeding on baitfish like shad or mullet. The CW Crab and Mann's -1 are good choices when crabs are the main forage. And, don't think only redfish dine on crabs. Trout, especially big trout, will eat crabs every bit as readily as redfish.
So, while April will be an onslaught of high winds, the waters nestled behind South Padre Island can offer anglers a productive place to fish without being blown off the water.