South Texas’ Lower Laguna Madre is known for many things. One of only a handful of hyper saline ecosystems in the world, the Lower Laguna Madre sits scant miles above the Texas/Mexico border and has gained acclaim for super-sized speckled trout and redfish in shallow, clear flats. Texas’ southernmost body of saltwater is also home to the only fishable population of snook in the United States outside of South Florida. However, Texas’ snook population is as overlooked as Florida’s is sought after.
Although the ‘discovery’ of snook in Texas may be news to some fishermen, historically linesiders have had a presence in South Texas. In fact, the Texas state record of 57.5 pounds was taken on New Year’s Day 1937 and the Rio Grande Valley region once had a prosperous commercial snook fishery.
Like any fishery, the South Texas snook fishery has had peaks and valleys. Killer freezes in the late 1970s and early 80s resulted in some of the deepest valleys the fishery has known. However, through the 1990s the fish began staging an impressive comeback. Today, two-foot fish are common catches and three-foot snook aren’t unusual. And, even more impressive, these fish can be caught all year long.
South Texas Snook Fishing
Winter through early spring
Snook are extremely sensitive to cold water. Therefore, when the water temperature begins to dip, they quickly scurry to the protective insulation of deep water. At the south end of the Texas coast, deep water is relatively scarce. The lack of deep water takes the guesswork out of locating snook during the cold water period. During this time snook fishermen need look in only one place – the Brownsville Ship Channel.
Although there is a smattering of other deep water channels and pockets, the densest concentration of snook is in the BSC when the water temperature dips. Once the fish move into the ship channel, they remain there until late spring.
For the most part, the BSC is a textbook deep water fishery. Docks and pilings provide plenty of vertical structure stretching from the bottom to the surface. During periods of cold weather, snook will hang tight to this structure, usually suspending just off the bottom. In order to reach them, anglers need to employ quick sinking lures such as DOA Terroreyz, swimbaits or 1/2-ounce Blakemore Roadrunners.
Since extreme South Texas is a sub-tropical region, warm weather is the dominant characteristic – even in winter. Typically, a few days after a frontal passage, the air temperature will bounce back up into the 80s and stay there until the next front pushes through. During these warm, between front periods, snook take advantage of the shallow water fringes of the BSC to feed actively.
Much of the BSC is lined with rocky rip-rap. The warmth radiated from these rocks quickly attracts snook on warm winter days. Under these conditions, snook will cruise up and down the shallow shelf between the rip-rap shore and the dredged portion of the channel, feeding on mullet, pinfish and other baitfish. Anglers are able to take advantage of this aggressive feeding activity by throwing topwater plugs such as Heddon Super Spooks, Smithwick Devil’s Horses or Unfair Dawgwalkers.
If the weather stays above 80 degrees for more than a few days, snook will become increasingly comfortable in the shallow water haunts along the BSC. The length of the BSC actually features a handful of small, half moon-shaped flats, as well as numerous shallow bayous. When snook are found in these areas during winter, they can be taken on topwater plugs, as well as soft-plastic baits.
Snook, of course, don’t eat constantly. One of the most frustrating situations occurs on cold, sunny days when snook will often laze just below the surface, warming in the midday sun. In this situation, snook are more easily seen than caught. The best way to finesse these finicky fish into biting is by free lining either a live finger mullet or jumbo shrimp or a natural looking artificial such as a DOA Shrimp.
Although the majority of fishermen in the BSC are utilizing conventional tackle, fly fishermen can do quite well also. When snook are holding deep, intermediate lines and heavily weighted flies such as Clouser Minnows are the ticket. When snook move up shallower, floating lines tethered to poppers or slow-sinking flies such as SeaDucers produce good results.
Late spring through fall
A portion of the South Texas snook population remains in the BSC year around and anglers can find productive snook fishing there in every season. However, the vast majority of the fish filter into the Lower Laguna Madre and South Bay once spring’s warming winds begin to blow. By late spring, most of the area’s snook can be found on the shallow flats.
Even when found in shallow water, snook remain structure oriented fish. Flats lined with mangrove trees or covered with oyster beds are the most attractive to snook. Pilings, marker posts and bayou mouths will also attract linesiders.
Snook are fairly predictable when found on the flats during this time of year. They will typically take topwater baits during the lowlight periods of morning and evening. During the balance of the day, however, they are most susceptible to subsurface lures such as soft-plastic jigs, artificial shrimp and shallow-running crankbaits.
Fly fishermen are also able to target flats-dwelling snook. Poppers, lightly-weighted flies such as bead-eye Clousers, and slow-sinking attractors such as SeaDucers will all convince snook to strike.
When snook inhabit the flats, they are much more accessible to a variety of anglers. Unlike the BSC, which has boat-only access, the flats of the Lower Laguna Madre and South Bay are easy to reach for boaters, canoers, kayakers and wade fishermen. In fact, when snook are feeding on shallow flats, paddlers and waders can often approach them much more quietly than anglers drifting in boats or poling flats skiffs.
Summer is another instance when South Texas fishermen encounter snook in deep water. A number of snook will remain on the flats during the heat of summer, but a sizeable portion of the snook population can also be found around the jetties lining the Brazos Santiago Pass. These fish typically hang between 5 and 15 feet of water, tight against the rocks. The jetties can be worked effectively from a boat or by walking on the jetty rocks themselves.
Regardless of the season, snook can be found – and caught – in South Texas. Anglers looking to do something ‘a little different’ should consider this border bay system for their next fishing vacation