Raft Guides Survive Red Tide in Texas
Beware the Red Tide!!
No, I’m not talking about the menace of world communism (or the way it may once have been talked about). I’m talking about an algal bloom in the ocean, that imparts a red color to the water. Known technically as a HAB, short for “harmful algal bloom”, it is a concentration of a particular phytoplankton that has toxic properties, to fish and humans both.
It kills fish of all sizes, and can cause considerable distress to people who are downwind of red tide in the surf. The surf creates a red tide-laden aerosol, which, when breathed, will cause coughing and sneezing. It also can cause one’s eyes to burn. In a word, it’s unpleasant.
Well, of course, we had no idea that a red tide had moved in to the area when we were planning our trip to S. Padre Island. We have spent many weeks and months down there in the past, in the Fall of the year. Our return north has always been timed for the opening of the ski area, and the beginning of our winter occupation – teaching skiing. This year we left for Padre at the end of October, presuming that we would return to teach skiing over the Thanksgiving holiday. But the opening of Taos Ski Valley this year was to very limited snow coverage, and very limited business thereby, so we delayed our return until Dec. 2, and caught the edge of the winter blast that dumped 2 or more inches of snow in Houston on Dec. 4.
We go to the “tip of Texas”, as they call it, to prolong our Fall vacation with pleasant weather and to fish . The Rio Grande runs into the Gulf of Mexico just eight miles south of S. Padre Island. We like the idea of sticking close to our “own” Rio Grande, whether in New Mexico or Texas. And, down there, the climate is semi-tropical. We camp at the Isla Blanca County RV Park, which is located at the very southern tip of the island, and abuts the Brazos Santiago Pass, the ship pass into the Gulf from the Intracoastal Waterway and the Brownsville ship basin and the northern of the two jetties that protect the pass. From our site it was a 5 minute walk to the jetty and the same to the bay and boat launch. It couldn’t be more convenient.
Our usual fishing venues include the jetty, the bay and the beach. The beach was out this time, because of the red tide, but the jetty still had fish around, as did the bay, otherwise known as lower Laguna Madre. The jetty had an abundance of mangrove (or grey) snappers we had never before seen. Kathy especially enjoyed fishing for the mangroves and got very good at it, using lures.
We were also treated to a run of bluefish that stuck around for quite a while. The bluefish is a schooling predator that is easy to catch. Other fish often caught off the jetty, such as tarpon, king mackeral, jack crevalle and spanish mackeral were in short supply or absent, presumably because of the red tide. Kathy saw dead bull redfish and jack crevalle, both in excess of 36″ long, washed up on the beach. But, I didn’t have the heart to go and photograph them.
We spent a lot of time fishing from our boat, which we originally purchased used some years ago at S. Padre. It was parked along the main drag with a “for sale” sign on it. It’s a short, narrow and tippy boat that doesn’t handle chop very well. Hence, we use it mainly in calm weather. But we sure do love the freedom it gives us. The park boat launch is a quarter-mile from our site – nice! In the bay we catch mainly redfish and spotted sea trout (aka specks). We generally use light spinning gear and artificials, but always also have fly rods along. The big breakthrough for us this year was catching fish on top water plugs. We had not persevered with top waters in years past, but I decided I would do so this time, and we were met with success on one occasion especially. We also persevered this time with plastics, and enjoyed success there too. Formerly, we usually stuck with gold Silver Minnow spoons, being convinced that nothing else could do so good a job!
There are other attractions to be seen in the bay, such as dolphins up close and the occasional large ship.
I also did some wade fishing on the flat that lies between the boat launch and the nearby Coast Guard station, a 5-minute walk from our site. I used both spinning and a 9-weight fly rod, depending on how windy it was. I caught redfish, specks and other fish.
And yes, we did eat a lot of fish – redfish, specks, snappers and bluefish. Kathy did a fabulous job of both fileting and cooking the catch. In New Mexico, we release all the freshwater fish we catch. In Texas we do as most Texans do, and eat some (not all) of the fish we catch.