June 11, 2021
The winds battered the small wooden pier with whitecaps at the ramp near the Highway 181 Bridge. Launching was tough, but we managed to keep the Sciaenid, a 22-foot, shallow-draft boat with a 9-foot beam, from washing back onto the ramp. It took about 15 minutes to traverse part of Nueces Bay to one of the guide's prime redfish oyster bars. It looked promising, and I felt it would be a good day, if a bit rough.
I shared that Nueces Bay adventure with seasoned Texas guide Capt. Noe Garza. Garza knows the area as well as anyone, and is gifted at putting folks on inshore fish. Upon arriving at our first spot, I lobbed a lively shrimp out over the bar, popped the cork a couple of times and it disappeared below the surface. After I landed the 4-pound redfish, I glanced over Garza, who was fast into another fish.
The experienced guide brought the second half of our double into the boat and we quickly released both fish. The next 10 casts were met with 10 more strikes and seven more fish.
We moved to another oyster bar and anchored up again. The action slowed a little, but we still took seven fish in about 30 minutes. Speckled trout, redfish, black drum and a variety of other fish fell for our baits.
In fact, in just three hours that morning, under adverse weather conditions, I landed 25 sportfish, with Garza posting a similar number. Additionally, we boated several other species, including gafftopsail catfish, ladyfish, mutton snapper, sheepshead and some other pesky bottom feeders.
ACCESS AND TOPOGRAPHY
I flew to Texas' Coastal Bend to check out the fishing in the Nueces Estuary, a region that includes Port Aransas on Mustang Island and the 113-mile-long Padre Island, which is the world's longest barrier island. There are several marinas and boat ramps around the area that are adjacent to good inshore fishing action.
Nueces Bay, Corpus Christi Bay, Baffin Bay, Laguna Madre and Land Cut are prime estuary fishing destinations that Garza routinely fishes. All offer numerous oyster beds that attract all sorts of inshore species.
Nueces is a small bay that flows into the deeper Corpus Christi Bay, which is just west of the Highway 181 Bridge. While Corpus Christi Bay is 12 to 14 feet deep and has fewer shallow oyster bars, Nueces Bay, to the northwest, has a myriad of oyster reefs at depths of just 6 to 7 feet. Nueces, which means "nuts" in Spanish, refers to the pecans that grow along the Nueces River waterfront.
The river feeds a small amount of fresh water into the middle of Nueces Bay on its southern side, forming a natural estuary. There is some grass-flat habitat that holds fish when they’re not on the oyster bar reefs and points. Adjacent cuts created by the river—hard-bottom points and sandy flats in the bays—are productive year-round for redfish and speckled trout. The back (west) end of Nueces Bay and an area of reefs just off of White Point on the northern shoreline also offer great habitat for both species.
A big factor in the success of those areas is water clarity, which can be affected by the weather; wind and rain can change an angler’s prospects overnight. Silt may enter the river and/or fine particles lying on the shallow bottom can be dislodged, which will turn the bay dirty quite quickly.
BAITS AND TIMING
On calm mornings with relatively undisturbed water in the bay and low-light conditions, Garza often tosses topwater baits around the shallow reefs. He also likes to throw soft plastics that will produce when the tide is very low. However, he normally uses live shrimp and occasionally cut bait during the day. Garza opts for shrimp when focusing on speckled trout under most weather conditions.
"I mainly use popping corks with the shrimp for the trout in Nueces," he told me during my visit. "Today was a tough day because we normally catch 70 to 100 fish or so. Fortunately, although the conditions were tough and it was very windy, the water wasn’t yet overly muddy, and we still caught a bunch."
Garza fishes Nueces Bay during the change of the seasons in late April and May, though the trout, redfish and flounder action is generally good year-round.
SHRIMP AND WAVES
Fish in Nueces fatten up on the massive shrimp runs. The largest bay redfish are around 42 inches in length, and the biggest trout may stretch to 32 inches or so. Many of the significant fish are taken from the back of the lagoon, and Garza’s clients have caught and released several oversized trout there up to 27 inches long.
North of the Nueces entrance is Odem Bay, a shallow marsh fed by an extensive system of tidal streams including Rincon Bayou. Odem Bay is low in salinity and serves as the prime nursery grounds for shrimp, which migrate into Nueces Bay in the spring. Shrimp larvae attract all predator fish, and the crab population is also significant because of the river and the shrimp, according to Garza.
For anglers who are searching for great inshore fishing, I highly recommend giving Nueces Bay a look. There is no shortage of adventure to be found there and in Corpus Christi.
A CAUTIOUS APPROACH
Nueces Bay can be quite a challenge for those unfamiliar with its hazards.
Visitors to Nueces Bay who use their own boat should be aware that it can be a dangerous place. A combination of low tide, high winds and the not-so-well-marked oyster bars can lead to running aground quickly.
If you decide to use your own craft while fishing there, pay close attention to the tide charts and your electronics to steer clear of low water and the plentiful bars. Should you run aground, oftentimes there isn't anyone on the water within earshot to help get you unstuck, so be sure to have someone on call for help should you need it.
Capt. Noe Garza, who has a degree in marine biology from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, has been guiding clients since 1985 and is licensed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the U.S. Coast Guard. He offers 8-hour bay-and-lagoon fishing trips for $625, $700 and $800 for two, three and four people, respectively.
Garza provides all tackle and bait, and he guarantees that you’ll catch fish—plus he’ll even clean them for you. He doesn’t offer charters on Saturdays from April through September due to crowded waters and parking lots during the peak summer season. For more information, visit captnoegarza.com.
I stayed at the Omni Corpus Christi Hotel in the Marina District at the back of Corpus Christi Bay, which is a convenient location near the center of the opportunities for inshore action. Nueces Bay is just 10 minutes away, and Laguna Madre is 20 to 30 minutes south of the hotel. Another good lodging option is the Homewood Suites.
Corpus Christi, which was founded as a trading post on the southeastern shore of Nueces Bay in 1839, is believed to be the first permanent settlement on the bay. Today it’s a major Texas port with a population of around 350,000 people, and it offers excellent sightseeing options.
The Texas State Aquarium is a nonprofit aquarium in Corpus Christi that is dedicated to promoting environmental conservation and rehabilitation of the wildlife of the Gulf of Mexico. Nearby is the Museum on the Bay, centered around the U.S.S. Lexington, the most famous aircraft carrier in U.S. naval history.
Getting your gear from Point A to Point B can sometimes be worrisome. The new Yooneek soft-sided fishing reel case (12 inches long, 3 3/8 inches wide and 5 inches high) cradles items in padded protection for safe transport. Designed for reels up to 4 inches in diameter, the case doubles as a catch-all gear bag. It is constructed of 3 mm neoprene, is water-resistant and has two padded center-divider pockets. Six more elasticized pockets offer ample storage for valuables like spare spools, cell phones, video cameras or anything else that needs protection from the rough-and-tumble outdoor experience. ($29.99; yooneekproducts.com)
— Dr. Todd A. Kuhn