May 12, 2017
To be truthful, I was a bit overwhelmed on my first visit to the Lower Laguna Madre estuary.
Lying between the Texas mainland and the long South Padre barrier island, the sight of endless saltwater flats left me a bit out of my comfort zone as I sought my first redfish on the fly.
Thankfully, my guide Jeff Waugh wasn't so intimidated by the saltwater flats near Port Mansfield, Texas.
In fact, during the two decades that he spent guiding on the flats between Corpus Christi and Port Isabel, Waugh learned a lot about catching spooky redfish tailing in a mere 18-inches of clear water.
And what was the number one lesson?
While not as difficult as a catching a permit might be, don't expect catching a redfish on the fly to be easy.
"Since the bay is so shallow, a quiet day with a slick calm on the water makes it almost impossible to approach one of those fish without alerting him first," Waugh told me. "One he's alerted, he's real hard to see."
In fact, while many saltwater fly fishermen hate to see wind in the forecast, Waugh kind of liked it.
"When it's windy, that wind covers up your noise," said Waugh."It also causes the fish to move around in the current. When it's calm, he'll just sit there.
"That's the best deal; the fish move more and you get to move less," he added.
As the coastal breeze gathered, my confidence was buoyed when a small redfish - a rat red in the local angling vernacular - engulfed my Clouser minnow fly.
After landing that red drum, I admired the bronze coloration and the black tail spot that the redfish sported and then let it slide away to grow up and gain a few pounds.
Moments later, I was hooked up with a different fish of the Texas saltwater flats, a 20-inch black drum. And just a few casts after that, Waugh was himself hooked up with an eight-pound speckled trout determined to expose the backing on his fly reel.
But if the Lower Laguna Madre – which means Mother Bay in Spanish – can give, then she can also take away, particularly when the coastal breezes turn into a windswept gale that even Waugh admitted was a bit too much.
After heading into the small South Texas town, Waugh continued my saltwater fly fishing education that evening over a plate of fresh Gulf Coast fried shrimp.
First, he mentioned that a flats fly fisherman needs to be properly equipped from the use of high quality polarized sunglasses to help spot fish to using sunscreen and/or a long-sleeved lightweight shirt, wading pants, a hat (and even a Buff facemask) to prevent severe sunburn.
Next, an angler needs a good fly rod and reel combination, in my case, a Sage nine-weight rod coupled with an Orvis Battenkill reel, a weight forward floating saltwater fly line and a good supply of backing.
Waugh also suggested the use of saltwater flats wading boots to protect against oyster beds and such, not to mention a set of stingray proof shin guards.
After getting the basic equipment list down, Waugh moved on to discuss proper fly selection for local redfish and speckled trout – specks as South Texas fisherman call them – that feed on a variety of aquatic items like worms, small shrimp, crabs, small baitfish, mullet and game fish in the fry stage.
Fortunately, a Texas saltwater fly box needn't be complicated.
"I don't think anything works better than a Clouser," said Waugh. "I make up other flies, but this is what I call a universal pattern."
To round out a Lower Laguna Madre fly box, Waugh suggested a few small flies in #4 and #6 sizes. Those should include a few topwater poppers, several crab and shrimp imitations and a handful of saltwater baitfish patterns. Top color choices should include white, pearl, silver, chartreuse, yellow, olive, orange, red and blue.
When is the best time to target redfish on the fly in the region? Waugh said the springtime is good for numbers of reds feeding on young shrimp and the later summer months work for bigger sized reds getting ready to head out into the Gulf of Mexico through the East Cut pass.
The next morning – after a stunning tropical sunrise comprised of soft pastel colors straight from the Creator's canvas – I was able to put my crash course in saltwater fly fishing to good use.
Moving with great stealth, I closed ranks on a 24-inch redfish, laid the Clouser minnow in front of his feeding path and made a couple of short strips.
When a jolt of electricity traveled up my nine-foot long graphite fly rod, I strip set the hook and was soon fast to my first real Texas redfish, a hefty specimen that began to peel line off of my fly reel.
As I smiled, I thought that this might be my first real solid red drum on the fly.
But Lord willing, it certainly would not be my last.