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The Great Escape: Head South to Fish the Padre Island Surf

The Texas coast is hundreds of miles of beaches, passes, inlets, jetties, rock groins, and shoreline grass marshes. Fishing opportunities abound! Because of our mild climate, this expansive paradise can be fished year round.

Long after the winter chills in other parts of the country has forced all but the saltiest coastal fishermen to pull in their lines and retreat, lucky Texas anglers are still pulling gamefish from our coastal waters. Especially, Texas surf fishing holds opportunities that aren’t found in either bay fishing or the offshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Padre Island shoreline gives the fisherman, willing to make the trip, a solitude on a glistening December surf that is difficult to find any place else on the coast.

Once the surf angler reaches the Padre Island National Seashore just out of Corpus Christi, he has about 60 miles “beyond the blacktop” of sandy beaches, sand dunes, fishing opportunity… and occasionally another angler. Especially this time of year when many Texas outdoorsmen are distracted by shotguns and ducks or bows and whitetail deer, the surf fisherman is apt to find himself alone on long, desolate stretches of beach.

Fish the Texas bays, and it’s a given that speckled trout, redfish, sand trout, flounder, black drum, or gafftop will be on the menu. Fish the Gulf of Mexico, and the quarry grows in the number of species. Surrounded by the open and deeper expanses of Gulf waters, larger species such as king mackerel, dolphin, ling, tuna, and sharks might be included in the catch of the day.

However, the Texas surf is different. One strike may be a one pound whiting, and the next cast may produce a six-foot bull shark. This variety only adds to the excitement and mystery of fishing the Texas surf.

Sharks are a premier prize from the surf, whether they are the small 3 or 4’ blacktip and Atlantic sharpnose that are common surf runners or the bigger hammerhead, larger blacktip, or the bull sharks which can range up to several hundred pounds.

Getting set up to fish the surf is relatively easy. There are at least a half-dozen ways to rig for natural bait and enough artificial lures to fill a tackle box to choose from. But, most anglers found fishing the surf will be using live shrimp, mullet, croaker, piggy perch, or cut chunks of mullet. Peeled shrimp tails or pieces of squid are also popular. In fishing specifically for sharks, popular baits are pieces of whiting or big chunks of bloody jackfish fished along the bottom.

The best salty surf fishermen develop ability for seeing signs along the beachfront, but there are some things that may be apparent even to the beginner or a fisherman new to the area. Much of this depends on a trained eye and knowing what to look for. Usually, you want to look for coves or pockets that the beach currents create.

There are tip-offs to promising fishing spots, but an angler must understand a basic layout of the bottom beneath the breakers. Along the Gulf shoreline, the bottom doesn’t just slope away uninterrupted from the beach. It is broken up by troughs or “guts” that parallel the beach and are separated by natural sandbars between each gut.

The first trough is barely noticeable and is typically knee to thigh deep. The second gut is deeper, perhaps chest to neck deep. The “infamous third bar is generally too deep to wade to without perhaps paddling out to on a calm day.

The beauty of Padre Island shoreline is the number of light tackle fish to be caught in the first and second guts. Swarms of surf running speckled trout, redfish, pompano, skipjack (ladyfish), whiting, and Spanish mackerel are hard fighting options on lightweight tackle during the right tide.

Along the National Seashore, south of Malaquite Beach Visitors Center, there are mile markers posted every five miles. From the end of the pavement about five miles beyond the pavement’s end is a “four wheel drive” warning sign explaining that only 4WD equipped vehicles should venture beyond that point. Past there, you are on your own. Use caution and common sense.

During the late fall, two areas of the National Seashore are worth of mention. The first is between the 9-Mile and 12-Mile markers, an area known as Little Shell Beach. This beach is named for the number of small clams called coquinas found there.
The second area is located between mile marker 16 to mile marker 28 about 22-26 miles farther south known is Big Shell Beach, which draws its name from the numerous larger ark shells found there.

Those adventurous anglers equipped with a 4WD vehicle and fueled with the lure of high drama might do well to work their way down the coast. At a bout 48 miles, there is a desolate area widely known for its big shark fishing. There, you may find several serious anglers armed with serious surf rods and geared to catch some of the numerous species of the heavyweight brutes known to cruise those shorelines. Again, use caution. Don’t let your lust for excitement get you stranded on a most desolate part of the beach.

If the lure of salt air, deserted beaches, and the adventure of a Texas coastal getaway beckons you, head south! It is the perfect time of year to find the promise of fighting fish along miles of the Padre Island surf.