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They say variety is the spice of life and I recently enjoyed a most interesting new experience – flats fishing along the lower Texas coast from “stand-up” kayaks. I did so through the The Angling Report’s FREE Fishing Program. Host for my adventure was Jeff Kean of South Texas Fishing LLC, who outfits his trips out of Casa Arroyo City Lodge located on the Arroyo Colorado River near the famed Laguna Madre.

The objectives of this trip were to assess his trips and his lodge, as well as the Freedom Hawk Expedition 14 “stand-up kayaks” (www.freedom he uses to get his anglers on the water. First, the kayaks: These kayaks are different. Flush lever handles on each side of the craft are easily accessed by a seated angler to split the last three feet or so of the kayak and deploy two pontoons. When closed, these pontoons function as a standard kayak stern; when opened they form a “split tail,” resulting in an amazingly stable platform, even in choppy water. The boats used by South Texas Fishing are dark olive drab which, Jeff Kean believes, does not disturb nearby game fish. My experience for two days suggests he is right about that.

All boats are compromises, and the stability of these kayaks comes at the price of speed and maneuverability. Nonetheless, I still found them relatively easy to paddle.

Now to the water: The roughly five-mile run to the bay from the lodge is lovely even in winter. Shore birds are plentiful, including brown pelicans, great blue herons, snowy egrets and roseate spoonbills. The bonus this time of the year is thousands of migrating waterfowl of many species.

The Lower Laguna Madre is an enormous flats fishing Mecca covering 268 square miles with an average depth of only two feet. The southern end is near Port Isabel, close to the Mexican border. From there, it runs almost 70 miles north to the “land bridge” south of Corpus Christi. This remote and pristine lagoon is flanked by the King Ranch to the west and Padre Island National Seashore to the east. I would estimate that over 60 percent of the bay floor is covered by several varieties of sea grass which filters the water and keeps it very clear even in relatively high winds. I have fished the Lower Laguna for over 20 years, and it can hold its own with any saltwater flats destination I have experienced, including Florida, the Bahamas, Belize, the Mexican Yucatan and Los Roques.

The areas we selected for our drifts had small sandy potholes dispersed throughout the fishing landscape. The fish we were targeting, spotted sea trout (“specks”) and red drum (“reds”) tend to hang in the grass beside the potholes to ambush baitfish, crabs and shrimp.

On Day One of our exploration, the lodge’s 21-foot Dargel flats skiff ferried us and our kayaks to our starting position for a drift down the western edge of the main bay a few hundred yards inside the “big ditch” (Inter Coastal Waterway). Conditions were windy, 15 to 20 mph; and, worse, we had 90 percent cloud cover until it was too late in the day to matter. These conditions made sight casting virtually impossible, so we switched to conventional tackle with soft plastic baits. Jeff drifted within 100 yards or less of me in a separate kayak. In all, we drifted approximately six miles, stopping a few times to paddle and reposition our drifts. We also enjoyed a shore lunch on a small spoil island in the middle of the bay.

Despite less-than-favorable conditions I was able to catch a three-fish limit of slot-sized reds (averaging 25 inches) and several specks.

Let me confess that, prior to this trip, I was no fan of kayaks. Their fatal flaw, in my thinking, was poor vision. My passion is sight casting to reds and trout in Texas and bonefish and permit in the tropics. An angler seated in a kayak is very close to the water. It’s hard to spot fish from a low angle. However, kayaks are quieter and less obtrusive than even the smallest flats skiffs, allowing closer approach without spooking the fish. When you add the ability to fish from the standing position, this old kayak-hater quickly became a convert!

On Day Two, in sustained winds approaching 30 mph under mostly clear skies, I hooked what turned out to be a 25-inch speck – perhaps the largest in girth I have ever caught. The wind eventually subsided to 15 to 20 mph but the kayaks were drifting too quickly. We were seeing reds on a fairly regular basis but having difficulty delivering the fly in time due to our rapid movement. Since we didn’t have drift socks to slow our drift, we waded with the kayaks just behind us, split tail forward and with a small anchor dragging from the bow. Fishing this way, I eventually landed a 28-inch red which crowded the top of the Texas slot limit.

In the last 30 minutes of our fishing day, drifting in the stand-up position to gain vision as the sun fell, Jeff and I both missed shots. That aside, I am convinced that at least some of the fish we took would never have been caught without the stealthy approach and improved vision provided by the stand-up kayaks.

Based on my experience, I would say that anyone attempting this unique style of flats fishing should be in good to excellent physical condition and reasonably nimble. Intermediate to advanced casting skills are essential. Casting from a drifting kayak is similar to making presentations from the casting platform of a poled skiff but with no guide on pole to turn or stop the boat! Shots at fish may well be close and provide a window of only a few seconds, with second chances rare. Finally, as with other saltwater flats fishing, you must be able to spot the fish! On a sandy bottom, redfish are easier to see than bonefish. On a grassy bottom, spotting them can be a real challenge. Fish-sighting skills become doubly important in a kayak; there is no guide on an elevated platform to assist.

Would I recommend this trip to others? Absolutely, but with the above caveats about physical conditioning and skills.

Jeff Kean is a most gracious host and personally guides all kayak excursions. He is also a trained chef. Don’t come here to lose weight! Accommodations at the lodge are spacious and comfortable, including big screen TVs and bedrooms with private baths. Should you not be exhausted after a day on the flats, speckled trout fishing under the dock light at night on the Arroyo is available for most of the year. I enjoyed almost non-stop fishing one evening, releasing rough- ly three dozen fish in an hour.

For late fall and winter fishing, high-quality breathable waders and booties are essential. Other useful accessories for this kayak adventure are a small dry bag, a GPS and a wearable stripping basket. Sun protection, including good sunglasses, is a must. Enjoy! – David Fleig.

(Postscript: The normal cost of a South Texas “Kayak Fishing Package,” which includes two days of fishing and two night’s lodging, is $769 for the low season (November 1 thru March 30) and $969 for the high season (April 1 thru Oct 31). The package includes airport transfers; waterfront lodging for two nights; two breakfasts; two lunches; one dinner; and orientation, shuttles and use of a kayak with guide. Not included are alcohol and gratuities. Jeff Kean tells us he is offering Angling Report subscribers a chance to add one night of lodging plus dinner to this itinerary for only $100 per person, $150 during the high season.)

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