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Mark Cowan of Pescador Solitario has announced a plan to develop still another new place to go fishing. This time, he has turned his attention to South Texas, specifically to the southern end of the Laguna Madre where he has inked a deal with a fly fishing guide on South Padre Island. South Padre is a well-known fishing destination, of course, and developing a fishery there is a major shift for Cowan who normally focuses on remote and uncharted places. Still, he believes the area will be of great interest to some of his clients.
The main fish in the crosshairs, of course, are redfish, but snook and tarpon are both making a remarkable comeback in southern Laguna Madre. Also, the area is famous for its huge seatrout. Seasonally, king mackerel and Spanish mackerel are great fly rod targets as well.
Cowan says he was drawn to the area for a number of reasons. First, the area has by far the most wadeable flats and the clearest water in the Laguna Madre system. Second, the area is easy to get to from anywhere in the US, which makes a visit as short as three days feasible. Couple that with double occupancy fishing rates as low as $350 a day and you have all the ingredients for an inexpensive, short-duration getaway trip that addicted fishing clients can take in between longer, more exotic trips.
To implement trips here, Cowan has inked a deal with Capt. Dale Fridy, one of the top fly guides in the region. His credits include being named 2002 Orvis Endorsed Saltwater Guide of The Year. Fridy and his wife, Kelly, own a nice little inn right on the water in the resort town of South Padre Island, which has plenty to offer non-fishing spouses. The beach, for example, is just a few minutes walk from the inn. Couple all that with some ideas Cowan has to incorporate on-your-own wade and beach fishing into a typical itinerary and you begin to see why he picked the area.
I’ll have more to say about the beach and wade fishing later. First, though, here are the basics. Capt. Fridy and his wife Kelly’s Redfish Inn is modern and comfortable, and it is indeed right on the water. You can see the Laguna Madre from some of the bedroom windows, and you catch your flats boat each morning right out front. Redfish Inn is the only facility in South Padre where you can walk 40 yards and get in your boat in the morning.
Fridy and his associate guide, Jim Blackburn (he has others on call), are both expert fly guides who know how to put long-rod anglers onto fish and then maneuver the craft so you can cast. I caught a number of good reds, including a hefty 10-pounder out of a gigantic school of some 200 or more redfish.
The reds in Laguna Madre are not the giants of southern Louisiana and neighboring Mississippi, but they are good, hard-fighting fish. And, in the right kind of weather, the sightfishing for them is exhilarating. In places, the water is a foot deep (barely enough to float a flats boat). Tailing reds can be found in some areas while wading in as little as six inches of water. There are areas where the open flats literally stretch to the horizon, too. This is hunt-fishing at its best: You spot your fish at a distance and ease forward, holding your breath. No flailing allowed. You hold your rod down. You crouch down on the deck. Then, with a minimum of false casting, you send your line out and hope. You would have to be a very jaded angler to not get caught up in the excitement.
Besides redfishing, you can also go in search of snook and tarpon in the southern end of Laguna Madre. The fishing for these species does not compare to the fishing for them in Florida, but it is good and getting better. On my first day of fishing, I caught several snook, along with some lady fish. I didn’t catch more largely because I preferred to spend my time in search of redfish.
As for the beach fishing and wade fishing Cowan has in mind, those revolve around his plan to have a four wheel drive vehicle available at the inn for clients to use. The plans are to use the vehicle to access some very remote water north of the town of South Padre island, where the wadefishing is said to be unusually good at certain times of the year. During my own visit, that fishing was not very productive, but the area was a treat to visit, replete with huge sand dunes and vast flats covered with just inches of water. The bird life was varied and interesting. There was no one else around either. During my trip, Cowan and Craig Derby, a professional photographer, did have one great mid-day wade fishing experience casting to and catching black drum up to 15 pounds. They reported seeing hundreds of the brutes tailing in 18 inches of clear water.
The other planned use of the four-wheel drive vehicle is to “run and gun” the beach with fly rods lashed to the front, looking for flocks of birds and surface crashes. We were not able to do this kind of fishing during my visit due to high winds, but we did drive the beach some, which provided a sense of what this fishing will be like. It will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the adventurous angler will probably enjoy it, at least as a change of pace from boat fishing for reds. Cowan says the fish available to “run and gunners” will include redfish, sea trout, pompano, ladyfish, jacks and Spanish mackerel, along with an occasional tarpon. The best time of year for this kind of fishing will likely be from mid-June to mid-September.
So, what is not to like about this trip? Very little actually. I did find the breakfast situation a bit confusing. Capt. Fridy iterated and reiterated that he was running an inn, not a bed and breakfast. “Most people like to grab something and go in the morning,” he said at one point. But what do they grab? It was not clear whether I was supposed to buy my own food for breakfast or rely on what was there. There was no milk for cereal, for example, and I am not fond of yogurt. I also simply can’t handle a breakfast burrito at that time of day. In retrospect, I should have simply asked to be taken to a local grocery store where I could buy some bagels and cereal. Knowing Mark Cowan well, I’m sure this ambiguity will be cleared up before he starts bringing clients in.
The problem with meals did not extend to lunch, by the way. There were ample sandwich fixings available, along with fruit and a variety of drinks. You make your own sandwiches in the morning before leaving for the bay. As for dinner, that is not part of the deal at Redfish Inn. You buy your own at area restaurants. The meals we found locally were good and moderate in price.
The other thing to be aware of about this trip is the fact that South Padre Island is a resort area. It’s one of those places that college kids flock to during spring break, too. It will probably not be smart to come here during spring break. The rest of the year it will not matter much that the village is a resort center. Nonfishing spouses will probably like that, in fact, as it will mean there is more to do. The angler who just wants to fish will be able to pretty much ignore the hullabaloo by having a great dinner at Scampi’s, next door to the inn, and turning in early.
The main fishing season in this part of the world runs from April to mid-November. Cowan was still putting his schedule together as this issue went to press. Ditto his complete list prices. It will probably provide some guidance if I point out that Fridy charges $450 for a full day of guided fishing. Rooms and guiding will be on a sliding downward scale, with per day costs declining with the number of days of guided fishing. A typical per-day, double occupancy cost for room and fishing will be $330. Non-resident anglers will need to add in the cost of a license, either $16 a day or $63 for an annual license. The license that will make sense depends on how many days you plan to fish. Resident licenses are much cheaper.
(Postscript: It should be noted that Redfish Inn is a developing and successful fishing venue in its own right, already hosting fly fishers.)