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Subscriber Donavan Pieterse has checked in with a report on a brand-new guide service in south Texas called Laguna Madre Outfitters. He learned about them last summer on a trip to Alaska. Pieterse writes:
“Sand flats in Texas? That was my first impression after flying into south Texas recently to check out a new guide service I heard about from my guide in Alaska last summer, Ben Paschal. Head guide at Big Ku Lodge in the Katmai region of Alaska, Ben got a lot of face time with our group of anglers, and he used some of that time to talk up his new guide service in the Lower Laguna Madre. He runs an excellent rainbow program at Big Ku Lodge, so I accepted his invitation to fish with him this past winter before he formally opens his doors for business in Texas this coming May. It turns out that Ben undersold his new service, which is a rare occurrence among guides and outfitters nowadays.
“His new outfit, called Laguna Madre Outfitters (www.lagunamadreoutfitters.com), is headquartered in Arroyo City, a 25-minute drive from Valley International Airport in Harlingen. For anglers who want to use it, he has a three-bedroom, two-bath house right on the water with all the modern amenities. It is only ten minutes by boat from the house to the open flats of the Lower Laguna Madre. A huge, hyper-saline lagoon, Laguna Madre is rarely deeper than three feet. It’s protected to the east by Padre Island, the largest barrier island in the world, and to the west by the massive King Ranch and the 98,000-acre Laguna Atascosa National Refuge. There was almost zero development where we fished, which gave the whole experience an added edge.
“I fished with Ben in early November. The air temperature was in the mid- 80s, and the water temperature a scant 10 degrees lower than that. Ben has a Maverick skiff, and it was perfect for the area in that it could get into very skinny places. That was important because that was where a lot of the fish were, but also because most of the other boat traffic (and there can be a fair amount on weekends) couldn’t reach the water we were fishing. The Lower Laguna Madre is about 50 miles long with very little tidal fluctuation. All of the fishing we did was between knee deep and ankle deep, in water that ranged from gin clear (over sandy or grass-covered bottom) to slightly stained (over mud bottom). We saw numerous tailing, backing, and waking fish all day long.
“The majority of the time, we opted to fish out of the boat, although one afternoon we waded the sand flats barefoot to tailing fish. I had my flats boots with me, but they never got wet, as I opted to wade barefoot. I found the fishing from the boat very similar to the bonefishing I have done in the Bahamas, while the wading we did reminded me of fishing Christmas Island. Most of the reds I caught were in the 22-inch range, with my largest taping out at 29 inches. Each full day gave us shots at close to 40 fish, most of those within 50 feet of the boat. I also had a number of shots at giant speckled sea trout. The go-to fly was Ben’s special crab pattern. Any time it was refused, I could trace it back to my presentation. A 6- to 8-wt. rod with a bonefish line is perfect for this fishery.
“Logistically, this trip couldn’t have been any easier. The closest airport to Arroyo City is Harlingen. Southwest Airlines flies direct from Dallas Love, Houston Hobby, Austin, and San Antonio. United Airlines flies out of Houston International. From October to April, Sun Country Airlines flies direct from Minneapolis. If you live in those cities, take a Friday off, fly out Thursday afternoon, fish Friday, Saturday, and most of Sunday before catching a flight back home that night. Bring your sunglasses and a bottle of scotch. Laguna Madre Outfitters has the rest.
“Ben has put together a lodging package with discounted prices during weekdays. Included in the package are guided fishing for two anglers, airport shuttle, and lodging in the three-bedroom, two-bath house he has lined up, along with pre-stocked groceries. Weekend rates for two people are $650 per day (Friday, Saturday, Sunday nights) and $550 per day (Monday through Thursday nights). Enjoy!”