The definition of a saltwater slam
changes wherever you go. Deep in
the Laguna Madre, you can chase
the Lone Star version of fly-fishing’s
Throughout most of
Texas, it is an accepted
fact that the Big Three
of coastal sport fish are
speckled trout, redfish, and flounder.
However, in deep South Texas,
the flatfish is replaced by a more
And although South Texas has historically
supported a viable snook
fishery, recent years have seen a
resurgence of that species’ numbers
along the Mexican border. Not
coincidentally, an increasing number
of fly fishermen are heading to
the Lower Laguna Madre in search of
a South Texas Slam, which consists of catching a snook, a speckled trout, and a red drum all in a single session.
A slam is achievable year-round in the Lower Laguna Madre,
but the changing seasons do alter the locations that each fish will be
found, and the fly patterns and techniques necessary to take them.
For those willing to do a little advance planning, adding a South
Texas Slam to your angling achievements is well within reach.
While South Texas snook may not have the boastful proportions
of their Central American cousins, there are plenty of quality fish
around. Both fat and common snook are available in these
waters, with the average snook being around 22 inches. Fish
above 30-inches are not uncommon.
To increase your odds of catching a South Texas Slam, it is
best to target snook first. They are not necessarily more difficult
to find than the other two species; however, they do become
notoriously tight-lipped as the sun climbs higher. In fact, for all
of their unpredictable behavior once hooked, snook are extremely
predictable when choosing their locale.
Generally, South Texas snook are found in one of three habitat
types—gulf passes, shallow flats, or deep-water structure. In
the Lower Laguna Madre, this translates to the Brazos Santiago
Pass and adjacent jetties, the south end of the Laguna and South
Bay, a small offshoot of the main bay, and the docks and pilings
along the Brownsville Ship Channel and in the Port Isabel
Shrimp Boat Basin.
Although there will be a resident population of snook in or
near each of these areas the year around, the
densest concentrations of fish will vary by
season. From late fall through early
spring, the majority of the linesiders
will be located within the Port
Isabel Shrimp Boat Basin and
Brownsville Ship Channel. As
the spring sun warms the water,
the fish will begin filtering back toward the flats and the Brazos Santiago Pass, where they
will remain throughout the summer and into the early fall.
They repeat this seasonal migration in reverse once the water
begins to cool, usually in late October or November.
Like trout and redfish, snook are predators adept at changing
their diet based on available forage items. Along Texas’s lower
coast, this results in a diet heavy in baitfish—mullet and menhaden—
during the winter. Shrimp is the top menu item during
spring and fall, supplemented by baitfish during summer.
Fly patterns should be chosen with these dietary swings in
mind. Tried-and-true saltwater patterns, such as Clouser
Minnows and Lefty’s Deceivers, will get the job done when
snook are feeding on finfish. The Haines Pilchard is a popular,
locally tied baitfish pattern. A variety of shrimp flies, most
notably the Cactus Shrimp and the East Cut Grass Shrimp, will
produce good results when snook are snacking on crustaceans.
Poppers will consistently draw attention whenever linesiders are
feeding near the surface—regardless of the season.
When found on the flats, South Texas snook can be subdued
on an 8-weight rod paired with a matching reel loaded with 150
yards of backing. However, when the fish are around the jetties
or sheltered by deepwater structure in the ship channel or
shrimp-boat basin, the heavier the stick, the better. In this scenario,
a 9-weight is the minimum requirement, and a 10- or 11-
weight is not out of place.
Unless sight-casting to snook or throwing poppers, anglers
should avoid floating lines. An intermediate line is the best allaround
choice. Fast-sinking lines can be an advantage at times,
especially if the fish are sulking near the bottom of deepwater
structure. In each instance, a 20-pound class tippet and short 40-
pound shock tippet are mandatory.
The one exception to the above mentioned low-light snook bite is contingent on water
movement. With a strong
tidal flow, the snook bite can
happen at any time, day or
night. However, the only consistent
daytime bite occurs during
the early morning and late-evening
hours, making snook the sensible first
choice to check off the South Texas Slam list.
And Then Trout
Once the sun gets up, it is time to move on to the second step of
the slam—whether or not you have caught a snook. If not, don’t
waste the rest of the day trying. It is better to move on to the
other two species and go back for the snook once the sun begins
dipping over the horizon.
During these early to midmorning hours, logic says it is time
to seek speckled trout. Like snook, the majority of the area’s
trout population tends to undergo a slight shift in location based
on the seasons. However, the difference between a trout’s spring
and summer homes is not near so drastic as that of snook.
During the heat of summer and cold of winter, the majority
of the trout will tuck into deeper water (four to six feet) to avoid
the wild temperature swings of the shallows. Spring and fall find
almost all the area trout in three-feet of water or less. The exceptions
tend to be on the opposite ends of a measuring stick.
Smaller trout tend to stay deep the year around, whereas trophy
trout will remain in—or at least near—shallow water, regardless
of the season.
Blind casting for specks is an almost mechanical routine, as
anglers need to repeatedly fling flies as far as they can cast in
order to cover as much water as possible. The sight-casting
option is much more of an aesthetic experience, with fishermen
casting either directly to fish or to the many sandy pockets that
dot the shallow grass flats. And, while fishing the flats, there is
always the possibility of running across a trout of epic proportions.
The Laguna Madre historically yields more 30-inch-plus
specks than any other Texas bay.
Both options are available year-round. However, at times,
especially if a slam is the ultimate goal, it is better to choose function
over form and settle for taking a keeper-size schoolie speck.
Any fish over the legal minimum of 15 inches, while perhaps not
so glamorous as a “leg long” speck, counts toward completing a
slam. And since the third step in the slam involves getting up on
the flats to look for redfish, there is always the possibility of
adding a larger trout to the bag later in the day.
Anglers choosing to blind-cast for specks should stick with an
8-weight loaded with either floating or intermediate line. Sightcasting
fishermen may choose, and wisely so, to downsize to a 6-
or 7-weight rod. The heavier stick will allow you to cast with ease
the bulkier flies required for blind casting, while the lighter rods
will minimize surface disturbance when casting to spooky specks in
Poppers, deer-hair sliders, and streamers, such as Sea-Ducers,
are good choices for blind casting. Sight-casters will want to go with
smaller shrimp and baitfish patterns. Haines Supreme Hair Shrimp
is also a deadly pattern for trout.
Redfish are without a doubt the crown prince of Texas coastal
waters. And, thanks to efficient fisheries management and an
aggressive stocking program by Texas Parks and Wildlife, bays
across the Lone Star State are loaded with reds. However, nowhere
along the Texas coastal curve are there more miles of shallow, clear
water than in the Lower Laguna Madre—making it a perfect sightcasting
destination for redfish.
Due to their abundance and their hardy nature, which allows
them to remain in shallow water under all but the most extreme
weather conditions, redfish are best left as the last fish to scratch
off the slam card. In fact, during the relatively chilly conditions
of winter and spring, redfish actually become more active on the
flats as the water warms later in the day.
Spotting reds in the clear water of the Lower Laguna Madre
is simple enough. And at times redfish make this task easier by
sticking their tails and even their backs out of the water.
However, lest anyone believe taking a skinny water redfish is a
sure thing, these fish can be somewhat temperamental. At times, reds will aggressively rush forward to gobble any fly thrown within
the same zip code. Other times, you must hit the fish practically
on its head with the fly. And sometimes, the fish become so
skittish that any presentation causing much more than a ripple
will send them scurrying.
But, all in all, redfish remain the
most consistent fly-rod target in
Texas. Anglers lacking only a
red to complete a slam
should feel good about their
chances of accomplishing
Although reds of substantial
proportions do roam the shallows of the Lower Laguna, there are a minimal number
of obstructions in the bay, negating the need for heavy tackle to
subdue these fish. As a result, most fly rodders opt for a 6- or 7-
weight rod in order to minimize the surface disturbance caused
by the delivery of the fly. Floating lines, 150 yards of backing,
and 9-foot leaders with 10- or 12-pound tippets complete a redfish-
Aggressive Texas reds will readily inhale poppers, as well as a
variety of streamers, and baitfish, shrimps, and crab patterns.
Capt. Eric’s Mr. Pinky Bendback is a local favorite that can be
used under a variety of situations. If the fish become spooky,
small shrimp patterns, such as the East Cut Grass Shrimp, which
land softly and sink slowly, are the best bet.
Like any angling pursuit, a South Texas Slam is never guaranteed.
However, any fly fisherman who can cast relatively well certainly
stands a chance of getting it done. And most visiting anglers are pleasantly
surprised that if they accomplish the trifecta early enough in the
day, they will have time to take a shot at a South Texas tarpon and
make the slam a grand slam.
Danno Wise has lived along the gulf coast of Texas his entire life
and is a guide on the Lower Laguna Madre. He is the publisher of
The Port Isabel-South Padre Press.