Down South Jukin’ Looking for Peace of Mind

| September 24, 2010

Internet Connection FOUND!

I managed to wait a little more than twenty-four hours before heading from Weslaco, Texas, to South Padre Island yesterday. Grandma was good with that, so I motored down the newly improved highway 83 (North Texas take note), a three lane autobahn of autos that should have been dumped for reef habitat years ago, and oversize pickups that could go over just as easily as around me – except I was keeping their pace.

Four dollars to get in the Jetties park, and by four o’clock I was boulder hopping the granite to get past the crowds at the breaks. I was listening to the weather on the way, and there was some brewing going on off the Yucatan, and locally three to five foot surf. That number got my attention. Three to five at South Padre Island means, by all measure, surf’s up! If I had my board, I (happily) wouldn’t be writing about what comes next.

The NOAA weather channel also mentioned rip tides at South Padre Jetties specifically, due to high surf and strong tides. Yesterday was the first full day of Fall 2010, and may be promoted to a regular annual event, like the traditional “Black Friday Fishing” forays.

As I was threading my way past about a dozen guys tightly gathered, considering the length of the Jetties, there was an energy between them that was unfamiliar. Typically, throwing big chunks of lead, wire leaders and flopping bait, was a casual affair. This time, everyone was standing and heaving into the surf almost in unison. They were still in the sandy water just beyond the breakers, while I knew I was headed beyond them to the clear green waters nearer the end of the Jetties.

Then I saw a grizzled old guy headed in, threading his way through the gauntlet of back-swinging leaded, baited windups. He was looking a little more droopy and less concerned about the prospect of being impaled by a 3/0 hook, dragging the butt of a thumb-thick surf rod, and … a stringer of bull reds, three, at the top of the slot.

For some unknown reason, he stopped on our collision course (the path was narrow between the rod honor guard), and talked, “They’re out where the water clears,” and about that same time I saw a … a golden cloud shimmering through itself and changing to red – redfish, bulls in the green water, cruising by the hundreds, just out of artillery range.

Now, I didn’t know this phenomenon was happening here and now off the South Padre Island Jetties. I have read about it on the narrows further up the coast, the annual running of the bull reds to deeper waters for the winter, but I don’t have any recollection of anyone talking about this from my childhood.

Plan B

I had stopped by to see Larry Haines at The Fly Shop on my way over to the island, just to check in and see if there was anything unusual about flies for the mighty tarpon cruising the Jetties, and he slid the clear bottom drawer open to show me the stash of flies for dreamers such as myself. I had every fly from the last time I stopped in, although Larry probably didn’t remember me from all the other dreamers who file through his shop on their way to obscurity.

“They’re there. They’ve been there since May,” he said. I winced as if gut punched. I had heard such things, but if Larry says “they’re there,” then take it for truth not tale.

Now, I was faced with marauding redfish instead of mystical tarpon, and the reds were hiding in plain sight. I picked up my pace and moved about a hundred yards past the last person, and lined up. This school was still visible, and circling at the artillery range, and headed back out my way. One caster broke away from the pack and started the chase. The red cloud was closing on my position, and my relative hand shaking was sent over the edge by a Chinese guy shouting his way toward me saying “You see them? See them?” I had to say, “Yeah, Go get ‘em,” as he swung his weights past me at a near gallop (on wet rocks from waves occasionally breaking over the top of the Jetties). As I looked at the group I left behind, and this guy now twenty-five yards ahead, not a single line was tight.

I needed to make ninety feet to reach, and a hundred to cover the bulls. In the right hands, a Tibor, loaded with an E sink on a ten weight Z could turn this trick. The south wind was a mixed blessing – hard on the backcast, but leave enough air on the forward and let the wind do the work. The school turned again, and the light at 4:30 showed them to be … having fun, weaving their way through each other completely oblivious now to a Clouser, a gold spoon, a Puglizi bait patten, a bunny pattern and a full assortment of flies reaching their school as they passed and turned again and again. I was all over them like stink, but they … the only thing worse than not catching fish, is seeing fish and not catching them. The only solace was that the artillery range’s lines were all limp as well.

Off in the distance, a shark did a corkscrew leap completely clearing the water, while turtles surfaced near the Jetties. The reds were moving out again, and in the corner of my eye I caught a sharp tail attached to silver scales surfacing for a split second. Less than fifty feet off the Jetties, tarpon were starting to work the sundown buffet line. The next tail I saw belonged to a tarpon pushing five feet. Then two in the three foot range, calmly surfacing and down again.

It was getting dark enough that the reds were finally out of sight and out of mind. I concentrated on working the bait lanes to my penultimate frustration. Other than a few ladyfish, and a pompano, I was beginning to stink. The full moon rose, and the sun was long gone, so I headed off the South Padre Jetties – the last one off the rocks this night.

I was walking and thinking, stupidly not about walking; in fishing – there’s skill, there’s luck, and there’s persistence. After trying this Jetty tarpon thing three times, I am convinced you need all of two and a little of the third. There needs to be an obsessive amount of persistence, and a good dose of luck to hit on these tarpon, while skill is needed – but comes in solid third place. I have no other way to explain the high visibility of tarpon at the Jetties, and the total lack of documentation of tarpon being caught at the South Padre Island Jetties on a regular basis. Translation; if you want to catch tarpon at the Jetties, try hitting the Jetties sixty times in a year (minimum), and see how that works out for you. If you can do more (than sixty), then and only then, do I imagine your odds get to even. Somebody feel free to challenge that viewpoint.

No Cure

Tarpon are a well documented disease for which there apparently is no cure. I feel lucky to even have seen a fish that I had never seen in my childhood. And, that’s in my home waters! Once you see one, you’re going to want one. It’s simply that overpowering. Sure, I had never seen redfish in schools like that, but they’re just a bunch of twenty-five to forty inch redfish.

Needless to say, I am plotting to have another evening at the Jetties before heading back to North Texas Monday. If a fly rod is a “nine foot crack pipe,” then a tarpon is a fifty-five gallon barrel of crack, and I’m Lindsay Lohan.

Note – The videos from various events are piling up in post production! Check these posts later, as I drop new videos into them.

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Category: Culture on the Skids, Fishing Reports, Life Observed, On The Road, Texas Gulf Coast

About the Author () is where to find my other day job. I write and photograph fish stories professionally, and for free here! Journalist by training. This site is for telling true fishing news stories, unless otherwise noted.

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