Though speckled trout, flounder, and redfish hold the Texas saltwater angler’s imagination today, there once was a time when presidents traveled to Tarpon, Texas—currently Port Aransas— escorted by U.S. Navy battleships to pursue the Silver King. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s successful trip to Port Aransas to fish with famed fishing guide Barney Farley is enshrined in ‘Doc’ McGregor’s photography collection at the Corpus Christi Library and launched a tarpon frenzy from the mouth of the Rio Grande to a burgeoning fishery in Galveston.
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Tarpon were such a large part of the Texas sportfishing lore that an old Civil War troop barracks was converted into The Tarpon Inn in 1886 when its garrison was disbanded. Today, anglers and travelers flock to The Tarpon Inn to see its walls covered in scales dating back to the twenties to yesterday. Though Port Aransas still holds the title as Texas’s Tarpon Capital, aggressive tarpon management of the western Gulf of Mexico’s tarpon population has returned the fishery to a vibrant and consistent bite the length of the Texas coast. Check out these destinations for your best chances.
With arguably the most consistent bite, South Texas has a number of hot spots to chase tarpon. From the Brownsville Ship Channel to the Arroyo Colorado, anglers can often find resident tarpon that spend the year in the deep water channels avoiding the infrequent cold weather. This includes gravity defying juveniles in the 20- to 30-pound range that put on an aerial show like no other. In the summer months, leviathan tarpon cruise the beachfront and the Brownsville jetties, where anglers from shore and boats can toss live bait, lures, and flies to cruising and rolling tarpon along the rocks. South Texas is the best shot at a tarpon and has the best food in Texas.
The Padre Island National Seashore is a rare place and a fantastic place to target tarpon. From Corpus Christi south to the Port Mansfield East Cut, anglers can drive the length and camp while fishing. Tarpon often cruise the first cut between the shoreline and the first sandbar where they will readily take live bait, flies, and lures. Most of the tactics here are the same used for striper along the Jersey shore, just remember to say y’all rather than you guys. If camping, look for the evening deer or coyotes along the dunes and stay near one of the best spots along the shoreline: the remnants of the S.S. Nicaragua. This is hands down one of the most magical places on the Texas coast, and the ship’s stacks are still visible.
Corpus Christi Bay and its barrier island has a number of hotspots. The entire length of Mustang Island can hold fish along the shoreline. Particular points of interest are Packery Channel to the south, Bob Hall Pier and J.P. Luby Surf Park in the middle, and the Mother of all Tarpon Destinations to the north, Port Aransas. From land-based jetty fishing, to wading, to boat-based drifting coon pops over structure, there are ample opportunities to land tarpon from 15 pounds to scale busters.
Shhhh, this is Texas’s somewhat secret tarpon spot. Don’t tell anyone I told you. I will lose my registered native Texan card. Pass Cavallo, the centerpiece of Port O’Connor’s tarpon fishery, actually has great opportunities from the shoreline, but poling a skiff is perfect for sight casting laid up tarpon and cruisers. Port O’Connor is a laid back fishing village developed by the O’Connors of Texas history. Matagorda Bay is home to some of the best bull red fishing on the Texas coast, and is an easy drive from both San Antonio and Houston.
Not really a thought of tarpon destination when thinking about areas like South Texas’s Lower Laguna Madre or Port Aransas for its history, but Galveston and Bolivar to the north are excellent summer time tarpon destinations. Though most guides drift for tarpon off the beach with live bait and coon pops, tarpon along Rollover Pass in Bolivar, and almost as far inland as Baytown in the Houston Ship Channel, will take flies and lures. If the fish aren’t biting, there is always ship surfing through the ship channel. The bonus, Galveston is only a 45-minute trip from Hobby Airport on the Southeast side of Houston, of course depending on traffic that often stacks up like Texas summer time tarpon.
Barney Farley: Fishing Yesterday's Gulf Coast, Rudy Geiger: Plugger: Wade Fishing the Gulf Coast, Bob Epstein: A History of Fishing in the Florida Keys: Angler's Paradise
Brandon Schuler, Phd
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