When you hear the words South Padre Island, you might automatically think “Spring Break!” However, it’s so much more than that.
The 34-mile-long barrier reef island located near the tip of Texas boasts beautiful fine-sand beaches and Gulf of Mexico waters. The Island is home to more than 600 different species of fish. If you’re an avid angler, this means year-round fishing options, including surfcasting and deep-sea fishing.
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Two annual events, the Texas International Fishing Tournament and the Ladies Kingfish Tournament, attract nearly 2,000 anglers to the Island every August.
Here’s our list of the top catches you can reel in off South Padre Island. You can find the first group of four in the shallow waters off the beach and in the bay. The last four are commonly found in the open waters of the Gulf.
1. Speckled Trout, Cynoscion nebulosus
The speckled trout is also known as the spotted seatrout and is a member of the croaker family. Its distinguishing characteristics include a dark gray or green back and silver-white underbelly, with distinct round spots on back, fins and tail. It also has one or two prominent canine teeth at the tip of the upper jaw. Males average 19 inches in length, while females average 25 inches.
They are commonly found in shallow bays and estuaries with oyster beds and seagrass, which attract their prey. During fall and winter, the fish move deeper into the bay waters of the Gulf. They return to shallow waters when temperatures warm up.
2. Southern Flounder, Paralichthys lethostigma
The southern flounder is compressed laterally and spends its life lying and swimming on their side. Its left side is always the side facing up, and in other flatfish species, the opposite is true. Both eyes are on the top side of the head in adults, and its pigmentation can vary to match its environment. Males usually only grow to 12 inches, while females often reach 25 inches in length.
They live in the shallow waters of the bay, but they lie near reefs or shorelines to wait for prey. Adult fish leave the bay during the fall to spawn in in the Gulf and return in the spring.
3. Black Drum, Pogonias cromis
The black drum is also called a Texas drum, striped drum, or tambor, which means “drum” in Spanish. It is a chunky, high-backed fish with several whiskers under the lower jaw. Young black drum have four or five dark, vertical bars along their sides. The stripes disappear with age, and adults are usually light gray or silver. It is a member of the croaker family and can produce croaking or drumming sounds with its air bladder.
Black drum can adapt to a wide range of habitats, from the clear water of sand flats to deep Gulf waters. You can find them in bay waters, inshore, and offshore. They can thrive in shallow flats in warm weather and are hardy enough to survive freezing weather.
4. Red Drum, Sciaenops ocellatus
The red drum is commonly called redfish or just red, and its most distinguishing mark is one large black spot on the upper part of the tail. Its color ranges from deep copper-black to gray-silver, but the most common color is reddish-bronze. It can grow in excess of 24 inches in three years. They produce a drum-like sound by vibrating a muscle in their swim bladder.
Red drums live in the shallow waters along the edges of bays with submerged vegetation. They prefer shoreline breaks, such as coves, jetties, and pier pilings. They can also live in fresh water and you can sometimes find them many miles upriver.
5. Blue Marlin, Makaira nigricans
The blue marlin is a member of the billfish family, which is a highly migratory family of fish. Its bill is long and stout, and its jaws and roof of the mouth are covered with small, file-like teeth. Its body is covered with thick, bony, elongated scales, and it can quickly change color due to its light-reflecting skin cells.
Females can reach a length of 16 feet with the bill and can weigh in excess of 1,000 pounds, while males seldom exceed 350 pounds.
It lives in the open waters of the Gulf and preys on a variety of fish and other marine animals, using its bill to stun, injure, or kill its prey. The blue marlin fishing season is year-round, and anglers are required to obtain a Highly Migratory Species Angling Category permit from NOAA Fisheries.
6. Tarpon, Megalops atlanticus
Also known as a silver king, the tarpon is a large fish with flat scales up to three inches in diameter. It has an elongate dorsal fin, falcate anal fin, and a large, bony, underslung jaw.
Tarpon can exceed 300 pounds and are most commonly found off the beachfront. Adult tarpon live in the open waters of the Gulf, while young tarpon prefer the brackish water in marsh channels.
7. Sailfish, Istiophorus platypterus
The sailfish has an elongated bill and is a member of the billfish family. It has a characteristic erectile dorsal fin, called a sail, which stretches along the length of its back. It keeps its sail folded down while swimming but will raise it when threatened or when feeding. Like other billfish, the sailfish can change its colors quickly.
Sailfish usually will not grow more than 10 feet in length or exceed 200 pounds. It is known for its incredible speed and high jumps.
The sailfish fishing season is year-round, and anglers are required to obtain a Highly Migratory Species Angling Category permit from NOAA Fisheries.
8. Red Snapper, Lutjanus campechanus
Red snapper are easily distinguished by their deep red color and dark fringe around the dorsal and tail fins. They average two to four pounds but can easily reach over 50 pounds.
Adult red snapper prefer the deeper waters of the Gulf. You can find them near reefs, oil rigs, and other underwater structures, where they feed on crab, squid, and small fish.
So when you are planning your spring fishing trip, don’t overlook South Padre Island. College Spring Breaks have come and gone so now is a good time to go!