I’m standing on the bow of a saltwater skiff in a 25 mile an hour wind, holding on with my toes, feeling like a buzzard on a 500-foot microwave tower.
Just below in the waters of the Lower Laguna Madre, redfish are having no such trouble. In fact, in one little corner of a cove that’s less than six inches deep, reds are wallowing with their backs and heads out of the water, slashing glass minnows to shreds.
It’s exciting, adrenaline generating, fist-pumping stuff for the first 45 minutes of a borderline day of heavy clouds and “Victory at Sea” winds on the laguna.
Ben Paschal, his dry-fast pants flapping loudly against his legs, leans hard against his fiberglass pole, and I can hear just the slightest scratch as the skiff’s hull drags across the sugar sand floor of the cove.
“Whenever you’re ready,” Paschal whispers, and I send a perfect cast in front of the closest fish, a cast he doesn’t even notice. A second cast gives to the wind and lands across the fish’s back. He blasts off for deeper water, scattering minnows that glisten like flecks of gold in the just risen sun.
I cast at another red which pivots, inhales the fly and disappears. I’m baffled. “I don’t know what happened,” says Paschal. “I saw his gills flare when he took the fly.”
The third red drum of the morning, a healthy 24-incher, sucks down a fuzzy green fly right in front of the boat and explodes in a shower of purple and gold as he pulls tight against the fly line. Paschal stakes out the skiff as he points out a pod of reds feeding just 30 feet past the fish I’m fighting.
Paschal is 25 and lives on the Arroyo Colorado, an arm of the Rio Grande long ago separated into its own river. Channelized to create a shipway to the Port of Harlingen, the Arroyo dumps into the Laguna Madre north of Port Isabel, just west of “The Sand,” a famous sand flat that runs north from Isabel for nearly 50 miles.
“I came here for the fish, because I think this is where the best fishing in Texas is,” says Paschal, a native of Dallas who has guided fly anglers in Alaska, Colorado, Chile and Argentina. He calls his service Laguna Madre Outfitters.
Paschal has known what he wanted to do with his life since receiving a fly rod for Christmas when he was 11. While attending Texas A&M and studying Agricultural Economics, he focused his major project on developing a business plan for a fly-fishing lodge in Colorado.
He’s using part of that plan now on the Arroyo, where he’s set up fishing shop and rented a house where customers can stay during fishing trips because there’s not much in Arroyo City except fishing camps and Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.
“We’ll usually fish in the lakes and around the islands on the west side (of the laguna) early, until the sun gets up and then move out onto the sand once we can see out there,” Paschal says. “There are some big speckled trout that hang around the west side and even out on the sand. And we find some tarpon, too, especially in the Arroyo. We’ll catch a few snook, too.”
But I’m hooked on reds, so Paschal pushes us farther into the cove where we find a single redfish wiggling down the bank with his back out of the water. Oblivious to our approach, the fish turns when the fly lands 18 inches to his left and strikes. It takes me five full minutes to land this heavy, 27-inch fish.
Paschal suggests a move to the sand. Here the wind is gusting to 30 miles an hour as we pole for miles over gin clear water and sandy flats just 18 inches deep.
I manage to lose my hat, spooking one fish. I nearly fall overboard, spooking another. I get lazy during one cast and hook myself in the rear end. I recover to cast to another nice fish, which obliges by inhaling the fly, but the boat is moving toward him so fast I can’t set the hook. In just a few hours, I’ve fiddled away 7 or 8 fish.
All in all, it was a personal disaster wrapped around a spectacular fishing trip. I just need to do it again.
To reach Ben Paschal, call 214-704-3158.