At first glance the southern plains of Texas embodies simplicity. With every subtle bend on highway 77, the horizon dances with waves of heat which gives way to manicured pastures on a rolling landscape. Mature mesquite trees, with their gnarly branches displaying a visual analog to the hands of an aging salty angler, extend their delicate long leaves to the dappled sunlight scorching the earth below. While the unpredictability of its limbs tend to foreshadow the daily weather forecast anglers live by. In short, it’s raw and it’s beautiful.
For the majority of my life I have traveled all over the Gulf Coast in search of Trophy trout. As a self-proclaimed “purist”, being 25 miles east of Raymondville, Texas is as good as it gets. Port Mansfield is a small sleepy coastal town a few miles north of the Mexican border. From salt stained road signs to “town deer” nibbling clover in the nearby empty fields – this town exudes simplicity. Fortunately for trophy trout anglers, this quaint map dot resting on the western shore of the Lower Laguna Madre personifies far more than this world can withstand. In this wade fishing heaven, anglers seek trophy trout immortality. The chance of landing a 30” goliath is high but only recompensed for knowledge, good judgement and proficiency.
I schedule visits here annually.
A pilgrimage to a fishing holy place, I return to the hypersaline waters yearning to renew my baptismal vows to following the artificial way. Each year, I immerse myself waist deep in its waters, wade box over my shoulder, fishing for absolution. Despite many failed attempts at landing such a magnificent fish, I’m reminded of how close I am by the absurd amount of trout teetering in length in the upper 20’s. This past March yielded the same result, but I’m okay with that, and here’s why.
We met with long-time friend and charter captain, Mike McBride. His welcoming embrace immediately eclipsed the awkward interval since our last visit. Better yet, a quick command of “Let’s go get ‘em” made its way through the smoke of a Marlboro Light, sending us scurrying for our gear. The tremor of the motor echoed the near physical vibration brought on through anticipation, and the idle out of the canal seemed like a lifetime. However, a setting sun reminded us that our time was limited. In typical South Texas fashion, Capt. Mike paid tribute to the cowboys of old and cattle-called his 250 ponies into a full gallop. As we entered the Laguna, white knuckles on the wheel of his 24’ Haynie Cat, Mike precisely guided us to our spot - despite the healthy quartering sea brought about by a stiff southerly breeze.
With the wind at my back, I step off the boat and remind myself of why I love this place. From “trout green” water to a bottom texture made up of sand and shell, I quickly noticed the surrounding water dimpling with scurrying mullet. Choosing to emulate their clumsiness, I carefully loop knot a MirrOlure softdine and accelerate my retrieve. I also notice a hundred yards into my wade shadowed potholes outlining the existence of my quarry. Despite the fading light - I’ve found my target. Twitching my rod with great emphasis my bait responds with distinct uncertainty. Yet, despite the baits frequent surface retreat, it’s attractive to me, and the intent I desire. A half hour later, my intuition proves true.
As a purist, the gentlemanly handshake of a trout “thump” reverberating through the spine of the rod is an age old acknowledgement to the purity of fishing. This cordial greeting not only merges the two worlds, but it becomes even more personal through a headshake and eventual caress. After a few quick photo’s and an easy release, I noticed my dad’s offering of a 5-inch KWiggler Willow Tail being greeted with the same hospitality. It was beautiful. Arched rod way up high silhouetted by an orange horizon shadowed my dad’s face. No longer could I distinguish his mature outward appearance. Instead, his youthful excitement for fighting a powerful predator transported him to an earlier time. It was gratifying, but unfortunately short lived. Not long after my dad released his fish, the retreating sun told us it was time to head in.
As we were making our way back to the launch I couldn’t help but notice the silence. Each angler, myself included, huddled around the grab rail of Mike’s elevated console and never uttered a word. Instead we all sat in the comfort of each other’s presence, amazed at nature’s beauty and tranquility. Fulfilled by angling brief pardon we thought about the joys of life and the people we love. It was evident we were all at peace. So as the hum of the motor gave way to a “No Wake Sign” we came to rest under a stately but worn water tower with the inscription “Port Mansfield” - another pilgrimage complete to this wadefishing heaven.