Port O’Connor - Twenty pounds, 40 pounds or 50 pounds. It didn’t matter.
With one pop of the line jubilation turned to despair.
Still, while the bull redfish may not have been hooked, I was.
“This is the second most fun thing to do down here,” said guide Kevin Townsend, as he worked the boat through the jetties that lined the Intracoastal Canal about three miles out in Matagorda Bay.
His favorite thing is to catch the giant tarpon that pass through to and from Mexico, but that isn’t happening this year. The always bad wind has been relentless this summer making it impossible to get to the fish.
But it is the wind that initially led Townsend to find the redfish, and not the dime-a-dozen reds fishermen bring in to photograph hanging from a peg board at the marina. This is record-sized reds during a short-lived phenomenon each summer.
“About five years ago we were fishing out in the Gulf and the winds got so strong we had to come in. It was closer to here than the tarpon hole, so we came here and I saw them,” said Townsend, a Tyler native who left guiding for rainbow trout on the western states’ rivers for the coast eight years ago.
That trip was just after the full moon in July, and when Townsend arrived at the jetties he found the tide going out. At the foam line that formed along the outgoing water he discovered a line of sponge crabs, blue crabs with eggs, on the move to spawn.
Feeding on the crabs were bull reds, which are actually giant females that normally roam deeper waters offshore. It was the first time Townsend had ever seen them this shallow around Port O’Connor, and while catching a bull red may not be uncommon on some parts of the coast, sight casting to one with a topwater popper while fly fishing certainly is.
Within three weeks or so it was over. The crabs disappeared and the redfish moved back out, at least until the next July and each year after.
Townsend was a convert to the unique fishery. Now each summer he guides his boat down the tide line like he did a dory boat on the river, watching for the golden flash of a giant redfish up feeding. He moves forwards and backwards, left or right to get a fly fisherman or one with traditional, but beefed up tackle, at the right angle and distance to make a cast.
To date Townsend’s best redfish has measured 54 inches. The state record red is a 54.25-inch fish weighing 59.5 pounds that was caught in open water in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Any of these fish are a potential state record,” he said.
We had gone to chase tarpon one day and look for the reds the next. Port O’Connor has a world-class, but little-known tarpon fishery. By this time in a normal year Townsend would have seen maybe 40 100-pound-plus tarpon landed on his boat. This year the count is six. It has primarily been a function of the wind and the guide’s inability to get to the fish.
Worse, neither the crabs or the big redfish had showed up either.
“Everything is just a few weeks off,” Townsend said as we fished tailing reds early in the morning in Espiritu Santo Bay waiting for the tide to begin. “Normally the peak of the sponge crab migration is during the full moon in July, but it didn’t happen this year.”
There are a couple of things happening on the middle coast this summer. The water level is the lowest it has been in years and the water temperature is lagging a few degrees below normal. What impact that has on the crabs Townsend isn’t sure, but he was told by local shrimpers this is one of their worst seasons in years.
The wind was howling at sunrise, and the tarpon run was thwarted by waves washing over the boat’s bow.
Townsend, who also stars on the KT Diaries outdoor show, turned to the jetties. The crabs were there, but not in numbers.
Easing down the line he suddenly saw what he was looking for. It was big. Seemingly as broad across the shoulder as one of the porpoises that worked the outside of the line where the water changed from clear to murky.
Fishing with a fly rod, Austin’s Mike Leggett cast a popping bug toward the fish. He got it to turn, but in all the excitement attempted a hook set just a split second too soon.
This started an hours’ long spot-and-stalk mission where Leggett threw the bug and I attempted to get the plug to the fish that weren’t surfacing for long.
“What you really want is two or three of them battling over a crab. One might hit it and the others come in to fight for what is left. You can catch those fish,” Townsend said.
That wasn’t happening. We probably saw 25 or more single reds on top and were able to cast to 10. Leggett had several fish look at the bug, but only one other really tried to take it.
My best chance came on a fish that was 50 feet from the boat. On the first reel the fish took the bait and I swung to set the hook. That is when I felt the snap and the line go limp.
Later I saw a fisherman in another boat lose a fish.
I watched his shoulders slump. I knew what he was feeling, having missed a chance at something that few fishermen have ever experienced.
For more information on fishing Port O’Connor, contact Townsend at 832-477-3810.
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