It’s salt-stinging sawgrass cuts on ankles and shins. It’s where prickly pears and scrub mesquite meet saltwater, and it’s where Captain Richard King looked out across the great expanse of yellowed grass to the Gulf of Mexico and said, “this is home.” It’s the untamed Nueces Strip of land of Captain Leander McNelly’s Ranger Regulars. It’s where McNelly and his unruly bunch chased the horse-thieving Garza bandits into gnarled and entwined oak motts. Where a running battle ensued that pushed the bandits back across the Arroyo Colorado to the Rio Grande. It’s where speckled trout grow as large as the personalities and myths that perpetuate the Everything’s Bigger in Texas mantra. It’s the King Ranch shoreline.
Just north of Port Mansfield, Texas and south of the rest of America, the roughly six miles of sprawling, scrub-lined western shoreline of the lower Laguna Madre from the Oak Motts to the southern entrance of the Inter-coastal Waterway Landcut is where, if you want to catch a monster speckled trout, your chances are the best. The only other place that can remotely challenge the King Ranch shoreline is Florida’s famed Indian River Lagoon. But for consistency and wildness grandeur, the urbanized run-off of the IRL can’t hold a flame to the King Ranch Shoreline.
With names like Fenceline, Old Pier, New Pier, Submerged Pier, the Ditch, San Antonio Slough, Long Island Slough, Gladys’s, Weldon’s, Shutdown’s, and the Hole, ambiguity drips from the breadth of discernible landmarked names. Local knowledge is key, and I don’t see any locals diverging decades of protected secrets. But as a hardcore local with a giving nature, there are a few secrets I can divulge.
On the King Ranch Shoreline, wading is King. Marked with little in the way of submerged structure and made almost exclusively of grass flats and gravel beds and sand pockets, it’s up to the angler to find his “secret” holes. On the King Ranch Shoreline, even a two-inch depression across the flat in 18-inches of water is enough structure to attract schooling fish. This ditches shift over the years, and sometimes with strong enough winds or fronts, during the season. As the angler wades, look for slight changes in depth on your body. When you find an edge and the direction it peels off into the lower Laguna Madre, take fifteen steps back and work the length of both edges of the ditch. If you catch one or two fish, stay there: there’s more.
If finding the ditches are too difficult, work the grass/sand lines along the shoreline for reds. If you’re looking for trout, work the sand and potholes further from the shoreline in about waist deep water. Work each structural tidbit thoroughly and slowly. Experience says there is always at least one fish in each pocket. But whatever you do, please don’t let the locals know I told you these secrets: I might lose the secret handshake status.