There are a variety of fish species that call the Gulf of Mexico home. Here we discuss a few more common fish that are found around the shores of South Padre Island and the Laguna Madre Bay.
Red Drum a.k.a. Redfish
Overall one of the most sought after fish of inshore waters by anglers in South Texas. They roam just about anywhere including jetties, shell bars, and rocky or grassy outcrops and shorelines.
Red Drum tend to be reddish with white underside, but sometimes quite pale. You can quickly spot the Red Drum by locating the ringed spot(s) towards to tail fin. It is similar to the Black Drum, but without the chin barbels.
Most reds run from a pound to 10 or 12 pounds, but an occasional 30 + pound red is not rare. Red Drum will move offshore to spawn in large schools in the fall and spring and can be encountered more commonly in the surf or open waters of the gulf.
Black Drum a.k.a. Striped Drum
Black Drum can be found in the surf and estuarine areas. They also tend to be near bridges and piers. Trophy-size fish are generally found in passes and channels.
Black drum are rarely taken on artificial baits since most
feeding is done by feel and smell. Cut fish, squid and shrimp
are used, with peeled shrimp tails (preferably ripe and smelly)
the most popular. Since feeding is done on the bottom, the basic
technique is simple - put a baited hook on the bottom and wait
for the drum to swallow it.
Drum are very similar in shape to Redfish, and larger ones may have a bronze coloration which make it even more similar. However, one can easily distinguish by locating the barbels under the chin. Juvenile Drum have vertical stripes which also can be easily mistaken for a Sheepshead, with the exception that Sheepshead have sheep-like teeth that give it the name Sheepshead. The vertical stripes will eventually fade with age.
Striped juveniles generally weigh between 1 to 15 pounds, and 30 to 50 pound fish are not that uncommon.
Spotted Sea Trout a.k.a. Speckled Trout
Streamlined shape; large mouth with prominent canine teeth; dark back with gray or silvery sides marked with scattered black spots of varying density Spots also present on dorsal and tail fins. Background may take on a golden hue in stained water. Shape similar to that of a freshwater trout.
Spotted seatrout prefer shallower bays and estuaries with oyster beds
and seagrass beds that attract prey species. They are most common in the
shallow bays during spring and summer. As water temperatures decline
during fall, fish move into deeper bay waters and the Gulf of Mexico. As
water temperatures warm in the spring the fish move back into the
shallows of the primary and secondary bays. During periods of low
rainfall and runoff, many trout often move into deeper rivers and bayous
with the first cool weather of fall. Similar concentrations occur at
dredged boat harbors and channels.
The average size is 19 inches in length and weight of a pound or two,
but in most areas fish up to five pounds or so are fairly common and an
occasional fish may reach 8 to 10 pounds. The largest Trout of the Gulf
come from Texas!
Spotted seatrout are opportunistic carnivores whose feeding
habits vary with size. Small trout feed primarily on small crustaceans.
Medium-size trout feed on shrimp and small fish. Large fish feed almost
exclusively on other fish such as mullet, pinfish, pigfish and menhaden.
This preference for large fish makes large trout difficult to catch.
Large trout do not feed often and few anglers like to use 12-inch live
mullet for bait.
This fish is difficult to distinguish from the Southern Flounder unless you take a second look. Both wear numerous spots and dark blotches, but on the Gulf Flounder, you can pick out three distinctive ocelli, which are eye-like spots with dark centers. One is located on the lateral line near the tail; the other two above and below the lateral line about the middle of the body.
Flounder is among the best fish to eat which make it also a very sought after catch. The average size is only a bit smaller than that of the Southern Flounder - 1 to 3 pounds - but the Gulf Flounder doesn't grow so large, topping out at 5 or 6 pounds.
Although many are taken by rod and reel, "floundering"
or gigging offers the best challenge for this species. The flounder
is vulnerable to this technique because it often enters the shallows
at night to feed. Both the skills of the angler and the hunter
are called for here.
Lanterns are used in searching for flounder and gigs ranging
from single-pronged to modified hay forks are used to spear the
fish. The anglers wade quietly along the shallows looking for
flounder. Once the flounder is within the light from the lantern,
normally it will not move, affording the fisher a chance to "gig" the
fish. Although this sounds like a sure-fire method, many fish are missed
because they go undetected until they swim away or because of
inaccurate gigging by an overanxious angler.
The more sophisticated flounder fisher may mount his lanterns
(or battery-powered lamps) on the front of a flat-bottomed skiff.
The skiff is then poled through the water in search of fish or
is pushed by a small air motor. Floundering from a boat is much
easier than wading. It allows the angler to cover more area and
search bottoms that are too soft for wading.
Although flounder can be taken by rod and reel in almost any
portion of the bay, it is more often productive to fish around
jetties or oyster reefs that extend from shore into the bay. Flounder
do not swim continuously so they tend to accumulate in such places in
their search for food. During the fall, when flounder are moving to the
Gulf for spawning, the best catches are made in the channels and passes
leading to the Gulf. During the spring, wading anglers work the edges of
channels, such as the Intracoastal Waterway, as the fish are moving
back into the bays.
Floundering is best during the migration from October to December.
Hundreds of lanterns can often be seen in and around the pass
areas during this period, as the fishers wade through the shallows
in search of fish.
During the spring and summer the best catches with gigs are
made in the back bays. Areas with cord grass (Spartina alterniflora)
along the shoreline are good producers, and a bottom that is slightly
silty or muddy generally is better than a hard sand bottom. The mouths
of small bayous and sloughs often yield flounder.
Red Snapper a.k.a. Pargo Colorado, Snapper
Red snapper are a deep rosy red color, with a dark fringe around the
dorsal and tail fins. Canine teeth less prominent than those of most other Snappers. Red eye and the anal fin is triangular.
Red Snapper are known as a hard-fighting fish that uses strong, head-shaking tactics rather than long runs.
To avoid misidentifying small red snapper as lane snapper, note that red
snapper have an angular anal fin and 14 soft dorsal fin ray. Lane
snapper has a rounded anal fin, 12-13 soft dorsal fin ray and 8 narrow
yellow stripes that fund the length of the fish.
Although as young fish, they may be found on muddy bottoms or inshore, adult red snapper are located primarily near structure in deeper water. They feed on crab, squid, shrimp, and small fish which they find near artificial reefs, oil rigs, and other underwater structures. Spawning occurs from June through September when adults are about 2 years old.
Adults average 2 - 4 pounds with the usual maximum ranging to 20 to 40 pounds.
King Mackerel a.k.a. Kingfish, Sierra, Cavalla
Adults are heavy bodied, with large mouth and razor sharp teeth. Elongated body is greenish above but mostly silvery and unmarked, except in juveniles, which have spots that can cause confusion with Spanish Mackerel. School fish may run from 4 to 20 pounds; individuals to 50 pounds, or slightly more, are not rare.
These fish are widely distributed from the edge of blue water all the way to the beaches. Separate runs occur at about the same time on opposite sides of the Gulf in spring and fall.
Kings are about as fast as Wahoo, although they seldom get that acknowledgment. Regardlesss, they are strong and sizzling fighters at any size.
Dolphin a.k.a. Dolphinfish, Dorado, Mahi Mahi
The most colorful of pelagic game fish, the Dolphin is a blaze of blue and yellow or deep green and yellow when in the water, and sometimes shows dark vertical stripes as well when excited. Small dark spots on sides. Dorsal fin extends nearly from head to tail. Head is very blunt in males (bulls); rounded in females (cows). The Dolphin is strong, speedy, and acrobatic.
Schooling fish run in similar sizes, from around a pound to nearly 20 pounds at times; larger fish are loners, or else pairs -- bull and cow. Big bulls often reach 50 pounds in weight and can exceed 80 pounds on rare occasion. Large cows generally top out at 40 pounds or so.
Dolphin roam the open Gulf in a continuous hunt for food. Anglers seek them along rafted weedlines and around any sort of large floating object. Their location can often be given away by feeding birds, particularly frigate birds.
Wahoo a.k.a. Peto, Ono
The Wahoo has a long, slender body marked with zebra-like stripes of white and deep blue or black. It's mouth is elongated and narrow. It is also known as one of the fastest of all gamefish.
Wahoos are most common at 10 to 50 pounds; often growing to 80 or 90 pounds, and some even reaching 150 pounds.
Wahoos roam freely anywhere in deep blue water, but can be found by anglers working the drop offs, seamounts, weedlines, and other favorable feeding locations. They are quite plentiful around the Yucatan and in the Straits of Florida.
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The body is dark above with silvery sides that are marked by many spots, both yellow and brown. The body is proportionately deeper than that of juvenile King Mackerel of identical size and the yellow spots of the Spanish appear rounder and brighter. If still in doubt, the only true identifier is the lateral line, which tapers rather gently from front to back. On the King Mackerel, the lateral line shows a sharp dip. Common at 1 - 3 pounds; not too unusual at 5 - 7 pounds; maximum potential over 10 pounds.
Spanish Mackerels are largely coastal fish, including bays and estuaries, but also roam offshore at times.
Sand Sea Trout a.k.a. White Trout, Sand Trout, Corvina, Trucha Blanca
Often described as the "Speckled Trout without spots". Also mistaken for the Silver Trout. The Sand Sea Trout is tan or yellowish on the back and upper sides; silvery on the underparts. It also has the prominent canine teeth typical of the Sea Trouts.
The average weight is a pound or less; rarely reaches two pounds.
They are more common in the deep water of channels, bays, and harbors as well as in the open Gulf - usually over hard sand or shell bottom.
Silver Sea Trout
Similar in appearance to the White Trout, but generally smaller and usually lacking the yellowish tint, being more brightly silver in color.
Averages less than a pound; rarely to three or more pounds.
This fish is found in the open Gulf and will move towards channels, harbors, and bays during colder seasons.
Atlantic Croaker a.k.a. Croaker
Gulf Kingfish a.k.a. Whiting, Gulf Whiting
Southern Flounder a.k.a. Doormat
Common Snook a.k.a. Robalo
Florida Pompano a.k.a. Pompano, Common Pompano, Carolina Pompano
Permit a.k.a. Great Pompano, Round Pompano
African Pompano a.k.a. Threadfish
Cobia a.k.a. Ling
Ladyfish a.k.a. Skipjack
Crevalle Jack a.k.a. Jack Crevalle, Common Jack
Lookdown a.k.a. Horsehead
Greater Amberjack a.k.a. Amberfish
Yellowfin Tuna a.k.a. Ahi
Sailfish a.k.a. Atlantic Sailfish
Sport Fish of the Gulf of Mexico by Vic Dunaway
Highly recommended book for any person who enjoys fishing!