By Rick Itami
I took my first trip to the south Texas Gulf Coast in late January 2018 to get away from the freezing temperatures in Spokane, Washington, where I live and to fill a bucket list desire to land a speckled sea trout.
I searched the internet for a guide on the Lower Laguna Madre and found Captain Ernest Cisneros (956-266-6454). He almost exclusively wades for redfish, trout and snook, which appeals to me much more than fishing from a boat.
So I reserved January 24th and 25th to fish with him. We stayed in touch on a weekly basis because the weather kept changing. As is common this time of year, a few cold fronts came through in January and winds were at times over 25 mph, making fishing impossible. To my delight, the weekend before my scheduled trip, Ernest called and said we were good to go.
Ernest said he could supply me with Simms waders and boots. That was great to not have to carry my own boots and waders in my luggage. He also asked me what type of gear I would like to fish with so he could provide exactly what I needed.
I flew to Harlingen, Texas, and drove to Port Isabel, where I checked into a nice motel that had a great view of the Laguna Madre.
On our first morning out, the weather was cloudy with rain showers. Perfect – just like steelhead fishing in the Northwest!
Owning great equipment, Ernest’s boat is a beautiful 24-foot shallow water vessel with a 250 hp Yamaha outboard that zips around the flats at 55 mph.
On the way out to the first spot he planned to fish, Ernest and I shared our backgrounds. He is a retired educator from Brownsville, Texas who has been guiding in the Lower Laguna Madre for 17 years, but has fished his home waters using artificial baits for 29 years.
He said he started guiding while still teaching science classes to sixth-graders and went into full-time guiding after he retired from teaching. Needless to say, he knows every inch of the water he guides on. I kiddingly suggested that he probably knows every fish in the flats by name.
Ernest stopped his boat just off the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW) and lowered his power poles so his boat wouldn’t drift away. We started wading along what he called “spoils,” which is mainly sediment dredged out of the ICW. We cast KWiggler willow-tail soft plastic lures as far as we could in about 3 feet of water and usually got hit after twitching the bait 5 to 10 feet. Luckily, the trout were biting early and I was pleased to land my first ever within 10 minutes so that I could take that item off of my bucket list.
We kept moving along the spoils for about 200 yards, staying at the same depth and caught several trout each –some over 20 inches. Then Ernest took us north to another spot where he said we could catch both trout and reds. He wasn’t kidding. The trout were the first to bite and we landed several that averaged larger than the ones in the first spot.
Then we approached a shallower flat and started catching one red after another ranging from 3 to 8 pounds. We later stopped at another spot and had the same kind of luck until a porpoise moved through, killing the bite entirely. We ended the day in a shallow bay to the west where I landed two more reds. Then we called it quits after a fantastic day of catch and release fishing.
The next morning we started at the second spot where we had the best luck on the first day, but the tide was lower and we caught only trout and no reds. For some reason, we got a lot of short strikes too. In addition, we saw more porpoises than a day earlier feeding in the distance.
Ernest took me to a new spot on the other side of the ICW where he said we should get into a lot of trout. We did, and hooked up on almost every cast. The only problem was they were all small – less than 15 inches.
Then Ernest took me to a spot he said that Laguna Madre was famous for. He ran his boat around the shallow bay to show me waking reds and trout darting away from the boat everywhere. Ernest slowed down, shut down the engine and quietly coasted further into the bay. Then we slid into the water and started to wade and sight fish.
The water was about a foot deep and crystal clear. We split up and crept along as quietly as we could, but the fish were just too smart and wily for us. Neither of us came close enough to see any fish within range. Ernest said that’s the way it had been for the past few weeks in that spot.
I did have a little excitement as I was creeping along, squinting to see any fish in front of me. For some reason I looked down and was shocked to see a stingray 4 inches in front of my right foot! If I had not looked down at that moment, I would have stepped right on it and maybe ended up with a spike in my leg. Whew!
Ernest took us to one final new spot where he hooked and landed three reds, but I didn’t get a nibble. But it was another good day and we went back to the launch totally satisfied.
Captain Ernest began an Empty Stringers Catch and Release Program two years ago to enhance the long-term sustainability of the species he and his clients fish for. Being well-known in the area, he was able to get the support of several sponsors like Simms and Costa. Ernest’s clients who release all of their catch are rewarded at the end of the day with gifts from sponsors like caps, shirts and other paraphernalia. The client can also fill out a raffle ticket to win a free fully guided trip for two by Ernest. I chose a couple of caps.
I enjoyed everything about this trip, not only the great fishing but also the good eateries like Joe’s Oyster Bar and Restaurant and Mexiquitos Mexican Restaurant and the general friendliness of the people. But I am most impressed with Captain Ernest and his Empty Stringers Catch and Release Program that will hopefully help ensure good fishing for years to come.