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Exotic cuisine aside, fishing is what most people, men and women alike, come to Port O'Connor to do. Located a reasonable driving distance from Houston, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi, take Highway 185 E. from Victoria through Seadrift and when the road stops at Matagorda Bay, you'll know you've arrived.
This is a unique area - Matagorda Island acts as a buffer from the full force of the Gulf, and the barrier oyster reefs, salt-grass marshes, and Intracoastal Waterway spoil banks provide outstanding feeding ground for reds, speckled trout, and flounder.
"The wadefishing here is terrific," my husband, Wayne, explains.
"You don't need a huge rig to accumulate a healthy stringer. Just a little patience and frankly, not too much of that. I'm generally well into finding fish by the time my cohorts have navigated into the big bays or off shore. Of course, the red snapper fishing is still outstanding around the oil rigs, as is bill-fishing but personally, I get a charge out of wading shells and throwing plugs."
Now, maybe Wayne's enthusiastic about communing with nature or maybe he just doesn't want to invest a small fortune in a large boat, but a short scoot across the Intracoastal and I have to admit, there's wade-fishing galore.
With several launches to choose from in the immediate area, all located off of Hwy 185, getting in the water is quick and painless. Charlie's Bait Camp (361-785-4893), Dock's Dock (361-983-2621), and the public boat ramp located next to the Matagorda Island Ferry, offer varying strategic accesses to Espiritu Santo Bay. Typically our marina of choice however, is The Fishing Center on Fifteenth and the Intracoastal, with Melba's Cut leading directly into Barroom Bay. The spoil banks here which run along Blackberry Island offer plenty of space to spot reds.
"There are several things to look for," Wayne explains, "and birds hitting at the water is one of them. That can be an indication of game-fish pushing smaller bait-fish to the surface. But birds aren't completely honest and I'd prefer to see overly active mullet. That's a little surer sign that something's after them. The optimum is to catch sight of a big school of fish moving around the shallows, feeding. Reds will kick up mud as they grub around the bottom. You can see patches of brown and red in the water and in really shallow areas, you can actually see their tails and backs as they feed.
"Trout like clearer water. A slick and the smell of watermelon should stop you in your tracks. But don't let the crab-traps fool you. When they're baited, they send off a slick of their own. As do potato chips."
Barroom Bay moves southward into the larger Espiritu Santo Bay and I guarantee an entire day can be spent wading Bill Day's Reef, Bayucos Island, and the marshes and mud flats which lay between Matagorda Island and the Intracoastal. When the tide is in, the grasses are flooded and reds move in to eat crab and mud-feeders. As the tide lowers and bait moves out of the grasses into deeper surroundings, gamefish tend to wait by the first available drop-off in hopes of an ambush. "I like to fish with 12 to 14 pound test line because I like to get the fish to me. Really, a lighter line is O.K. and probably more sportin' if you don't mind losing a few," Wayne adds.
Although I believe the fishing is best in the heat of the summer, Wayne has two favorite baits for this area from which I've rarely seen him deviate, regardless of the season. One is a tout.
"This bait has appeal for the bass-fisherman - it can be worked along the bottom like a plastic worm or fished shallow to deep, depending on the size of the jig-head. As far as color goes, chartreuse is good for murky water and I see red with gold flecks and white tails used a lot. Wine and pumpkin colors seem to simulate shrimp." By far, the "Jumpin' Minnow" is his favorite topwater bait.
"Again, there are several colors to choose from," he says, "silver, chartreuse and gold, orange and gold, and other fisherman-catching colors." He fails to mention that he almost always uses a bone-colored one himself. He doesn't think I notice these things.
The whole of Espiritu Santo Bay is dotted with grass islands and crab-trap encircled oyster reefs inviting a wide assortment of bait, thus, game fish.
"To help get oriented, it's a good idea to make the minor investment in a Fish Finder Map of the area," Wayne suggests. "There are also excellent aerial photo maps available, too. These Bays have some very shallow areas and it's easy to run aground; slow going is best. The French explorer, LaSalle, actually grounded one of his ships at Pass Cavallo, so it's been a problem for a long, long time."
A productive day's fishing route can wind southward to Mitchell's Flat where a channel marked by navigation buoys often holds a red or drum hanging in the sudden drop-off. Bayucos and Saluria Bayou are well worth some time and Farewell Island may hold trout, particularly in the early spring as they move into the Big Pocket and Lighthouse Cove area to spawn. The Army Hole, on the north side of Matagorda Island is tried and true for both reds and specks especially in the winter when northern wind has reduced the bay's level. Drifting Pringle Lake can often produce a
hefty spawning trout or a great fight with a red in clear, shallow water. South Pass is another good spot to drift for specks and before leaving the area slip into Long Lake, keeping your eyes peeled for mud-boils made by feeding reds - often around crab traps.
Heading north, back to civilization, Shoalwater Bay is excellent for redfish if the water level permits. Long Island, Dewberry, and Blackberry Island are great wade fishing banks especially with a north wind. Finally, Bill Day Reef after the sun has warmed the oyster shell, usually makes a satisfying conclusion.
And when the sport fishing is this good, competitions are sure to follow. Port O'Connor has more than one event in which to earn bragging rights, at the very least. Probably the most well known is the Poco Bueno, an annual, invitational in-shore and off-shore tournament, usually held the third week in July. The entry fee is hefty but so are the prizes and with excellent fishing so close in you don't necessarily need a huge rig to shoulder up. The Jay-Cee's host a one day event on July 4th, and from mid- April through the summer, one and two-day tournaments abound. The local marinas are the best source of current information regarding upcoming contests.
But even for the less avid angler, "Port O" has a number of sandy beach-fronts which make for some enjoyable wading trips with or without a rod and reel. Hwy 185 (Adams) runs directly into Park Street where there is a sandy beach on Matagorda Bay with a good, long fishing pier, and nicely shaded picnic tables. Jetties extend at the end of Washington Boulevard and winding along the perimeters of the town are numerous dead-ends stopping at the edge of sandy coves and marsh areas, all of which are worth investigating with a crab-line and chicken neck.
The town had been a popular beach resort for the well-heeled in the early part of the century until the hurricane of 1919 leveled it. There are, however, still some points of interest for those who choose to beg off on a second day of fishing. Matagorda Island State Park and Wildlife Management Area is the home for well over a dozen threatened or endangered species with some 300 types of birds passing through during spring and fall migrations. There are miles of pristine beach with an historic past. LaSalle pitched camp there in the late 1600's (to agonize over his grounded ship, no doubt). A lighthouse constructed in the 1850's remains as well. It's only accessible by boat, and TPWD runs a ferry to the island on Saturday, Sunday, and Holidays. It's an all-day trip so take a lawn chair, binoculars, plenty of film, lunch, and sunscreen. This place is undisturbed and you won't find any concessions. You can get more details on TPWD's schedule by contacting the Park Superintendent at P.O. Box 117, Port O'Connor, TX, 77982, or calling 361-983-2215.
Additionally, due to the influx of fishermen and their appetites, the town offers good restaurant fare. Stryker's is on Maple and Second; The Spot, on 13th and Jefferson; Josie's, of shrimp burrito fame is on Hwy185; and Clark's Seafood, off 7th, even has a pull-in port so you can get there by boat. Most of what's needed in Port O'Connor can be found on Hwy185 and the blocks south of it leading to the water. Accommodations, which are plentiful, can be located there, too. Pirate Cove Condos can be rented by the day or week and can be reached at 361-983-2622; motels are tucked about and include the Port Motel, 361-983-2724; the Tarpon Motel, 983-4465; and the Sand Dollar, 361-983-2342. The Fishing Center has an R.V. park also, and can be reached at 983-4440.
Guide services are abundant and Wayne suggests calling Clark's at 361-983-4388, or the Fishing Center for references. Better yet, give the Chamber of Commerce a call at 361-983-2898 for an information packet.
Furthermore, if your day is not complete without hearing the ring of a cash register, there's a dandy shell-shop on Hwy185; Clark's Seafood has a gift shop; and Raby's on Hwy185 is just the spot to stock the freezer on fresh, prepared stuffed crab, flounder and jalapenos, shrimp and oysters, and a variety of catch-of-the-day and specialty items.
Yeah, Mr. Hemingway would have enjoyed it here if he'd only known. A place that can successfully be fished in a big boat, little boat or no boat; has ample accommodations; an above average array of eateries; and seems so far away from the beaten path, is indeed a rare find.