South Padre Island Fishing: The Complete Guide
Dec 17, 2019 | 9 minute read
Reading Time: 9 minutes

South Padre Island is not your average Texas coast fishing spot. The island is roughly in line with Miami and looks as much like the Keys as the upper coast. South Padre’s fishing is also surprising, with species you can’t catch anywhere else in the state. Throw in nearshore reefs, sprawling shallows, and easy access to deep water, and you get some serious angling potential.

A view along the beach at South Padre Island, with hotels in the distance on the right

In this article, we break down everything that makes SPI special. Learn about the area’s top species and fishing spots. Pick up tips on the various ways to work these waters. You can also get info on tournaments and regulations. In short, this is your complete guide to South Padre island fishing.

South Padre Island Fish Species

There are dozens of fish to catch in this part of Texas. Most of them taste great and pretty much all of them put up a good fight. However, there are a few local favorites that deserve a specific mention. These are the “must catch” fish while you’re in town.

Redfish and Speckled Trout

Two anglers posing with the fish they caught. One holds a Redfish, the other holds a Speckled Trout

These guys are the dynamic duo of the South Padre Bay fishing scene. The staple catches in the island’s shallows. Redfish and Speckled Trout grow fat and happy in the sheltered seagrasses of the Laguna Madre. Small fish make for a tasty meal. Big ones will give you the fight of your life on medium-light spinning or fly gear.

You can catch Seatrout and Redfish year-round in South Padre. The biggest “Bull Reds” show up in summer and early fall, but young “Puppy Drum” are around in force all year. It’s a similar story with Trout. The large “Gators” hit the shallows in spring, but smaller fish are a constant catch. Throw in the huge Flounder that also live here, and you get a Texas Slam.

Snook and Tarpon

A man kneeling at the front of a boat with a large Snook

Wait, you can catch Snook in Texas? If you’re in South Padre, you sure can! Snook spend the whole year here. In the warmer months, they usually hunt on the flats and around jetties. When the weather turns cold, they head to deeper passes and channels. Wherever they are, they’re a real favorite among South Texas anglers.

Snook aren’t the only warm-water fish that show up around SPI. Tarpon spend most of the year here. They roll into Brazos Santiago Pass as early as March, and stick around into October. In late summer and early fall, they also move along the beaches and jetties. This is the best time of year to target them.

Sharks

An angler on a boat reeling in a Shark

Shark fishing is getting more and more popular in South Padre Island, and it’s easy to see why. You can catch a range of big, toothy predators right off the beach or in the bay. Blacktips and Bonnetheads are the entry-level targets, perfect for kids and families. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, you can also take on Bull Sharks and even Hammerheads farther out.

South Padre’s Shark bite is best in summer. This is when the fish are most active and in shallow water. Sharks are nocturnal hunters, so night fishing is the most effective (and exciting) way to target them. To keep the local fisheries healthy, we recommend always releasing Sharks unharmed – especially endangered species like Hammerheads.

Red Snapper

A boy holding a Red Snapper caught on a South Padre Island fishing trip

Fish lovers and foodies need no introduction to Red Snapper. This delicate, flaky meat is some of the best eating in the Gulf. Understandably, Red Snapper regulations are very strict. In federal waters, you can only catch them for a couple of months each year. State waters are similarly limited – except in Texas. Here, you can target Snapper all year long if you can find them.

Enter the Rio Grande Valley Reef, 1650 acres of hard structure sunk off South Padre. Once finished, it will be the largest artificial reef complex in the world. It’s specifically designed to grow and hold reef fish like Red Snapper. A vast Snapper city that you can visit all year long? Sounds like angling heaven to us!

Tuna

A man holding a Blackfin Tuna caught on a South Padre Island fishing trip

Inshore fish are fun and Snapper sure are tasty, but nothing compares to taking on Tuna. You can catch both Yellowfin and Blackfin Tuna in the waters offshore from SPI. You need to head 30 miles to reach them. The best spots are well past that. Make the trip, though, and you’ll be rewarded with a tough fight and enough Tuna steaks to feed an army.

Summer is the best time for Tuna fishing in South Padre Island. The sea’s calm and the fishing grounds are alive with apex predators. Your best bet is to troll around deep sea oil rigs or shrimp boats. The Tuna aren’t alone here. Wahoo, Mahi Mahi (“Dolphin”) – even Blue Marlin and Sailfish show up. You really need to bring your a-game when deep sea fishing.

How to Fish Around South Padre

As you can tell, South Texas has a lot of variety in what you can catch. You also have plenty of options when it comes to fishing for them. The most popular ways to wet a line are from shore, on a kayak, or on a fishing charter. Here’s a summary of what makes each one special.

Shore Fishing

Two fishing rods set up in rod holders on a beach on South Padre Island

South Padre is an amazing place to fish from shore. The island is covered in sandy beaches that are perfect for surf fishing. There are jetties and piers for casting into deeper water. If you don’t mind getting wet, you can even wade fish on shallow flats. The whole area seems custom-built for shore anglers.

Your main targets will be Redfish, Speckled Trout, and Flounder. You can also find Snook in some spots, as well as Tarpon if you time your trip right. In short, all of South Padre’s inshore stars are reachable from land. You probably won’t catch a monster, but you will find plenty of fun.

Kayak Fishing

A red fishing kayak on a beach

Itching for a little more action? Want to reach remote spots where the big fish hide? One simple solution is to jump in a kayak. Launch out from spots around the island for a relaxing few hours away from the busy beaches. If you don’t own a fishing kayak, you can rent them locally for a little over $100 per day.

Kayaks aren’t just good for escaping the crowds. They also give you a lot more options of what you can target. Catch big Redfish, Trout, Flounder, and Snook, as well as species like Spanish Mackerel and Sheepshead. Experienced ‘yakers can even head out in search of Red Snapper, Cobia, and Kingfish.

Charter Fishing

A family fishing on a small boat near a wooden jetty

This is the ultimate way to fill the boat or find a monster. Fishing on a charter opens up areas and techniques that just aren’t an option otherwise. No fish is out of reach. No spot too far. And that’s just the boat itself. You also get all the benefits of fishing with a local professional.

Charter captains spend their lives working these waters. They know all the best spots for the season or style of angling you’re interested in. They’re also clued up on regulations and limits, so you don’t have to worry about them. If you want a hassle-free day on the water and a ton of fish to show for it, this is the way to go.

South Padre Island Fishing Spots

You know what you want to catch. You know how to get to it. Now you need to figure out where to go. The truth is that you can find fish pretty much everywhere. However, there are some tried and true fishing spots for each species and style of angling we mentioned above.

Shore Fishing Spots

A view along South Padre Island fishing jetty
  • Holly Beach. Holly Beach is just north of Laguna Vista on the mainland. It’s one of the best wade fishing spots around, full of shallow seagrasses that hold good-sized Speckled Trout and Redfish. There are also hazards like oysters beds and stingrays, though, so be careful if you’re new to wading.
  • South Padre Island Fishing Jetties. These twin jetties sit on either side of the pass, on the island’s southern tip. They’re go-to spots for fishing deep water. You can catch Redfish, Trout, Sheepshead, and more here. The main draw are Tarpon, which move into the pass each summer.
  • Pirate’s Landing Fishing Pier. The longest fishing pier in Texas, running next to the Queen Isabella Causeway. It’s a great place to catch a range of inshore species, from Trout and Croaker to Sheepshead, Flounder, Catfish, and more. You can also rent rods and buy supplies here.

Kayak Fishing Spots

A van with kayaks on the roof driving along a beachside road on South Padre Island
  • Brazos Santiago Pass. Fishing from the jetties is one thing, but exploring the pass itself is a whole other story. These waters are a magnet for Redfish, Snook, and Tarpon. You can also find King Mackerel in the deeper reaches. The pass gets a lot of traffic, though, so be alert when fishing here.
  • South Bay. Looking for a remote, relaxing bay to explore? This is the place for you. South Bay is just across the pass from SPI. It’s ideal for kayak fishing, with plenty of Redfish, Trout, and Snook to keep you busy. There’s even a paddling trail which takes you to the bay’s top honey holes.
  • Rio Grande Valley Reef. This is more a general area than a specific fishing spot. Drive up the island until you run out of road then paddle out until you start to find structure. The RGV Reef holds Red Snapper, Spadefish, Mackerel, and more. However, it’s an 8-mile paddle and not for beginners.

Boat Fishing Spots

A charter boat in South Padre Island head out through Brazos Santiago Pass on the way offshore
  • Brownsville Ship Channel. This is the absolute best place to catch Snook in the fall and winter. Big fish pile up in the depths, making them almost too easy to find. You can also set your sights on Tarpon, Mangrove Snapper, Redfish, Trout, Sheepshead, and more.
  • Port Isabel Reef. An artificial reef around 10 miles southeast of the pass, almost in Mexican waters. It holds anything from Cobia and Kingfish to Red Snapper and Spadefish. The reef doesn’t get too crowded, as South Padre anglers are about the only people who can reach it.
  • Texas Clipper. A 473′ clipper sitting roughly 17 miles off South Padre Island. This is an amazing place to land Red Snapper, Triggerfish, Sheepshead, Spadefish, and Grunt, as well as hard-fighters like Barracuda and Kingfish. If you’re after variety, things don’t get much better.
  • Oil Rigs. The heart and soul of Texas’s deep sea fishing scene, home to Amberjack, Dorado, Tuna, and even Marlin. Oil rigs cover the Gulf from 10 miles up to 140 miles out. The farther you go, the bigger the fish get. SPI is special because it’s the closest point to deep-water rigs like Perdido.

Important Events and Local Laws 

Fishing is consistently good in South Padre, so you don’t have to worry about when you visit. However, there are several events you can take part in if you time your trip right. There are also regulations to bear in mind, whatever time of year you go.

South Padre Fishing Tournaments

A group of anglers posing with the fish they caught at the South Padre International Fishing Tournament

As if the fishing wasn’t exciting enough, South Padre hosts a variety of tournaments each year. There’s something for everyone, from family-style events to serious sportfishing competitions. The most famous one by far is the South Padre International Fishing Tournament. It’s been going for 80 years and now draws over 500 boats each July.

In August, female anglers can test their skills in the Ladies’ Kingfish Tournament. This long-running competition gives you three chances to win. A Bay Division targets Redfish, Trout, and Flounder. An Offshore Division focuses on Kingfish, Blackfin Tuna, and Dorado. Lastly, the angler who catches the biggest Mackerel will be crowned “Queen of the Kings.”

Looking for something more casual? Have fun for a good cause at the annual Fishing for Hope Tournament. This family-friendly inshore event raises money for the Hope Family Health Center, a local non-profit medical clinic. And these are just a few of many tournaments held around the island.

Texas Fishing Regulations

Anglers aged 17 and over need a license to fish in Texas, whether it’s on a charter, a kayak, or on foot. There are a few exceptions to this, which we’ve dedicated an entire article to already. If you need to buy a fishing license in South Padre Island, you can head to the aptly-named Blue Marlin Supermarket. You can also get them at Pirate’s Landing Fishing Pier.

Texas has no seasonal closures for catching fish. However, you should brush up on closed seasons before heading into federal waters, especially for Red Snapper. You should also check size and bag limits for any fish you intend to keep. If you’re fishing on a charter, your captain will take care of all this for you.

South Padre Island: A South Texas Fish Magnet

A view of South Padre Island at sunset, taken from the jetty at the south of the island

South Padre is surrounded by so many fish that it almost seems deliberately built to hold them. Actually, it kind of is. From ship channels to reefs to oil rigs, the waters around SPI have been shaped and decorated to attract as many fish as possible. And that’s without even mentioning the natural wonder of the Laguna Madre.

The fishing grounds aren’t the only things that make the island special, though. This is one of the most southern points in the country, with species you can’t find anywhere else in Texas. Add in a relaxed vibe and some stunning scenery, and you have an angling destination you could come back to year after year.

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