RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas — There isn’t much that excites a South Texas saltwater angler more than the sight of a massive herd of redfish.
This spectacular school of several hundred pre-spawning big reds sequesters in a remote corner of Bahia Grande, part of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.
Total land in the Bahia Grande tract encompasses some 22,000 acres with half destined for wetland restoration and the other providing critical habitat for native wildlife such as the endangered Aplomado falcon.
Bahia Grande is the largest coastal wetland restoration project in Texas and one of the largest restoration projects in the United States.
Construction of the ship channel, connecting the Gulf of Mexico to the Port of Brownsville in the early 1930’s, cut off tidal flow to Bahia Grande, drying a productive estuary and creating an immense dust bowl, where once thousands of shorebirds, ducks and colonial waterbirds thrived.
Following acquisition of the property in 1998 by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, a temporary pilot channel was dug in 2005 partially filling the wetland.
This abated the dust problem, but the channel will hopefully be widened and deepened next year to provide increased tidal flow, which will prevent the estuary form becoming hypersaline.
However, even without the enlarged channel, Bahia Grande is once again a functioning estuary providing sanctuary for shrimp, redfish and other marine species to repopulate the Lower Laguna Madre ecosystem.
It is vital for birds and aquatic life such as redfish to have a sanctuary where they can thrive unmolested, and fishing access to Bahia Grande is limited to the shoreline along Highway 48.
Sarge Vasquez, Interim Refuge Manager, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, “We allow access. There is an area between Highway 48 and our boundary line, which is our bollards or our cable line. You can fish in that area, but we ask that the pubic does not cross that line, because then you would be trespassing on federal land.”