SOUTH PADRE ISLAND (KVEO) – The COVID-19 pandemic took a large hit on the tourism industry at South Padre Island during 2020.
Restaurants, hotels, and regular tourism activities were forced to close their doors to thousands of regular-going tourists and locals.
One activity that didn’t suffer from the pandemic was the charter and guide fishing industry.
According to a study by FishingBooker.com, the nation’s largest website for booking fishing charters, Texas got 69% more online bookings in 2020 than in 2019, making it higher than the nation’s average which grew by 29%.
“Port Isabel was the second-fastest-growing spot in the entire United States, the guides there saw their bookings grow by 168%, which is really amazing,” said Joris Zantvoort, SEO and PR Manager for FishingBooker.
Captain Luis Flandes III, a local fishing guide, experienced the surge in attention to the sport and bookings first hand.
“A lot, a lot of people that were just giving it a shot because there wasn’t really anything else to do,” said Captain Luis Flandes III, a local guide out of Jim’s Pier on South Padre Island. “They said ‘well, there’s nothing else to do let’s get on a boat and figure it out,’ so I had a lot of beginners, a lot of first-timers that are now avid fisherman and they love it. They didn’t realize how fun it was.”
Flandes has been an avid fisherman for his entire life. In fact, he’s a native to the South Padre area. He grew up in Port Isabel and played sports for the Tarpons. He recalls one of his best fishing memories a few years ago, when with his Dad,
“I guess I could go back to when me and my dad first got our first boat, maybe about six-seven years ago,” said Flandes, proudly. “We bought our first boat together, and we finally had access to the bay instead of just fishing off the side or going to a pier or walking into the water ourselves. So those moments I’ll treasure forever, I was able to get out and spend quality time with my dad and learn how to fish and do this and learn the sport of fishing.”
Flandes continued fishing avidly through his adult years. One day he realized that he could make it his full-time job.
‘I got my guide’s license, I went to captain school in Los Fresnos Stewart Training Center and I studied there for about two weeks. I did the course and of course, then after that, you’ve got a coast guard background check a physical a drug test you do all of that and you’re cleared, once you’re cleared you’re good to go and Texas parks and wildlife get you the permits and you’re ready to start guiding,” said Flandes.
That was about five years ago. Now Flandes is one of the most booked fishing guides in the South Padre Island area.
“It’s been fun it’s been really cool because I meet so many friendly people that just want to get on the boat and have a good time,” said Flandes smiling. “I’ve met so many really cool people, clients that become repeat clients and they become friends. Then I’ve also met a lot of really cool people within the fishing industry, with the lower company like DOA Luers, Shimano Rods and Reels, and Laguna Madre Clothing. All these companies that work together for the fishing community.”
Not only was the sport appealing during a time of social distancing, but the area in which it’s located is, too.
“South Padre Island has a lot to offer,” said Flandes. “We have the access to the bay, we have the access to the beach, to the ocean, and it’s a very unique bay system. We’ve got miles and miles of healthy grass flats, miles of water and lots of healthy species to target here you know, the bay has got tons of different fish that people love to sport fish and its very fun for people to come out here to see what we got and to enjoy the life that we have.”
According to Nature.org, the Laguna Madre, or the “Mother Lagoon” is one of just six hypersaline coastal lagoons in the world. It stretches for hundreds of miles along the coast of five different South Texas counties and one state in Mexico. This region includes Port Isabel and South Padre Island. You can find up to 50 different, accounted for species, some of them specific to this southernmost part of the United States.
Not only did the area see a large spike in bookings in 2020 despite the pandemic, but it doesn’t appear that it’s slowed down.
“We’re actually growing at the same rate as May/June last year,” said Zantvoort. “Which was really awesome, so it’s not just that spike after the lockdown but it’s also continued steady growth.”
Captain Flandes has an idea or two of why that may be.
“If you catch your first Red Fish, you’re gonna be hooked. You catch a speckled trout, they’re beautiful fish they’re fun, they’re fun to fight and they taste good so, a lot of people have definitely gotten hooked themselves on fishing.”