Fishing in the Brownsville Ship Channel

For several years, this industrial port has had a reputation as a top-shelf winter snook spot. However, there is much more than linesiders sharing this water with ships and oil rigs during the winter months. In fact, the Brownsville Ship Channel is a surprisingly diverse fishery. Anglers can reasonably expect to encounter snook, mangrove snapper, ladyfish, speckled trout, redfish, black drum, sheepshead, jack crevalle, lookdowns and more on a trip up the channel.

In many instances, these fish will be hanging around one of the many docks in the Port of Brownsville. However, docks are just one type of fish habitat in this area. To ensure a successful day, anglers should be aware and know how to fish each of the fish-holding features in the port.

Docks & Pilings - The predominant feature in the port is, without a doubt, vertical structure such as docks and pilings. These docks line both sides of the channel. The pilings closest to the channel border extremely deep water and are most productive during the coolest periods. During a cold spell, fish will often suspend near these pilings. Lures such as DOA Terroreyz and Creme Spoiler Shad are the best bets to reach deep fish, while a freelined DOA Shrimp will tempt fish higher in the water column.

During warmer periods, look for fish to push closer to the shore, where they may be tangled between pilings. Skipping a wide-bodied bait like a DOA Baitbuster way back under the dock is often the best way to draw strikes on warm afternoons. However, once a fish is hooked, they can be difficult to wrangle away from the pilings.

Drains - There are several drains on each side of the ship channel, each of which has the potential to hold fish. These drains range in size from a few feet across to several yards wide. The smaller drains will typically be most productive after recent rainfall. The wider drains can produce fish any time there is a substantial tidal flow.

To fish the drains, position yourself just within casting distance of the mouth - where the drain empties into the ship channel. Often times, topwater plugs such as the Bomber Badonk-A-Donk will produce good results at the drain mouths - especially on warm winter days. When the surface plugs aren't producing, work a swimming bait such as a Baitbuster across current or free-line a DOA Shrimp down current. Soft-plastics like the Texas Tackle Factory Killer Flats minnows also work well when slow-rolled through drains.

Rip-rap Shoreline - There are literally miles of rip-rap shoreline in the Brownsville Ship Channel. In general, although fish can be found at various times along the rip-rap, the best time to fish these rock-covered shorelines is on a sunny afternoon. As the sun heats the rocks, the water along the face of the rip-rap warms as well. This encourages fish to move up and feed along the shoreline. The key is allowing sufficient time for the water to warm.

The second key to successful fishing along the rip-rap is determining where to cast. After all, every inch of the shore looks 'fishy.' However, closer inspection will reveal several anomalies. Whether it's a finger of spilled rocks, a discarded culvert or an indention, these areas will attract fish and are where anglers should concentrate their casts.

During warm afternoons, these rip-rap shorelines can entice fish to become active near the surface, resulting in excellent topwater action. If fish aren't grabbing topwaters, soft-plastic jigs and swimbaits are the way to go.

Flats - Yes, there are flats in the Brownsville Ship Channel. True, they are not as massive as the flats in the Lower Laguna, but they are large enough to attract fish wanting to feed in shallow water during winter warm spells.

Following several warm winter days (and nights), fish can be found on these flats relatively early in the day. The most consistent time to find fish foraging on these shallow flats, however, is from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.

When fishing the flats, surface plugs will work well, as will floater/divers such as Bomber Long As. Soft-plastic jerk baits like the DOA Jerk Shad and Brown Devil Eyes also produce well when the water is clean. When the water is off-color, paddletail baits like TTF Killer Flats Minnows or DOA CAL Shad Tails are better choices.

Again, anglers expecting to enjoy breathtaking views between casts probably won't be too enthralled with the Brownsville Ship Channel. However, fishermen who are focused on fish production should make the 20 mile trek from Port Isabel to Brownsville this winter to experience one of the most diverse fisheries on the entire Gulf Coast.