Special report: Port Isabel, 2nd fastest growing sport fishing destination in 2020
SOUTH PADRE ISLAND (KVEO) – The COVID-19 pandemic hit the tourism industry hard on South Padre Island in 2020.
Restaurants, hotels and regular tourist activities have been forced to close their doors to thousands of tourists and regular locals.
One activity that did not 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 recorded 69% more online bookings in 2020 than in 2019, which is above the national average which rose 29%.
âPort Isabel was the second fastest growing place in all of the United States, guides saw their bookings increase 168% there, which is truly amazing,â said Joris Zantvoort, SEO and Relations Officer public for FishingBooker.
Captain Luis Flandes III, a local fishing guide, experienced the rise of the sport and reservations.
“Lots, lots of people trying just because there really was nothing else to do,” said Captain Luis Flandes III, a local guide from Jim’s Pier on South Padre Island. âThey said to me ‘Well there’s nothing else to do, let’s get on a boat and see this’, so I had a lot of newbies, a lot of newbies who are now avid fishermen and they love it. They hadn’t realized how much fun it was.
Flandes has been passionate about fishing all his life. In fact, he is from the South Padre area. He grew up in Port Isabel and played sports for the Tarpons. He remembers one of his best fishing memories a few years ago, when with his father,
“I guess I could go back to when my father and I had our first boat, maybe about six or seven years ago,” Flandes said proudly. âWe bought our first boat together and we finally had access to the bay instead of just fishing on the side, going to a jetty or walking in the water ourselves. So those moments that I will cherish forever, I was able to go out and spend some quality time with my dad and learn to fish and do that and learn the sport of fishing.
Flandes continued to fish avidly during his adult years. One day he realized that he could make it his full-time job.
âI got my guide license, went to captain’s school at the Los Fresnos Stewart training center and studied there for about two weeks. I took the course and of course after that you have a Coast Guard background check, a physical exam, a drug test, you do all of that and you are cleared, once you are cleared. , you’re good to go and in Texas the parks and wildlife get you the permits and you’re ready to start guiding, âFlandes said.
That was about five years ago. Now Flandes is one of the most reserved fishing guides in the South Padre Island area.
âIt was fun, it was really cool because I meet so many nice people who just want to get on the boat and have a good time,â said Flandes with a smile. âI’ve met so many really cool people, customers who turn into repeat customers and become friends. Then I also met a lot of really cool people in 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 attractive during a period of social distancing, but so is the area it is in.
âSouth Padre Island has a lot to offer,â said Flandes. âWe have access to the bay, we have access to the beach, to the ocean, and it’s a very unique bay system. We have miles and miles of healthy grassy plains, miles of water and lots of healthy species to target here, you know the bay is full of different fish that people love to catch and it’s great fun for the people of come here to see what we have and enjoy the life we ââhave.
According to Nature.org, the Laguna Madre, or âMother Lagoonâ, is one of the six hypersaline coastal lagoons in the world. It stretches for hundreds of miles along the coast of five different counties in southern Texas and one state in Mexico. This region includes Port Isabel and South Padre Island. You can find up to 50 different species, some of which are specific to this southernmost part of the United States.
Not only has the region seen a surge in bookings in 2020 despite the pandemic, it doesn’t appear to have slowed down.
âIn fact, we are growing at the same pace as in May / June of last year,â Zantvoort said. âWhat was really great, so it’s not just that spike after the lockdown, but it’s also continued and steady growth.â
Captain Flandes has an idea or two of the reason.
âIf you catch your first goldfish, you’re going to get hooked. You catch a speckled trout, they are beautiful fish, they are fun, they are fun to fight and they taste great so a lot of people definitely have hooked themselves fishing.