Fishing -- There have been record-setting catches made in the waters around South Padre Island: The state record blue marlin, at 876 1/2 pounds, was taken offshore.
The beach and jetties are easily accessible and very popular with winter Texans (retired residents of the northern United States and Canada who spend at least part of the winter in the South Texas warmth). There are numerous local charter captains specializing in offshore big-game fishing, where anglers try for blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish, swordfish, wahoo, tuna, and mako shark. Offshore fishing also includes red drum, spotted sea trout, snapper, grouper, tarpon, and king mackerel.
The Laguna Madre, on average only 2 feet deep, is perfect for world-class light-tackle sport fishing. The lush carpet of sea grasses on its bottom provides good habitat and food for red drum, spotted sea trout, flounder, black drum, and snook, and locals brag that there are more of these fish per acre than in any other bay on the Texas Gulf.
The Texas International Fishing Tournament (TIFT) has been going strong for more than 60 years and attracts more than 1,000 participants each July. The 5-day event includes bay, offshore, and tarpon fishing divisions, and is open to anglers of all ages. Visit www.tift.org or contact the South Padre Island CVB (tel. 800/767-2373 or 956/761-6433; www.sopadre.com) for details.
Schlitterbahn Beach Waterpark -- This is operated by the same corporation that owns the highly popular water park in the German Hill Country town of New Braunfels -- hence the German name. It didn't suffer too much damage in the Hurricane and will open, as it normally does, at the beginning of tourist season, in the spring. It has a wave pool and several water rides that require sturdy bathing suits. But it also has calmer facilities such as wading and floating pools that work well for those just trying to relax. My favorite feature is the river that connects the rides so that you don't have to spend all your time out of the water waiting in line. Admission prices are $38 adults, $30 children 3 to 11 years old. The park closes during the winter (mid-Sept to mid-Apr). It's located at 90 Park Rd., Hwy. 100. For information call tel. 956/772-7873 or visit www.schlitterbahn.com.
Sunbathing & Swimming -- The beaches of South Padre Island are some of the best on the Gulf: The sand is fine and white, and the water is warm and shallow. In town there are 23 access points with free parking, plus the county has a park at each end of town, with a $4 all-day parking fee, good at both parks. My favorite stretch of beach is in the county park north of town. Incidentally, although lined with hotels and condos, the shoreline and adjacent beaches are public and open to everyone.
Windsurfing -- With winds about 15 mph year-round, these waters are ideal for windsurfing. Spring and fall are best, usually with beautiful weather. Hurricane season runs from August to early November, but is not often a serious problem.