SOUTH PADRE ISALND — When temperatures are in the mid-40s and the wind gusts match, what’s better than fishing is staying inside and listening to experts talk about fishing.
Yesterday the 24th Annual Outdoor Wildlife Expo took things indoors as top fishing guides in the Laguna Madre and the Gulf of Mexico shared tips and techniques with an overflow crowd at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.
By mid-morning, more than 100 people had checked in on what usually is the busiest day of the five-day expo.
“One-hundred and thirty-five by 10 a.m.,” said Tommie Elium, a Texas Master Naturalist who lives on the Island and volunteers to help at the birding center’s expo.
The five-day festival started on Day 1 with a focus on native plants and how to grow them in backyards, and Day 2 was dedicated to fishing. Today is dedicated to the ecology of the gulf and the bay, Friday will focus exclusively on birds of the Rio Grande Valley and Saturday wraps things up with studying nature in the Valley.
“Fishing days are always very popular and we’re going to have to try to accommodate extra rooms because the rooms downstairs fill up fairly quickly and then there’s overflow,” said Javi Gonzalez, naturalist-educator at the birding center. “We have to try to make it work.”
As heavy winds off the Laguna Madre gusted and shivered those brave enough to emerge onto the decks surrounding the birding and nature center, and dark clouds lowered overhead, the seminars on fishing the bay and the gulf were packed.
“Mainly a lot of the people are Winter Texans from the north who are fishermen but are used to fishing in completely different habitats, in lakes and rivers,” Gonzalez said. “When you come to the Laguna Madre, it’s something completely different to your way of doing things.”
Captains who hosted seminars yesterday included Gencho Buitureira, Wayne Davis, Jack Keller and Mike Kreider.
A unique post-fishing trip perspective came from Bettina Tolin, a popular Port Isabel chef, who demonstrated some of her tips and tactics for cooking seafood.
Still the weather was a significant factor for WOWE yesterday, at least when it came to outdoor activities like the birding tours.
“It’s affected both of the trips that we had scheduled for the beginning of WOWE,” Gonzalez said. “The Bahia Grande tour that was supposed to go out this morning didn’t go out because of the high winds.”
That birding tour was rescheduled for Monday, as was a boat tour of the Laguna Madre which also was canceled due to dangerously high winds and chop on the bay.
“Luckily most of the people had open schedules and agreed to reschedule the dates,” Gonzalez said. “We did have to refund a couple here and there but most people are going to be able to get the trips on a sunny day.”
Gonzalez, who will lead several of the bird walks himself, said those are on track today at 8:15 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. as the weather improves.
“That’s the thing about it,” Gonzalez mused. “Winters are nice down here, but you never know.”
If you go
WHAT — Winter Outdoor Wildlife Expo
WHERE — South Padre Island
WHEN — Today through Saturday
TIME — 9:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. each day
Seniors 55-plus cost is $7 per day, $30 for week
Adults 13-54 cost is $8 per day, $35 for week
Students 4-12 cost is $4 per day, $25 per week