By Steve Hathcock
Special to the PARADE
Port Mansfield, or Redfish Landing, as it was once called was an isolated fishing camp located on the sandy shores of the Laguna Madre in the early 1930s.
Newspaper reports from the time refer to giant redfish over four feet long and trout so numerous that a man could walk from his boat to the shore without getting his feet wet. I don’t know about the size of the fish, but it was possible at that time to wade across the shallow nine-mile-wide Laguna Madre to the mudflats situated along the western shores of Padre Island. A short jaunt over the dunes and one could find some of the best surf fishing in the world.
In September of 1933 an unnamed hurricane hit near the mouth of the Rio Grande. The Island was inundated with a twenty-five foot tidal surge and the storm, which lasted for over thirty hours, dumped thirteen inches of rain over a wide part of South Texas. Eighteen people were killed and an estimated five-hundred were injured. Fifteen to twenty foot waves crashed ashore at Redfish Landing. Eleven people rode out the storm in several crudely built fishing shacks – only one person drowned. The road to the fishing camp was washed out and for a short while the camp was once again isolated from the outside world.
In late 1933, the Civil Works Administration, or C.W.A., was established. In addition to building bridges, schools, hospitals, airports, parks and playgrounds, C.W.A. funds also went toward the repair and construction of highways and roads. Soon after, in 1934, Congress allocated $7,000 for construction of a new all-weather road to Redfish Landing.
Redfish Bay remained fairly isolated during the war years, while the Army Air Corps used a good sized section of the Laguna Madre as a practice range by pilots training at the air gunnery school in Harlingen. About four miles south in the back bay, large round pilings were placed in the shape of an aircraft carrier with canvas stretched between the posts. The Air Force planes used these targets for their bombing and machine gun practice. For years when wade fishing near the targets, one had to beware of holes, up to ten feet deep, left by those exploding bombs. Hurricane Allen in 1980 finished filling in the holes and swept away what pilings were left, but that area is still called “the targets.”