The greatest fishing guides offer daily masterclasses in the art of finding and fooling fish. They’re the ones who put you at ease with a good story or a quick joke, usually just before your first hookset of the day. Elite-level guides all seem to give off an easy chill vibe that oozes endless patience, while naturally imparting fish-catching knowledge almost as an afterthought. They’ll school you on their conservation ethos, too, smartly explaining how to handle and release certain fish—all without judgement. And where it matters most, they wow you with their birddog-like instincts to sniff out pods of frenzied fish. In short, you go home feeling like you’ve just experienced a day on the water you’ll never forget.
If you’re lucky, you’ve spent days just like this, wading and sight-casting the shallows with Captain Ernest Cisneros. Lifetime student of Texas’ remarkable Lower Laguna Madre, the legendary inshore guide and conservationist recently joined Z-Man’s elite core of inshore pro-staff.
For Captain Cisneros, the passion to teach spans nearly thirty years. In South Texas schoolrooms, Cisneros empowered young people with valuable life lessons. Yet in all those years, fishing remained foremost among his educational endeavors. For an average of 130 days annually, the Brownsville, Texas native took his lessons from classroom to the water, moonlighting as a saltwater fishing guide, forging a reputation on integrity, angling-intuition and a rare ability to teach without preaching.
In 2016, Cisneros retired from the classroom to focus on his passion as a full time “educational fishing guide.” Today, when he’s not traveling the world in search of angling adventure, Cisneros explores Laguna Madre’s remarkable ecosystem, wading and sightfishing for tailing redfish, speckled trout, snook and a host of other shallow water predators. During these same years, Cisneros has served as a key contributing writer for Texas Saltwater Fishing magazine, another outlet for his teaching talents on a broader scale.
“I love fishing so much that I’ve never been a guide who watches a time clock on the water,” affirms Cisneros, an exceptional artificials-only angler. “My days all begin at sunrise and we often fish well into the overtime hours, especially if we have an opportunity to hit a key feeding period.” Many days, Cisneros is joined by his son Aaron, a 13-year veteran captain and fishing and waterfowl guide, who’s developed a steadfast reputation all his own.
Instrumental in promoting voluntary catch-photo-release (CPR) on the Laguna Madre, Cisneros continues fostering conservation by offering incentives on all CPR trips—a now-standard practice among many of the area’s guides and anglers.
“To date, we’ve released over 8,000 legal-sized redfish, trout and other species that would have otherwise gone to the fillet table,” he asserts. “In no way does this mean you can’t harvest a few fish or a respectable limit for dinner. Rather, we teach anglers about practicing good stewardship of the resource, often, for example, by releasing most of the larger specimens. Today, 40-percent of our guide trips are with anglers who voluntarily release all their fish.”
Paralleling his conservation commitment, Cisneros has built a strong reputation for developing fine-tuned tackle and techniques specific to shallow, spooky inshore bites. “Ernest is among a small handful of the most influential guides in South Texas,” notes Z-Man director of product development Jose Chavez. “He’s an awesome angler and communicator and as such, we at Z-Man are excited to tap his knowledge to create potent new ElaZtech® baits for the Texas inshore fishery and beyond.”
This season, casting the 4-inch Scented Jerk ShadZ™ and StreakZ™ 3.75—both finesse sized soft jerkbaits—Cisneros continues crushing redfish and trophy-class speckled trout. “Love the action of these little minnow baits,” he says. “They’ve got a super live left-right, left-right juking motion. Selective fish really respond to them. Rigged on a Texas Eye™ Finesse jighead, which provides a free-swinging, pivoting action, the Jerk ShadZ and StreakZ really come to life. The Texas Eye runs right through the grass, snag-free.”
Cisneros also notes the subtle advantages of bait buoyancy. “I’m a huge fan of ElaZtech’s natural buoyancy. Gives the baits a beautiful fluttering action. On a pause, the bait hovers just above the seagrass, where fish can see it. The extra flotation especially elevates the StreakZ’ forked tail, mimicking a baitfish feeding nose-down in the substrate. Many times, too, the Pro-Cure imbued Jerk ShadZ is key, especially in colder water. Amazing how well and for how long this oil-based attractant sticks to the ElaZtech material.”
Speaking to Cisnero’s skills, Z-Man promotions director Joey Prochazka notes the natural fit among the company’s all-star roster of inshore talent. “We couldn’t be any more excited to work with Ernest—an elite level angler, guide and a terrific man,” says Prochazka. “We continue striving to give our valued Texas saltwater customers the best fish-catching baits and lures possible. Working with a pro like Ernest will greatly enhance our understanding of the fishery, which offers its own unique set of fish behavior and preferences. No doubt, Z-Man’s connection with Captain Cisneros will lead to more bites and more fish for saltwater anglers everywhere.”
At home in Brownsville, Texas, Cisneros takes time out of his busy guiding schedule to travel the world in search of diverse angling opportunities. “I’ve been fortunate to experience amazing fishing from Texas and Mexico to Costa Rica, Brazil, Belize and Alaska back to Florida and much of the Western US. Next month, we’re off to Puerto Rico. And yet, my home waters will always be most special. Wading the clear, grass covered flats puts you on an equal footing with the fish. Being in the water just offers so many advantages; lets you sneak right up and put a bait on the nose of a big fish. Amazing how strongly fish fight when you’re in the water with them, experiencing the same elements.
“This year, I can’t wait to dig deeper into my ElaZtech arsenal and discover a bunch of new baits. Super stoked, too, for the chance to help Z-Man develop new designs for these crystal-clear waters. We’re going to have a blast.”
About Z-Man Fishing Products
A dynamic Charleston, South Carolina based company, Z-Man Fishing Products has melded leading edge fishing tackle with technology for nearly three decades. Z-Man has long been among the industry’s largest suppliers of silicone skirt material used in jigs, spinnerbaits and other lures. Creator of the Original ChatterBait®, Z-Man is also the renowned innovators of 10X Tough ElaZtech softbaits, fast becoming the most coveted baits in fresh- and saltwater. Z-Man is one of the fastest-growing lure brands worldwide.