Flopping in the shallow waters of the southeast side of Bessie Heights Marsh, it had my Zebco 808 tested to the max and my heart pounding like a jackhammer. I unfortunately missed that fish that bit on of all things a baby hardhead that ended up in our box of frozen shrimp. I say “unfortunately” but maybe it was divine fate.
Ever since that incident some 25 years ago I have been chasing monster flounder and although I have caught some big ones, the REALLY big one is still out there.
Actually, a couple of weeks ago I got to hold it in my hands.
Yes, the flounder you see here was bigger than the current state rod and reel record from Sabine Lake and is alive and well right now at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute (UTMSI). in fact, this fish captured awhile back is producing young that are being stocked back into the Aransas Bay complex.
For anyone who wants to know what the potential of our flounder fishery is, look no farther than the photo you see above. While the fish you see is unusually big, it is not some lab created mutation but a monster flounder amongst many big flounder at UTMSI that have been allowed to reach their maximum size. This one of course is a special case.
The right ingredients had to come together to make this happen and the single most crucial is allowing the fish to get this size.
On that same trip I went out with UTMSI biologist Jeff Kaiser and a very generous flounder boat guide who helps them catch fish for their lab. It was during November when no gigging is allowed and it was unusual to see the pass empty of gigging boats. We literally saw hundreds of flounder in just a few spots that would have been killed and not allowed to pass through to the spawning grounds. What was even more impressive were the number of empty beds (some of which were scary big) of fish that had likely moved on to the Gulf that was just a few miles away.
Without the changes in regulations made this year, pretty much all of those fish would have died along with untold thousands of others in the same area.
What I saw was just on one night and at merely a couple of spots during a period of unusually murky water. It is hard to imagine how many fish were saved this fall in the Aransas complex alone much less in the rest of the state from both the gigging closure and rod and reel restriction of two fish.
Yes there was some poaching in areas, but huge numbers of flounder it to the Gulf to spawn. And I have no doubt some of those have the genetics it takes to produce world class fish like I am holding in the above photo. We have made the first step in unleashing this potential and through the Flounder Revolution we are doing to do more. Our replica program alone has saved a lot of big fish and we know there will be even more participation in 2010. For the first time in a long time, things are looking up for flounder and I for one could not be happier.
Earlier I said perhaps it was divine fate that I missed that big fish when I was a youngster.
You see without that encounter and the desire it planted in me to seek these amazing fish I am not sure if I would even be in this profession. I know for a fact I would not have been the “flounder guy” and I certainly would not have a burning desire to see the potential or our fishery reached at its highest levels.
Amazing things are happening in this fishery and with the Flounder Revolution project.