How El Nino May Rip Off the Flounder Run
El Niño. It sounds like some sort of villain in a Godzilla movie or one of the masked Luchadors in Mexican wrestling. In Spanish, El Niño means “the kid.”
The El Niño we are talking about however is a prolonged warming trend in the Pacific Ocean. This causes wacky weather throughout the world including unusually warm conditions in some regions while others get a deluge.
Some get both.
We are in an El Niño period, and in my opinion it is the culprit in the bizarre fall flounder run of 2015. The “run” is actually a migration period where flounders leave the marshes, bays, rivers and inlets and head to the Gulf of Mexico for spawning. It typically kicks off in late October and peaks in December.
Over the last few years the fishing has been tremendous, particularly in November when anglers from Matagorda to Louisiana’s Lake Calcasieu are reporting their best flounder fishing ever. Last year was an anomaly however, and anglers reported strange conditions throughout.
We took to our TF&G community via social media and asked you, our readers, including some renowned guides what happened, and their opinions were varied yet contained a common thread of unusual activity.
The 2009 Flounder Revolution ® Angler of the Year Chris Dial said the weather was too mild during November, and we didn’t get any strong winds from the Northwest to blow the bays out down here in Galveston.
“Our tides ran high, and the bait fish were more scattered out than ever, which made the flounder more scattered out than ever,” Dial said. “When I covered a lot of water I was more productive, and I was on a spring pattern all the way up until the last week of December. Marsh drains and mid bay reefs were still producing solid flounders, and I am still getting a few in the upper teens farther back in the marshes around guts.”
Angler Chris Vandagriff said it was a weird run for him in the Galveston area.
“Ninety percent wading, I moved around the area a lot from Dickinson bayou to rollover pass and 20 spots in between,” Vandagriff said. “I caught a lot of fish, but not in the crazy numbers from years past. Fish didn’t seem to concentrate in certain traditional areas as in the past also.
“My experience was that a great early run from late August to early October slowed and remained only spotty until December when I had to quit fishing. Buddies with boats in deeper channel waters did much better, more consistently.”
I call the August-September bite the “first push” when slightly cooling temperatures start staging the fish near the mouths of bayous in the bay systems. It makes sense that this period was normal because our weather was, but things definitely changed when it came to migration time.
Capt. Mike Williams said migration patterns and movements of saltwater fish in shallow water can greatly be affected by the beach water temperature.
“Galveston December 2015 air temperatures were some of the warmest on record, which can in some cases extend a movement even a migration,” Williams said. “The tarpon migration this year was about 2 1/2 weeks late and I have been keeping records on that for more than 50 years.”
“I know some that were catching them in September in the Galveston channel” said Capt. David Dillman. “Then it kind of slowed. I think it was mainly because of the water temperature and higher than normal tides.”
“About three weeks ago (mid December) after the first real front they got active again in the channel. Still I think some have not left. (as of January 4). It has been a strange winter so far.”
Capt. Robby Trahan said the Sabine-Calcasieu system definitely had strange fishing.
“Sabine was very wild for sure on the flounder run,” Trahan said. “It was definitely due to the El Nino year with above average water temperatures and higher tides than normal that haunted our marshes.
“For instance I was chasing redfish way up in the bayous and bringing in ten or so flounders as a bonus—not even fishing for them,” he said. There is a small bayou that runs through Johnson bayou in front of my dad’s. First time ever in my life that I saw five-pound flounders in numbers caught from this area. No great run in the channel this year also.”
Therefore, now that we have looked back at some of the strange El Niño impacts, it is time to ponder what will happen this spring.
Although the fall run is the migration out of the bays, spring run is the movement back. It typically begins in late February and peaks in April but it is not nearly as pronounced as the fall run. There are rarely days where anglers can catch 50-100 fish. The spring run is slow and steady.
The question now is how many fish actually migrated out. Also, what could weather conditions bring by the time this issue hits subscribers. Could the fish that did migrate start moving in early because of warm temperatures, or will we get some crazy late, strong, cold front that postpones the run?
As you can see from the testimony of our TFG community, El Nino made the fall run of 2015 a strange affair. I have a feeling spring will be a repeat.
The following are three things to watch out for if you want to catch flounders during March.
1. Start in the channels between the bay and Gulf. These funnel areas are overlooked in spring. When you see big spring tides coupled with warm days, fish in the channels.
2. This may sound as if it contradicts the first point but take a look at areas where you normally catch flounders in late spring and early summer. I have a feeling many flounders stayed behind this year, more than normal. If so, many of them will be set up in familiar haunts before the migrations.
3. Focus on incoming tides. I cannot say this enough. Incoming tides are the best time to fish for flounders, and this is especially true in spring when new tides bring new fish from Gulf waters.
—story by Chester Moore