September Means Fall has Fell
S eptember is a special time on the Texas coast, and it’s rarely predictable. Weather is the big variable here, of course, and Texas weather is usually nothing if not variable.
Some years, September is only an extension of summer, with the same heat and humidity of August. Other years September actually does usher in a fall of sorts—slightly cooler temperatures, mild winds, and even a bit of seasonal tint to the leaves of some trees.
In between, there will be some years where the first real cold front of the year blows through—or lingering tropical storms make their presence felt.
Although the behavior of most wildlife—including fish—is largely dependent on temperature, the length of periods of daylight is also influential, I suspect. Fish in the deeper waters of the Gulf that do not regularly feed on or near the surface—such as snappers and groupers—might be mostly unaffected by either daylight or surface temperature, because their world stays fairly constant in these respects.
Fish in bays and other coastal waters, however, are affected much more by conditions above the surface. TP&WD has for some years used light conditions to trigger spawning in captive redfish. Water temperature triggers all sorts of activities, not the least of which is feeding periods. Water temperatures can be affected by air temperatures, which are also at least partly controlled by the amount and intensity of sunlight.
My own opinion is that the feeding activity of fish is largely controlled by the amount of bait species available—no surprise here. When September features cooler waters and some sort of “normal” rainfall, bait will be plentiful.
Predator species can begin gorging for the lean months that could be ahead. Too much rain—or not enough—can do negative things to salinity and clarity of inshore waters.
The common bait species on the upper Texas coast—shrimp, mullet, mud minnows, menhaden (shad), and several species of crab—normally increase during the milder conditions of fall. When these conditions begin in September, fishing success is easier to come by.
Target sport and food fish varieties stay constant in the Galveston area in bays, passes to the Gulf, tidal streams, and the surf. Speckled trout, redfish, croaker, whiting, flounder, and sheepshead are with us just about year-round when conditions are favorable.
Gaff-top catfish—and yes, some of us like those slimy rascals—can be caught in September, but are more likely in the spring. Black drum make their inshore-offshore runs in late winter or early fall as do flounders to a lesser extent. Otherwise September sees a general overlap of species from summer and fall.
For fishermen, we hope the daytime temperatures will be a bit more comfortable this month, and maybe the mosquitoes will not be quite as bad. I have been bitten by these critters an amazing distance offshore. That usually happens when a north wind has pushed them away from the coastal marshes. Yet,they were not as big a nuisance as biting flies behind a shrimp boat can be.
We can’t put away the sunscreen and floppy hats yet, unless we choose to fish at night. Speaking of fishing at night, trout, reds, and flounders do not go to sleep when the sun goes down. Night fishing is always special, and an early fall really gets it going.
Tides and currents should be “normal,” barring any tropical weather, and these are always important to saltwater fishing. Falling or rising tides can be equally productive, although for opposite reasons. A rising tide lures bait species into shallow water, while falling water levels funnel bait into “drains” from these shallow areas to deeper water. Either of these conditions can make it easier for predators to feed—and fishermen to catch them.
If August decides to stay with us through September, the best course of action is to be thankful for a warm climate and lots of sunshine and continue our August fishing patterns. Obviously we can’t do anything about it—except take a deep breath or two and hold out for October.
THE BANK BITE
Location: Depending on such conditions as salinity, fish can concentrate in different locales on the coastal fishing map this month. High salinities allow saltwater fish to push into back bays and farther up tidal streams. Low salinity dubecause of freshwater intrusion moves most species toward the Gulf passes, jetties, and the surf.
Species: The “Big Three” of speckled trout, redfish and flounder will be plentiful, as well as less popular species such as sheepshead, croaker, and—at least in the surf—jack crevalle.
Bait: Live and “fresh dead” offerings of shrimp and small baitfish always produce, but the coming of fall favors lures such as spoons, plastic jog tails, and top water plugs as well.
Best Time: Water movement probably trumps everything else this month, unless very hot temperatures carry over from summer. If this happens, the old pattern of early and late is best.
Email Mike Holmes at ContactUs@fishgame.com