10 THINGS YOU DID NOT KNOW ABOUT TEXAS SALTWATER FISHING AND THE GULF COAST by Chester Moore

OCELOTS OF SOUTH TEXAS by Chester Moore
January 25, 2017
TEXAS BLUE DEVILS by Chester Moore
January 25, 2017

Flounder are moving into bays along the Gulf Coast right now.

In a super slow fashion, they are coming through the jetties and filtering into the inland ecosystems after spawning in the Gulf of Mexico. I know this is a controversial statement because the “spring” run is not supposed to begin until March but for the last decade I have found evidence of flounder moving in now.

This will not provided the kind of super-hot fishing action you will encounter during the big fall run or even during the peak of the spring migration but there are fish to be caught and they tend to be quite big.

Besides fish migrating in, I believe the fish that stayed during the winter start to feed more aggressively as we get the kind of warming trends that happened here last week.

On incoming tides, focus on mud flats adjacent to deep water and areas with mixed shell. The deepwater access will help find fish that are migrating in and moving shallow to feed and enjoy warmer waters particularly on sunny afternoons.

Many anglers are not aware of the early flounder migration and other seldom discussed but unique facts about saltwater fishing in Texas.

Here are nine more to give you a clearer picture of the Texas saltwater scene.

The black tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon) or tiger shrimp is an aggressive mollusc that can grow to a foot in length and weigh a pound according to Texas Invasive Species Institute. 

Black Tiger Prawns

“In addition to it’s unusually large size, it can be identified by black stripes across the dorsal side of the tail. It can also be black in body color with orange stripes on it’s back, resembling a tiger.”

They are present in the Gulf of Mexico and have been verified in Aransas Bay and Sabine Lake.

“The tiger prawn was accidentally released from a research facility near South Carolina in 1988, allowing the shrimp to spread as far south as Florida by 1990. As a popular shrimp raised in farms in the Caribbean, authorities were surprised when captures ceased following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. However, tiger prawns were captured again in 2006 and have been consistently captured to the present,” according to Texas Invasive Species Institute officials.

‘Protected’ Waters

Florida anglers had a huge surprise to learn thousands of square miles of waters controlled by the federal government was off limits to fishing. Interestingly, one of those locations has been under consideration to be labeled as a “marine protected area” which is a no fishing zone.

There are people in high positions in the federal government who openly espouse the desire to create many of these “marine protected areas”. They are doing it because they believe it is the best management principle but at the end of the day, you and I are locked out of access. It started when President Clinton created an executive order to create millions of acres of them and continued with Bush who did the same thing.

By the time this issue hits subscribers there is good chance outgoing President Obama will have enacted more “no fishing zones”.

Texas anglers have tens of thousands of acres of quality fishing access due to our federal lands but this could serve as a double-edge sword if someone in a position of power were to decide to make it happen.

The box jellyfish is a dangerous sea creature and it is present in Texas waters.

jellyfish jeopardy

“Our gulf sampling crew caught a four-handed box jellyfish (in 2014), Chiropsalmus quadrumanus, a member of the class Cubozoa, in 3 separate trawl samples about 2 miles off McFaddin NWR beach,” said Jerry Mambretti Sabine Lake Ecosystem Leader for TPWD.  

 “Box jellyfish are known for the extremely potent venom produced by some species, including this species, which is normally found in the west Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean. Their sting is very venomous and dangerous to humans, especially children.” 

If you see any of these creatures in the surf be extremely careful. They can deliver a sting much worse than the common species we find in local waters.

While “Jaws” is on the minds of beachgoers in Texas (our variety-bulls, lemons, blacktips) “Teeth” is soaking up some of the same salty waters too. “Teeth” as in alligator garfish.

surf gar

Angler Marcus Heflin caught a sizable alligator garfish while fishing the surf at Sea Rim State Park at Sabine Pass along the Texas-Louisiana border.

This was the first gar I have heard of on the beach anywhere along the Gulf Coast although I have long suspected they are there. Since I first mentioned this online I have had several other anglers report catching them in the surf.

As a child I had a collection of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazines and one of them had a profile of Sea Rim State Park-where Heflin caught the gar pictured above.

It had fishing hotspots and there were several marked for garfish in the surf.

Garfish are considered a freshwater species but do well along the Gulf Coast. I grew up fishing for them in Sabine Lake and surrounding waters, a bay that at its southern end is only seven miles from the surf.

Mobile Bay in Alabama is a hotbed of alligator garfish activity and they are present in numerous salt marshes along the Louisiana coast.

Still, you can find almost no references to garfish in the surf.

The question is just how common they are in Gulf waters and how far out do they go?

These are very mysterious fish with little known about their life cycles or habits in comparison to America fish for comparable size.

So, if you’re ever at the beach and see something that looks kind of like a mutated alligator swim beside you don’t worry.

Pink Snapper

Last December a caller to my radio program asked what kind of snapper was pinkish colored and had a black dot halfway between pectoral and dorsal fins.

The answer was a lane snapper.

These are a fairly common reef fish found around oil rigs, wrecks and of course natural reefs in the Gulf of Mexico.

He caught several of them over the span of a couple of weeks from the bank in Sabine Pass.

 This was the first time I have heard of lane snapper caught anywhere other than in the Gulf itself. I have caught one at the nearshore oil rigs but this was definitely unique.

According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department in  the 1970’s and early 1980’s, a series of extreme winters combined with commercial and recreational over‑harvest had decimated red drum populations. 

Red drum rising

“In 1982 TPWD responded by constructing its first marine fish hatchery in Corpus Christi , and the first stocking of red drum into Texas bays occurred in the spring of 1983. In 1985, The Dow Chemical Company, the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), and TPWD helped by the Sport Fish Restoration Act combined their resources. The team conceived a plan to construct a red drum hatchery and education center in Lake Jackson, Texas with the help of the Sport Fish Restoration Act.”

“Today, red drum and spotted seatrout populations are stable in response to TPWD’s coastal management plan. Along with TPWD’s other two marine hatcheries, Sea Center Texas produces quality sport-fish species for stocking Texas bays to counterbalance the effects of habitat degradation, natural catastrophe’s and fishing pressure on the species.”

The legendary snook maintains a certain mystique in Texas due mainly to a history of abundance (prior to the 1940s) and its more recent unavailability to most anglers except those fishing bays, estuaries and nearshore Gulf of Mexico waters in South Texas according to TPWD biologist Randy Blankinship. 

Lone star snook

“Even to most South Texas anglers, the snook remains a rare catch albeit an exciting one. It is also intriguing because of the size it attains: the current state record is 57.2 lbs. caught in 1937 on the Gulf beach off Padre Island.”

What is interesting about this particular catch besides its epic size is that it is four pounds larger than the world record recognized by the International Game Fish Association, a 53 pound, 10-ounce catch landed in Costa Rica.

Shark Spin

If you were to ask anglers if these species were dangerous, most would answer with a resounding “No” since they are not in the lexicon of deadly sharks. In fact, the Discovery Channel produced a highly rated program about the top 10 most dangerous sharks and neither made the list, while both the oceanic whitetip and shortfin mako did. Those species rank far below both the blacktip and spinner in terms of unprovoked attacks on humans according to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) at the Florida Museum of Natural History. 

ISAF data show blacktips are responsible for 28 unprovoked attacks and 13 provoked attacks (think feeding, harassing, etc.). Spinners have been responsible for 15 unprovoked attacks, and one on the provoked side. For comparison, the oceanic whitetip committed five unprovoked and three provoked attacks, while the shortfin mako dished out 8 unprovoked attacks and 15 provoked. 

In the network’s defense, its list featured numerous factors, including fatalities, size, and likelihood to encounter humans, which would obviously put species like the great white above many other known attackers, but in terms of raw attack data, blacktips and spinners deserve our respect. They are also species humans are likely to encounter in shallow water along beaches, where anglers tote stringers of speckled trout and other sport fishes, not to mention the scores of swimmers. 

Texas

Tarpon

Most Texas anglers do not realize just how good tarpon fishing can be in areas like Port O’Connor, Port Mansfield and between High Island and Galveston Island.

Officials with the state’s Tarpon Observation Network (TON) note that anglers annually target Texas tarpon nearshore with some degree of success.

“While current populations are not what they once were, a major effort to conserve the species has led to more opportunities for Texas anglers. Each year, typically in the late summer and early fall, anglers target tarpon with some degree of success.”

That means now is the time tarpon start schooling in areas like the stretch between High Island and Galveston, and around Port O’Connor and Port Mansfield.

Tarpon are often hooked incidentally while fishing for other species, however the tarpon’s habit of supplementing oxygen intake by gulping air (often referred to as “rolling”) can alert anglers to their presence. 

“Tarpon are opportunistic carnivores, feeding on a variety of prey. Anglers typically use dead or live fish for bait, such as menhaden or mullet, but live crab, live shrimp and artificial baits (including flies) that resemble baitfish or shrimp can tempt a hungry tarpon as well.”

“Hard bony plates in the mouth make tarpon difficult to hook, but circle hooks have been found to provide the best hookup ratios. Due to the presence of sharp gill plates, anglers typically use long 80# test or heavier leaders as insurance against cut offs. Nevertheless, hooking a tarpon and bringing it to the hand is easier said than done, with most hookups resulting in the tarpon winning the battle.”

—story by AUTHOR

 

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