T he changing of the seasons demonstrates as much as anything else the wonders of the natural world—even on the upper Texas coast where those changes can sometimes be difficult to actually pin down.
There is no better place to observe these changes, I think, than as close to the Gulf as you can get. That would be on the beach, preferably the west beach of Galveston Island.
The sand of the beach itself changes very little from month to month, other than sometimes moving around a bit. However, the color and clarity of the water definitely shows the transformation from the gray, dingy and often white-capped look of winter to a more transparent and green beginning in early spring.
The aquatic inhabitants of the beach world also transform from hard head catfish and a scattering of small pan fish to the much more glamorous inshore sportfish of warmer waters. The first bull red I ever saw caught in the surf was in May. The sight of such a large and beautiful fish emerging from the gently foaming surf was an amazing sight that I have never forgotten.
My largest bull red was also caught in early May, and for several seasons my first bull red catch followed the same time pattern. There has always been a “feeling” among many who fish the surf that the big bulls came to the surf to spawn. However, my own observations were that they come to feed, mostly following the schools of mullets that warmer water brings to the shoreline.
I have caught big reds on chunks of bonito belly, seen them caught on big shad, and heard of them being caught on crabs, squid, or even shrimp. However, a mullet has always been my go-to bait. Small finger mullet have caught some big reds for me, and so have larger “horse” mullet. Live is best, but fresh dead are almost as good most times. Either cut it in half, or with just the tail water. My old beach fishing partner, Dave, preferred cutting the heads off live mullet, but I found the tail section produced best if I couldn’t use live bait.
The big reds are usually the first of the “spot” species to show in the surf, with speckled trout and flounders coming later (but not much later) if the weather cooperates. whiting, “Gulf” trout and croakers will be numerous enough to spend time on, and occasionally a pompano will make an appearance.
I have even seen decent sharks caught from the beach at this time of year, on warm tides, and my logs record sightings of tarpon in pretty much every month of the year. It can still be cool enough to require waders and perhaps a jacket, especially after dark and in the wind, but not so cold as to be really uncomfortable for most of us.
The transformation from the barren waves of winter to the teeming life of warm spring tides can be more of a gradual change, but it will change. Personally, I enjoy the quiet of a cold, windy beach—especially when observed from the warm cab of a pickup truck—but spring sunshine improves the outlook and opportunity for recreational enjoyment.
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Location: The surf always issues a siren call in early spring, but deeper areas in bays and shallow bay reefs as well as natural and man-made passes will harbor fish.
Species: Reds usually show up first, followed later by speckled trout and flounders, then other warm water denizens.
Bait: Mullet might be the top choice, in various sizes, but mud minnows and shad or menhaden will produce, and are easier to find than live shrimp right now. Artificial lures will need to be worked slowly and carefully if they are to produce.
Best Time: During a moving tide is best. Although the best spot might vary a few feet either way, there won’t be that much difference between a a rising or falling tide. More noticeable will be the difference in success between a large tidal change and a slight one. Days with multiple tide changes are always the best.
Email Mike Holmes at [email protected]