I f you fish offshore, youmay want to consider adding snorkeling to your day’s activities. The underwater life off the Texas coast is every bit as prolific and colorful as anywhere in the world.
My son, Andy and his boys, Alex, 14, and Will, 16 recently joined me, Kathy Temple and Brian Tulloch aboard Brian’s boat, Gold Nugget in the Gulf of Mexico. Light winds from the north provided perfect conditions to go fishing and snorkeling.
Will and Alex had snorkeled in Hawaii, but not the Gulf of Mexico. They live a short walk from Barton Springs in Austin, often go snorkeling there and are very comfortable in the water with snorkeling equipment.
We attached the boat to Brazos rig A19, then Andy, Alex, Will and I went snorkeling while Brian and Kathy dropped weighted lines and floated other lines off the stern. The visibility was 100 feet, and at first there was so much to see that the boys were almost overwhelmed, but soon they started to focus.
Alex looked at the growth on the structure. Red, and yellow sponges were on display their colors enhanced by the sun shining through the water. He watched a barnacle project its tentacles in search of plankton. An adjacent barnacle had been vacated by the original animal and now housed a two-inch-blue blenny with red dots and bulging red eyes.
The curious blenny poked its head out, but when Alex got too close it withdrew. A brilliant orange cup coral emerged from its home and opened up like a flower to filter feed.
Every inch of the structure was covered by marine organisms. Feeding on all this were yellow and blue wrasses; sergeant majors; strawberry groupers; queen and French angels; and damselfishes.
Will was fascinated by the larger fish life. A school of 50 Atlantic spade fish parted when he took a breath and dived down to 15 feet, but they stayed close enough for him to touch. Several sinister looking barracuda kept their distance, while a group of six or eight jack crevalles made their way through the pilings.
A school of at least 300 mangrove snappers circled the outside of the rig, while 30 lookdown fish, with translucent almost see-through skin cruised by. The water became cloudy at about 80 feet, where there was a thermocline.
Will saw a very large red snapper come out of that murk layer and swim up to 50 feet, then retreat back to the cover of cloudy water.
At one point we all snorkeled out of the rig, and five lings ranging in size from four to five feet came up to within five feet of us. This was followed immediately by a six-foot hammerhead shark checking us out from a distance of about 20 feet.
I have been diving and snorkeling in the Gulf of Mexico since 1967 and have seen many sharks, but I don’t have a single first hand story about a shark harming a diver or snorkeler. Nevertheless, we swam back inside the rig’s structure. Sharks don’t like to swim inside rigs because of the slight electrical current that exists there.
While we were snorkeling, Brian caught some small blue fish using Spec Rigs. He put them on double hooks and dropped the bait about 20 feet below the boat. Soon one of the lings was hooked.
We watched from the surface inside the rig as Brian lifted the severely bent rod. Then we ducked our heads underwater and saw the ling heading for the bottom. It was fascinating to see the ling pull down and dart sideways, then look at Brian trying to work the fish up to the side of the boat. After the fish sounded many times Brian and Kathy finally landed it.
I owned Houston Scuba Academy for many years and taught many people how to snorkel. My recommendations for safe, fun snorkeling in the Gulf of Mexico are to get the proper equipment at a specialty SCUBA store and take a snorkel class.
The equipment should include a properly fitted mask that you have tried in the water, a snorkel that is easy to clear, fins that fit properly, and an inflatable life vest. The life vest can be the type of inflatable vest that is worn for safety on boats, or an inflatable snorkeling vest.
After you have taken lessons, you should practice snorkeling in a pool, lake, or river. When you go offshore, after attaching the boat to a rig, test the current. If it is really strong, do not go snorkeling.
If there is no current or it is very light, put a line with a buoy about 50 feet off the stern so that snorkelers who get pushed past the boat with a current can swim to the line and pull themselves in. Swimming with the fish and observing the abundant marine life off the Texas coast will add an exciting new dimension to your offshore adventures.
Matagorda Beach Surf Fishing: On many July days, calm, clear, bait-filled water is on Matagorda Beach. You may want to sink a rod holder in the sand, put a fresh dead or live shrimp on one or two hooks above a four-ounce weight, cast to the second sand bar, and settle into a comfortable chair. Then you can enjoy your favorite beverage until your reel sings and your rod bends. Or you may want to wade out to the second sand bar and cast artificial lures or live shrimp under a popping cork. Chances are you will have the thrill of catching fish using either approach.
Email Mike Price at [email protected]