H ALLELUJA! We finally have a real red snapper season in federal waters, more than nine nautical miles offshore.
Back in 2005, I fished for red snappers at the V.A. Fogg wreck and caught 20, but every fish was less than the legal size of 16 inches. Today however, the situation is much different thanks to the management of National Marine Fisheries Service.
Red snappers are bigger and more abundant than ever off the Texas coast, but Texas offshore fishermen have not had enough opportunity to fish for them. Red snapper season for the last several years has only been three to nine days.
A new arrangement has been worked out so that Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will manage red snapper in federal waters off the Texas coast. The season is projected to be 82 days. It started June 1, but may be shorter if the total recreational catch is reached before then. The red snapper limit in federal waters is two fish and they must be at least 16 inches.
Many species of fish actively chase prey in the Gulf of Mexico in July, and the fun starts when your boat is in the midst of this turmoil. Some of my favorite predators are king mackerel, ling, and tripletail.
The way to fish for king mackerel is to float a line off the stern using a wire leader, rigged with two hooks and ribbonfish for bait. Ling are curious and often approach the boat when it arrives, so have a fluorocarbon leader with a sardine on your hook and a two-ounce sinker (or no sinker) ready. Drop the bait close to the ling and stand by. Tripletail will be found under weed lines. They are cautious fish, so use a fluorocarbon leader and live bait if possible. Tripletail will take shrimp, sardines, and sometimes a soft plastic lure.
The best days to fish the surf are when the water is calm and clear, but these conditions are rare. Last July I thought the surf would be right because there was a six-mph wind from the north which typically makes for small waves on the first sand bar. But the previous few days the wind had come from the southeast at 15 mph. Consequently, there was so much energy in the water that choppy, unfriendly waves were breaking on both the first and second sand bars.
I knew the tide was incoming, a strong plus factor, so I waded out there. I caught gafftop and trout. Two of the larger trout (20 and 22 inches) pulled the drag and fought well. I thought it was great fun even though I got bashed around by the waves. Remember to wear your life jacket when fishing in the surf.
A week later, I went back to the same spot with Jeff Wiley. This time the water was calm and clear. We caught whiting, shark, gafftop, menhaden, pinfish, and ladyfish, but no trout. There were so many fish in the surf that we snagged several, and mullet were there by the millions. I surmised that we did not catch trout because the tide was at a lull whereas the previous week it had been incoming.
I quietly paddled my kayak into a bayou connecting two coves in West Matagorda Bay. The depth was 12 to 15 inches over oyster shell. My Chicken-on-a-Chain Bass Assassin sailed 20 yards to a narrow (five feet) spot with cordgrass on both sides. When the lure hit the water I saw a yellow mouth the size of my fist take it and go back underwater, and then the line went slack. I thought the trout got off. Then it swam past my kayak and out into the cove, and the line tightened. My spirits rose, but after a short struggle, the big trout got off.
When fishing shallow water with a soft plastic lure, use a 1/16 ounce jig head if you are using a spinning rod and a 1/8 ounce jig head if you’re fishing with a bait casting outfit.
Keep your rod tip high. As soon as the lure hits the water, start moving it or it will sink and get stuck. Fish in shallow, clear water are wary, so cast long distances and be as quiet as possible. The best time of day to find them in shallow water is early morning.
If conditions are calm and clear, the surf is where you want to be in July. Famed Bay City fisherman, Eddie Douglas (inventor of the ED Special lure) said, “You want to be out in the surf right around the Fourth of July. Those trout move from east to west along the coast, so when you hear that they are hitting on the beach in Freeport, head for the beach in Matagorda, we’re next.”
If the water is rough, you will not be able to venture out into the surf without getting tumbled. If you stand on the beach, you can toss a popping cork with a shrimp into the gut or cast your weighted shrimp onto the sandbar. Then slowly drag it into the gut. The hit usually comes when the bait drops.
RESEARCH STATION SHORELINE: This spot is great for kayak and wade fishing. To get to the water you have to walk (or carry your kayak) over some rocks, but once you reach the water, the terrain is hard sand so it is easy to launch your kayak or to wade-fish. It is located on the north side of West Matagorda Bay. It is subject to off-colored water on south winds, so it’s best to fish this spot on a light north wind. To get there turn south off Highway 35 onto FM 3280 west of Palacios and follow it until you come to the bay.
Email Mike Price at [email protected]