T HESE COMMENTS AND MANY MORE are just a sampling of real life conversations I have been a part of the past several months.
“The phone is just not ringing like it has this time of year in the past. I don’t see the weekenders like we normally do.”
“The place looks empty without our bait stands operating. Is the economy bad all over America or just here on the middle Texas coast?”
“There’s just nowhere for folks to stay if you visit Rockport now.”
“The bays are not the same as in the past, things have moved, the fish have moved, and it’s harder to find the bite (feeding fish). The help is mostly gone, FEMA did not deliver and there is still so much to do.”
“Will Rockport ever be the same?”
“When I looked at the bay growing up, I saw it as a friend, but now, like an unpredictable companion, I know it can be a soul mate one day and my worst enemy the next. I don’t feel at peace here anymore.”
“Will our area ever be the same?”
If you study hard-hit disaster areas all over our country, these feelings and views are quite normal. For certain, any place that has been devastated needs a shot in the arm, a boost, a leg up if you will.
It seems these days everyone has a suggestion that will help Rockport turn the corner. Just recently at a local guide meeting I attended, it was stated that if we raise the fish limits (an angler’s legal number of keeper fish) it will bring more anglers back to our coastlines.
“Let’s raise trout limits from five back to 10 or 15.” was one suggestion.
“Lower the slot length on reds and up the limit from three to five.” was another suggestion.
“Louisiana has a lot fewer restrictions, and their fish stock hasn’t suffered,” said one in defense of the above recommendations.
These comments are not just wishful thinking, the Texas Parks and Wildlife is holding open meetings on these and other resource-related topics as I write this article. It has been suggested to raise limits in just those areas, which are at present economically challenged, such as Rockport.
The thought is that it will bring more business or bring back business to our struggling area. Other thoughts include allowing angling clients to keep the guide’s limit in addition to her/his own (the client’s) limit.
This of course doesn’t help the recreational angler (non-guide) one bit. Rather it would help local fishing guides stay afloat. The scary part about these recovery strategies is they lack real science. Instead, they are a quick fix to a very complicated issue.
If you are drowning, it is natural to latch onto anything to save your life, be it a life ring, a 200-pound bull shark, a 300-pound alligator or a chunk of concrete. The life ring is the answer, but it may be the hardest to get to.
The point being that problems here are multifaceted and require diverse and open-minded solutions. For us to once again lean on our natural resources, as a cure-all to our problems is to commit the same mistakes that has 30 percent of the world’s fisheries on the edge of unrecoverable collapse.
Take the Atlantic cod for example. For years, it was believed this fish was immune to over fishing, then man became more and more efficient and more aggressive with his long nets and fishing apparatus.
The wakeup call came in the early ’90s, which saw what was once as an unlimited supply of cod, now at less than one percent of its early years’ biomass. This crash saw the collapse of many northern communities, especially along Canada’s eastern coast.
The tragedy here was the marine biologists and even seasoned fishermen warned that the data supported a collapse of the fishing industry at its current pace. These and other warnings were ignored in favor of unqualified opinions and less than scientific reasoning that focused on short-term fixes and goals.
The result was the end of a 500-year-old industry and means of making a living for families on the eastern seaboard. The blue fin tuna, as well the yellow fin tuna, is on the brink today.
Looking to our natural fisheries resource to bail us out is not the answer, especially long term. The answer lies in creating an economy that is not just dependent on fishing. Our area has more to offer than that.
Prior to the Harvey, if a person was truly looking they could see it. Birding, for example, was rivaling recreational fishing. It was and still can be one of Rockport’s top visitor draws. It is also year-round.
People line up to see whooping cranes, humming birds, gulls, white pelicans, and brown pelicans. The indigenous animal viewing alone is incredible: white tailed deer, bobcats, lynxes, ringtail cats, and the list goes on.
I would like to see a robust aquarium here that clearly shows the multiple water species here and a timeline that shows how long it takes for each species to reach not just maturity, but legal keeper size.
Believe it or not, the majority of people who live here don’t fish, they simply enjoy being close to our bays. A daily drive to see the water, smell the Gulf air, and dip one’s toes and ankles is all that’s needed to turn a bad day into a good day.
My sister, while dealing with cancer, came for her last visit to our area. As she sat looking out over St. Charles Bay said, “It breaks my heart that I may never get to feel this again.”
The operative word here is FEEL!
You can truly feel the energy and beauty here. These things are free, and they have almost no negative impact on our natural resources. These are by pure definition a “non-zero sum,” which is just a new age term for win/win where everyone gains.
In this man’s limited view, it is precisely what this area needs for long-term success. Short sighted answers seldom, if ever work when they apply to our natural resources. If we raise fish limits, it needs to be based on the best science available and not on economic or political pressure.
This I know is tough love but similar to 98 percent of our planet’s population, some in our area may need to embrace a career change. It’s not easy, but it’s the right thing to do. Let us learn from history and our mistakes lest we become history ourselves.
The bait stand situation is better. Two more have opened, with more on the way. They are still battling available boats to catch bait as many were destroyed, but thankfully that too is improving. Hotel re-openings are still slow, so again check ahead for accommodations.
Most anglers are using live bait this time of year. However, this can also be a good time to switch to cut bait. Menhaden and mullet are easy to find and with a little patience produce good results.
COPANO BAY: Still some hazards in the water, so proceed with caution. The area close to Swan Lake is producing some keeper reds using finger mullet free-lined or cut menhaden free-lined. Some keeper black drums are at the mouth of Mission Bay; use fresh dead shrimp on a very light Carolina rig.
ARANSAS BAY: Grass Island Reef is a good place for trout using free-lined croaker. Some black drum may be found on Scotch Tom Reef, with fresh dead shrimp on a light Carolina rig being the best approach.
ST. CHARLES BAY: Little Devil’s Bayou is a good place for reds using cut mullet on a medium Carolina rig. Wades on the shoreline just off Big Sharp Point are good for trout and reds using live shrimp under a rattle cork. Some keeper reds may be found at the mouth of McHugh Bayou. Cut menhaden works well here free-lined or on a light Carolina rig.
CARLOS BAY: Wades with finger mullet on the shoreline near Cedar Point are good for reds and trout. Free-lined is best here. Cedar Reef is a good spot for sheepshead and black drum using free-lined peeled shrimp.
MESQUITE BAY: The shoreline just off Roddy Island is a good spot for reds using finger mullet and croaker on a light Carolina rig. During high tide Third Chain Islands is a good spot for some flounder and reds using free-lined live shrimp. A subtle bite will be a flounder. The reds will almost knock the rod out of your hand.
AYERS BAY: The Second Chain Island side is a good spot for large black drums using jumbo shrimp on a very light Carolina rig. Cracked crab works as well. Live shrimp in this area will produce some keeper trout. The northwest shoreline has been holding some black drums and sheepshead. Peeled shrimp under a silent cork work well here.
HAIL POINT in St. Charles Bay is a good wade for trout and reds. The area can be waded to from Goose Island boat ramp. It’s a long wade so bring water. In this area the reefs run almost 90 degrees off the shoreline. Live shrimp as well as croaker work well here free-lined.
Email Capt. Mac Gable at [email protected]