WHEN NINE-YEAR OLD Reese Dearing noticed something floating in the water at the Sandy Shores Addition at Crystal Beach. He thought it was a small clump of sargassum (seaweed).
He simply followed childhood curiosity and picked it up.
What he found however blew his mind and this wildlife journalist’s as well.
Instead of seaweed, it was a tiny seahorse, an adult dwarf seahorse to be exact, a creature he (and I) have never seen alive in the wild.
He brought the tiny creature up to show his parents who quickly shot these photos and video clips, then put the intricate little creature back into the sandy green waters of the Gulf to live a full life.
I learned of the discovery gassing up for a shark fishing trip as his mother Dana proudly showed me the images. Reese beamed with pride at his unique discovery.
This event reminded me of times spent beach combing with my parents searching out shells and sand dollars. And it also reminds me of the fact there are creatures that few people realize that dwell in the Gulf of Mexico.
This includes some amazing fish that anglers sometimes catch.
You have undoubtedly heard of the blue marlin, sailfish and perhaps the Pacific’s black marlin. But did you know there is a white marlin?
It is sometimes called the Atlantic blue marlin, but it inhabits of the Gulf of Mexico and is a beautiful creature.
The maximum size is 180 pounds and the total length is no more than 110 inches. Despite typically dwelling in water at least 300 feet deep, they prefer feeding near the surface and are sometimes caught by anglers pursuing the larger blue marlin.
Unfortunately 90 percent of catches are on long lines, killing untold numbers of them before anglers ever have a chance to see them.
This species of jackfish sometimes called threadfin trevally or pennant fish is a super fighter and is sometimes caught around oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.
In Texas they are sometimes caught while trolling oil rigs for king mackerel or on party boats seeking snappers and groupers.
Did you know bonefish range into Texas?
These hard-hitting, highly sought-after flats-dwelling fish do occasionally pop up in Texas. In fact, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials caught some juveniles in recent years in their net surveys.
A bonefish record from Texas in 1977 was caught by C.W. Morris. It weighed 3.75 pounds and measured 23.25 inches. Don’t expect to catch one anytime soon, but if you don’t be totally shocked.
It is possible.
Bluefin are the world’s largest tuna, and they are a rare catch in the Texas Gulf. Last year, however, a number of bluefins were caught off both the Texas and Louisiana coasts.
Looking back, the Texas record is a whopping 808 pounds and was caught by Trina Isaacs in 1985. Anglers are more familiar with the smaller blackfin tuna and the larger and rare yellowfin catch.
But we also have big eye and skipjack tuna.
On a side note, tunas are not the only fish to be found in Gulf waters. We have received a few inquiries over the years about the big silver and yellow fish that inexperienced anglers have caught in our bays. They thought they had a yellowfin tuna, but it was a jack crevalle.
There may be slight similarities in appearance but definitely not taste.
A few years back we ran a story on the disappearing oceanic whitetip shark. These beautiful creatures were once extremely common in Gulf waters, but have virtually vanished because of long lining and the market for shark fin soup. Some estimates show a 99 percent decline in Gulf numbers.
I did stumble across the first and only whitetip catch I can find for Gulf waters. An angler named Blake Oestreich caught a 200 pounder in the Texas Gulf in 2014., So a few are still out there.
Lesser electric rays normally lie buried in the sand of the surf zone and shallow Gulf. Accidentally stepping on one can be a shocking experience according to TPWD officials.
“These rays have two specialized organs on their backs that can provide enough electricity to knock down an unwary adult.”
I have never heard of anyone getting shocked by one of these. but there have been some caught along the coast. I would love to see one, but am not sure about how to get one off the hook.
Thinking back to little Reese’s seahorse discovery, there was something beautiful about those times.
For his entire life he will now view the Gulf of Mexico as a place of possibilities. Not only does he now know it is full of common Texas beach finds such as hardhead catfish, jellyfish and crabs. But now he knows the most iconic small ocean creature—the seahors—also dwells there.
I hope it instills in him a deep appreciation for the grand work God did in the Gulf. Seeing the whole family light up when I recited the story, further strengthened my resolve to write about what I call the “forgotten sea.”
The Gulf of Mexico and all of its wonders get little attention from the corporate wildlife media, but encounters like this can do what dozens of television programs and bad blogging cannot.
Hopefully this story does the same for anglers and expands appreciation for what lives off our coasts and maybe inspires a little fishing exploration in the process.
Big game fishing off the coast of Texas.
—story by CHESTER MOORE