THE STATE OF Texas Angler’s Rodeo (S.T.A.R.) has kicked off on Memorial Day each year for the last 30 years.
Offering anglers unprecedented opportunities to score on huge prizes, scholarships and fun, affordable competition, it is a pillar of the Texas coastal fishing community.
But entering its 31st season, COVID-19 looms.
The global pandemic at the time of this writing has shut down much of the world and no one is sure when restrictions on gatherings and travel will be lifted.
At the time of this writing, its May 25 kick-off was still scheduled but S.T.A.R. officials would be evaluating conditions April 30, about the time this issue hits newsstands. Like everything since the coronavirus entered the world stage, things with S.T.A.R. could change and we will have all updates through our e-newsletter, fishgame.com and the Texas Fish & Game Facebook and Instagram pages.
S.T.A.R. Director Bill Kinney said there is no better place for social distancing than along the Texas Gulf Coast and that as we seek God and the healing that can be found in the great outdoors, it is his hope S.T.A.R. will go on as planned.
“There is true healing to be found in creation and we hope everyone who wants to fish S.T.A.R. this year has that opportunity. Fishing for many of us is such an important part of relieving the stress of life and living that life to its fullest,” Kinney said.
For anglers who participate in this year’s tournament and heed the call of saltwater social distancing, the most talked about category is tagged redfish.
And while they are dispersed all over the state and move around plenty once released, one thing is for sure. You have to be where redfish congregate to catch them. So, here are some tips on finding summer reds in Texas.
In the summer, mid-coast reds will be feeding in seagrass beds in Aransas and Redfish Bays. Some of these areas are off limits to boats with propellers but those in which anglers can fish without restrictions are best fished with live bait. Live croaker or mullet pitched in the sand holes between grass pockets is a sure way to score on reds.
In the Laguna Madre area, anglers will be targeting reds up through fall along the edges of the Intracoastal and in the many little inlets between Corpus Christi and Port Mansfield. Topwaters like the Top Dog, Jr. and Skitter Walk are great for sight-casting to these reds in the region’s super clear waters.
For anglers with boats, the Sabine, north Galveston and Surfside Jetties are loaded with reds right now. Look for deep holes alongside the rocks to hold the most fish with the boating cuts being a secondary and sometimes highly productive option.
Live mullet is the best bait for the jetties, but artificial lures will work well too. Chunking a ½-ounce gold Rat-L-Trap or a chunking a big gold spoon tipped with squid or shrimp down into the deep holes works good for the jetty reds as well. Be warned however that when fishing the lighter tackle required for using lures, the reds can easily run straight into the rocks and you will not only lose the fish but your expensive lures.
Summer months bring speckled trout out to the open waters of the bay systems, where drifting becomes important.
In the Aransas, Corpus Christi Bay area, drifting over seagrass and mixed shell is the key to finding specks.
From Matagorda into Galveston Bay, anglers typically drift over shell and target emerging slicks, where the specks have been feeding on baitfish. Live shrimp under popping corks and topwaters are the best bets.
On the upper coast in Sabine Lake, anglers target big schools of menhaden (called shad locally) and drift with live or fresh dead shad under popping corks in the open area from about a mile north of Garrison Ridge up toward the Barrel Channel on the north end.
Anglers should also consider surf fishing for super-sized trout. Matagorda is known for its beastly summer surf trout but the area around High Island should not be ignored. It gives up impressive fish on those days when the sandy green water reaches the beach.
To consistently bag good numbers of quality-sized flounder during summer, concentrate on the widest and deeper parts of cuts in a bay system. The largest concentrations of flounder are usually in the first 1/8 mile of these cuts during the dog days of summer because they have more tidal water exchange on each tidal movement, which keeps these areas somewhat cooler than the shallow backwater.
The northern tier of the Galveston Bay system holds many flounder during summer as do places in the Sabine system like Johnson Bayou and Coffee Ground Cove.
Cooler water temperatures usually mean a higher content of dissolved oxygen which benefits flounder two-fold. First, it gives them more oxygen, which they need to be effective predators, and secondly it attracts more baitfish.
It is important to remember that tides dictate how flounder will be feeding. On a fast falling tide, they move in close to the drainage in tight schools. When it is falling slowly, they might scatter out around the mouth of a drainage or up into the marsh.
They will do the same thing during the first hour or so of an incoming tide. Then they will usually move into the cuts. I have always had far more success on incoming tides during summer months.
Anglers seeking sheepshead during the S.T.A.R. might want to try fishing a live shrimp under a popping cork is also a great way to catch them.
When the water clears up, these fish can be line shy so use a fluorocarbon leader under the cork for best results. Fluorocarbon is virtually invisible and it also has low-stretch properties, which enhances its sensitivity.
Many anglers use small treble hooks which the fish ingest, but with regulations that require us to throw back many of the sheepshead we catch that is probably not a good idea. Anglers have their best luck with thick, short-shanked hooks. Hook girth is something to consider due to the fact these fish often bite through thin hooks.
S.T.A.R. made gafftopsail catfish a star among anglers and they are easy pickings during the warmer months.
The key is finding pockets of big ones.
Gafftops are like their freshwater cousins in that they are suckers for chum and will hit just about any kind of bait. Taking a small chum basket and fishing from a pier or rock jetty can be extremely effective especially when fishing a dead shrimp or chunk of cut bait.
Chumming in the surf is not recommended if you plan on wading of course. You might invite sharks.
Rigging up for gafftop is easy. A simple free-line with a 10/0 circle hook connected to 17-pound test or better is usually more than adequate. When pursuing gafftops in the surf, use a typical fish-finder (Carolina) rig with a wide-gapped hook works great. Popping corks with cut bait fished under them is also a great way to catch these slimy creatures.
Other good areas are the jetty systems along the coast and around nearshore oil and gas platforms where some of the biggest “slimers” in the state dwell for anglers who have access to them.
And hopefully we all have access to every spot on the Gulf Coast and life gets back to normal in the great state of Texas and beyond.
— TF&G Staff Report