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Rowland’s Record Trout Shows Texas Potential
AUSTIN, Texas — While many anglers along the Texas coast were complaining about unusually poor catch rates during 2002, Carl "Bud" Rowland was enjoying a record year. While flyfishing the lower Laguna Madre on May 23, 2002, Rowland caught and released a spotted seatrout that measured 37 ¼ inches and weighed 15 pounds, 6 ounces — a new line class world record and eventual Texas state record.
Ironically, those tough fishing conditions may have set the stage for banner fishing along the coast this year, including the potential for a new state record trout, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department coastal fisheries science director Mark Fisher.
Fisher said the reduced harvest in 2002 was not due to a lack of fish. "It was an unusual year," he noted. "For some reason the fish changed their usual patterns. They were still out there, just not in the same places anglers were accustomed to finding them."
TPWD biologists confirmed this during recent gillnet surveys that revealed an unusually high number of four-year-old trout in the system.
Early on this April and May, it looked like a record season, for trout in particular. Then the rains came.
"The recent rain has reduced gillnet catch rates in the upper parts of the bays, but that’s short-term," said Fisher. "Long-term, that freshwater inflow will be a good thing, delivering nutrients that will result in greater productivity in years to come."
The rain is a temporary setback, Fisher said, the precursor to what should be an outstanding summer for coastal angling.
A case in point is the Upper Laguna Madre, which stretches from Corpus Christi Bay south through the land cut, about 20 miles north of Port Mansfield. TPWD spring gillnet sampling here indicates spotted sea trout abundance is the highest it’s been since 1975, about 33 percent higher than last two years. And there are some really big fish.
"About half the fish we saw in our nets this year were between 16 and 23 inches, with a significant percentage over 24 inches, including one that was 33 inches and 11.5 pounds, the largest ever caught in the Upper Laguna," said Kyle Spiller, TPWD Upper Laguna Madre ecosystem leader.
"Recreational anglers should be expecting to catch more fish this summer because of the increases in the population we’ve seen and also have a better chance to land a trophy size fish," Spiller said.
Fisher said similar data were showing up coast wide before the rains.
"Our Aransas bay crew caught 15 fish in one set that were over 24 inches and one at 30 inches during the week of May 11, not a record but still a remarkable catch of large trout," he explained. "This is an example of what we’re seeing everywhere along the coast-that we’ve got a lot of big trout in our various bays. Sabine had some early catches of large trout, but they got flushed out."
The bottom line, Fisher said, is that once the rains flush through, probably in mid to late July, biologists expect generally excellent trout fishing, with the possibility of some trophy trout, everywhere on the Texas coast.
Although admittedly a bit too soon to credit new regulations as the reason for the abundance of bigger fish in the bays, Ed Hegen, TPWD’s regional director of coastal fisheries for the lower coast, believes trout fishing should only get better with the 25-inch maximum size limit on trout.
"We’d like to think the regulations will work, but not this quickly," he said. "We had a mild winter and a tremendous amount of rain, which has created an abundance of nutrients."
With a healthy ecosystem in place and an already abundant population of large trout, Fisher said it’s conceivable that a new state record may be lurking. "I did some age and growth analysis and it’s possible we could have a 41-inch trout out there," he boasted.
But, Fisher was quick to add, the only way a trout will have a chance to attain that size is if it’s allowed to grow. It’s conceivable the current state record trout is still out there, since Rowland released it back into the water two years ago. His decision to turn the fish loose almost cost the angler recognition as the state record holder.
Because of TPWD requirements in 2002 for certifying a state record catch, Rowland would have had to bring his fish ashore to have it weighed on certified scales. He preferred to weigh it on the water and return it. Texas requirements have been changed to permit the use of certifiable handheld scales to record the weight and then release the catch.
For the latest on what’s biting where, check the Texas Fishing Report on the Internet (http://tpwd.texas.gov/fish/infish/reports/fishreport.php). Information is listed regionally here for the various parts of Texas, including a saltwater section covering 18 bay locations all along the coast (http://tpwd.texas.gov/fish/infish/action/reptform1.php?water=Salt&browse=Go).
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