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Saltwater Anglers Can Expect Good Year Coastwide, ‘Banner’ Year on Some Bay Systems
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Parks and Wildlife Department coastal fisheries biologists are predicting a good year for saltwater anglers in Texas.
“Two years ago, the year began with a white Christmas and ended with a record number of hurricanes. Last year began with a severe drought and ended with no hurricanes. This year has started off chilly and wet,” noted Mark Fisher, Ph.D., TPWD’s Coastal Fisheries Division science director. “Despite the unusual weather patterns, the outlook for the coastal angler is a good one.”
Fisheries biologists forecast angler success by analyzing the previous year’s sampling and survey data. Sampling is conducted using gill nets, bag seines and trawls; surveys of anglers are conducted throughout the year.
The resulting data set has been called the largest and best such collection of information on coastal fisheries in the world and received high marks in an independent scientific review by scientists from the American Fisheries Society.
“Overall, our data show our inshore saltwater fisheries to be in excellent shape,” said Larry McKinney, Ph.D., director of TPWD’s Coastal Fisheries Division. “Texas bays continue to provide world-class angling opportunities, and we are hopeful that recent changes in regulations — including last year’s seagrass conservation measure in Redfish Bay and the upcoming spotted seatrout bag limit change in the lower Laguna — will help continue that trend.”
An analysis of information collected in 2006 indicates:
- Fishing effort remained steady from last year, despite high fuel costs.
- Total landings decreased 4 percent and total catch per angler-hour decreased 3 percent.
- Spotted seatrout landings and angler catch rates decreased 3 percent.
- Red drum landings increased 12 percent, and angler catch rates remained at a 10-year high.
- Gill net surveys show red drum populations remaining at near-record numbers.
- Gill net surveys indicate high abundance of 20 to 30-inch trout from the strong 2000-2004 year classes. Red drum are at near-record abundance, with high numbers of 20-24-inch fish. A strong 2005 year class is just now reaching the 20” minimum size. Above-average numbers of 14-20-inch flounder are also present.
- Some popular boat ramps are still in disrepair from Hurricane Rita.
- No live bait (shrimp or fish) is available in the area.
- The system received above-average rain since last fall. Lower salinities and higher freshwater inflows should push productive fishing to the southern reaches of the bay and out into nearshore Gulf waters.
- Black drum anglers should expect successful trips.
- Spotted seatrout abundance is at a near-record high, as is southern flounder.
- Anglers should use extreme patience and caution when driving to Sabine Pass during early morning or late evening hours. During these times, traffic is very heavy due to several major industrial projects.
- Red drum abundance remains high with last fall’s gill net catches being the second highest on record. A large number of small fish were seen which should help the angler catches be above average for the 20 to 25-inch sizes.
- With all the rain this winter, along the Galveston-Freeport area, salinities should be more normal and forage species (shrimp and other baitfish) should be abundant.
- The average size of flounder seen in gillnet surveys has increased even though the abundance of southern flounder remains low.
- Spotted seatrout abundance in gill net surveys is just below the long-term average. Angler catches should remain stable, as in the past few years, and have many fish in the 18 to 22 inch range.
- Last year’s unusually warm and dry winter resulted in challenging spring and summer red drum and spotted seatrout angling. Guides and recreational anglers often reported fishing in areas not traditionally known as “hot spots” and discovering surprisingly good catches. It is likely this year’s cooler, wetter winter will redistribute prey and predator species back into the historically productive recreational fishing areas in Matagorda Bay.
- Colder winter temperatures in Matagorda Bay did not result in significant temperature-related fish kills so it is probable that mangrove snapper abundance will remain high.
- Last fall, bait camp owners in Sargent reported a banner croaker run for anglers fishing the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway near Mitchell’s Cut, the Gulf pass at Sargent. Given current conditions it is likely this trend will continue throughout the next summer and fall.
- Flounder catches during the fall were surprisingly high. Significant numbers of anglers accessing shoreline fishing sites near the Colorado River diversion via canoe and kayak reported excellent flounder fishing near the junction of the Matagorda locks, Colorado River diversion and the Intracoastal Waterway.
- Sargassum and Portuguese-Man-O-War are already piling up on Matagorda beach. The arrival of this pelagic vegetation generally indicates the arrival of warmer Gulf waters, tripletail and other pelagic species such as ling and dolphin.
- Gulf shrimpers have been observed working nearshore Gulf waters off Matagorda beach in search of spawning white shrimp. While this occurrence may not seem a logical diagnostic tool for predicting recreational angler success it does indicate the presence of large quantities of prey in the surf. Inevitably, the presence of the large white shrimp equates to the presence of finfish predators exploiting this abundant food source.
- Current hydrologic and environmental conditions combined with our knowledge of a steady upward trend in landings and abundance of spotted seatrout and red drum seems to indicate that 2007 will be a banner fishing year in the Matagorda Bay system.
San Antonio Bay
- Last fall's higher-than-average salinities were recently dismissed by heavy rainfalls over the watershed. Salinities in San Antonio Bay are now below average; however the freshwater inflow volume was not large enough to "freshen up" Espiritu Santo Bay where many anglers fish. If rainfall over the watershed is normal for the remainder of the year San Antonio Bay salinities should return to normal during the summer.
- Despite near record-high fishing pressure, angler landings for red drum and spotted seatrout continue to increase and remain at 20 year highs.
- Netting surveys indicate that red drum populations in the bay system are the highest in over 20 years. This should make for good red drum angling in 2007.
- While netting surveys for spotted seatrout indicate the population is off the highs of a few years ago, it is still higher than the long-term average and has increased much over the last 20 years. Anglers can expect trout fishing in 2007 to be similar to last year.
- While netting surveys indicate that the Southern flounder population is declining, the angler catch rate has remained stable. There is no reason to suspect this trend will not continue in 2007.
- Several research projects are underway in the estuary to ensure continued adequate freshwater inflows to the San Antonio Bay system and provide for improved oyster reef maps for upper San Antonio Bay.
- For an added adventure anglers visiting Calhoun County should try Hynes Bay near Austwell. Netting surveys indicate that large numbers of red drum frequent this bay during warmer months. Anglers can launch their boats at Austwell in Hynes Bay and avoid a long run to fishing spots.
- A non-traditional saltwater species that can be caught in the San Antonio Bay ecosystem is blue catfish. This species is a freshwater resident that ventures into the upper bay near the Guadalupe River in Guadalupe Bay and Mission Lake. Blue cats are fairly easily caught on live or dead bait after rain-induced "freshets" and make excellent table fare.
- It remains illegal to uproot seagrass within the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area. However, anglers are reminded that access is allowed throughout the RBSSA. Hint for boaters: Lift, Drift, Pole or Troll in seagrass meadows.
- Spotted seatrout abundance showed a decline from previous record highs and has dipped slightly below the coastwide average. Angler catches have remained high but declined somewhat from last year.
- Red drum abundance is lower than last year but is tapering from near record highs during 2002-03. Angler landings of red drum are following this same pattern and they should find another good year of fishing.
- Routine rainfall events have kept salinity levels below historical averages throughout the Aransas system. Recruitment for numerous marine organisms should be excellent because of this.
- Last fall’s red tide event impacted very few game fish in Aransas Bay
Corpus Christi Bay
- Increasing salinity along with a lack of freezes in recent years should continue the trend of larger angler catches of gray snapper along with other more tropical species moving up from the south.
- Angler catches of red drum and spotted seatrout should remain high. Spotted seatrout populations have increased, although the red drum population has declined slightly.
- Southern flounder numbers are similar to last year, and angler catches will likely remain low.
- Sheepshead abundance is similar to last year. Angler catches have been increasing for the past 5 years and are expected to remain at high levels.
Upper Laguna Madre
- Spotted seatrout abundance in 2006 remained at near- record numbers. Fish over 24 inches in length made up about 18 percent of spotted seatrout caught in last spring’s gill nets. Upper Laguna Madre spotted seatrout landings generally increased between 1990 and 2006. Landings in 2006 were the second highest on record since 2000.
- Upper Laguna Madre fall gill net catch rate for red drum was the lowest recorded since 1995. The low abundance of red drum in fall 2006 may have been caused by severe drought conditions in south Texas resulting in very high salinities during 2005 and much of 2006. Despite the drought and lower abundance, recreational landings continued to increase.
- Black drum, often overlooked by anglers, are extremely abundant. The upper Laguna is the center of abundance for this species.
- Completion of the Packery Channel Dredging Project and Packery Channel public boat ramps last summer has provided area anglers improved access to Gulf and jetty fishing opportunities. A good number of large snook, spotted seatrout, and red drum were landed from the Packery Channel jetties last summer. Large schools of Spanish mackerel have been reported by jetty fishermen this spring.
- Brown tide has been observed since Fall 2003, but it has not affected fish populations. Large noisy lures or rattling bobbers are effective at producing fish in brown-tide stained water, as are natural baits.
Lower Laguna Madre
- Red drum were caught in near-record numbers again last year. Anglers should expect the same for 2007.
- Spotted seatrout populations and catch rates were down last year; however, anglers should still expect to catch good numbers of the smaller spotted seatrout (15 — 17 inches) and a few of the over-25 inch size class can still caught by the skilled, or lucky, angler.
- Snook, tarpon, and mangrove snapper catches continue to be excellent in the lower Laguna Madre. Snook and mangrove snapper anglers should concentrate their efforts around structure adjacent to deeper water and along the mangroves in South Bay.
- Anglers are reminded that, beginning Sept. 1, 2007, both the daily bag and possession limit for spotted seatrout in the Lower Laguna Madre will be five fish, only one of which may be 25 inches or longer.
Anglers can find more information on historic catch rates (by species) for any Texas bay system — as well as boat ramp locations — at TPWD’s interactive, online “Catch Rate By Minor Bay” application.
For more information about a particular bay system, please contact the appropriate TPWD Coastal Fisheries ecosystem leader listed below:
- Sabine Lake: Jerry Mambretti (409-983-1104)
- Galveston Bay: Rebecca Hensley (281-534-0108)
- Matagorda Bay: Bill Balboa (361-972-6253)
- San Antonio Bay: Norman Boyd (361-983-4425)
- Aransas Bay: Karen Meador (361-729-2328)
- Corpus Christi Bay: VACANT (361-729-2328)
- Upper Laguna Madre: Kyle Spiller (361-825-3353)
- Lower Laguna Madre: Mark Lingo (956-350-4490)
On the Net:
- Texas Recreational Fishing Regulations: http://tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/recreational/
- Changes to Saltwater Fishing Regulations Sept. 1, 2007: http://tpwd.texas.gov/newsmedia/releases/?req=20070409c
- Seagrass Conservation: http://tpwd.texas.gov/newsmedia/releases/news_roundup/seagrass_conservation/
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