Five-Trout Bag Limit Migrates North
Lower Catch and Possession Limits for the State’s Most Popular Inshore Game Fish
By Capt. Mike Holmes
When the first European immigrants came to the Texas coast, they found in the bays a graceful, slender fish with spots. Perhaps they called it a "speckled trout" because it somewhat resembled the brook trout of Eastern and mountain freshwater streams. The fish we now call a "speck" is actually in the same family as the croaker, and is a spotted weakfish. In the Gulf of Mexico and Texas bays, it is officially known as "spotted sea trout."
It is one of the most popular game fish on the Texas coast, and can be taken on live bait or artificial lures off piers or jetties, by wade fishing, and by boat. Professional guides are available up and down the coast.
These trout and the red drum (redfish) were the first saltwater species in Texas protected from commercial fishing and given size limits and daily bag and possession limits. Sale of both species was banned in 1981, and netting was prohibited in 1988. The first statewide minimum-size limit was 12 inches, which was then raised to 14 inches, and finally to 15. Guides were later prohibited from keeping a limit for themselves, and the bag limit for "trophy"-sized fish over 25 inches was set at one per day.
In 2007, the bag limit for spotted seatrout in the Lower Laguna Madre, below Marker 21 in the land cut area, was lowered from the coast-wide limit of 10 per day to five per angler per day. This was due to an observed decline in the numbers and especially the sizes of trout. Larger average-size trout catches have been documented since this change. It appears to be working.
For 2014, the five-fish bag limit will "migrate" northward to the Highway 457 bridge near Sargent, with a five-year sunset date. The recent proposal originally called for a possession limit of five per day, but was modified by commission action to twice the daily bag limit, or 10 fish per angler.
North of FM 457, the daily bag limit remains 10 trout per angler per day and 20 in possession.
According to Lance Robinson, Regional Director of the TPWD Coastal Fisheries Division, the reasoning behind the bag limit reductions involved several factors. One was a decrease in natural "recruitment" of mature fish that would be expected to result in lower numbers of adult and sub-adult fish. Significant changes in bay system habitats do not bode well for these fish, either. Fishing pressure also is increasing with a boom in coastal development, and the state’s population is projected to rise even more over the next decade. At least a portion of these new residents will probably be fishermen. Given these circumstances, the bag reduction was seen as a proactive measure to maintain a valuable resource.
Mike Holmes has been chronicling Texas' outdoors for 32 years. He has been a charter captain, and served on the board of the National Charterboat Owners Association, the Migratory Pelagics Advisory Panel to the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council, and other advisory boards.