TPWD: 2008 Coastal Fishing Forecast Outstanding

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AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas coastal fishing forecast for 2008 looks much improved compared to last year. In 2007, one of the wettest summers on record played havoc with fishing success, as finding fish and identifying fishing patterns were a challenge to even the best anglers. On a positive note, biologists say, all the freshwater that came flushing into the bays carried nutrients and sediments that can really boost productivity. Coupled with a mild and dry winter, this year all of Texas’ bays are poised to really take off and provide some of the best fishing in years, biologists say.

"We are about to get a real-life demonstration of just how important freshwater inflows into our bays and estuaries really are," said Larry McKinney, Ph.D., TPWD coastal fisheries director. "It was such an extraordinary event that I am sure it will sustain productivity for some time and the end result will be some very strong year classes of fish, especially along the upper coast."

That prediction is echoed by Mark Fisher, Ph.D., TPWD coastal fisheries science director. Fisher has sorted through the mountain of data compiled by one of the most extensive data monitoring programs of its kind in the world, projecting that analysis into the upcoming fishing season.

"The long term data we have available for analysis provides a powerful basis for projecting population trends, so I have a lot of confidence making projections," said Fisher. "How successful an angler is in catching those fish is something else altogether, and all we can say there is good luck!"

Spotted Seatrout, Red Drum and Southern Flounder

One of the most sought-after game fish in coastal waters, spotted seatrout, or "speckled trout," is a case in point regarding angler success. Although landings decreased by 5 percent overall last year, the catch rate — an indicator of individual angler success — did increase by 8 percent. TPWD considers gill net surveys the best means available to estimate populations of adult fish. Spotted seatrout populations coastwide were at near-record numbers last year, with the spring 2007 gill net catches the highest in six years.

Red drum, or redfish, is the other fish most often sought by Texas recreational anglers, but they were not as easy to find last year as usual. Landings decreased by 24 percent and angler catch rates declined by 13 percent in 2007. This basically means catch rates returned to more "normal" levels. The unusually high tides made it more difficult for shallow-water anglers to find redfish. The good news for anglers is that gill net surveys show red drum populations remaining at near-record numbers, with fall 2007 catches the second-highest on record.

Southern flounder landings and abundance are at record low levels when considering the entire coast, so they remain a concern. TPWD’s coastal fisheries staff is looking carefully at this issue and expects to bring options for next year’s state fishing regulations to the TPW Commission to try to begin to turn this fishery around.

Here are highlights for individual bay systems:

Sabine Lake — Spotted seatrout abundance is at a near-record high, and 2007 gill net catch rates were also at near-record levels, well above this system’s 22-year average. Red drum anglers should expect successful trips since last year’s recreational landings of red drum were a near-record high and TPWD’s fall season gill net catch rate was the highest seen since the 2002 season.

Galveston Bay — Galveston Bay spring gill nets produced the highest spotted seatrout catches in 23 years. Recreational angler data collected during the same period of time indicates that both red drum and spotted seatrout catch rates have remained steady. This suggests that anglers should experience average or better-than-average trout and red drum catches for the remainder of 2008. Gray (mangrove) snapper and striped bass added additional variety to angler catches in 2007.

Matagorda Bay — Spotted seatrout catches in spring 2007 gill nets were the highest ever recorded over the past 24 years of sampling Matagorda Bay. These impressive numbers suggest that spotted seatrout populations in this system are doing very well and potentially translate into exceptional fishing for the upcoming summer months.   Look, too, for the return of a fall croaker run bolstered by good numbers of surprisingly large Atlantic and spotted croaker.

San Antonio Bay — Spring gill net catch rates for seatrout were down in 2007, continuing a recent trend, and dramatically off the 1998 high. The fresher bay conditions in 2007 also resulted in reduced fishing effort over the system as angler success rates dropped for spotted seatrout for the first time since 2003. The climbing salinities this year should present improved trout angling opportunities if current conditions continue through the summer. The 2007 red drum gill net catch rate fell off the record high of 2006. Despite this, the trend is still upward. Angler catch rates for red drum were also off in 2007. If the 2007 wet conditions persist, finding fish can be a challenge, so here is a hint: Hynes Bay. 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.

Aransas — Spotted seatrout abundance exhibited a sharp increase in last spring’s gill net surveys from a low in 2006 and anglers should be able to reap the benefits with increased catches this spring and summer. Red drum abundance remains well above the coastwide average and even increased during last fall’s gill net surveys. Angler landings of red drum this summer and into the fall season should rebound from the declines noted in 2007. Salinity levels in all areas of Aransas Bay are within normal historical ranges, and with continued routine rainfall events, habitat conditions should enable excellent recruitment for most species.

Corpus Christi — Angler catches of spotted seatrout should remain stable, with catches likely to improve for red drum. Spotted seatrout populations have decreased slightly, although the red drum population has increased to the third highest level ever recorded.  Abundance of sheepshead in Corpus Christi Bay are typically higher than the coastwide average, and they can provide a great family fishing opportunity.

Upper Laguna Madre — Spotted seatrout abundance in spring 2007 was the lowest recorded in the last four years. There are still a lot of big fish, as 18 percent of spotted seatrout caught in last spring’s gill nets (about the same percentage as last year) are 24 inches in length or greater.   Landings in 2006 were lower than 2005 but were still above the long-term mean. Upper Laguna Madre fall gill net catch rates for red drum were the second-highest recorded since 1984. Black drum are often overlooked by upper Laguna Madre anglers, but are extremely abundant in the upper Laguna Madre and show gill net catch rates 4-5 times higher than red drum and spotted seatrout.

Lower Laguna Madre — Private boat landings for spotted seatrout last year were at their lowest since 1990. However, with the new bag limits in place anglers should expect catches to improve and good numbers of smaller spotted seatrout (15 — 17 inches) can still be caught. While harvest data showed that red drum catch rates for anglers were down slightly in 2007, TPWD gill net catch rates were at near-record highs. Anglers targeting red drum should expect excellent catches in 2008. Area fishing guides reported excellent catches of snook, tarpon and mangrove snapper last year and, following a mild winter, 2008 should continue that trend.

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