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about the Cover Congratulations to Ashlyn Shepherd on landing an exceptional Galveston Bay redfish. Ashlyn says she was not able to measure or weigh her trophy, and wanted to make as quick a release as possible. Kudos on the CPR!
February 2018 VOL 27 NO 10
10 Clear Solutions 16 Absolute Number Four 22 Bodie Goes To England: Part VII 26 Redfish to the Rescue 32 Sheepshead City
38 42 46 50 54 58 62 66 65 68
Steve Hillman Kevin Cochran Martin Strarup Chuck Uzzle Joe Richard
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92 6 | February 2018
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Another Near Miss
New Year’s Day had been cold but still above freezing until 6:00 PM when freezing rain began to accumulate in a glassy layer. Pam and I struggled in 30-mph north wind to cover plants and palm trees. We live only three miles from the shores of San Antonio Bay. So much for New Year’s celebrations. The mercury in the thermometer on my back porch was disappearing as though the glass had a hole in it. It read 27⁰ when I checked before turning in at midnight. At 6:00 AM of January 2 it read 19⁰ and bottomed out at 17⁰ as the sun was rising. It remained below freezing throughout the day. Another cold one, January 3 dawned a crispy 24⁰. Tracking the water temperature in San Antonio Bay on the Conrad Blucher Institute website, I feared we might lose some fish. Around mid-morning that day, duck hunters who braved the weather began sending photos that verified my concern. Thankfully, though the images revealed quite a few dead or cold-stunned turtles and speckled trout, the damage was not widespread, limited mostly to back lakes on Matagorda Island. Fish-killing freezes are nothing new on the middle coast, we had the really bad ones in ’83 and ’89, and somewhat limited events in 2010 and again in 2011. You’d think the fishing community would understand them a little better, by now. First off – it is unlawful to take cold-stunned or dead fish by any means during a freeze. Why some folks cannot resist doing this remains
a mystery. Yes, the dead ones are dead. But who’s to say the coldstunned fish will not survive if left alone? I received a very disappointing comment via email, “So much for reducing the trout limit to five. All the fish we saved just died in the freeze.” But did they? Simple math says the more fish we have within a given ecosystem going into a freeze, the more that are likely to survive and contribute to re-populating the bays. Speckled trout begin showing signs of cold-stress when water temperatures decline below 44⁰, losing equilibrium and sinking to the bottom. Colder, at 42⁰ for prolonged periods, some individuals will die. Dangerously cold, below 40⁰, many will die as their metabolism continues to shut down. The thermocline that occurs within the water column is what saves fish during a cold spell. Even though they might sink to the bottom, it’s warmer there. Their best chance for recovery is to be left undisturbed. That’s why TPWD calls upon the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association, asking for voluntary suspension of barge traffic in the ICW, where fish are known to seek refuge from the cold in deep water. The absence of tugboat wheel-wash mixing cold surface water with warmer water near bottom gives cold-stunned fish a better chance. Avoiding the churning propellers in their disabled state also boosts survival. Conservation is a powerful tool. God gave man dominion over the animals of the land and the fish of the sea. Let’s use it wisely.
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8 | February 2018
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STORY BY STEVE HILLMAN
Catching trout in clear water offers some challenges but all is not lost.
ell, itâ€™s becoming evident that weâ€™re finally having a winter here on the Texas Coast. In the wee hours of the morning on December 8, sleet and snow began to fall. Around 1:30 AM I woke my daughter and wife for the spectacularly rare sight as the mixed precipitation had turned into very large snowflakes. By 6:00 AM we witnessed 2-inches of accumulation. The postcard-like view from our back patio as the sun rose seemed to bring a bit of cheer that I think we all needed.
The next day I hit the water with hopes of fooling a few trout and reds in water that had plummeted to 45.5⁰ F. Not surprisingly, we found air-clear water and zero signs of bait activity. It was pretty much what I expected, given the circumstances. The surface water temperature just a couple of days prior was around 67⁰ F. So many changes occurring in such a short amount of time had me a bit concerned but I had a pretty good idea of how the fish would respond. Our fish had gorged the day before when the front hit. Water temperatures dropped very quickly and the water clarity went from one foot to three feet visibility. The colder water paired with less sunlight over time causes the algae/plankton to die, resulting in fewer suspended organic particles in the water column. We experience this every year and it can present a challenge for those who choose to use artificial baits exclusively. During mild winters such as the past couple of years, we typically find ourselves frequenting semi-shallow water near deep areas as fish instinctively descend when major cold weather events occur. So far this winter season, I’ve spent more time in deeper water. It’s not always the actual temperature of the water that drives the trout deep but how quickly it drops. Cold-stunned trout can become tough customers, especially with all of the other factors mentioned. However, there are tactics to employ to increase success and some of those tactics may involve avoiding certain areas altogether. Finding deep pockets in gin-clear water can enable you to trick fish that you would otherwise likely spook on shallow flats. Before someone reading this says, “Well, I’ve caught plenty of fish in shallow, clear water,” keep in mind that I’m referring to extreme conditions involving drastic temperature and barometric pressure changes for purposes of this article. In addition, I’m not inferring that trout aren’t occupying certain skinny water areas but that they simply may be rather difficult to catch. There are always exceptions, but I typically avoid the skinny stuff during “extreme” conditions. During a recent one week stretch we witnessed changes in locations and behavioral patterns of trout as the result of a strong frontal system. This one week snapshot can be viewed as a textbook example of what to expect under similar circumstances. Two days prior to the Jen Vicknair with a gorgeous speck she caught in 18 feet of ultra-clear water on a foggy morning!
12 | February 2018
front found us drifting over scattered shell in 3- to 5-feet of water. Prefront, the water temperature hovered in the mid-50s and the clarity/ visibility was roughly 18-inches. A moderate southwest wind helped keep the water just murky enough to allow us to get within casting distance of these fish without spooking them. Long drifts chunking various soft plastics to the occasional flipping mullet yielded great results. The cold front hit late that night bringing wind gusts to 35 mph out of the northwest. After cancelling the next day, I was back on the water 48 hours later amid near calm conditions and gin-clear water. The water level was at least two feet below normal and the surface temperature had fallen to 46⁰F. The barometric pressure was 1015 millibars prior to the front. It was now up to 1030! After a chilly boat ride my clients and I arrived at the area where I had been just two days prior. The mirror-like shallow flats under the early morning cobalt-blue sky would’ve made for a majestic watercolor painting but Creighton, Jonathan and Hank brought fishing rods, not paint brushes. The area was void of life and the water was so clear and low I don’t think we could’ve gotten close enough to catch them even if they were there. There were numerous deep holes and troughs not far from the flat that was so productive before the front and the low tide had concentrated even more fish into deep holes than usual. This is where we made our day. Of the 30-or-so fish (trout and reds) caught, the majority of them came on MirrOlure Soft Shads and Saltwater Assassin Sea Shads, rigged on 1/8-ounce jigheads in 7- to 10-feet of water. There wasn’t much current to speak of. Had there been, we would have tied on 1/4-ounce heads to compensate. My guess is there was a thermocline layer about two feet off of the bottom because of where our bites came from. We used a bass worm technique which involved letting our plastics sink to the bottom, followed by a slow sweeping up-anddown retrieve. As they often do, the subtle bites came on the fall. Our best bite was near the end of the morning solunar major around 7:30 AM, the day of last-quarter moon. My clients and I continued a very successful stretch applying the same strategy for weeks as cold fronts became more and more frequent. Other than during extreme warming periods, quantities of fish
I was able to fool this 26 spot red in air-clear water using a slow retrieve with a MirrOlure Soft Shad.
Jonathan Hsu with one of many fish he caught in 8 feet of water on a chilly high pressure morning.
14 | February 2018
conditions. Quiet is better. That’s why I creep into and out of the areas we fish using the troll motor at about quarter throttle. Little things like this make a huge difference. Remember to dress in layers, avoid the masses, and change with the changes. Don’t use cheap stuff, especially this time of year. Target deeper areas with structure or vegetation after big cold fronts. I hope we keep having them. I’m liking this!
continued to hold in the deeper areas. The cloudy and foggy days yielded the best results. I credit this to the clear water and lower barometric pressure generally associated with overcast skies. Bites were certainly more aggressive in the damp air. There have been days when we’ve experienced a steady bite all day, but this is the exception rather than the rule this time of year. Most days provide small windows of opportunity and you better be on your game because the feed won’t last forever. Having the right gear is even more important now compared to the warmer months. For example, my clients who are using the highermodulus custom rods and lower-profile light-weight reels strung with quality braided line (top left) Hank with a deepwater are having much more success red on an extreme high pressure than those who are using older gin-clear water day! and heavier model rods and reels. I use Seaguar Smackdown Tournament braid (6/20) on (top right) Long-time client and friend, Haley Matthews, with this one of my Concept TX Edition nice trout to complete his Texas reels and 10 pound Trilene XL slam on a very cold morning. Smooth Casting monofilament on the other. Using the smaller diameter line enables me to cast (right) The MirrOlure Soft Shad has further which also increases my been unbeatable when probing the deeper areas this winter! chances of catching skittish, clear-water fish. All of my personal reels and client reels rest atop custom Waterloo rods with my two primary sticks being an Ultra Mag and HP Lite. I always use a 20 pound fluorocarbon leader which is a game changer in clear water. There are several good brands out there but I prefer Seaguar. In bright sunlight we use bright and clear colors such as limetreuse and salt-n-pepper. One bait that has also been a go-to for me is MirrOlure’s “chicken” which is a brighter version of other brand’s Chicken-On-A-Chain. It seems to contain more glitter and the fact that it’s scented helps fool more fish in clear water. I use paddle-tail versions of soft plastics almost exclusively in the conditions described above. The added vibration seems to provide yet another advantage. I must say I am a bit surprised at how many fish we’ve caught early in the morning in bitterly cold conditions recently after the passage of major fronts. The reason, however, is fairly obvious when one considers the water clarity. Late evening would likely yield similar results due to the low-light conditions. Another factor that’s helping to produce great results is the fact that we’re fishing remote areas. Areas that experience heavy boat traffic can be a recipe for disaster when trying to catch fish in clear-water
Steve Hillman is a full-time fishing guide on his home waters of Galveston Bay. Steve fishes the entire Galveston Bay Complex, wading and drifting for trout, redfish, and flounder using artificial lures. Phone 409-256-7937 Email email@example.com Web www.hillmanguideservice.com
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STORY BY KEVIN COCHRAN
Fishing through the light change at either dawn or dusk increases the odds of catching fish.
any aspects of life dictate choices. Often, in order to achieve a specific, desired outcome, one must first clearly identify a goal, then make conscious decisions to enhance the potential for its accomplishment. For me, this truth reveals itself regularly in the two main outdoor activities for which I have ample passion: fishing for trophy speckled trout, and locating and identifying as many species of birds as possible. Recently, when I made an excursion to the Rio Grande Valley in pursuit of a rare species of crow, events unfolded which emphasize the critical role choices can play in the success or failure of a sporting endeavor. Prior to my journey, reports online indicated the presence of two Tamaulipas Crows at the Brownsville Landfill. Scrutiny of the posts describing the sightings of the birds revealed they favored the area closest to the ongoing activity at the site. Like other winged creatures present at the trash pile, the pair of smart scavengers took advantage of the opportunity to find food in the mountain of fresh garbage tossed around by backhoe buckets.
I arrived at the redolent site and steered my truck toward the top of the mound of rubbish, where thousands of birds, mostly Laughing Gulls, hovered and squawked above the workers and their machinery. When I neared the action, I spied several cars parked beside the ruts in the path, then saw four people wearing drab clothes and carrying cameras and binoculars. Two of them stood behind tripods, taking pictures of some apparently important avian species in front of them. I parked behind the other cars, got out with my gear and started toward the people I assumed had the crows in their sights. A third birder closer to where I parked gestured to me and pointed behind him, to where the main group of birds hovered over trucks dumping loads of refuse. “We’ve got ‘em over here,” he said. I knew he meant the targeted crows. “Those people are shooting pictures of a Harris Hawk. Didn’t want you to walk way over there and miss your chance at the T Crows.” His act demonstrates how things generally work in the birding community. Folks make a concerted effort to help each other find birds, especially rare ones. In that basic way, birding and fishing differ dramatically. In this case, all birders present readily acknowledged the superior significance of the one species above all others. Normally found in lowland habitats in eastern Mexico, populations of Tamaulipas Crows have declined precipitously over recent decades. Estimates indicate only a small number of nesting pairs remain, and they rarely venture north of the Rio Grande. Accordingly, many avid American birders relish any legitimate opportunity to see, identify and capture images of the species. This accounts for why nature lovers like us would spend time standing on a ginormous pile of garbage, swatting at flies and talking over noisy engines—we want to add the species to our Life Lists, knowing we may never have another chance. So, when one kind birder directed me away from others on a quest to photograph a much more common species, I went to where he and his companion stood. “We had ‘em right here on this fence for a while. They just flew up and went back over there to where the guys are working. They’re mixed in with all the other birds right now, but they’ll come back, I think,” he predicted. “They were seen on this fence several times yesterday too.” Having accomplished their goal, the two said farewell and walked toward the parked cars while I thanked them for their help. Within no
more than five minutes, I spied the two tiny crows flying among the gulls, grackles, vultures and other species. In flight, their silhouettes proved easy to recognize as members of the Corvid family. “Wow. They’re so small,” I thought. With one goal down, I waited for the shiny, blue-black birds to return to perch on the fence, so I could capture their images with my camcorder. For more than an hour, I waited. Other birders came and waited with me. We held on tightly to hope, but at some point, I began to wonder if I’d get a chance to shoot my footage. Then, I saw a Corvid pass overhead. “Is that the crow?” I asked a lady standing close by, pointing at the sky. “It seems way too big,” I noted, “but it’s clearly a Corvid of some kind.” “Looks like a Chihuahuan Raven,” she observed, raising her binoculars for a better look. “Quite a few of those around here.” “Ahh. That makes sense,” I agreed, watching the bird land on the slope behind us. Then I temporarily lost track of why I’d come, and made a trek toward the raven. On the way, I spotted several more perched atop a fence. I’d seen the species before, but had only gotten some sorry video clips of them, so I realized the potential for upgrading my images. Eventually, I crept close to the glossy, largebilled birds, positioning the sun behind my back as best I could, working to capture some crisp clips. After recording a few satisfying videos, I glanced back over at the fence the Tamaulipas Crows preferred, and saw both of them posing within feet of where I had stood waiting so long for their return! I suddenly felt supremely stupid, realizing I might have botched my chance at good images of the rare target species, while stalking a much more common one. Luckily, the two crows cooperated with my needs, lingering on the fence long enough for me to walk up and make several videos which clearly documented their features, down to the dots of sunlight gleaming in their eyes. I tell this story of a birding triumph to illustrate a related point about fishing. Over time, I’ve found numerous parallels between birding and fishing, some more relevant than others. In this case, I’ve discovered something elusive, what I call an absolute truth, which applies to both avocations. Identifying and articulating such reliable tenets proves challenging. I’ll dub this one Absolute Number Four, and state it in “bird terms” first—You won’t find one bird while photographing another.
Making a persistent effort in a small area known to be holding some mature trout allowed Brett Taylor to trick this 7.25 pounder on a Paul Brown Fat Boy.
Since large trout prefer eating other fish over eating shrimp and small crustaceans, a lure which mimics a shad or perch works well to trick them into taking a bite.
18 | February 2018
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20 | February 2018
Tamaulipas Crow perched on a fence in Brownsville, Texas.
Randy Slocum might have caught this pretty trout on a smaller lure, but the fact is he DID catch it on a fullsized Super Spook, which imitates a fairly large mullet.
world.” So, technically, I guess one can catch a trophy trout while reeling in a small trout, if the dink inadvertently becomes the “bait.” This does happen on rare occasions, and the fact undermines the absolute aspect of the truth inherent to this piece. But that’s a technicality, in the end, one without much significance to a focused angler bent on achieving a specific goal. Like a determined birder elevating the significance of a rare crow above that of a more common raven, a dedicated trophy trout hunter turns away from lesser fish to increase the odds of encountering greater ones.
Kevin Cochran Contact
In “fishing terms”, it reads this way—You can’t catch one fish while fighting another. This truth obviously bears significance to all anglers who seek to target and catch a particular species of fish. It can also ring meaningful to anglers who choose to target trophy specimens within a given species. One can imagine simple scenarios which reveal the stern implications of this doctrine. Anglers hoping to pick a fight with a black marlin should not stop to jab at chicken dolphin every time they find a school under a piece of floating debris. Similarly, while poling a skiff across a flat flooded with shallow, clear water, an angler purely focused on catching a permit on fly should refuse to cast at any other species seen. Spending time, energy and effort casting at redfish, snook and other species will distract from the stated purpose, especially if one succeeds in hooking one of the other fish. Many of us have personal experiences which illustrate what can happen in situations like these. While looking for one species, we sometimes see plenty of others. At first, we show patience and stick with the plan, ignoring opportunities to take shots at the distractions. Eventually, our desire to stretch the line trumps our focus, and we lower our standards, casting at some species with less immediate appeal. Often, quite predictably, after we’ve hooked the distracting specimen, we spy the object of our mission. Who among us has not grown bored with a slow bite and cast a lure in front of a pack of cruising jack crevalle? Who can say they didn’t realize the error of their way right when the lure plopped down, an instant before one of the hungry bruisers sucked it in and swam off? Once hooked, a twenty-pound jack proves difficult to land and release, especially on tackle better suited for speckled trout and redfish. One thing becomes readily apparent to any grunting angler attempting to win a tug of war with a hefty jack—one cannot catch a trout while involved in such a wrestling match. Many of us regret losing our focus and consciously hooking a less-desired species after we choose to do so. Sometimes, events of the same kind play out with far less clarity, when anglers don’t realize they’re undermining their chances of achieving one lofty goal by taking a clear path to a lower one. When fishing for trophy trout, astute anglers make choices which increase their odds for hooking and landing a relatively small number of big fish, often ignoring opportunities to catch a greater number of smaller specimens. For this reason, a dedicated trophy trout enthusiast will regularly race right past working birds, knowing most of the schoolies found under the flocks don’t measure up to the sought standards. They’ll also refuse to target fish in water too deep for wading, even after others report catching easy limits of “eaters” in such places. In addition to making choices related to location of effort, they might stick with a limited selection of relatively large lures which mimic mullet, pinfish and shad, ignoring the ease of catching more fish with smaller ones which imitate shrimp, knowing mature trout generally prefer eating finfish over crustaceans. These same focused anglers might even adjust the timing of an outing to increase their odds of encountering the specimens they seek, heading out late in the afternoon and fishing through the gloamin’, knowing large trout show nocturnal tendencies, especially in clear water, where the cover of darkness provides them the ripest opportunity for catching and consuming their prey. Big trout dine on little trout when they can. “It’s a trout eat trout
Kevin Cochran is a full-time fishing guide at Corpus Christi (Padre Island), TX. Kevin is a speckled trout fanatic and has created several books and dvds on the subject. Kevin’s home waters stretch from Corpus Christi Bay to the Land Cut.
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Part VII STORY BY MARTIN STRARUP
ommy was on his tenth jumbo shrimp from a second cocktail that Pamela had served him when Red woke up and sleepily looked around. “Where did you get that? You airplane-hijacking no-account!” he snarled. “Pamela fixed it for me. I already ate one and am working on this one now,” Tommy smiled between bites. Red was about to get up when Pamela appeared at the galley door and noticed he was awake. Before she could ask if he was hungry, Red pointed at the shrimp cocktail Tommy was devouring and said, “I’ll have two of those shrimp cocktails, please.” Red got up to visit the restroom and bumped Bodie’s arm in passing. “Better get you some of these shrimp,” he said, pointing back at Tommy. “Before we wipe ‘em all out.” Trying to clear his head, Bodie asked, “Shrimp?” “Yeah. Great big ones, too. I’d get an order in real quick, if it was me. Tommy’s on a tear.” Bodie reached across the aisle and tapped Doug’s arm. Doug opened his eyes and looked at Bodie who whispered, “Shrimp! Great big ones!” Doug pressed his call button and activated the intercom. “Miss Pamela, if you’re serving shrimp cocktails, Mr. Allen and I would each like one, please.” Stepping from the restroom, Red could see Doug and Bodie were eating their shrimp. Bodie looked up at Red and smirked, “Hey Red, shrimp, big ones! Better hurry before they’re all gone.” Red hurried to his seat to find a shrimp cocktail waiting for him and sat down to enjoy it. Tommy gobbled down his sixteenth shrimp and walked into the galley. “Miss Pamela, do you know how long before we land in England?” She picked up a phone that rang in the cockpit and asked when they would be landing. “The pilot says we should be landing in about an hour.” “Could you wrap up about a dozen of those jumbo shrimp and put them in a Ziploc bag, please?” Tommy asked. TSFMAG.com | 23
24 | February 2018
“It is a bit chilly with the wind, isn’t it?” Doug agreed. Tommy was playing with the built-in bar and asked Doug if he could mix a drink. “Scotch on the rocks, if you please,” Doug answered. Tommy took a decanter labeled “Whiskey” from a slot on the bar, dropped a few ice cubes in a glass, poured a good double and handed it to Doug. “Who’s next?” He inquired. “If you see any bourbon in there you can pour me some over ice.” Red said. Tommy found a bottle labeled bourbon behind the Scotch but grabbed the decanter of Scotch instead and poured a generous helping over a couple of ice cubes and handed it to Red. Red took a sip and made the most God-awful face any of the men had ever seen. Swallowing it and gasping, Red asked, “What in the world did you just give me to drink, you ignorant little freak of nature?” Tommy looked back at the bottle, feigning innocence, and said, “Oh, I’m sorry Red, I gave you Scotch by mistake.” “Well I don’t drink Scotch,” Red growled. Doug chimed in, “It really is a very nice single malt, Red. If you’ll let your taste buds adjust you might actually find that you enjoy it.” “Doug, with all due respect, I don’t think I’ll live that long.” Red replied. Doug and Bodie chuckled as Tommy grinned at Red, whose face was about the color of a ripe apple. “Hand it to me, Red,” Bodie said and took the glass. Bodie took a sip and tried not to make a face, but couldn’t help himself. Fighting back a cough, Bodie allowed that he’d have to agree with Red. “This stuff is terrible! Might make a good horse liniment though!” Even Doug laughed at that and soon all of them were laughing until Doug said, “I can’t understand that neither of you like the Macallan.” “Is it some kind of special Scotch?” Tommy asked. “Well, it’s aged 30-years and runs about $3,500 a bottle,” Doug replied. While Bodie and Red sat with their mouths open in disbelief, Tommy took the glass from Bodie and began sipping. “It won’t beat a cold draft beer from Haddon’s on a hot August day but it really is good Scotch,” Tommy said. Red and Bodie stared in amazement as Doug and Tommy clinked glasses in a toast to good Whiskey. To be continued...
Pamela allowed that she had plenty and that if he got hungry later the hotel should be able to accommodate him. Tommy thought for a second and then replied, “Oh, they’re not for me. I was just thinking I might need some bait when I fish that Tame River when we land in England. But please don’t tell the others, I’m not planning to share!” Tommy turned to go back to his seat and Pamela rolled her eyes. “Now there’s a first,” she muttered under her breath. Gentlemen, the pilot says we will be landing in about twenty minutes and asks that we fasten our seatbelts and settle in. If anyone wants a drink now is the time to get it before Pamela locks down the galley. The boys all asked for a beer and sat back to enjoy and await landing in England. “Any of you guys happen to see Final Destination?” Tommy asked nervously. Doug, Red and Bodie all turned around and looked at Tommy, and the look that Bodie gave him sent chills down his spine. “I was JUST asking is all,” Tommy whimpered. The pilot came on the cabin intercom and advised everyone to remain seated until he gave the all clear, and went on to say that Customs would be coming out to the plane. “Customs is coming to the plane and we don’t have to wait in line?” Red asked. “One of the perks of private aviation,” Doug said with a smile. “Do they search your bags when they come to the plane?” Tommy asked nervously. “They can, but I haven’t ever had them do that here” Doug answered. Bodie turned and looked at Tommy. “Do you have something in your bag that might cause problems, Tommy Boy?” “Four or five fillet knives and my .45 automatic is all I can think of,” Tommy replied. Doug, Red and Bodie all turned and stared at Tommy with their mouths open. “You brought a handgun to England?” Red asked loudly. “No Tommy. That’s a very serious offense. Let me have it and I’ll instruct the pilot lock it in the cockpit safe,” Doug announced sternly. Tommy retrieved a small bag from his backpack, took out the Colt and handed it to Doug. “I’ll just take care of this right quick,” Doug said as he made his way to the cockpit door. The door opened and Doug handed the pistol to a wide-eyed crew member who stared at the handgun, shook his head, and then nodded yes, closing the door. Bodie looked at Tommy and hissed, “What in the world were you thinking, bringing your pistol on the plane to England?” “Well, they got muggers in England. I read about them and the bubbles can’t be everywhere at one time.” Tommy whined. “Bobbies, Tommy! The English police are called bobbies,” everyone corrected in unison. After everyone signed their custom’s forms and exited the plane, a group of attendants began placing their bags into the trunk of a large limousine. A man held the door open and Tommy shoved his way in first, then Bodie, Red and Doug. “You in a hurry, Tommy?” Bodie asked in a stern tone. “No, ah sorry, but I was freezing out there in that wind,” Tommy replied.
Martin Strarup is a lifelong saltwater enthusiast and outdoorsman. Martin is also a collector and dealer of vintage fishing tackle and lures, especially those made in Texas. Email
Redfish were easily the best program all year in 2017 on Sabine.
STORY BY CHUCK UZZLE
trange, unprecedented and epic would all describe how 2017 played out for fishermen on Sabine Lake. As the famed Greek thinker and philosopher Socrates put it, “I know enough to know that I know nothing,” would pretty much sum up my year on the water. Virtually every program I hang my hat on included abnormal variations in some amount. The incredible swings in weather and water conditions forced fishermen to make changes and adapt on an almost daily basis. Throughout the craziness and uncertainty, the one solid and constant ingredient to the entire scenario was that redfish were always available. Floods, cold, extreme high or ultra-low tides made no difference to the redfish as they quickly became not only the savior of many trips but regained some much-needed respect and popularity among local and visiting anglers alike. It’s no secret that speckled trout steal the thunder in the fall and winter months on most bay systems and Sabine is no different. The standard late-summer and fall patterns almost always center around speckled trout as huge numbers of these fish begin to school and provide easy targets for anglers. Big trout begin to prowl the shallow flats and anglers seeking the biggest fish of a lifetime become consumed with locating and catching them. Redfish get kicked to the cellar while this is going on. November brings the flounder run as the flatfish exit the marshes and bays, heading toward the gulf where they spawn. Again, the redfish get shoved out of the limelight. Later, in the dead of winter, big trout again take center stage as every angler brave or crazy enough to fish wretched weather conditions become badly afflicted with big trout fever. And, you guessed it, redfish get shunned. All that was normal until 2017, when trout got scarce and suddenly the redfish became the belle of the ball. When it comes to redfish there really are very few secrets – only blunt and honest truth. The redfish is the blue collar, lunchbox-toting workhorse of the bay that lacks the glamour to be recognized on the same level as their speckled cousins and delectable southern flounder. TSFMAG.com | 27
Redfish are not subtle and very little they do could be considered delicate, they’re just a bunch of copper-hued brutes built to eat and pull. One of my favorite descriptions of redfish came from Doug Pike when he was writing for the Houston Chronicle outdoors section. A mythical tale of an 8-pound redfish and 8-pound largemouth bass, tied tail-to-tail in a tug of war. During the struggle the redfish pulled so hard it turned the bass inside out, and then turned around and ate it. As you might expect, the hate mail from the B.A.S.S. guys flowed like a river but, in the end, they really knew the fictional story was pretty close to the truth. Very few, if any, fish in the bay can stand up pound for pound against the power of a red. Period. Enough accolades, let’s talk results. Due to the extreme nature of the conditions on Sabine Lake this year, the speckled trout really never got going for any reasonable period of time. Hurricane Harvey virtually destroyed the much-anticipated fall run on speckled trout as 50-inches of rainfall inundated Sabine to the point where largemouth bass were being caught on a regular basis in Sabine Lake, which is almost totally unheard of. Folks who were chasing trout found them on the extreme south end and around the jetties for short periods while anglers on the north end couldn’t buy a bite. Every now and again, trout would show up and there would be a flurry, but it seemed to never last very long. All the (bottom) One little lapse of judgement can ruin a great day on the water.
(right top) Brock Carter came down from Oklahoma to catch his first ever redfish.
28 | February 2018
(right bottom) Definitely blue-collar class – redfish are built to eat and pull – and usually easy to please!
while, day after day, the redfish just kept showing up and eating anything you cared to toss at them. It really didn’t matter where you were either, out in the open lake or in one of the many bayous that fed the lake, the redfish were there. Knowing that it didn’t matter if the wind might blow you off the open water, that there was protected water nearby with plenty of fish was like having a big fluffy safety blanket. Many anglers began to embrace the fact that trout were on hiatus and eventually turned their attention toward targeting redfish and enjoying some of the most phenomenal fishing you could imagine. Perhaps one of the greatest highlights of this extraordinary run was the daily predictability of mid-lake schooling activity. As close to clockwork as you could imagine, from lunch time until darkthirty, acres of redfish just destroyed every baitfish and shrimp in sight. The super calm conditions and clear water made for a visual feast as the feeding explosions, sheer size of the schools, and average size of the fish was nearly unimaginable. For a time, a few tight-lipped anglers kept it to themselves. Soon enough though,
word got out and the traffic in that area of the lake increased exponentially. But, characteristic of the species, the reds just kept on doing their thing. As the crowds grew around the schooling fish, others enjoyed extended stretches of the surrounding rivers and bayous void of traffic, and the results were just as impressive. Soft plastics and crankbaits fished parallel to the shorelines were absolute money as herds of redfish seemed to patrol nearly every stretch of bank. This program was about as foolproof as it gets because wind and crowds were no issue, there was plenty of shoreline as well as redfish to go around. Before too long chasing trout became almost an afterthought as local anglers embraced the predictable pattern that had been established for weeks. The numbers of redfish and their willingness to eat just about anything made up for the lack of speckled trout in many anglerâ€™s estimations. The second half of 2017 will most certainly be remembered for the ridiculously good redfish action and not the lack of speckled trout. As we enter 2018, many anglers will once again shun the redfish in their search for big trout the next few months. The allure of trophies and opportunity to enter the 30-inch 10-pound club will be more than most can resist. I completely understand this and cannot blame anyone. The shockwave that ripples through the fishing community when word of giant trout begins to circulate is simply more than diehard salts can tolerate, even during these harsh weather months. Each strike is met with high expectations of the fish of a lifetime on the other end of the line. Sometimes that result is exactly what the angler hopes for and a huge trout comes to hand. Other times the strike produces a redfish that pulls just as hard but is rarely greeted with such celebration. The double standard is somewhat comical, and expected, as the focus on redfish immediately leaves once the trout show back up. At least for a few months the redfish was the star of the show and earned some respect before slipping back into virtual anonymity while waiting for another chance to step forward and carry the load.
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Chuck fishes Sabine and Calcasieu Lakes from his home in Orange, TX. His specialties are light tackle and fly fishing for trout, reds, and flounder. Phone 409-697-6111 Email email@example.com Website wakesndrakes.com
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STORY BY JOE RICHARD
A pair of big sheepshead work over a Gulf platform in clear water.
ebruary should be considered official sheepshead month, because it’s now that they’re easiest to catch. Hungry and ready to spawn. And still plentiful enough, in places not covered up by anglers on foot. It’s the remote areas reachable only by boat, where these fish swarm in good numbers. And there is plenty for all: Texas installed a strict bag limit on these “striped bandits” decades ago, and stocks of these tasty fish have held up well. If you want to catch 30 or more “barnacle snappers” on a single tide, you will need a boat, shrimp and a little decent winter weather; preferably a light south breeze with an incoming tide. Catch as many as you want, but keep only five of the bigger fish with thicker fillets. During this sort of action, a few bonus slot redfish or black drum often show up.
Where are most of these structure-loving sheepshead located? with 16/0 circle hooks meant for big black drum—a big hook that No secret there, the nearest rock jetties, which are covered with would never snag sheepshead. marine growth, especially barnacles. The boat-only jetties are best, Capt. Willie Wimmer, based out of Galveston, has his own opinions since they’re not even fished during bad weather. Sabine, Galveston on giant sheepshead, after seeing many of them during a single and Port O’Connor jetties should rank highest, because they require morning at the jetties. a boat and anchoring skills. Some anglers wince at the thought of And long after Spring Break was over… anchoring expensive boats near unforgiving granite in waves and “We get the really big ones in April,” says Wimmer. “These huge current, but that’s where these fish are ganged up. It should be breeder sheepshead arrive from offshore and hang around the noted that the Galveston jetties can accommodate rock-walkers out ends of the jetties, just before trout season. When we caught the for some distance, but the real action is farther out, miles offshore. 15-pounder, it was chilly that morning and then the sun warmed It’s the longest jetty in the world, so they say. And a year-long home things up. There was clear, calm green water. We were using to countless sheepshead. 50-pound braid with 30-pound Fluorocarbon leaders, and small Shrimp are scarce in the dead of winter and that may explain why treble hooks. Big live hopper shrimp were best, when you can find sheepshead won’t hesitate to grab even the frozen variety. We’ve them. We were releasing the sheepshead, just keeping occasional never actually bought live shrimp for these winter trips, just bought redfish. Tracy Smith from the Dickinson area cranked up this huge a pound or two of frozen and tipped our jigs with small pieces. Caught a few of these fish with oyster meat too, since they feed on shellfish. Years ago while low on bait at the Sabine jetties, we’d run our jonboat off a ways and approach a small, local wooden shrimpboat we’d seen trawling. We would inquire about shrimp and the old man usually gave us a pound or two of what he called rock shrimp, which were small and tough as freshwater crawfish. Real rock shrimp live in depths of about 200 feet, so I’m not sure what this guy was trawling up in only 12 feet of water. Maybe a lesser species. They were small and banded with hard shells, but sheepshead were crazy about them. We’d fill up an 86-quart Igloo with sheeps and maybe a couple of drum and redfish. Guaranteed action, in decent weather. It was generally a mistake to fish out there during a northwest wind in chilly weather, blue skies and muddy, outgoing tide. We got few bites These fishing buddies used During summer, sheepshead mill all over while using our usual technique, which was slowa scraper to rake barnacles hard structures, but they’re difficult to from bridge pilings, to catch except at night. Notice how these bumping 3/8-ounce jigheads tipped with shrimp chum up this sheepshead. fish have chewed up the barnacles. through the shallower rocks only six to ten feet down. We didn’t fish deeper back then, which is probably where the fish were in that weather. In later years while living in Port O’Connor, we learned to anchor in 20 feet of water with a rocky bottom, and fished vertically. The fish just seemed to prefer that depth on most days. Of course we needed a depth finder, which is a useful tool, great for marking oversized rock humps or holes sometimes covered with fish. Our winter sheepshead all weighed from two to five pounds, nothing huge, just steady action and (with the bigger fish) some tasty fillets. Apparently the bigger sheepshead arrive later. Our biggest ever was caught late in March, weighing 10-pounds and 10-ounces, which gobbled down a four-inch, softshell blue crab. Caught on the only rod in our boat that day that carried a small J-hook. All other rods were armed 34 | February 2018
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sheepshead. I thought it might be a state record, so we kept it. “It was over 15 pounds on my Boga grip, so we drove around trying to find a certified scale. At a fish market, it weighed 15.38 pounds and was 29 inches long. Then Tracy said she didn’t want to bother with applying for the record. That fish has been in my freezer for two years. I plan on having it mounted, but still haven’t.” The current state record was a ponderous 15.25 pounds from the Lower Laguna Madre, almost 16 years ago. Wimmer continued: “The big ones were on the Galveston jetties that week. We could look down in the rocks and see them. We were releasing 10-pounders. My buddy weighed a 14-pounder the day before. By summer, these big sheeps are dispersed in the bays and can be caught in the marinas where all that structure is available. Fish for them early in the morning when it’s quiet before the day’s commotions begin. I’ve seen fish that would easily go 10 pounds during summer, when I’m walking the dock early and the water isn’t murked up.” Dale Fontenot from Vidor Tracy Smith cranked up this Amen to that. After catching a big sheepshead admires a hefty sheepshead, sheepshead of a lifetime at the from a marina dock during my youth, I’m still caught with a spoon. Photo Galveston jetties, weighing 15.38 convinced the big ones prefer a quiet marina or by Pete Churton. pounds. Photo by Capt. Willie Wimmer. canal behind private homes during summer, away from predators and current. They’re harvesting the year’s new growth of barnacles and small crabs. Sheepshead can be caught during summer of course, but I’ve been lucky to see maybe one during the entire season. Last summer was a banner year because twice we caught sheepshead in near-90⁰ water. The first actually hit a topwater Chug Bug on shallow flats, following the lure for more than 50 feet before grabbing the rear treble hook that was covered in shiny tinsel. The second fish was caught with a live, two-inch blue crab. We’d seen sheepshead cruising up and down a dock, hunting for something, and so when a small blue crab passed by in the current, we netted it. Eased a number 2 J-hook through the base of its back flipper, keeping the fretful crab alive, and the very next sheepshead, a four-pounder, inhaled it. Strangely, other sheepshead at the same dock spooked when we eased a weightless live shrimp 10 feet in front of them. Joe Richard has fished the Gulf since 1967, starting out of Port Arthur, but his adventures have taken him up and down the entire coast. Catching summer sheepshead during the day requires finesse and He was the editor of Tide magazine luck. But not so in February, where they can swarm over a passing for eight years, and later Florida shrimp. And, as we all know, these fish are better on the table than Sportsman’s book and assistant magazine editor. He began guiding trout—just not so easy to clean. A good electric knife and a little out of Port O’Connor in 1994. His patience, that’s the ticket to a fine meal of sheepshead. specialty is big kingfish, and his
36 | February 2018
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J AY WAT K I N S
A S K T HE P R O
The Science of Patterning It snowed in Rockport on December 8. There’s another 2017 crazy weather event for you! That day also marked my sixtieth birthday, so I doubt I’ll ever forget it. The photo of Palm Harbor covered in snow was made by fishing client, Robert Moll. We were scheduled to fish that morning but decided we both have plenty of years ahead to fish together without freezing to death. Had I been forced to go I would have looked for something very close to deeper water and surrounded on at least two sides by land. A pocket with land on three sides would have been even better. The snow was beautiful and refreshing for Rockport residents. For a few hours God covered our piles of debris with a beautiful fluffy blanket. The Man certainly knows how to provide an uplift when we need it. Fishing along the middle coast is lights-out right now. Water is still extremely clear and tides remain low but this has not hurt our catching. Even when high pressure sets in after the fronts, we have been able to find pockets where bait and gamefish are congregated together. Staying with the bait is still the best way to stay with the fish – in my opinion. I’ve listened to fishermen who do not necessarily agree but it has worked for me more than thirty-five years and I’m going to keep dancing with the one that brought me.
Larger mullet makes up the majority of the schooling bait I am finding, which is normal during winter. I have witnessed so many times, large trout and redfish swimming alongside and under mullet schools. Typically, a smaller offering placed just in front of the pack brings a strike that you can see taking place. Trick here is not to get too excited and jerk it out of her mouth. Several times today I had a dozen or more very large mullet cruise by and at least half the time I could see at least one trout of 20-to 25-inches with them. Every cast that was properly placed produced a fish. When I missed it was because I got too excited. When I stop getting excited I am going to quit and do something else. Water is as clear on average as I’ve seen in many years. Even with wind pushing toward 20-mph our shorelines show little sign of sanding. What we are seeing since the big chill set in are areas along shorelines and reefs where mullet and black drum are creating muddy streaks. These murky spots should never be overlooked as they are bait and gamefish magnets. We found two such places today and they both contributed heavy trout – best of the day. Another thing I believe in very strongly is monitoring water temperature. I begin my winter fishing seminars with a show of hands – who in the audience have a water temperature gauge on their boats. More have
David Gonsoulin shows off a solid Mesquite Bay trout.
Eric Gonsoulin pulled this one from a windward shoreline during the moonset minor - CPR.
38 | February 2018
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TSFMAG.com | 39
40 | February 2018
Palm Harbor covered in snow!
some areas but that can be plenty. I follow the bite by fanning casts from shallow to deep and wading slowly. You might be surprised to learn how far or how little fish move during a day’s wade. Another form of patterning is noting when the bite is most aggressive. Over the past several weeks I am seeing a better bite on solunar minors than on majors. Another observation that finds its way into the daily logbook. Water clarity trending predominantly toward clear lately confirms my belief of running what I call clear baits in clear water. The 5-inch Bass Assassins in Opening Night, Bone Diamond and Cajun Croaker have been especially effective. Likewise, MirrOlure’s Lil John XL in Blue Moon, Opening Night and Watermelon-Red Glitter are drawing lots of trout and redfish strikes. Gill Ash making Custom Corkys in Pistachio, Plum Nasty, Bay six pounds - the hard way. Mistress, Pearl Harbor, Seagrass and Jose – clear water colors in my book – have also been earning a regular position in the wade box. Fishing in the Rockport area is outstanding right now, a sharp contrast to the reality of so many residents still struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Our community and those of Aransas Pass and Port Aransas are slowly returning to normal but we have a long way yet to go. Please continue to pray for us. May your fishing always be catching. -Guide Jay Watkins
them today than years past but I’m still surprised how many do not. I always tell them, “If your boat doesn’t have one you need to get one!” For years I have been monitoring water temperatures at every stop throughout the day. Temperatures vary from hour to hour and almost without fail I can correlate catching with these changes. This is especially true when water temps drop below the 50⁰ mark. This morning it was 47⁰ when I pulled away from the dock at Goose Island and by day’s end it was running 54⁰ along the shorelines. Bait was noticeably more active and our catch increased as the water warmed. Absent the ability to monitor the rise in water temperatures, how might you be able to understand the feeding patterns? I always like calling the shot prior to the shot being made. It’s easy to say, “Oh, I knew this was what was going to happen.” I would have loved to have been there when Babe Ruth pointed to centerfield and then belted the next pitch out of Wrigley Field. When we pay attention and monitor all that we can each day on the water, calling the shot becomes more predictable. Without this you’re running on luck, and too frequently luck runs out. I have said for most of my career that bass fishermen (on average) are better anglers than saltwater fishermen. I say this because bass fishermen are strongly pattern oriented. This is just my opinion but I seldom have seasoned bass fishermen on the boat that do not possess serious fishing skills. They might not understand the shallow water concepts I utilize but they are quick studies and get up to speed in hurry. On the flip side, I believe serious saltwater lure enthusiasts are equally quick in adapting to bass fishing. Ryan always out-fishes me when we fish for bass together but I tend to catch my share and don’t lose too many once they are on the line. I think that learning to pattern the fish in regard to daily and seasonal conditions is critical to your success no matter how or where you fish. I have a log of just about every day that I’ve fished the past 35 years. It’s a ton of information but you cannot believe how accurate and useful it has been to me as I formulate fishing plans. Right now our water is clear and cold between fronts and somewhat sandy to dirty during frontal passages. Pre-frontal conditions have been playing out classically this season. When we have been able to combine a solunar feeding period with the approach of the front the results are almost epic. I am fishing shallow despite the clear water when the baitfish remain shallow and the bottom structure is of broken grassbeds and potholes. You’ve heard me say that having a drop-off close to feeding areas is crucial to success as the fish need a deeper refuge during certain periods of the day. Close in this sense means a distance less than 100 yards. Closer than 50 is even better. Deep is another relative term. Deep might only be 3- to 4-feet in
Jay Watkins has been a full-time fishing guide at Rockport, TX, for more than 20 years. Jay specializes in wading yearround for trout and redfish with artificial lures. Jay covers the Texas coast from San Antonio Bay to Corpus Christi Bay. Telephone Email Website
361-729-9596 Jay@jaywatkins.com www.jaywatkins.com
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What a glutton. This snook hasn’t swallowed its last mullet and it took my lure!
C A P T. S COT T N U L L
S H A L L O W W AT E R FI S HIN G
Snow Snook Back in November I got a call from Ed Zyak with DOA Lures asking if I’d be interested in spending a few days fishing Port Isabel in December. He and Mark Nichols, the owner of DOA, were getting a group together for the first Texas version of the DOA Writers Event. I have attended their annual event in Florida and it is always a good time. Ed gathers up guides in the area who are on pro-staff and pairs them with outdoors writers. No way I would miss this one in my own backyard. At the time of the call we were in a run of unseasonably warm weather and as the date crept closer not much had changed. A few mild fronts separated by summer-like warm spells got me thinking about snook. My favorite thing about traveling to Florida is the 42 | February 2018
abundant snook population. I’ve caught a few little ones in Texas as far north as the Freeport area and know of some that have been caught around Bolivar, but the vast majority of encounters occur around Port Isabel where there is an established population. My best in Florida is a thirty-six incher, but upping my personal best Texas snook from the standing thirteen-inch mark seemed like a really good possibility. And then it snowed. Snow and snook don’t typically go together. Snook live in far south Texas for a reason, they’re a semi-tropical species that doesn’t handle cold temperatures all that well. Day one of the gathering was a bust as far as fishing went. There was a unanimous lack of interest in venturing
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out onto the bay with 30+ mph winds, freezing temps and snow flurries. If you can’t actually be on the water, hanging out with a bunch of fisherman from around the country talking lures and fishing isn’t a terrible way to spend the day. Later in the evening the weather was clearing up and the wind was laying down. Plans were made to meet up at the dock in the morning and give it a shot. Mark and I hopped aboard Capt. Ruby Delgado’s boat and headed north towards the Arroyo. It was a seriously cold ride. Along the way we passed dozens of cold-stunned sea turtles and miles of windchurned dirty water. We spent the day hopping from one area to another looking for any sign of life on the cold flats. Ruby was trying everything she could to put us on some fish. We fished shallow, deep, soft bottom, hard bottom, grass, sand, clear water and off-color. It just wasn’t happening. We did manage to see a handful of lethargic reds and plucked a few trout from the edge of the ICW. Regardless of the catching, spending a day on the water with Mark was a lot of fun. The man is full of stories and having the chance to pick his brain about lure design and big trout made my day.
With Capt Lee Alvarez; we got so busy, I netted his while fighting mine, and then he dropped the net!
The next morning dawned clear, calm and a good bit warmer. I was paired with Capt. Lee Alvarez. As we headed south under the causeway, he was fully confident that we would pick up some trout at his first stop. When we eased into position adjacent to a long concrete bulkhead I knew exactly what he was up to. The sun was already shining onto the exposed concrete and likely radiating some warmth into the water. We tied on the new DOA Sna-Koil to give it a try. Mark is known for coming up with innovative lures and this 12-inch snake-eel soft plastic is certainly different. First cast up against the wall drew an instant thump and a nice trout was brought to the boat. For the next forty-five minutes nearly every cast that landed near the wall resulted in a keeper-size trout. I even caught one with the lure dangling over the side of the boat as I was releasing another. The SnaKoil looks alive just sitting still. I’m certain we could’ve sat there all day and caught trout until our arms fell off. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I really wanted to go poke around for some snook. Lee was all over it. Chasing snook happens to be one of his favorite things to do. He did caution
This 22-incher would have made my day…but there was much more to come.
Trout love the DOA Sna-Koil.
My best snook of the day. Who’d believe it snowed less than 48-hours earlier?
44 | February 2018
were trying to hide in the murk and the snook were lurking beneath. Lee hit the Power Pole at the edge of the dirty water and we proceeded to have a magical afternoon. Every time a fish blasted a mullet there would be a clear ring for a few seconds. A cast into that clear spot would get eaten damn near every time. At one point, Lee said, “Holy crap! Look down!” About three feet under the bow was a massive school of snook cruising shoulder-to-shoulder as far as you could see. Easily a hundred or more slot and over-slot fish. Amazing. I honestly don’t know how many fish we pulled out of that spot, but we were doubled up multiple times and rarely went more than half a dozen casts without a snook for a period of a three hours. Forty snook and half a dozen reds would not be an exaggeration. We threw a variety of lures, but the most consistent were the C.A.L. 4-inch Shad Tails, 5.5-inch Jerk Baits, and the DOA Bait Buster in light colors. White, pearl and glow drew instant strikes while anything darker would be largely ignored. Who would’ve ever thought that working a snow melt run-off would be a productive pattern for snook? Never say never!
that they might not be as enthusiastic as the trout due to the cold, but I assured him I’d rather chance catching a snook or two than boating a bunch of school trout. My goal was to beat that personal best Texas snook. It didn’t take long. Our second stop was a small drain that emptied out into the Brownsville Ship Channel. After a couple dozen casts the DOA paddletail was crushed by an acrobatic 22-inch snook. Lee could’ve called it a day right then and I would’ve been perfectly satisfied. I’m really glad he didn’t. The wind was perfect for drifting down the shoreline of the channel at a nice slow pace. We were able to pound casts at all sorts of structure, picking up a small snook here and there. As we neared the end of an old bulkhead I spotted a cut back that just screamed snook. The cast was true and drew an immediate thump. I about fell off the bow when I set the hook into nothing. Dammit. I dropped the rod tip and started to crank hard for a quick follow-up cast. About two turns in, the lure just stopped. You know that stop, the one when a good fish eats. A split second later a big snook was headshaking across the surface. She dove, I prayed. She jumped, I prayed some more. Eventually it all worked out and I was holding a Texas snook that taped more than thirty inches. Cool! But we weren’t done. The next stop was another ditch with some dirty water draining into the clear water of the channel. The dirty water didn’t look all that promising until a snook blew a hole in it, followed by a shower of finger mullet. The fresh, murky stuff was only a few inches deep riding atop crystal-clear saltwater. Finger mullet
Capt. Scott Null is a devout shallow water fisherman offering guided adventues via kayak, poled skiff, and wading. Telephone Email Website
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Fig 1. Lower Laguna Madre Spotted Seatrout broodstock held in 3,200 gallon tanks at the CCA Marine Development Center in Corpus Christi.
By Ashley Fincannon, Hatcher y Manager CCA Marine Development Center
FIE L D NO T E S
Is That a Hatchery Fish? While fishing in Texas bays you may hear an angler say about a catch, “That’s a hatchery fish.” Not to spoil the fishing day for anyone, but just by looking at a fish you generally cannot tell whether it’s of hatchery origin or not. What you can count on is that hatchery fish are out there. But where do they come from? Fish stock enhancement (introducing hatchery-reared fish into the wild) is a fisheries management tool that is used around the world to help supplement and enhance fish populations. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) operates three coastal fish hatcheries that spawn, raise, and release (stock) hatchery-reared red drum, spotted seatrout, and southern flounder fingerlings (young fishes 1.5- to 2-inch total length in size) into Texas bays and estuaries. The hatchery process starts with the capture of adult fish (broodfish) from the wild to be used as spawners in a controlled hatchery setting. Red drum and spotted seatrout broodfish are sourced annually as needed from coastal waters using traditional hook and line. Another method employed to collect red drum are longlines in offshore waters. Longline fishing is a commercial fishing technique that uses a long line (essentially a trotline) that is deployed with many hooks. TPWD employs longlines as one of several sampling gears used in the department’s continuous monitoring of Texas 46 | February 2018
coastal waters. Acquiring southern flounder broodfish is a little trickier. Hatchery staff utilize local guides and an airboat outfitted with many lights to locate flounder, and then land them with hand nets to minimize injuries. Once captured and transported to the hatcheries, a small fin clip is removed from each fish for genetic identification. Broodfish are placed into hatchery tanks and placed on a 150-day photoperiod (light) and temperature maturation/spawning cycle. After this conditioning period, broodfish routinely start spawning and can produce tens-of-thousands of fertilized eggs per night. Viable eggs are collected by hatchery staff, incubated, hatched, and larvae are reared to fingerling size in outdoor culture ponds. In addition to volitional spawning, southern flounder are routinely strip spawned by hatchery staff to maximize production efforts. Each year, TPWD staff rotate 25% of the hatchery broodfish and introduce new fish from the wild to replace those being phased-out of the program. A typical hatchery room of red drum has 4 tanks containing 3 females and 2 males in each tank (total of 20 fish per room). Once 25% of the fish are rotated out, the remaining fish are shuffled between tanks to provide different spawning partners. This is done to ensure that the hatchery program is able to maintain
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a genetic diversity within the hatchery broodfish population that is similar to the wild fish population The CCA Marine Development Center (MDC) located in Corpus Christi and Sea Center Texas (SCT) in Lake Jackson house all the broodfish maintained for the stocking program. Both facilities follow similar protocols for broodfish care and management. Red drum collected from the lower coast (Aransas Bay, Corpus Christi Bay, Upper, and Lower Laguna Madre) are maintained at the MDC while red drum acquired from the upper coast (Sabine Lake, Galveston, Matagorda, and San Antonio Bays) are housed at SCT. In an effort to take a conservative approach, spotted seatrout and southern flounder are kept separated at the Fig 2. Southern Flounder hatcheries, based on the bay from which they caught in Aransas Bay for broodstock at the CCA were collected. Fingerlings cultured from Marine Development those fishes are stocked only into the specific Center in Corpus Christi. bay where the broodfish were obtained. Starting in 2002, research was initiated in collaboration with Texas A&M University researchers (Dr. John Gold and his research Fig 3. Red Drum team) to develop genetic markers for broodstock held in 3,200 identification of hatchery-reared red drum gallon tanks at the CCA Marine Development collected from Texas bays utilizing hatchery Center in Corpus Christi. fin clip samples. Based on that genetic work, red drum collected from Texas bays can be identified as either of hatchery or wild origin. TPWD used this genetic tool in order to assess survival rates of hatchery-reared red drum released into Texas bays. TPWD Coastal Fisheries management staff used gill nets during the spring and fall seasons (2005-2009) to capture red drum in Texas bays for genetic analysis. Only red drum collected measuring less than 19.7 inches total length (age – 1 year old) were included in the research studies. Results from the most recent study (2014) indicated that an average of 4.6% ± 2.2% of the fish caught in gill nets were of hatchery origin, with a range of 0.28%-17.65%, depending on bay, year, and season. Because there are many factors affecting fingerling survival (i.e. time of year stocked, fingerling size, stocking habitat, etc.) considerable variation was found to occur between stocking events. This powerful genetic tool was used as a scientific approach to validate that the hatchery program is contributing to the wild red drum stocks in Texas waters, and odds are “That’s a hatchery fish.” Next month Dr. Carey Gelpi will discuss how TPWD data might help anglers targeting spotted seatrout in the Sabine Lake ecosystem.
Check the TPWD Outdoor Annual, your local TPWD Law Enforcement office, or tpwd.texas.gov for more info.
48 | February 2018
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S C O T T S O M M E R L AT T E
F LY F I S H IN G
Hot Winter Daze “Hot summer nights and my radio,” was part of the chorus of one of my favorite songs from 1986. The song was the last cut on Side 1 of the album 5150 by Van Halen and was appropriately titled “Summer Nights.” Now I loved this song for many reasons. One, I was and guess I still am a big Van Halen fan, but the real reason is that it truly represented my teenage years. We would fish all day and play hard all night and… It was the best of times to say the least. Let’s fast forward thirty years and some change to the present and I will tell you, I am 100% incapable of “playing all night” and am usually trying to climb in bed about 2130 hours (9:30). Hell, I was in bed at 10:30 on New Year’s Eve and was out of bed before the sun was up. But hey, that is a guide’s life, right? Honestly, I guess one of the things I miss the most from those years is the fact that most of my fishing trips consisted of rolling out of bed, slipping on a pair of shorts and some old sneakers, and heading down to the bay, surf, or local lake for a long, hard day of fishing. These days are a little different. Now it is more like- get the first cup 50 | February 2018
of coffee down so my brain will start firing on all cylinders as quickly as possible, and then apply the first of three coats of sunscreen. Then it’s time to mummify myself in whatever is the latest and greatest technical fishing garb of the year. I miss the simpler times. However, I recently got to relive my youth in that Mother Nature offered me one of her greatest gifts of all- a HOT winter day. When I woke the morning of 20 Dec 17, I heard my phone dinging at me letting me know of a text that had arrived sometime during my slumber. It was from my sport for the day informing me he was in bed with the flu. The second flu cancellation of the week. I decided to go back to bed and sleep-in for a change. It was great! Anyway, when I finally rolled out of bed and had my coffee made it was time to go sit out on the deck and figure out what to do with my day. While sitting there drinking my coffee and looking at a calm bay, I began to realize that I was starting to sweat a little. My decision was made- I was going fishing. I ran inside, changed into some shorts, a light buttonup shirt and some sandals. And, despite my aversion to
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fishing alone, I was off to the ramp. As mentioned above, I do not like fishing alone in that it is not nearly the “total experience” if you do not have someone there to share it with. However, as a guide, being on the water alone means that you are not pressured to produce and it affords me the time to go try something new or different. And that is exactly what I decided to do. I was going to fish only areas that I had either had no success or areas that I had little success, and I was going to try new approaches and techniques. Once at the first spot I checked the water temp on the flat and in the adjacent channel. The temp was nearly the same at 55-degrees. However, the air temp was at 74-degrees, with no wind and the sun had only been up for a couple of hours. It had the makings of spectacular day. Taking into account the onsite conditions, I decided to start the day by blind-casting the channel drop-off with a large streamer. The plan worked well as the current carried the skiff almost perfectly down the drop-off. One decent trout and a couple of rat reds later, I was ready to move on to another similar spot. In doing so I found conditions almost the same. The only difference being that the sun was higher and the
water temp on the flat had come up a degree. This did little to help in that I only caught a few more rats. By the time I reached the next area, things were really beginning to warm up. The temp on the flat had jumped up to 58-degrees and I was beginning to see the occasional signs of feeding redfish. By the time I was done fishing the channel edge, it was lunchtime
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and I was ready for a snack. After chewing on some venison jerky I decided to kick back and take short nap to give the water a chance to warm some more. I awoke about 45 minutes later and was covered in sweat. Not having any customers in the skiff to offend with my fat guy turned skinny, wrinkled physique, I decided to risk a little more skin cancer
and get me some sun. Oh, did it ever feel so good to be standing under that perfect December sky in a pair of shorts and sandals. It made me feel young again and better yet, the redfish were really starting to move up high on the flat. Things were about to get real! Let me tell you folks, the fishing from that point on was stupid ridiculous and by the time the sun set that day, the air temp had peaked at 80-degrees and the water temp had made it up to 61. It was damn near a perfect day as the reds snotgobbled almost every offering. A day to remember for sure. Now in all honesty, I would have rather have had a customer on the skiff that day but…everyone needs a day to themselves from time to time to reflect on life and recharge their battery. For me, the sun feeds my soul. Scott Sommerlatte is a full time fly fishing and light tackle guide, freelance writer and photographer. Telephone Email Website
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DAV E R O B E R T S
K AYA K F I S H IN G C H RONI C L E S
THE FORGOTTEN DAYS OF FEBRUARY When is the best time of year to fish? This question is an often-visited topic of discussion amongst anglers and the answer is always different. Certain variables are inevitably thrown in; target species, weather and water conditions, whether the trip is serious or we’re just out for an overall fun day. Some arguments are valid, while others could be debated; it just comes down to what kind of fishing you prefer. Personally, I am a fan of October because this is when fishing for redfish in the marsh just gets stupid! If you like to target flounder, I am sure you are going to lean more towards November. And, for trout, pick your month. However, the one month that is too often overlooked is February. Before I started to write this article, I was struggling to come up with a topic for this month. After staring at a blank screen and pondering which direction I should take it, I just decided to grab another cold one and recollect on past trips. After digging through old photos, the forgotten days started to come back to light and the memories started rolling in. At this point is when I realized that some of the best fishing trips I have ever had came in February. When it comes to trout and redfish, I have had unreal days in February that are simply not fair to compare with pursuits during other months. Not only were my days 54 | February 2018
filled with quantity, but the quality was unmatched as well. I have also heard of people catching large flounder during this month. In fact, the state record flatfish that weighed-in at 13-pounds was caught in February from Sabine Lake. The opportunities are there, it just comes down to braving the cold and getting out there. About five years ago, I had been studying the weather and trying to plan a fishing trip. We’d just had a good front come through a few days prior and, that Sunday was looking to be the day to be on the water. I called one of my buddies and told him to get his stuff together because everything was lining up. The temperatures where starting to rise, the pressure was coming back down, and we had a new moon. To top it all off, the wind was predicted to be very light out of the north. I was gathering my last-minute things that morning when my buddy called, saying that his daughter got sick during the night and he was not going to be able to make it. No worries - family must always come first. Knowing that I was on my own agenda, I decided to get an extra cup of coffee and burn some time driving around Sabine Pass. I knew the flat I wanted to hit was probably not going to turn on until the tide started coming back in, about noon or so, and I had plenty of time. I made a leisurely run and eased onto the flat. The
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56 | February 2018
as some good ones. Every month seems to hold a special memory of at least one special outing that made it all worthwhile. However, of all the seasons and days I have fished, I can honestly say that February gave me the most enjoyable fishing experience.
third cast produced a healthy 5-pound trout. I sensed at that point it was going to be a great day. Within the next 30-minutes I managed to land several more trout and they were all similarly solid fish. When I landed my fifteenth fish, my buddy Stu called and wanted to join me. Without hesitation I told him to come on! By the time Stu got there I was in the upper-20s with my fish count and a majority of them were between 20- and 25-inches. Now that I had a partner with me, the fun really began. The fishing was absolutely unreal. I still have a hard time believing what we did – and I was there! The only way I can explain it, it was like fishing the birds in October, but with the smallest trout we landed measuring 18-inches. When the action finally began to fade we had landed more than sixty trout. We were the only people on Sabine Lake that day, near as I could tell. I have yet to have a day of fishing that even comes close. Last year, around this time, I found a day that was supposed to be relatively nice, for February. The wind was predicted to be light and the skies clear and sunny. Perfect for a long day of paddling. I started east through a bayou and I picked up a few small reds on the way to the flat I planned to target. The water level had dropped, which made spotting redfish very easy, but made for tough paddling. After investing more effort than I intended, I decided to exit via an alternate route and cut my trip short. When I neared the mouth of my exit slough, I noticed a small school of reds pushing toward me from the adjacent flat, out front. I slowly eased forward and stuck one on the third or fourth cast. She was an upper-slot fish and fat, and I quickly got her unhooked and she swam free. I then pulled out two more of similar size before again easing forward. Venturing only a few yards, I first heard and then saw fish crashing bait along the shoreline, just around the next turn. Evidently, the receding tide had pulled all the bait off the flat and the redfish were gorging on tiger minnows. I proceeded to catch a red or two at every bend of that bayou until I made my way back to the ramp. Now, I have had my share of bad trips throughout the year, as well
Dave Roberts is an avid kayak-fishing enthusiast fishing primarily the inshore Upper Coast region with occasional adventures to surf and nearshore Gulf of Mexico. Email: TexasKayakChronicles@yahoo.com Website: www.TexasKayakChronicles.com
Captain Hallie Burnett
www.GetYourMojoOn.com TSFMAG.com | 57
T S F M a g C o n s e r v a t i o n N e ws
58 | February 2018
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23 Billy Sandifer rd
The Billy Sandifer Big Shell Beach Cleanup will be held on the Padre Island National Seashore on Saturday, 24 February 2018. Volunteers will meet at the Malaquite Pavilion and the event will begin at 8:00 AM. Normal park admission fee will be waived for cleanup volunteers. The date for this event has been selected strategically to coincide with seasonally low tide levels and also because the speed limit on the beach changes from 25- to 15-mph on March 1. Being restricted to 15-mph would make for very slow travel to and from the work areas. All volunteers will be returned to the Malaquite Pavilion by 2:00 PM. Volunteers with four-wheel-drive vehicles are the backbone of this event. However, those without four-wheeldrive are most welcome and will be transported down the beach as space becomes available in four-wheel-drive vehicles that are available. Volunteers with four-wheel-drive willing to accept passengers should notify team leaders during registration. Trailers for hauling trash are much needed but must be in good condition due to the rough terrain. Volunteers are advised to check weather forecasts and dress appropriately as the event has historically included some rather adverse weather conditions. Long trousers, long sleeved shirts, windbreaker jackets or slicker tops, suitable headwear and sturdy work shoes are recommended. Food will be available at the Malaquite Pavilion at the conclusion
60 | February 2018
of the event. Drinking water and light snacks will be available in the work area but feel free to bring something to eat during the event if you feel it necessary. All volunteers will receive commemorative event T-shirts. I started this beach cleanup in 1995 and this year marks the twenty-third running of the event.Â Over the years, 7,350 volunteers have picked up 2,556,000 pounds of trash.Â The all-time attendance record was achieved in 2017 with 750 volunteers removing 100,000 pounds of trash from 18-miles of beach. Tide levels last year precluded traveling down the beach to the traditional Big Shell work area, so we focused instead on more northern stretches of the beach. This year, tide level permitting, we will be aiming for Big Shell and working between the 20- and 40-mile posts, as per normal. We have never attempted to work below the 31mile and are very excited at the prospects. In 2008, Mr. Steven Naylor, of Round Rock, TX. and I organized The Friends of Padre as a non-profit 501 c3 to insure the continuation of the cleanup in years to come. Friends of Padre is involved in several other cleanups on Padre Island and supportive of other conservation organizations working on Padre Island, as well as being responsible for the Big Shell Beach Cleanup. The board members of Friends of Padre (FoP) are a handpicked number of conservation-minded and knowledgeable island users.
BEACH CLEANUP FoP is currently seeking new board members. We need folks that are willing to jump in and help with the footwork, dedicated to the conservation and wellbeing of the island, and reside locally. More information on FoP is available at FriendsofPadre.com. Last year’s record of 750 volunteers taught us much as regards organization and coordination of transportation, managing teams in the work areas, and the huge task of hauling more than 50 tons of trash to the collection site at Malaquite Pavilion. The job could not be accomplished without the dedication of the FoP board and the hardworking volunteers who support the cleanup. Another first last year, we partnered with a recycling company and the results were inspiring. Unfortunately, they are not available to continue this year and we have found no other recycling company to take their place. I originally chose the Big Shell portion of the beachfront for this event due to the convergence of two ocean currents in that area that deposit waterborne trash in the area. It’s also typically some of the worst driving on the beach, so there is never a dull moment. It’s a wonderful place and we do this event so that it will continue to be wonderful for your children and your grandchildren. It is a wonderful way for parents to teach their children the importance and the responsibility for caring for the great outdoors. Mr. Leon McNinch and the Ruth Parr Sparks Foundation of Alice, TX. has become the largest supporter of the Friends of Padre by far, and literally make it possible for the organization to continue its work. Curtis Mai and Sharkathon are also major supporters. David Sikes, outdoor writer at Corpus Christi Caller-Times, CCA-TX Corpus
Christi Chapter, Michael Laskowski Sr. and Jr. of Trac-Work Inc. Railroad Maintenance and Rehabilitation offices in San Antonio and Scott and Brian McKinsey are all extremely important to the event. Brian McKinsey is our Big Shell Cleanup vehicle trouble shooter and in addition, bless his heart, he purchased and donated 20 ice chests and water for the volunteers. There are so many more that I haven’t room to mention, so I’ll just thank you and say you know who you are, and we do too. Please join us in this great Texas tradition on 24 February 2018. Billy Sandifer
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F I S H Y FA C T S
The Plasticene Era: Part 2 Microplastic Damages Plastics themselves are considered biologically inert since most aquatic organisms lack the enzymes to break down synthetic polymers. However, plastics contain additives, many of which are known hazardous substances and can leach out of the plastic during degradation (or digestion). Additionally, unlike the naturally occurring inorganic fine particles present in seawater, microplastics concentrate persistent organic pollutants (POPs), such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT). It is the dissolved POPs that yield toxic outcomes. Surveys of plastic particles collected from beaches determined that microplastics have the potential to act as vectors for the transport and release of absorbed contaminants and additives. Though the role of microplastics as transportation for POPs has been suggested to be relatively small compared to other pathways, concentrations of PCBs on polypropylene pellets have been found to be over 100 times higher than the surrounding seawater. Both microplastics and POPs are typically hydrophobic and attract each other for that reason. Organic pollutants will also preferentially bind to microplastics over larger plastic fragments, due to their comparatively large surface area to volume ratio. In fact, this binding capacity has led to the increasing use of plastics as passive sampling devices to estimate POP concentrations in water, sediment, and flora/fauna. This absorption even ‘cleans’ the seawater of the dissolved pollutant chemicals. However, this seems to be the case only with virgin plastics that haven’t degraded much. The situation is reversed in the case of recycled plastics or partially degraded products. These debris will slowly leach back out a small fraction of the POPs into the sea water. It is a dynamic equilibrium with the POPs diffusing in an out of the plastic fragment, depending on changes in the concentration of the POP in seawater. Recent work has also demonstrated that plastic debris can accumulate metals in greater concentrations than the surrounding water. The critical ecological risk is not the low levels of POPs (or metals) in water, or even the high levels concentrated in microplastics; it is the bioavailability of those highly concentrated microplastics that, when ingested by marine species, becomes a credible route through which the POPs can enter the marine food web. The ability of ingested POPs to transfer across trophic 62 | February 2018
levels and the potential damage posed by these to the marine ecosystem are not fully known, but given the increasing levels of plastic pollution of the oceans, it is an area of increasing interest. Though ingestion is the most likely interaction between marine organisms and microplastics, they can also enter the very base of the marine food web through absorption. Studies have indicated that nanosized polystyrene particles may permeate into the lipid membranes of organisms, altering the cellular function. Such was the case when nano-polystyrene beads were absorbed into the cellulose of a marine alga (Scenedesmus spp.), inhibiting photosynthesis and causing oxidative stress (i.e., making it age faster – an extremely simplified explanation). Microplastics’ small size makes them appealing to a wide range of organisms in benthic and pelagic ecosystems. In some cases, a creature’s feeding mechanisms can’t discriminate between prey and plastic, especially if there is a predominance of microplastic particles mixed with planktonic prey items. And when you’re filtering 20 to 50 gallons of water a day, who’s to say whether that one-millimeter speck is a copepod or a pellet? Clean plastic microbeads have been commonly used in zooplankton feeding research, so there is no doubt they are ingested, and that they can affect the habits of zooplankton. However, no one knows if any warning signals exist that might discourage the ingestion of ‘dirty’ beads by at least some of the species likely to ingest them. Some species are capable of rapid excretion/egestion of microplastics. Two species of mudsnails allowed to graze on fluorescent microplastics for one week excreted over 80% of the particles. One copepod species also ingested microplastics within a twelve-hour exposure period and egested the majority of the particles within an additional twelve hours. Some species are not so efficient. One study observed polystyrene particles in blue mussels forty-eight days past ingestion. Exposure studies have demonstrated that benthic invertebrates such as lugworms, amphipods, and blue mussels feed directly on microplastics, and deposit-feeding sea cucumbers even selectively ingest microplastic particles. Gut surfactants in some of these species possibly enhance the bioavailability of POPs. Weight loss, reduced feeding activity, and significantly decreased energy reserves were positively correlated with ingestion of spiked sediments in lugworms. Following a two-generation toxicity test,
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adult females and larvae of the Tigriopus japonicus copepod suffered increased mortality rates. Chronic exposure to nanopolystyrene caused reduced clutch and neonate size in the copepod, Tigriopus japonicus, and deformations in the offspring of small planktonic crustacean, Daphnia magna. Another copepod, Calanus helgolandicus, exposed to polystyrene for nine days showed reduced appetite and significantly smaller eggs with decreased hatching success. Shore crabs (Carcinus maenas) will not only ingest microplastics but also ‘inhale’ plastics into the gill cavity, just another exposure route to consider. Fibers of monofilament plastics (sourced to fibers of trawls and fragments of plastic bags) have been found in the intestines of the commercially valuable Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus). Normal digestive processes apparently can’t eliminate all of the filaments. Field-caught brown shrimps and farmed bivalves had microplastics in their digestive system as well. The identification of microplastics in commercially harvested organisms that are consumed whole (guts and all) highlights the potential human health issues. Based on estimates of the average consumption of mollusks by European consumers, the average person could ingest between 1,800 and 11,000 microplastic particles per year. Filter feeders do seem to have greater exposure to microplastics than organisms employing other feeding strategies. The baleen whale, Balaenoptera physalus, was reported to contain microplastics in blubber samples at levels of about one piece every square foot. A third of gooseneck barnacle stomachs examined contained microplastics. In a Canadian study, higher amounts of microplastics were found in farmed mussels than in wild mussels, possibly a result of farming practices that use polypropylene lines to anchor the mussels. Some of the earliest studies noting ingestion of microplastics by wildcaught fish include coastal species from the USA and the UK. Estuarine fish affected include catfish (Ariidae, 23% of individuals examined) and drums (Scianenidae, 7.9% of individuals examined). Slightly lower amounts of ingestion were found in freshwater and marine fish collected from watersheds of the Gulf of Mexico. A total of 51 fish species from 17 families were examined. Ingestion of microplastics was widespread, with individuals from 65% of species (herbivores, invertivores, and omnivores) showing ingested microplastics. The delivery of toxins across trophic levels is still being researched, but seems likely. In a study examining effects of trophic transfer, algae were mixed with nanoparticles of polystyrene and fed to Daphnia magna. The daphnids were then fed to crucian carp, Carassius carassius. Over the course of 61 days, reduced feeding activity was observed in the carp, along with changes in behavior. They also had heavier, swollen brains, with greater water content. These results indicate that microplastic particles may accumulate in lipid-rich organs, such as the brain, disrupting biological membranes and inducing the effects observed in fish. To add insult to injury, in addition to posing as food, microplastics can alter bacterial communities. Some species of heterotrophic bacteria, like Vibrio, have been found to colonize microplastic debris. Colonized microplastics may be more attractive as food items than ‘pure’ plastic particles, and it is possible that microplastics could act as vectors for pathogens and/or exotic species as a result of these opportunistic colonizers, though these interactions are poorly understood thus far.
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A Response to Microplastics In general, the public and private sector awareness of the potential negative ecological, social, and economic impacts of microplastics is much less developed than for more visible litter. However, in response to growing concerns from the scientific community, Austria, Luxembourg, Belgium, Sweden, and the Netherlands issued a joint statement to the European Union Environment Ministers, calling for a ban on microplastics in personal care products. Bans on microplastics in cosmetic products were also enacted in Illinois, California, and New York, and the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 was finally signed into US federal law in January 2016. Engagement and education at all levels of society (public, government, and private sector) is necessary to effect positive change. With our current resources, it is virtually impossible to remove microplastics from the sea without simultaneously removing similarly sized organisms, like plankton, and subsequently disrupting the ecosystem further. Wastewater treatment systems fail at filtering out microplastics because of their small size. The best plan, for now, is tackling the multitude of microplastic origins, and that requires addressing the problem at its source – newly engineered materials and smart design, for example, such as clothes that shed fewer fibers or washing machines equipped with filters. And to be successful, these efforts must be supported by legislation and actionable policies that force real change. As pro-plastic consumers, we are responsible for adapting our behaviors and increasing our waste management efficiency. Turning our plastic soup back into the bountiful sea is a challenge we must accept. We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; We borrow it from our children. ~Native American proverb, often attributed to Chief Seattle
Where I learned about microplastics, and you can too! International Union for Conservation of Nature portals.iucn.org/library/sites/library/files/documents/2017-002.pdf Science Direct: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0269749116305620 Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/5854Marine%20 Litter%20-%20Microplastics.pdf Springer Link link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-16510-3_10 Pennsylvania State University citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.460.1971&rep=rep1&t ype=pdf Norwegian Environment Agency www.miljodirektoratet.no/Documents/publikasjoner/M319/M319.pdf National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html
Science and the
Sea Snakes Go Black in the City Most turtle-headed sea snakes throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans have black-and-white banded bodies—unless they swim in city waters. Instead of the distinctive white rings around their bodies, the snakes that live closest to industrial areas have much darker bodies. In fact, turtle-headed sea snakes in the polluted waters around New Caledonia, in the Pacific, are often entirely black. These city sea snakes aren’t making a fashion statement. Having darker skin, scientists have learned, gives them an edge over their banded brethren when living near large human populations.
Left: typical black-and-white banded coloring of the turtle-headed sea snake. Credit: Claire Goiran. Right: Much darker coloring of a turtle-headed sea snake living in an industrial area. This snake is also shedding its skin. Credit: Claire Goiran The evolutionary adaptation of darker pigmentation is called melanism, named for the chemical melanin that makes skin, feathers, scales and other external body parts darker. Scientists have long seen evolutionary melanism in other animals. Peppered moths living in polluted cities, for example, are much darker than those in the country. Their darker color helps them blend in better in a sooty city. But it’s not improved camouflage that helps sea snakes. Their advantage is similar to that of pigeons in Paris whose darker feathers store more zinc than lighter ones. Darker scales help the sea snakes rid their bodies of extra chemicals from pollution. Melanin efficiently absorbs metals and similar trace elements, so instead of remaining in the snake’s body, contaminants like arsenic and zinc end up in the snake’s skin. When the snake sheds its skin, it sheds excess pollutants with it. Even better, the darker sea snakes shed more often, preventing potentially toxic chemicals from building up in their bodies. For these ocean city dwellers, black isn’t a wardrobe choice. It’s a method of survival.
www.ScienceAndTheSea.org © The University of Texas Marine Science Institute
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IN S H ORE | NEAR S H ORE | J ETTIE S | P A S S E S
INCREASING THE ODDS OF
FISHING SUCCESS I am asked frequently how or what do I look for to increase the odds of catching. Each day is different, but here are three things any angler can do to improve their catching success. 1. Fish early or fish late. It is a proven fact, predators feed more readily during low light periods. The sun rises and sets daily at a guaranteed mathematically predictable time. This is the one and only environmental influence that never changes. As daylight brightens or dims, the permeation of light into the water changes in magnitude. Shadows reach across and through the water altering the ability of forage fish to detect imminent danger. Predators use these shadows to their advantage to cloak their attacks. Fish early or fish late to utilize the same advantage of light refraction. 2. Combine factors and variables. Predictable factors and inconsistent variables can be evaluated to increase catches. In combination, these forces of nature can contribute favorably, or not, depending on what is available. The predetermined factors include the times of sunrise and sunset, tidal level, tide movement, and solunar influence. These factors are all proven and readily available, you need to look no further for accurate predictions than the solunar table included monthly in this publication. Live shrimp freelined tight to the jetty rocks got this one.
Knowledge is power, this information allows us the opportunity to formulate a game plan and put it in motion. The variables to take into consideration are everchanging and less predictable. They may be water temperature, wind velocity and direction, barometric pressure, and human interaction. Each variable must be taken at face value with added consideration of the effects on given factors. 3. Use the force of the tides. As I always say, “Find the current, find the bait, find the fish.” Find areas where the current concentrates the forage by pulling or pushing them into an abutment or other type of structure. This can be it a current seam, a reef, a deep channel, shoreline point, sudden bottom contour or dropoff, or against a shoal. When the tide ebbs, it pulls the bait with a concentrated force or suction in the lower part of the water column. When it floods, the water is pushed with force in the upper part of the water column. Each tide helps concentrate the gamefish feeding in said areas – lower on outgoing and higher on incoming. This is the largest single influence within the realm of bait movement, and where the bait can be found at any given time. Simply put, currents put the food chain in motion, everything goes with the flow. Swift currents overwhelm the forage, pushing and pulling them along the routes of least resistance. For a chance at survival they group together, seeking safety in numbers. Anytime bait is concentrated you can bet the predators are nearby. Structure Scouting in February February brings us the lowest sustained tide levels of the year; caution should be exercised while navigating shallow waterways. But, low water levels also make it a great time to scout local bays for structure you might not know exists. While out there, you can also create trails on your GPS that will be navigable year around. What you discover on extreme low-tide days can provide details of great areas to target at other times. Shallow oyster reefs and mid-bay sandbars will be exposed, alerting boaters to be more careful. Primary shapes of drop-offs are easier to observe, as well as clues to any irregularities where fish will tend to congregate when the tides return. Examples are the edges of washouts and guts where the water flow makes its way onto a flat. Fish often use these features to enter and exit areas on normal tidal exchanges.
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Shrimp hooked in the center of the back snag bigger sheepshead at first bite.
Schooling Black Drum Action Slot-sized black drum school tightly in cooler water and lower tidal levels. Peeled, dead shrimp, crab flavored Fish Bites, or small pieces of blue crab all work great. The schools often stage near structure, using it as a focus point. Drum often travel along primary drop-offs from flats or ledges bordering deeper water. In February, large black drum start to trickle into the bays for the annual spawn. Best catches tend to be in water depths of 15- to 40feet and cracked crab, jumbo shrimp, or mantis shrimp are particularly effective in drawing strikes. Moving water is a key in getting the bigger fish to feed. Channel intersections and deep drop-off ledges normally have the strongest water flow. Getting on the water this month can be very rewarding in many ways. Fewer boats make for less stress on the fish and the lower tides give us opportunity to see what is hidden on normal water levels. If for no other reason to hit the water this month, your boat could probably use some exercise.
Miss Haylee Rae fished peeled shrimp on a channel drop-off for this upper slot drum.
Sheepshead Catching Sheepshead catches reach their peak this month for anglers who target them along ship channel jetties and deep oyster reefs in the bays. Channel markers, marina bulkheads, and gas platforms are also productive places. The big attraction will be clinging oysters and barnacles. Incidental catches of trout, redfish and black drum are quite common in the same areas. Live shrimp free-lined close to structure, lightly-weighted on bottom, or suspended with a float can all work very well. Sheepshead hold tight to structure that lies adjacent to areas that regularly experience strong current. When currents go slack they often wander away from the structure, hunting in small packs. Bait presentation is normally most effective from the upcurrent or upwind side of the structure being targeted. My preferred hook for this application is the MUSTAD Ultra Point 9174 Oâ€™Shaughnessy. Depending on the size of bait, hooks of 1/O to 3/O size are good choices. The chemically sharpened micro-point provides quicker penetration for best hookups. Many times, a short striker gets stung in the outer lip, while larger fish get it drilled into the roof of their mouth. Of all the ways to hook a live shrimp, I prefer hooking them in the center of the back. Cutting them in half by nipping them in the middle and circling back for the remainder. When seeking the best specimens to fill a limit, we often find it necessary to hit multiple locations along structure such as jetty rocks and also multiple structures such as channel markers, buoys and reefs. It is common for the largest fish to be the most aggressive feeders. Change location if you start losing a good amount of bait to short-striking juveniles. Doubling back to places that produced good fish earlier can also be very effective. Evidently, when a large and aggressive fish is removed from the structure another moves up quickly to take its place.
Capt. Curtiss Cash offers charters in the Port Oâ€™Connor area; specializing in fishing the bays, passes, jetties, surf and nearshore waters. Species targeted include speckled trout, redfish, flounder, tripletail, black drum, bull reds, sharks, snapper, kingfish, ling and tarpon, when seasonally available. Phone
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That’s my better half, Alexis, under all that cold-weather gear. She sure made me proud, fishing in that snowstorm!
E X T R E M E K AYA K F I S H I N G & S H A R K S F R O M T H E S A N D
ERI C OZO L IN S
A Red Winter Within a four-month span during 2017, the Coastal Bend region endured both a catastrophic hurricane and a snow storm. As if these were not enough, with coastal temperatures forecasted to dip into the low-20s, TPWD issued a temporary fisheries closure on New Year’s Day 2018 to protect gamefish stocks. Twenty-two locations known to harbor gamefish seeking refuge from freezing temperatures between Brazos Santiago Pass at the tip of Texas and Bridge City on Sabine Lake were closed to all fishing for 48-hours. Even through such a wicked string of calamitous weather events our fisheries continue to thrive. Hurricane Harvey was responsible for relocating tremendous numbers of snook from South Texas bays to the Gulf of Mexico and along the beaches – perhaps more than we even realized lived in Texas waters. Unlike
the gin-clear waters of Florida, average water clarity in Texas bays precludes the opportunity of seeing fish in many places. One thing is certain though, common snook showed in unexpected numbers after the hurricane. December’s cold evidently pushed them back into hiding, but what remained was a phenomenal run of bull redfish that absolutely wreaked havoc in the surf. Red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) are among the many pleasures of saltwater fishing. In the bays, anglers target them on light tackle. Their stocks are currently quite healthy, providing a sustainable fishery for everyone to enjoy. Most of the reds people target in the bay are of slot size – 20- to 28-inches. While larger ones do roam the backwaters, most of the oversized red drum spend their time in the gulf and along the beaches. Reds of all sizes can be found in the surf. In fact, they are probably one of the more abundant gamefish Ear-to-ear grins are standard when species present. posing with a bull red. Starting in October, during their annual spawning run, mature specimens can be found all along the beach. This past fall though, it seems everything was greatly delayed, likely due to the unseasonably warm weather. Mullet migrations were behind schedule, and the reds that typically follow them were just not present. Concern grew among beach anglers. Ladyfish were still present in great numbers as December rolled around, a species that we expect to see diminishing during November. Jackfish action along our beaches had also been quite weak. Along with the redfish, the jacks typically
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I have enjoyed some insane redfish action in the surf, but never so many double and triple hookups.
Even the research team and film crew got in on the action.
Despite hurricanes and treacherous winters, it is satisfying to know that the red drum is a very versatile and hardy species. They are found in every body of salt water in Texas, and even some fresh water lakes hold stocked redfish. I am very pleased in knowing that on just about any charter trip I run, the people I take can have an excellent chance to catch such a great fish, or two, or many. Mature red drum, though a very sporty game fish, do not make great table fare. The greatest majority of our red drum landings are released unharmed to spawn and hopefully fight another day. Conservation is truly the key to the future, for not only red drum, but all our coastal species. Whether on the shallow grass flats, breaking surf, or nearshore structure, you never know when you may encounter this elegant “dot” of the sea!
storm the beaches demolishing the great hordes of mullet traveling the shallows. Just as the fish were confused with the conditions, we too were wondering what was going on. Then the snowstorm on December 8, only the eighth time in seventy years a measurable snowfall would cover South Texas beaches. Ironically, I had a week-long fishing trip and major film shoot scheduled at that same time, the subject of which was to be large sharks from the beach. With a thin layer of snow covering Padre Island and temperatures in the low-30s, the filming had to be delayed. With a few days on our hands, better half Alexis and I decided to venture out in the treacherous conditions anyway. We took to the kayaks at sunrise on the 8th to hit a favorite wintertime wading spot. Paddling to our spot was nothing short of brutal. At one point we faced near white-out conditions with less than 100-yard visibility. Nonetheless, we battled the elements and during the peak of the storm Alexis hooked and landed a hardy redfish. A redfish being landed during a Texas snow storm was quite a sight and made me extremely proud of my girl! We fished through the morning and ultimately ended up with limits of redfish, trout, and flounder! As quickly as the snow arrived it began to disappear. Likely a by-product of the sudden ultra-cold snap, the masses of mullet that had “been on hold” in the bays were finally triggered to begin making their way to the surf. With my filming schedule set to resume, things were looking up. Right before Christmas we embarked on our major adventure down Padre Island. The first couple days were still quite cold, although the water temps were running mid-60s – roughly on par for December. Almost immediately we were into tagging and releasing large sandbar sharks. Though valuable to the show and the taggings would prove useful in sandbar research, we were hoping for something much larger. We put on a great effort starting around daybreak each morning, and then deploying “big shark” baits later in the afternoon. Mullet were running in knee-deep water the whole time. Considering the bait presence, several of our party decided to try our luck obtaining fresh jacks for bait while we waited for the shark rods to go off. Almost instantly we had non-stop action on casted baits, but not the jacks we were hoping to target. We knew the reds would be around but did not realize the numbers we would encounter. As soon as the baits went in the water we were hooking up oversized redfish – every cast. There are many times when bull reds will frenzy in the surf, but for several days straight and this late in the season is fairly unusual. I had the research team and even the film crew taking part in the action during slow periods of filming, catching the largest fish of their lives. On multiple occasions we had double and triple hookups. To me, this is some of the most exciting gamefish action you can have in the surf, aside from sharks, of course. We caught and released so many redfish that nobody could keep count. Many were remarkable for the shape of the dot on their tail and all were admired for their brute strength and stubborn fighting ability. While we never truly hit the prestigious 50-inch mark, we got very close, and enjoyed hundreds of incredible photo-ops. As with my regular charter groups, any and all who pose with a giant redfish sport ear-to-ear grins. And kids simply love them!
For the past decade Eric ‘Oz’ Ozolins has been promoting shark catch and release and assisting various shark research programs. Eric offers guided shark fishing on Padre Island National Seashore. Also renowned for extreme kayak big game fishing, Eric is the owner of Catch Sharks Tackle Company. Email Websites
firstname.lastname@example.org oceanepics.com | catchsharks.com
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Mojo Sportswear Not all hats are created equal – Mojo Sportswear Company gets it! Our linen long bill hat features a dark underbill to prevent sunlight from bouncing off the water and into your eyes. It is made with a non-absorbent 30+ UPF fabric that protects your scalp from harmful UV rays as well as cools you off as any moisture evaporates. Speaking of cool – why not try our new vented Finny Wireman? This shirt boasts vented sides to promote air circulation, antimicrobial properties, quick drying/cooling fabric, and is made with UPF 30+ fabric to protect your skin. www.GetYourMojoOn.com
Available at Fishing Tackle Unlimited! The new Huk Attack Sneaker is the most engineered, purpose-built, fishing shoe ever created. It's called "Attack" for a reason and brings pure performance features for the fisherman who needs equipment as serious as they are. Unique traction, rugged durability, all day comfort and support - Huk Attack footwear delivers innovation from the top to bottom. Features: • GripX Wet Traction Non-Marking Outsole • Huk Fuzetek™ Support Cage • Dual Density EVA Midsole With 360° Drainage • Performance Lacing • Non-Marking Outsole • Kryptek Camo www.FishingTackleUnlimited.com
New Longer Lengths for RainShadow RCJB (Jig Boat) Rod Blanks Due to popular demand, RainShadow has announced five new rod blank models in the ever-popular RCJB series, specifically for tuna applications. These blanks are longer versions of our ever-popular 84H and 84XH models. Featuring durable, yet sensitive RX6 Graphite in the butt with E-Glass blended into the tip giving Extra Fast action and incredible strength. This combined with our previous offerings will give you everything you need in your tuna arsenal! 70 | February 2018
Bayside Marine / Shallow Stalker Boats Red Snapper or Red Drum? For ages fisherman have struggled with this dilemma. A proper offshore boat features steep deadrise that cuts through swells of open water. A proper flats boat on the other hand sees a ripple and jumps up on top of it. You couldn't have both, a boat either jumps up or cuts through. Attempts to compromise ended with boats that didn't jump well or cut well. Until now that is... Shallow Stalker Boats introduces A.R.S.M.S, a 9-Way adjustable "Air Ride" Shock Mitigation System. Now you can enjoy the smooth ride of an offshore boat without sacrificing your ability to REALLY get skinny!
Let the Battle Begin™ NEW FOR 2017! Eight models of the PENN® Slammer III are offered to cover a wide range of inshore, nearshore and offshore angling opportunities. Features include IPX6 Sealed System, CNC gear technology and proprietary Dura-Drag. MSRP starts at $249.95 PENN® reels are known to perform in heavy-duty fishing situations with features and benefits on which professional anglers and charter captains trust. One of those trusted reels is the Slammer III and now the time-tested and proven Slammer spinning reel returns due to popular demand. The 3500 Slammer III is the smallest of the family weighing 13.9 ounces while the 10500 weighs 43.1 ounces. Slammer III prices start at $249.95 MSRP. www.PennFishing.com
Ultimate Fiberglass Stain Remover Starbrite’s Ultimate Fiberglass Stain Remover Gel Formula is engineered to eliminate tough stains on fiberglass such as rust, grease and fish blood. The Gel formula completely encapsulates the stained area, penetrating and dissolving it while “sticking” where sprayed. This longer dwell time ensures maximum cleaning power, even on vertical surfaces such as gunwales and transoms. MSRP: $10.99 - 16 fl. oz. www.Starbrite.com TSFMAG.com | 71
DICKIE COLBURN’S Sabine Scene
Dickie Colburn is a full time guide out of Orange, Texas. Dickie has 37 years experience guiding on Sabine and Calcasieu Lakes.
Telephone 409-883-0723 Website www.sabineconnection.com
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It is 11:00 o’clock in the morning, the mercury is stuck at 28⁰, the wind is howling out of the northwest at 18-mph, and my dog has refused to go out and pee for the past twelve hours. Each year I become ever more aware of the fact that age truly is an irreversible impediment when it comes to dealing with inclement weather, but this is cold by any standard. After three consecutive years of virtually no winter at all, we are freezing our butts off and it couldn’t have come a worse time here on Sabine. It took 351 days for things to get back even better than normal and now we can’t take advantage of what has been an awesome bite over the past two weeks. Virtually every pattern in water from two- to eighteen-feet deep has been working and the pressure remains light, thanks to football playoffs and hunting seasons. That will change very quickly once it warms up a little and word of the much-improved bite gets out. I had begrudgingly all but sworn off wading, but I have been in my waders several times of late and there is still something very magical about stalking trout on their terms. There was a time when we climbed in the water to slow down our approach and more effectively
target the largest female trout of winter. That, however, has not been the case thus far. While it is the patient stalk and highly-anticipated strike that makes it addictive for me, we have caught just as many nice trout drifting as we have wading. “Nice” is a relative term as we are still not finding many trout in the seven-pound-plus category. We are, however, catching more fish in the four- to six-pound class and that is an appreciable upgrade no longer taken for granted. I also believe that due to the difference in the angle when fishing off the deck of a boat as opposed to standing waist-deep in the water, a Corky or any suspending type lure is easier to keep at the same depth when wading. You are also more negatively affected by wind speed and boat movement throughout the retrieve when drifting. Big trout prefer a longer look at their next meal and a short chase. The flats on both sides of the ICW on the north end of the lake have been lights-out for trout and redfish. The fish aren’t straying far from the security of the Intracoastal, but they are spending a lot of time in 3- to 5-feet of water each day. Incoming tides and afternoon hours have been especially good. Those in the know
The Sabine marsh offers a solid Plan-B for healthy redfish.
are also quick to take advantage of wakes pushed across the shallow flats by tanker traffic. I don’t know that there is ever a time when at least a few trout won’t assault a topwater lure and the size of the lure generally has more to with it than the color. I don’t know how many times I have had trout half-heartedly roll up on a larger Spook, only to inhale a smaller She Dog or Spook Jr. Having said that, I am still spending the majority of my time with a Fat Boy, Soft-Dine XL, or Catch V tied on the end of my line when fishing less than six feet of water. Pink, glow-chartreuse and black/gold/orange have been very reliable colors. I am a firm believer in the advantages of fishing braided line, but five days of having visitors from the Lower Coast wear me out with mono when fishing Corkys has shaken my confidence. They contend that the forgiving stretch of mono is more important than the quicker detection of the strike when fishing Corkys. Not unlike when fishing a topwater, the fish have a split second longer to inhale the lure throughout the hookset! I am, however, still fishing tails on braid as I find that quicker alert to a subtle strike to be a huge advantage. And, we are also fishing a lot of tails right now. One reason is the deeper bite rebounding and the other is the effectiveness of swimming a 5-inch Bass Assassin Die Dapper on a 1/16-ounce head when the fish grow finicky toward Corkys. We have also done exceptionally well bouncing a Lil’ John off the bottom in deeper water. Warmer days are on the way. How many youngsters will you take fishing in 2018?
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Capt. Caleb Harp
The Buzz on Galveston Bay
Capt. Caleb Harp has fished the Galveston Bay System since childhood and, now a charter captain and fishing guide, he uses his knowledge to enable clients to enjoy the excellent fishing the area offers. His specialty is the yeararound pursuit for trophy trout and redfish with artificial lures
Telephone 281-753-3378 Website harpsguideservice.com
Fishing in the Galveston Bay complex has become pretty consistent for the most part, considering how slow it was during fall. Maybe it’s because we’re actually getting some winter weather for a change. Let’s just pray Mother Nature doesn’t throw any curves this month. February has always been one of my favorite months to target big trout. The dead cold of January is behind us and we’re not yet into the dreaded spring transition that comes in March. The fish lately have been hanging out on oyster-filled mud flats situated near deeper water. This time of year, with frequent cold fronts, the fish need a deep refuge they can slide into whenever the water gets blown out of the bays. Fishing next to channels, deeper bayous, canals, etc., will be your better bets, on average. Fish use this deeper water to hide whenever the water level drops sharply following a front, and then creep back up on the flats to feed whenever the tide comes back in. As the water temperature warms up, the bait will become more active on the surface. You can pretty much bet that where there’s bait there’s game fish.
Jeremy Dyer landed this Galveston trophy on a chilly February afternoon.
“Paul Brown Lures...PERFECTION.” 8 MODELS TO CHOOSE FROM
Spotted Seatrout Released After Photo
Paul Brown’s Original (34 Colors) Paul Brown’s Floating Original (34 Colors) Paul Brown’s Fat Boy (34 Colors) Paul Brown’s Floating Fat Boy (34 Colors) Paul Brown’s Devil (34 Colors) Paul Brown’s Soft-Dine (15 Colors) Paul Brown’s Soft-Dine XL (15 Colors) Paul Brown’s Soft-Dog (8 Colors)
L&S Bait Company • 1415 East Bay Drive • Largo, Florida 33771 • Tel 727-584-7691 • www.mirrolure.com
74 | February 2018
Even when bait is located, the bite during the winter can be kind of finicky, and it’s because of the crazy weather swings the fish have to endure. Plus, at this time of year with predominantly colder water temps and lower metabolism, they don’t need to eat every day. You’ve just got to be patient and keep on grinding until they finally turn on. Luckily, our bays are holding plenty of smaller, recruitment-sized fish. So even on slower days, you can generally still get a lot of bites. I believe lure selection is more critical this time of year than perhaps any other season. What I’m describing here is lure size and sink rate to match subdued feeding moods. Think larger profile soft plastics, light jigheads, slower sink rates, and lures that will almost suspend in a fish’s face long enough for them to finally take a swipe at it. Some guys get hung up on colors but I do not place so much stock in that aspect. To me, color is more of a confidence thing. If you have confidence in whatever color you’re using you will try harder and be more attentive. When someone asks what color they should use, I say, “Whichever you feel you have the best luck on or looks the best to you.” But, there’s an exception to every rule and when the water gets all churned up or stays crystal clear for days, you definitely need to make color adjustments. In murky water I like a bait that is predominantly dark with a contrasting tail. Texas Roach and Morning Glory seem to work well. Purple Demon with a white tail is another. The opposite goes for clear water. Here I prefer more translucent baits such as a Day-Glo, Opening Night, Blue Moon or Chartreuse Ice. Plum and other shades of purple turn out to be what I term multi-purpose baits as they work well in both murky and clear conditions. Good examples are plum-chartreuse, Geaux Gleaux and Slammin’ Chicken. West Bay Areas that have deep water access or lie close to deeper sloughs have been producing steady trout action. Subdivision canals have also been holding some nice fish. Drifting guts and ledges has been a slam-dunk when weather allows. Wade fisherman have been doing well on the shorelines, depending on the wind direction. North shore with south wind and south shore on north wind. This pattern should continue through February and might even show greater consistency in the latter weeks. East Bay East Bay has been full of fish on the south shoreline and along the Anahuac Wildlife Refuge shoreline. Not many true giants have been caught but a lot of good numbers and fun fishing. Prior to the recent nasty fronts, the topwater bite had been really good in front of drains. Consistently colder water temp makes for a steady Corky bite in these areas. I expect to see this pattern continue until spring, and hopefully some heavier trout will begin to show soon. Trinity Bay Trinity Bay has improved of late but the fish have been somewhat isolated in tight schools. Jack’s Pocket has been the steadiest producer of both trout and redfish since the colder temps set in. I look for action to pick up along Trinity’s east shoreline as soon as water temperatures begin to rise and stabilize in the mid-50s.
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The View from Matagorda
Bink Grimes is a full-time fishing and hunting guide, freelance writer and photographer, and owner of Sunrise Lodge on Matagorda Bay.
Telephone 979-241-1705 Email email@example.com Website matagordasunriselodge.com
Low tides, cold, cloudy water and northwest winds are nothing new for a February winter day. Those back bay areas that so often provide refuge from the wind are probably dry right now. Doesn’t matter - just eliminates water, making it easier to find a hungry school. Cuts and channels are normally my February focus. Though waters have been chocolate in the bay, falling tides from the back lakes have ushered clear water through the cuts. A day after winds blow in excess of 30 knots and tides drop a couple feet, redfish can be found in holes and guts, stacked tight around reefs near channels. I like wading the edges of channels with heavy jigs on the incoming tide, bouncing soft plastics on the bottom. Sensitive graphite rods and braided lines are a must, especially when the tide is really rolling. Sometimes all you feel is the slightest twinge of the fish closing its mouth on the bait.
Soft plastics like Bass Assassins, Down South Lures, Gamblers and MirrOlures have been the best bet; and, I love a pink MirrOlure Soft-Dine. Remember that fish still feed in muddy water, and often times what seems off-colored on the surface is clearer a few feet down in a deep channel. Often overlooked are oil and gas wells in the bay.
“We contracted the construction of the TSFMag office building with Farrell Jackson. Jackson also built my son’s bay house here in Seadrift. We were completely satisfied with both projects…a professional and trustworthy contractor.” ~ Everett Johnson Editor/Publisher, Texas Saltwater Fishing Magazine
361-576-3825 Office | 361-576-3828 Fax 36 Hunters Circle, Victoria, TX 77905
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www.RafterJConstruction.com A previous owner of Circle J Enterprises, Inc.
Most are stationed in at least 10-feet of water with shell pads around the legs of the platform, perfect terrain for fish to stage and stay warm in winter. Again, though the water may seem off-colored on the surface, often it is much clearer on the bottom. Work the entire water column with your baits. Sometimes the fish can be caught under a popping cork, sometimes they can be coaxed down lower with heavy jigs. Remember those shorelines with low-tide reefs and sand flats exposed? Somewhere adjacent to those pieces of shell and sand is
a gut, and chances are a redfish or two can be found in those holes. Think about those days you waded to your chest in June – those same locales are probably waist-deep now. With an incoming morning tide these spots and the fish that linger nearby are just waiting for fresh currents to usher shrimp, shad and mullet to these hangouts, not to mention your darting soft plastic. Use the tides to your advantage. Knowing and learning where fish go during periods of low water will help you the next time water levels plummet. For the past year, except when it was running at flood stage, the Colorado River has been as consistent for trout and redfish as I have ever seen it in my 20 years in Matagorda. In the past I was never really fond of fishing the river, using it only as a last resort when winds were too blustery to fish the bays. However, over the past two fall and winter seasons the river has been solid. A lot like bass fishing, we toss Bass Assassins, Down South Lures and MirrOlure Lil’ Johns against the bank and work the bait along the drops from 2-14 feet of water. It’s a great place to camp out when cold north winds are blowing; and, even when they (winds) are not. Catch us at the Houston Fishing Show in the George R. Brown, February 28 – March 4. Come by and say hello and get on our weekly fishing report list. You can also follow our catches on Instagram and Facebook.
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Capt. Gary Gray
MID-COAST BAYS With the Grays
Port O'Connor Seadrift
Captain Gary Gray is a full time guide born and raised in Seadrift. He has been guiding in the Seadrift/ Port O’Connor area for 28 years. Gary specializes in wading for trout and redfish year round with artificial lures.
Telephone 361-785-6708 Email firstname.lastname@example.org Website www.bayrat.com
78 | February 2018
Brrrr! The latter part of December was cold and thus far January has been even colder. During the freezing temperatures we experienced between Christmas and New Year, we again had people rushing to known big trout holes. They weren’t fishing per se, they were hunting the floaters and stunned fish lying on bottom, for what I call a photo-op. Some were guides but more were just Average Joes, looking to make a showing on social media, even though they’d used a dip net and not angling skill to catch them. One image forwarded to me showed a young man and woman with eight trout over twenty-five inches. Each of them had two in each hand, fingers up the gills, for the photo op – totally made me sick! We have laws that prohibit picking up cold-stunned and dead fish during a freeze event but even this does not stop them. Bottom line is that being cold-stunned doesn’t necessarily convey a death sentence. Some of those fish can and will survive. Unless, that is, you run your fingers up their gills and hold them out of the water in the frigid air to make a photo. Game wardens cannot be everywhere all the time,
I get that, but when TPWD enacts a special fishery closure, places like Port O’Connor’s famed Army Hole could use a game warden presence to preclude the antics of game hogs and social media wannabes. I remember the heyday of the Army Hole, chockfull of boats on really cold days. So much so that I remember catching a redfish with another angler’s hook in its mouth, dragging their unattended rod behind. Talk about shooting fish in a barrel! But when you left Army Hole back in the day you would encounter a game warden, and they had a boat standing by to chase greedy anglers who would not stop, usually because they were over the limit. I saw it firsthand. Local warden David Heard (now deceased) was checking my boat at the dock when David’s partner hailed another boat for inspection. The guy responded by jamming the throttle wide open to make a break. Bouncing off the side of my boat in the process. He cut across Espiritu Santo and was seen throwing an oyster sack overboard. Retrieving the sack, the wardens found it filled with redfish, some of them undersize. Enough of that rant. Let’s go fishing.
The Boedeker family of College Station thinks fishing is a great way to spend time together.
I depend on my Minn Kota trolling motor during winter to keep the boat positioned over fish staged in water too deep to wade.
Now that the New Year’s freeze has come and gone, we are back to our normal wintertime patterns. By this I mean that during cold fronts I will focus on deeper back-lake areas on Matagorda Island. These could be in deeper parts of the lakes proper, or sloughs that feed major lakes such as Contee and Pringle. Hurricane Harvey opened a number of deep cuts into a lot of the backwater areas. Our go-to lure will be a Paul Brown Original Series Corky or a Soft Dine XL. I prefer the Original Corky for the coldest days and lean toward the Fat Boy during warming periods. Speaking of warm-up days, my all-time favorite is still the Bass Assassin 4” Sea Shad. Other protected locations that are easier to reach on frigid days when you get the fishing itch are the harbors where you launch. Deeper than surrounding bays, bottom temperatures can be as much as five degrees warmer than the surface temperatures, and thus attract fish. Let’s not forget the canals of waterfront neighborhoods. These hold fish year ‘round but really shine during the colder months. Always remember to be respectful of property owners also fishing these waters. Cold weather opportunity can also be found in rivers. Trout, redfish, and flounder can all be caught in river channels when saltwater creeps upstream, especially during periods when river flow is weaker than normal. Tall bank bluffs block cold north wind and make fishing more pleasant than on open bays. In fact, you might want to seriously consider cancelling plans to cross any deep, open water bays on strong north wind days. You’ve likely heard me say that cold-weather fishing emphasizes the need for a super-sensitive rod to feel the light tick of a trout taking your lure. My answer for this is a Waterloo HP Lite. By far the most sensitive rod I have ever used. I use this rod every day, throwing the lightest Bass Assassins, and it can even handle my Super Spooks when called upon. Likewise, there is no substitute for braided line. I use Mustad 30-pound, it works as well as any I have tried at half the cost. The 43nd Annual Houston Fishing Show will be at the George R. Brown February 28 through March 4. Shellie and I will be in Booth 532. Stop by to say hello and talk a little fishing. Fish hard, fish smart!
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HOOKED UP WITH Rowsey
Upper Laguna/ Baffin
David Rowsey has over 25 years in Baffin and Upper Laguna Madre; trophy trout with artificial lures is his specialty. David has a great passion for conservation and encourages catch and release of trophy fish.
Telephone 361-960-0340 Website www.DavidRowsey.com Email email@example.com @captdavidrowsey
The fantastic and fabled month of February has arrived. Does the allure and reputation of any other time period even approach that of the second month for the prospects of landing a behemoth speckled trout in Baffin Bay? Probably not. Especially if you believe everything you read on blogs, forums and social media. But hear me out on this – while February is a proven producer of big fish, my journals show that over the years it averages the #1 ranking no more often than any other month from December through May – in any given year. I used to look so forward to this month, but nowadays it seems like there are at least as many boats on the water in February as there are on Memorial Day weekend. Say it on social media, and they will come! The Facebookers, tweeters, and other followers of social media comprise the largest part of the crowd, but tournaments in February also seem to be very much in vogue. Lord knows I have participated in my share since 2000, and some might even accuse me of hypocrisy for pursuing this angle, but it’s not.
Things are just so much different from 2008 to 2018, and I have been around long enough to realize it and see the effects of the change. The point of all of this is to say that there will be some large trout to be caught in February, but be prepared to join a flotilla of anglers out there, and the by-product of some pretty spooky trout. Be smart while trying to catch them, and courteous to others trying to accomplish the same goal. As I was flipping through old journals, I realized that I have caught great fish in virtually every bay system between Baffin and Port O’Connor during the month of February. The one thing that really stood out to me was that water temperatures less than 56⁰ really seemed to put the trout on the deeper mud bottoms. Above 60⁰ and a harder bottom seemed to produce better on my ventures. Many of the best trout were caught on muddy bottoms located close to shorelines, while open bay mud seemed to be just fine if it was adjacent to a flat that could warm quickly any time the sun popped out. There are tons of areas in the Laguna Madre
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80 | February 2018
Justin Hoffman with a 45" dinosaur of a redfish, caught in the middle of a great trout bite - Bass Assassin!
The owner of Diamond J, James Rosalis, was a partner in Circle J Enterprises at the time our office and son’s home were built by Circle J. Workmanship and attention to detail were both excellent! – Everett Johnson, Editor/Publisher, Texas Saltwater Fishing Magazine
and Baffin that hold all of these bottom conditions. Some of them are very close together and give you the option of fishing two types of structures almost within the same cast. Get out and explore, you will be surprised at what you might find and don’t have to share with everyone else. As of this writing the water is in the middle-50s and dropping. But here in the Upper Laguna region we often see water temperature fluctuations as great as 6- to 8-degrees within a 24-hour period. In case you can’t tell, I pay a lot of attention to water temperature. A few degrees can make all the difference in a day of casting practice and catching. Plastic lure selection has gotten to be totally out of hand with all of the new plastics on the market. Everyday my guys show up with things I have never seen or heard of, and say, “Old soand-so is really getting them on this one, Captain. Saw it on Facebook.” I just nod and smile, and say “Good Luck.” After all, you called and asked my recommendation of what lures to bring. I told you…and that ain’t it! Most any plastic will catch a trout, and so will most any color. Certain plastics, i.e. the 5-inch Bass Assassin, day in and day out, will catch more and better fish than any other plastic on the market. Hand’s down! That’s why I throw it, why I believe in it, and why I guiltlessly promote it. Most truly salty fishermen know that the Bass Assassin is the top choice of serious grinders, but at the same time complain that it’s too soft and toothy-mouthed trout tear them up too quickly. Well isn’t that the whole point...to trick them into hitting it? The truth is that it is a very soft plastic, and it does tear much easier than some of those hotdog-stiff plastics that are suddenly in style. Call it a perfect Catch-22. That same supple texture is what gives it the strike-attracting action in the water other plastic lures do not have. If you are running around in a $70,000 rig or hiring a guide for $XXX per day, should you really be skimping on lures? I don’t think so. With water temperatures holding in the 50s, my lure selection is very simple. Bass Assassin 5-inch rattails, MirrOlure’s Paul Brown Original Series – Corkys and MirrOdines. These three lures are my absolute and essential go-to numbers for Baffin Bay. Remember the buffalo! -Capt David Rowsey
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WAYNE’S Mansfield Report
Captain Wayne Davis has been fishing the Lower Laguna-Port Mansfield for over 20 years. He specializes in wade fishing with lures.
Telephone 210-287-3877 Email firstname.lastname@example.org
82 | February 2018
Greetings from Port Mansfield! What a cold winter we have witnessed so far. As of this writing we could not be more pleased with what we are seeing. We even saw a dusting of snow in Port and subsequent cold fronts have kept South Texas in the cooler. Our fishery has responded accordingly, showing off some fish that seem to be fatter than longer. As we move deeper into winter we find serious anglers getting serious. What I mean is some anglers and some guides are truly trying to analyze and dissect this time of year for trophy trout. Everyone I talk to seem to mention the same thing, that is, how cold this winter has been and the low water levels across most, if not all, bay systems. All
Andrew Kraussman found the bait… now where are those pesky trout?
this hopefully sets us up for some of the best big trout fishing we have seen in years. Truth be told there are anglers out there calling in sick and missing work on weekdays when the conditions align for trophy trout. As much as I was always a stickler for work attendance, even I admire that level of fishing passion, to some degree. Thankfully I’m no longer in that category. On the other side of the coin, February kicks off boat and fishing show schedules. Those who hunt have cleaned their guns and put them away, and now look forward to fishing more earnestly. Seems to me there are more hunters who fish than fishermen who hunt. But that’s just my opinion. As mentioned earlier, our
Carson Walker with a fat five-pounder on a recent chilly day.
water levels have been at record lows and I use this opportunity to go out, even if I have to go alone or with only my buddy, Captain Ernest Cisneros. We have been identifying and noting structure features not easily recognized during periods of higher water levels. I will say that with or without a storm, the shoreline and bay floor are constantly changing. Cuts and guts fill in, sandbars erode, grassbeds flourish and some diminish, etc. While you might think you know every feature, nothing tells the real story better than an extreme low tide. Gaining such knowledge can prove invaluable when the tides return to normal. Now to fishing: On colder days we find fish in swales and depressions situated close to shallow water. Typically, these areas are somewhat boggy and free of a lot of grass. Now, with that said, the flats surrounding these depressions are areas I focus on as soon as it starts to warm up. Seems logical that if the fish are in those low-lying areas during cold snaps, it would make sense that they would not travel far to reach the flats where the sun warms the water rapidly after the front passes. Pretty simple, right? In theory, and in most cases, this is true. But it is also true that they can move a lot farther than we think. So, what’s really going on when we go there but cannot catch them on the first warming day? Are they still present but not feeding, or have they left the area completely? Herein lies the puzzle. Experience tells me that when the bite doesn’t happen under these circumstances, they’re probably still there but not feeding yet. Playing this card recently, while we did not catch them, we were able to see them moving up into the clear water on the flat. So, we keep trying. Our fishing would qualify as good overall. Heck, we have caught trout to 7.75 pounds and seen even bigger ones while cruising the flats during warming trends. While running the flats when the sun is out and temperatures are on the rise, we see fish staging in potholes. Use that as you will. Redfish have been consistent and mixed with the trout most days. Flounder have been scarce. A word of caution – we have been seeing quite a few stingrays while wading the flats during warming trends – it might be winter but you still need to do the stingray shuffle. Most of our fish continue to come on the KWigglers Willow Tail Shad and Ball Tail Shad. Good colors have been Red Shad Pro, Bone Diamond, Mansfield Margarita and Plum Chartreuse. The 4-inch paddletails have also been effective in deeper guts and depressions. We run slow retrieves while making short rod twitches with the paddletails to accentuate the vibration they produce. This seems especially helpful getting fish to strike between active feeding periods. We look forward to a grand winter season, praying it stays cold enough for great fishing, but not so cold to endanger the fishery. I look forward to seeing everyone at the upcoming shows, until then remember to practice conservation and be courteous on the water. TSFMAG.com | 83
Capt. Ernest cisneros
SOUTH PADRE Fishing Scene A rr oyo C olorado t o Port I sabel
A Brownsville-area native, Capt. Ernest Cisneros fishes the Lower Laguna Madre from Port Mansfield to Port Isabel. Ernest specializes in wading and poled skiff adventures for snook, trout, and redfish.
Cell 956-266-6454 Website www.tightlinescharters.com
84 | February 2018
I’ve mentioned several times previously that timing is more critical nowadays than ever. Quite often as I’m wading along waiting for the bite a song will pop into my head. A tune that comes to me frequently is the Kenny Rogers hit, The Gambler. “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.” The metaphor of this song may be about handling what life gives you, and whether you study your fishing conditions and formulate a game plan, or just go fishing, fishing will always be a gamble. However, the better we understand the factors that influence feeding, combine these with our experience and skill, the better
Here's Ray Saenz displaying one of several big trout he caught that day.
we can play the hand we are dealt. Fishing in winter requires some study to catch fish consistently. First, if you haven’t already noticed, the tides are at their lowest levels of the year. This means that fish will likely not be found where they were a month or two ago. Second, like the tide, the water temperature is much lower. As the water drains from a flat the fish retreat to deeper guts and holes that hold warmer water. Knowing the location and shape of ledges and drop-offs the fish are forced to inhabit is of great importance. The best way to learn this is by wading, probing with your rod or Power Pole, and watching your depth finder. I have observed that any time the water temperature falls to 50⁰ and below the fish will become very reluctant to take a bait. As water temperatures climb into the lower to mid-50s they will take a bait, but mostly when it is in their face. As the water temps rise between 56-62⁰ and above, they begin to feed normally. Everett Johnson, our editor, ran an article in this magazine a few years ago about the importance of knowing the water temperature in the winter. He mentioned carrying a thermometer when he waded to measure temperature changes. Like Everett, I believe a critical ingredient to finding fish that will eat is placing yourself in an area where water temperature is conducive to feeding. A handheld thermometer works for him; I use the gauge on my GPS/Depth Finder. When the conditions are right, it’s time to stay put and allow the “feed to develop.” As the song says, “Know when to hold ‘em.” The barometer is another great tool. Atmospheric pressure soars right behind a front and, for whatever reason, fish are very reluctant to feed. Long about the afternoon of the second day and certainly by
the third, the pressure returns to normal and fish begin to feed. Mud boils are another clue. During winter, when fish spook and dart away leaving a muddy puff taking off, this tells me they’re lying on the bottom and not very active. Though I might not be able to catch them in that inactive state, it tells where to be when the water warms and/or the pressure moderates. I have mentioned birds in previous articles. Pay careful attention to feeding birds, any birds, especially an osprey or white pelican diving in the area. I cannot tell you how many times during winter a single osprey or pelican has tipped me off to bait presence I could not see, and found feeding fish under the bait. Fishing has been outstanding, especially on miserable conditions/ low-pressure days when most anglers stay home. Redfish have been plentiful and are taking KWigglers Willow Tails in Mansfield Margarita and Bone Diamond. Waist-deep, I prefer the KWiggler Ball Tail Shad in Plum-Chartreuse. Several days after a front, redfish can be seen roaming skinny flats and hanging in potholes. The cold weather has them schooled up and it’s not unusual to find them so thick you can wear your arms out. Our winter trout fishing is currently better than the last couple of years. Again, the nasty days have been best. We have been into schools that average 5- to 7-pounds on an almost daily basis. We are also noticing their weight-to-length ratio increasing as they grow winter fat. From what I have been seeing the past month I believe February is going to be a great month for heavyweight trout. Fishing is challenging, even when applying all your knowledge and experience. That’s the beauty of it. Like the song says, “You got to learn to play it right.”
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Lake Calcasieu Louisiana Jeff and Mary Poe - Big Lake Guide Service - 337.598.3268 February can be intimidating. Cold water and often brutal air temperatures keep most fishermen at home. It's not exactly the month most folks think of for catching trout and redfish, but fishing can be phenomenal. We spend most of our time on shallower reefs in one to five feet of water when we're looking for trout. Big trout seem to acclimate to scattered oysters and soft mucky bottoms when water temperatures plummet. On the coldest days, with water temps in the forties, it may be best to abort the trout mission and move over to targeting redfish. Often, the same reefs that produce trout on slightly warmer days will hold a lot of redfish on the colder ones. The most obvious choices of locations for catching redfish in February are the weirs. Gulp! Swimming Mullet on quarter-ounce jigheads are usually all that's needed to entice plenty of bites, but dead shrimp works wonders on the coldest days. Boat traffic can be heavy on weekends, so the banks adjacent to the weirs often produce better on those days. Trinity Bay - East Bay - Galveston Bay | James Plaag Silver King Adventures - silverkingadventures.com - 409.935.7242 Cold weather results in good catching, Jim reports. “One day we had fish jumpin' out of the water in two foot depths, with water temps down around 50. We also had fish in twelve feet of water at the same time. We've been catching well lately on slow-sinking MirrOlure twitch baits, in colors with some pink on 'em, meaning pink/gold, chartreuse/pink and also on chartreuse/gold. We've caught quite a few fish in the fivepound class lately, not many bigger ones, though I did see a picture of a thirty-one incher caught on a topwater. We will focus more on wading in February; the fish will probably move shallow and stay there. One thing I like to do this time of year, when the fish are shallow, is throw a Bass Assassin Lil' Boss. I normally rig it on a light jighead, with the specific size depending on the depth of the water. Once the guys figure out what speed to reel it in to keep it off the bottom, the fish usually start yankin' their arms off. It's so easy to use, because it works great when reeled straight in at a steady speed.” Jimmy West - Bolivar Guide Service - 409.996.3054 The best places to find fish in February will depend on the kind of weather we have, according to Jim. “If the weather stays cold most of the time, our fish will probably stay right where they are until sometime early in March. We're catching plenty in deep holes in the bayous and back country. When fishing this pattern, we catch most of our fish on soft plastics. The size of the jighead we use affects how many fish we catch. In general, I like to use the lightest jighead possible, given the amount of current we have. Most often, this means using an eighthounce head. If the current is really ripping with strength, using a heavier head can be required to keep the lure close enough to the bottom and in the line of sight of the fish. Seems to me some people insist on using a quarter-ounce head too much of the time. Maybe because it's easier to cast, but doing so causes problems and is less effective most of the time. The other drill that should start to work more often this month is wading the shallows from late-afternoon until it gets dark.” West Galveston - Bastrop - Christmas - Chocolate Bays Randall Groves - Groves Guide Service 979.849.7019 - 979.864.9323 Randall says the fishing in his area has been very productive on most 86 | February 2018
ORECASTS F from Big Lake to Boca Chica
days recently. “We're fishing out of the boat most of the time, targeting our fish in four to seven feet of water, over a muddy bottom with shell scattered around on it. Best lure lately has been a Norton Bull Minnow in chicken on a chain rigged on a three-eighths ounce screw-lock jighead. On the warmer days, when we're wading, we've been catching better on sinking Paul Brown FatBoys, using the emerald/silver ones when the sun is out and the pearl/black ones on the cloudy days. We're keying on the presence of bait fish when choosing our wading locations. Doesn't take much bait sign this time of year to give me confidence in trying an area. In February, the wading should become more productive on a consistent basis. We'll want to see more and more bait in the area as temperatures warm up. And, if we see plenty of mullet jumping and moving around just under the surface, we'll use topwaters more often to target the bigger trout.” Matagorda | Tommy Countz Bay Guide Service - 979.863.7553 cell 281.450.4037 As is always the case, Tommy mentions multiple options for fishing the Matagorda area in February. “One of our key places this time of year, depending on the weather, is the Colorado River. If it's kinda cold, we like to throw the Hogie double-tailed Minnows in light colors on a three-eighths ounce jighead in stretches of the river close to the ICW, working them close to the main shelf, letting 'em flutter down and stay close to the bottom. Working slow and being patient are keys. Of course, wading the south shoreline drains in East Bay with Paul Brown Lures can produce lifetime-best trout for anglers who work hard to get the bites. Another good pattern to fish while wading in East Bay is to work the main drop-off from the shoreline flats into the main basin of the bay. This works best when tides are medium low. Lower tides also facilitate fishing for redfish in the shoreline guts and drains over in West Bay. Dark soft plastics on light jigheads work well over there in most cases. Small topwaters work too, when the weather's warmer.” Palacios | Capt. Aaron Wollam www.palaciosguideservice.com - 979.240.8204 We are definitely in winter fishing mode in our area; the fish have fallen into deep bayous and rivers. We have been bouncing Down South Shad in chicken of the sea, and dirty tequila and catching plenty. The key is to find the ledges of the drops and try and work parallel to the bank. The Palacios Seawall and the Palacios Turning Basins have also been hot spots. The seawall bite has been best on slow-sinking lures like Paul Brown Lures and Maniac Mullets in pearl/chartreuse and pink. The turning basins have held some solid fish in the deep holes on super cold days. Down South lures in white ice work best bait in this locale. February will still see us fishing in deep holes and rivers. Finding bait on mud flats close by as the water warms up a few degrees can make a huge difference in catching or not catching this time of year. Just one flicking mullet or shad this time of year can signal some fish in the area. Slowing everything down and working your lure at a snail's pace this time of the year can improve your catch rate. Port O’Connor | Lynn Smith Back Bay Guide Service - 361.983.4434 Fishing has been as good as ever in the Port O'Connor area over the last few months, Lynn reports. “We're going to be fishing in the back lakes, wading a lot, throwing lures like the SoftDines and Paul Brown
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Lures, targeting the bigger trout. We've been catching more big trout than normal this past year or so, and the catching should continue good in February. We like the back lakes best when the tide is up. The fish tend to follow the rising waters into the back areas. Normally, in February, this means we'll catch them best when onshore winds blow the tides up to at least a medium level, if not higher. When that happens, it becomes a search for concentrations of bait fish, mostly mullet. When we find lots of jumping mullet in the backwater areas from late-morning through the afternoon this time of year, we often find some of the biggest trout in the area as well. We will throw dark soft plastics if the bite is tough, but we stick with lures that look like fish more often, meaning the sinking twitch baits and topwaters that look like finger mullet.” Rockport | Blake Muirhead Gator Trout Guide Service - 361.790.5203 or 361.441.3894 With cast and blast season winding down and stopping, Blake will spend more time targeting trout and redfish exclusively, when he's out on the water. “I'll still fish the back lakes some, where I've been catching reds over the previous months after duck hunting. February is a good time for that. We tend to find them in the shallow parts of the lakes when it's warm and the tide is high, and in the holes and guts when the tide falls out. For trout, I like to fish some of the same areas, but often do better on the main bay shorelines, targeting area with lots of grass beds close to the bank. We also do well fishing some of the shallow reefs tight to the shore this time of year too. For lures, we throw topwaters when the water's warm and we see lots of bait jumping, but won't hesitate to switch to the old standby soft plastics in dark colors with chartreuse tails rigged on light jigheads if the blowups become less frequent. The pearl/chartreuse Gulp! Jerk Shad will catch 'em sometimes when the other lures won't.” Upper Laguna Madre - Baffin Bay - Land Cut Robert Zapata – firstname.lastname@example.org - 361.563.1160 February is a great month to hunt for those trophy trout. Our water in the Upper Laguna Madre is still in very good shape. With cold water temperatures the fish will go into water depths of five to seven feet with muddy bottoms. On sunny days, the fish will move into water depths of four feet or less and then shallower as the day progresses, especially if we get two or more warm sunny days in a row. Look for concentrations of bait like mullet or shad flipping or swirling on the surface. I think that wading will yield the greatest success. With the colder water temperatures this month, we will need to work our lures very slowly, close to the bottom. I’m still liking the Bass Assassin Die Dappers in colors like plum/chartreuse, chicken on a chain and sand trout rigged on an eighth-ounce jighead attached to about 24 inches of 20 lb. fluorocarbon. This tactic will also work very nicely on redfish. Sight-casting on sunny days, in less than twelve inches of water, with chartreuse, shrimp-flavored Fish Bites will produce trout, redfish and black drum. Corpus Christi | Joe Mendez – www.sightcast1.com - 361.937.5961 February presents great opportunities for fishing in the ULM and Baffin Bay areas, Joe says. “Our water is clear all over right now. When it's cold like it has been, sight-casting is mostly possible only on warm afternoons. In many years, though, the fish move shallow and stay there more of the time after the middle of February, particularly if the weather is warmer than normal. So, we might have ample opportunity for sight-casting both trout and redfish on a regular basis this month in places along the King Ranch Shoreline, at Rocky Slough, and in the Badlands. If it's colder, the fish will move up and down in the water column more, so we'll have to target them without sight-casting, throwing at deeper rock edges, grass lines and in potholes where it's 88 | February 2018
not possible to see the bottom. We catch a lot of fish on soft plastics rigged on light jigheads this time of year, and also on slow-sinking twitch baits. Topwaters work well at times too, when the weather is really warm, and the wind is blowing some.” P.I.N.S. Fishing Forecast | Eric Ozolins Coldest winter weather we’ve seen in quite a few years sent surf water temps on the Upper Texas Coast plummeting to the mid-40s. Many surf species move quickly to deeper water offshore when it gets this cold. Timing your surf trips to occur during warming periods between fronts will provide best opportunity for both red and black drum. If the hardheads and whiting will leave your baits alone, the drum will eventually find them. Slot redfish should be plentiful with a few oversized also present. Best baits for reds will be live or freshly-cut mullet. Pompano should return to the surf if the water warms back into the 60s and clarity returns to normal. Shrimp and Fishbites combos are usually a winner for these tasty fish. Sharks will also be scarce until the water temps warm back up to the 60s. Sandbar sharks should show first, feeding on smaller bait, especially whiting. February is famous for fog blanketing the beaches. Beach drivers should slow down and exercise caution. Camps should be set as far away as possible from driving lanes. Port Mansfield | Ruben Garza Snookdudecharters.com – 832.385.1431 Getaway Adventures Lodge – 956.944.4000 Winter’s challenges include low tides and widely varying temperatures. Navigation becomes very tricky and feeding-holding patterns change quickly. One or two mullet flipping might be the only signal you receive, or maybe a few gulls or pelicans loafing on a deeper gut – the birds are there for a reason. On cooler mornings, I typically target deeper water along the East Cut drop-off, ICW, or various spoil banks. Fast-sinking 52 MR MirrOlures work great for this, as are quarter-ounce heads on K-Wigglers plastics. The bite will often be a slight tap or the line slowly tightening as your work the lure. As the day begins to warm, I move to shallower depths on the west shoreline – switching to lighter jigs, Paul Brown Lures and MirrOdines, methodically targeting grassbeds and sandy potholes. Later, we slip over to the eastside sand flats and find trout and reds basking in the shallow water. Redfish will gobble smaller weedless spoons. Checking the marine weather forecast often to avoid surprises is strongly advised for safety this time of year. Lower Laguna Madre - South Padre - Port Isabel Janie and Fred Petty | www.fishingwithpettys.com – 956.943.2747 The tides In the Lower Laguna Madre are as low as they’ll get at any time during the year, one of the reasons we run Shallow Sports. At the time of this writing, several prime winter fishing spots are closed because of near freezing temperatures. These conditions will stack up fish, trout especially, into deeper staging areas. Freddy says, “Back in the day, we used to call it freeze fishing. You could catch a twenty seven inch or larger speck on just about every cast, and often there were schools of reds mixed in. In other words, it was a slaughter. Nowadays, there are no where near as many fish to be found and many more boats out there.” Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has done an admirable job maintaining the fishery by managing the freeze fishing. Hats off to these guys and their dedication to preserving our resources. We’re throwing FP3 with Berkley Gulp! shrimp or DOAs for trout and chunking cut ballyhoo at redfish, keeping everything is in slow motion when the weather is at its coldest. No more open bay dredge disposal!
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Ethan & Jeremy Doyle Matagorda - matching 31” reds CPR
Everardo Gonzalez Port Mansfield - 26” first redfish!
Quynh Johnson Galveston - cobia
Madison Green San Antonio Bay - 23” speck 90 | February 2018
Ella Molina South Padre - 20” trout
Karl Koenig 39” 22 lb jack
Jonathan Boothe East Matagorda Bay - 29” 8 lb trout
Eric Champion Laguna Madre - 35.5” personal best red!
Brenda Engelhardt Sargent - 27” redfish
Kaitlyn Arch Shoalwater Bay - 28” redfish
Brant Garner Padre Island - 17" trout
Lisa Bockholt 44: kingfish
Dan Dybala 32” redfish CPR
Nathan Koenig 28” 9 lb redfish
Liam & Will Whitaker Baffin Bay - trout
Isaac Wright Corpus Christi Bay - 29” redfish
Lindsay Parrish Laguna Madre - 24” trout
Frankie Rodriguez Laguna Madre - 26” redfish
Dreyson Pontious sheepshead
Travis Potts Matagorda - blacktip CPR
Gary Javore Laguna Madre - 28.5” speckled trout Christopher Marek Port Aransas - 59.25” cobia
Tommy Ochoa Redfish Bay - 24” trout
Jackson Mitchell Quintana Beach - sand shark
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Bradley Johnson Surfside Beach - 27.5” speckled trout
William Dean Moncier Chocolate Bay - 22.5” first slot red!
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Got ideas, hints or recipes you’d like to share? Email them to email@example.com or send by fax: 361-785-2844
Seafood Gumbo Nachos
This is a great recipe that can be made a day ahead and put together right before your next party!
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In frying pan, add vegetable oil and heat to medium high. Add quartered corn tortilla pieces. Fry until golden brown. Set aside. In a large skillet, cook sausage over medium-high heat, stirring frequently 3 or 4 minutes until browned. Remove from pan, reserve sausage oil and set aside. Add bell pepper and onion into hot pan of sausage oil; stirring frequently cook until onion is softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add okra and garlic season with 1 tsp of Creole seasoning; cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in celery and set aside. Wipe skillet clean, add oil and heat. Toss shrimp with 1 teaspoon Creole seasoning. Add shrimp to skillet, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside In a small bowl, combine sour cream and remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons Creole seasoning and 1/2 tsp gumbo filé powder. Arrange chips on prepared pan, cover with a layer of cheese, add sausage, veggies, shrimp and crab. Add more cheese and dab with sour cream mixture. Bake until cheese is melted, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle with green onions and parsley, and serve.
1 package of corn tortillas 18pk cut into fourths 1-pound andouille jalapeno smoked sausage, sliced 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped 1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped 1/2 yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped 1/3 cup whites of a green onion (reserve the green tops) 1/2 pound sliced fresh okra 1 clove garlic, minced 1/3 cup sliced celery 2 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 pound peeled and deveined large fresh shrimp 6 oz. can fancy lump crabmeat 3-1/2 teaspoons Creole seasoning, divided 12 oz. shredded Colby & Monterey Jack cheese blend 1/3 cup fresh parsley or celery leaves 1/2 cup sour cream 1/2 tsp gumbo filé powder
92 | February 2018
SHOWDOWN December 16th 2017 The Galveston Yacht Basin
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94 | February 2018
IF WE SAVE THE SEAGRASS,
WE SAVE THE FISH. Seagrass is critical to good fishing. Marine organisms depend on it for survival—for food, shelter, and oxygen. But boat propellers are destroying Texas seagrass, which is seriously impacting saltwater fishing in the coastal shallows. When boaters do not lift their propeller in shallow water, the prop cuts and uproots the seagrass beds—leaving long barren trenches or “scars” that may take years to heal ... if ever.
Stop Prop Scarring – Lift, Drift, Pole, Troll
It is ILLEGAL in Texas to uproot seagrass with a propeller. Avoid damaging seagrass – lift your prop! When in shallow waters, lift your motor and drift, pole, or troll through it. After all, there’s nothing like a redfish on light tackle in shallow water. Let’s keep it that way!
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The February 2018 issue of Texas Saltwater Fishing Magazine.