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Sept. 22, 2003
Fall Coastal Fishing Forecast Is Promising
AUSTIN, Texas — Autumn is upon us, which means hunting, football, cooler temperatures, and fishing. In fact, when water temperatures cool down, fishing on the Texas coast heats up, making it arguably the best time of the year to go fishing. However, for several fish species, fall means the time of year to fatten up for their upcoming spawning migration and for winter. The change of seasons doesn't mean anglers have to change fishing tactics proven successful during the spring and summer months. In fact, the same techniques such as wading or drifting shallow grass beds and reefs can be equally effective during the fall fishing season.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Coastal Fisheries Division survey data indicates that three of the most sought-after species by anglers, red drum, spotted seatrout and southern flounder, are abundant in most bays during the fall. Red drum form large schools in preparation for migration to the Gulf to begin their lives as spawning adults. Less abundant but equally popular with anglers are southern flounder, which also form large schools in the early fall in preparation for migration to the Gulf to spawn. Spotted seatrout, being non-migratory and plentiful, remain in their respective bay systems throughout the year. Additionally, Atlantic croaker, sheepshead, sand trout, black drum and gafftopsail catfish present will be there for fall anglers.
Fishing in Texas Bays during the autumn offers anglers an experience second to none. The following is a bay-by-bay forecast of what Texas anglers can expect this fall.
Sabine Lake anglers have done well during the last three months compared with last year. Anglers can expect to continue to find good numbers of red drum throughout the bay system this fall. Recent flooding however, may negatively affect spotted seatrout fishing, at least in the early part of the fall. During this time, catches of spotted seatrout will likely be coming from the Sabine Pass jetties and nearshore Gulf waters.
This summer's tropical activities, coupled with recent flooding, should make a wide variety of other fish species available for the ice chest. For example, during a recent harvest survey in Sabine Pass, anglers landed 25 different species! Beginning in October, anglers can expect big catches of bull red drum along the beach between High Island and Sabine Pass, bull sharks in the northern reaches of Sabine Lake, schooling spotted seatrout and Atlantic croaker in the southern reaches of Sabine Lake during mid-October. Southern flounder should be found at the mouth of bayous during November.
Anglers should be pleased with the fishing in Galveston Bay this fall. Spotted seatrout populations have been increasing and catches should be better than average. Anglers should anticipate one of the best flounder runs they have seen in years. Recent catches of large flounder, (most in the 20-22 inch range, with the largest reported at 27 inches), have anglers anxiously waiting for the flatfish to make their move offshore to spawn. TPWD gillnet catches of red drum in fall 2002 were the most recorded since 1980. Catches continued to be high this spring, which suggest that anglers should see very good catches of red drum this fall.
Recent TPWD data suggests that recreational fishing in East and West Matagorda bays will be average or slightly above average this fall. While gill net catch rates for both spotted seatrout and red drum show a slight increase during the last few years, angler success has been variable but appears to be consistent with previous years.
This fall, the sport fishery for spotted seatrout in East Matagorda looks promising. TPWD sampling indicates more shrimp, which should provide plenty of forage for spotted seatrout near oyster reefs and under the birds. Even though there has been talk of a decline of large trout (longer than 25 inches), along the coast, East Matagorda Bay continues to produce these desirable fish in the harvest surveys and TPWD gill net samples.
Survey data suggest that the large Atlantic croaker is more abundant in the Matagorda Bay system. Local anglers have commented that the current increase of large croaker is a phenomenon last experienced sometime in the late 1960's or early 1970's. It is possible that, for the first time in many years, the Matagorda Bay system might experience a fall "croaker run." It is doubtful that croaker abundance or catches will approximate past tales of phenomenal landings but the increase of large croaker could provide an additional opportunity for angler harvest.
Another pleasant surprise for Matagorda Bay anglers is that a fair number of mangrove (grey) snapper have been landed in both East and West Matagorda Bays. This is a very recent phenomenon occurring only in the last year. The mangrove snapper average between 10-12 inches long and appear to be most abundant in the vicinity of Gulf passes.
Tropical storm Claudette opened a pass into the southwest corner of east Matagorda Bay and, according to local fishing guides and anglers; it is providing yet another opportunity for fishing success along the middle Texas coast. Anglers fishing the cut are regularly catching red drum, whiting, croaker and sand seatrout.
San Antonio Bay
Recent TPWD net surveys indicate both red drum and spotted seatrout populations are increasing in the San Antonio Bay system. Indications are that fishing for spotted seatrout and red drum should be better than average in local bays this fall. Populations of other sought after species, which include southern flounder, black drum and sheepshead, have increased since the last hard freeze in 1989. San Antonio Bay anglers should expect better-than-average fishing for these species.
Runoff from heavy rains in the Hill Country last fall and spring resulted in the local bays being fresher this past summer. The reduced salinity has had no apparent ill-effects on fish populations. The fresher water has been restricted to San Antonio Bay proper while Espiritu Santo Bay has been closer to normal salinity. Salinities are beginning to return to normal. Since most estuarine fish species tolerate fluctuations in salinity, current conditions should not have a significant impact on fall fishing.
The Aransas Bay system is a favored destination for recreational anglers. Despite the increase of recreational fishing pressure since the early 1990's, the Aransas Bay system maintains stable populations of red drum and spotted seatrout. Based upon adequate recruitment and increasing gill net catch rates, along with consistent freshwater inflow throughout the year, there should be average to above average numbers of red drum available for harvest this fall. Reports from local fishing guides indicate encounters with numerous schools of red drum from St. Charles Bay south to the Shamrock Island area in Corpus Christi Bay. Spring gill net surveys indicate that there has been a substantial increase of spotted seatrout in Aransas Bay since 1990. Anglers should anticipate above average abundance of spotted seatrout this fall. Fall also offers an excellent time for flounder fishing. Aransas Bay has ample public access to good wading spots as well as boating sites along channels used by flounder during their fall migration.
Corpus Christi Bay
Following a decline of the trout population during the late 1990's, spotted seatrout in Corpus Christi Bay have rebounded to the third-highest level observed since 1980. Spotted seatrout anglers in Corpus Christi Bay should be provided with plenty of opportunities to catch fish this fall. In addition to the increase of spotted seatrout, the abundance of larger fish has also increased.
Populations of red drum in Corpus Christi Bay have been increasing since 1996 and are currently slightly above the 1980-2002 average. Based upon Corpus Christi gill net data, anglers can expect average red drum catches this fall. If the increase in abundance continues, anglers can expect above average catches in the not too distant future.
In the late 1960's and early 1970's, local anglers eagerly anticipated the fall migration of Atlantic croaker through the Corpus Christi Ship Channel and out at the Port Aransas jetties. These "croaker runs" stopped happening in the late 1970's. Recent samples collected in Corpus Christi Bay showed the highest croaker catches since sampling began in 1975. In addition to the increased numbers, the average size of Atlantic croaker caught during the 2002 fall gill nets survey were above average. This increase of abundance and size may present anglers with a better opportunity to catch larger croaker during their fall migration.
The docks and jetties along the Corpus Christi Ship Channel have long been a favorite fishing location for anglers targeting sheepshead. Catches should begin peaking in November when the fish tend to concentrate around structures found in and along the ship channel. Catches have appeared relatively stable during the last two seasons and prospects look good for the upcoming fall.
Upper Laguna Madre/Baffin Bay
Fishing for spotted seatrout in the upper Laguna Madre and Baffin Bay area should improve from late summer to fall as water temperatures begin to get cooler. In addition, the quality of trout caught should improve as adult fish begin to recover from a long spawning season, and juveniles spawned last year reach legal size. Based upon TPWD sampling, the availability of trout in the upper Laguna Madre/Baffin Bay complex should be about average for this time of year. Look for trout on the flats early in the season. Later, after a cold front or two pass, fish will be in deeper water near structure such as the reefs in Baffin Bay or in the Land Cut.
Most people think of upper Laguna Madre and Baffin Bay primarily in terms of its spotted seatrout fishing, however, this bay system also has other fishing opportunities to offer. Early fall is always a good time to fish for red drum in the upper Laguna Madre and this year looks promising. This time of year, young mature red drum are forming large schools and preparing to migrate to the Gulf to begin their lives as spawning adults. Large numbers of these fish are already being landed in the Laguna. Later in the fall, these fish will be concentrated near passes as they continue their migration to the Gulf.
Lower Laguna Madre
Recent TPWD sampling in the lower Laguna Madre indicate that the abundance of juvenile and adult red drum and spotted seatrout are well above the long-term average. Anglers can expect to have a better than average chance at catching these two popular game fish this fall. In addition, the abundance of southern flounder has been increasing steadily during the last few years in the lower Laguna Madre. Anglers have been reporting good numbers of flounder during recent TPWD harvest surveys. The good catches should continue through the remainder of the fall migration.
Besides the popular red drum and spotted seatrout, the lower Laguna Madre also offers anglers the opportunity to harvest species that are not commonly found elsewhere on the Texas coast. Snook, mangrove (grey) snapper, and barracuda are among species that are frequently caught in the bay and ship channel. While these species are not present in the same numbers as trout and red drum, the occasional landing of one of these fish can be a real treat for a south Texas angler. Look for snook and snapper around the jetties. Small barracuda can sometimes be caught on grass flats and around mangroves near the Brazos Santiago pass.
For information about the closest place to buy a fishing license, visit the Web (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/licenses/public/) or call (512) 389-4505.
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