On the Rocks

August 10, 2017 | Issue #695

 

I flew into Fort Lauderdale last week, and it was raining.  Like a lot.  I jumped in the rental, and headed south towards the Keys.  It kept raining.  When I got close to Homestead, it was still raining.  I thought that was pretty weird, so I turned on the radio, and sure enough, I started to hear chatter about “Tropical Storm Emily”.  Dang it.  Perfect timing for my vacation, a storm.  I hadn’t heard a peep about it until I was soaking in it.

 

The rain cleared over the next few days, and we finally got out and around, and got into a few fish out on the reefs, including a very mixed bag on the reef to the south of Sombrero.

 

We picked through monster needlefish, a scrawled filefish, a rouge bonita, and a variety of small groupers to get a few nice yellowtail snapper.

 

The next day we headed out again in the Atlantic to do some trolling and deep dropping for swordfish.  Trolling was slow, with a decent mahi and a small white marlin that came unbuttoned after 3-4 jumps.  Bottom dropping for swordfish ended with one weak bite and no hook ups.  The storm had pushed all the sargassum way offshore and there were no rips to speak of.  But it was the nicest day on the water we had.

 

We eventually started fishing on the Gulf side because the winds had come up really strong out of the north and we were pinned against the Keys unless we wanted to rattle the teeth out of our heads.  We found some protection in the lee of one of the bridges, and got in to do a little snorkeling.  Of course, I had brought my underwater camera, with some brand new SD cards for the trip, but should have tried them at home; my camera didn’t recognize them.  So no underwater shots the entire trip.  Boo!

 

We made up for it with plenty of top water shots though, and opportunities were plentiful, as the fishing finally cooperated towards the end of the trip.  The schoolmaster snapper and grey (mangroves) snapper were hungry after the storms had pushed through the area.  We constantly caught fish, and got better at it each day.  I caught and released a blue parrotfish, which was pretty interesting.

 

We bombed out to a shoal one day out in the middle of nowhere, and did some snorkeling in some grass beds.  We then got the bright idea to tow each other behind the boat while holding onto the kids tube, and looking underwater.  That was better than television!  Of course the boat ran all the fish off before we got towed over them, but effortlessly watching the bottom was pretty cool.

 

On the last day we smashed the snappers again, directly under the bridge in Vaca Cut, there in Marathon.  Matt decided that he wanted to try the other side for a minute, but in setting the anchor, we were swinging the boat close to someone’s dock.  That turned out to be a happy mistake, as the owners came out, talked to us, we traded for beers, and they invited us over for a dock party later.  We made some new friends, Sam and Lisa, and had a great time hanging out and getting to know each other and swapping fish tales.  I’m sure we’ll see them again next time down that way.

 

Well loyal readers, it’s hot out there, and the weather is unstable.  Supposedly we’re getting another little disturbance in the force that is supposed to make landfall in northern Mexico later this week.  Drop me a line at tarponchaser@mail.com and I’ll see you On the Rocks, unless I get washed off by the waves.  At least the surf is up.

 

 

We are rounding the corner into August, and it’s almost time for the teachers to head back and get their classrooms ready (Boo!) and then the kids will be a week or so behind them (yay! Back in school!).  Last minute vacations to the coast will swell traffic and visitors to area beaches, so just hold on for a few more weeks and things will slow down, before the last blitzkrieg of Labor Day, which will be on us sooner than you think.

 

Oyster Regulation Changes

The Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) is moving down the road with some very important proposed regulation changes to the oyster industry here in Texas.  You folks know that I’ve written about needed changes for several years, and this past year saw the oyster fishermen in places they shouldn’t have been, doing things that they shouldn’t have in order to make a dollar.  Some of the proposed changes include reducing the sack limit from 40 to 25, closing Mondays, lowering the limit on undersized oysters from 15% to 5%, closing certain portions of bays (notably Christmas Bay up the coast), and my favorite, closing oystering within 300 feet of shorelines.  Most of you know that I’ve been calling for oyster leases, which would change the face of oystering from a derby race to harvest everything they can, to more of an aquaculture scenario, which would impart more of a custodial future to the users of our bays.  We’re not quite there yet, but the proposed changes would definitely help.  There are several public meetings on August 7th, in Port Lavaca, Galveston, and Rockport.  More importantly, you can get online, read all about the history and proposed changes, and provide comments here .

 

Tufted Titmice sticking around

I’m really surprised that I still have some various bird species around.  There are still several roving packs of lesser American goldfinches hanging around the yard, and I heard some others in town the other day.  Also, I think the tufted titmice fledged another batch somewhere, as I had no less than seven of them hanging around the bird feeder as well.  And yesterday I finally saw two buff bellied hummingbirds at my feeder at one time, so I’m guessing that there are two nests nearby.  The kiskadees are also thick, and I swear I had a Jets vs. Sharks gang-fight in the yard the other day with two troops making one heck of a racket in my yard.  There have definitely been some breeding range extensions over the past couple of years.  Keep those feeders going folks.

 

Hope y’all are enjoying Shark Week on Discovery.  James and Dani had their own shark week adventure last week, as well as Oz and Alexis who both landed large hammerhead sharks lately.  It’s a testament of these folks who are able to hook, fight, land, and especially release in good conditions sharks of this size.  Awesome!

 

Well folks, that’s it for this week and likely next week.  I’m headed east for a few days of fishing and adventures, and may not make it back in time to crank out my weekly installment riveting drivel. Ha!  Howdy to Acoastalbender and Bigrebar.  Y’all be safe and I’ll see you On the Rocks.

 

We all held our breath as we crested the last stretch of asphalt as we hit the sand down on the Seashore at first light.  That first glimpse of the water always holds something magical, as if the first sight of the beach is the first sight of land for a sailor, or a coming up to a mountain stream teeming with rainbow trout after a 10 mile hike.  We all exhaled and started giggling as we saw th

 

Somewhere in the 20’s, we started to see structure that we all liked.  Tyler and I reviewed our terminology (as most people have different definitions for a “pinch”, or “cusp”, or “choke”) to get on the same page about what we were looking for.  We slowly found a few pinches, and got a few blow-ups, with Tyler striking first blood with a decent trout.  We leap-frogged down the beach from structure to structure, with only a few fish to show for it. Around the 30’s, Tyler and I remembered that there was a piece of structure right about the time we were pulling by it.  Roadkill got out and struck first, and then it was limits of trout with a couple of redfish for good measure.  It was a great day to be out on the beach, and the banter went on all day while catching fish and missing topwater blow ups.

It was so much fun, that on our way off, we joked about coming back down the next day.

 

Well, guess what we did?  After the second night of about 4.5 hours of sleep, we were up at 5am and headed back down to give it another shot.  Sunday was cloudy, and we were hoping that the clouds would extend the morning bite.  We tried the same places, but the bite was off and it sort of took the wind out of our sails.  But, then we had a nice visit with James and Dani, saw Oz, and a few other “regulars” down the beach.  We were sort of working our way north when we realized that we were in the vicinity of the back Island road.  None of us had been back there in years, and sure enough, the entrance was still there.  Now, I will caution you newbies and loyal readers that haven’t been back there, BE CAREFULL.  Stay on the path!  Do NOT drive out into the algal flats or on any of the vegetation.  Be extremely careful, as it is some of the most sensitive area on the Island.  However, it is also some of the most beautiful views.  We made it down south to the old corrals at the backside of Green Hill, and stopped to take a few pictures.  It was a really nice respite from the grind and traffic of the beach front.  I highly recommend checking it out sometime, but again, stay on the path as the sign says.  And if you break down back there, you are screwed.  It’s a long walk, and tows from back there are extremely expensive.

 

We re-joined the rest of society on the main beach, and started our trek back north.  Tyler hit a late afternoon trout, but it popped off in the wash.  We stopped by another camp that had just landed a large kingfish off the beach and chatted with a new friend.  There were a lot of fish caught off the beaches from Port A to South Padre by the reports, but unfortunately, the winds are coming up as I write this, and the perfect conditions have dissipated for the next week.

 

Well look at that folks, I didn’t talk about snapper regulations this week.  That’s a first in a while. People are happily spending money in towns all along the coast and going out and catching a few fish when the weather allows on the weekends.  Drop me a line at tarponchaser@mail.com and I’ll see you On the Rocks this weekend.  We’ll be out there.

 

 

That sinking feeling

I don’t want to start with gloom and doom, but there have been more than a few instances of boats sinking along the Texas coast recently.  I’m not sure what the cause of all the problems have been, but I’m thinking that many cases are due to failure of thru-hull fittings and inadequate plumbing below the deck.  Folks need to pay more attention to those details, and also I think boat outfitters also need to bear some of the responsibility.  I have seen many thru-hull fittings for live wells and wash down pumps that do not have a cut-off valve immediately after the fitting.  If something goes wrong with a pump or a line, you can’t shut off the torrent of water coming in, and it comes in FAST.  I highly recommend that if you have these types of fittings, that you add a PVC cut-off ball valve in the line.

Seeing less Red

I know you loyal readers are tired of me droning on about the red snapper regulations, but there’s been another interesting twist that’s come down from Capitol Hill.  The Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 includes several sections that may provide long-term relief for us millions of private recreational anglers, including Allocation, Management, Catch Limits, and a few other sundries.  The most interesting thing is the Recreational Data Collection section.  Basically, it talks about “transitioning existing federal funds toward state programs to improve fisheries harvest data.”  I’ve always contended that we need to start with better data, and I’m really surprised that Legislators are actually considering moving funding from the Feds to the States.  It’s slightly unheard of these days, moving towards State control.  I guess there was enough outcry to get someone at the very top to listen.  I’m not necessarily saying it’s a good or bad idea, it’s just, well, interesting.

Hand Grenade Redfish – Ka-boom!

Speaking of fishing, it really has been a banner year.  I take it as a sign of good management decisions from our TPW Department.  Limits of fish are being taken all over the place. I have even been able to scratch out a few fish most times the skiff ventures out into the Backyard myself.  We mainly are chasing redfish on the flats because I absolutely love seeing that top water getting blown up.  Due to the amount of floating grass, I am rigging my toppies with only a single, off-set circle hook in the back.  While it lessens the hook up rate, it allows you to work it through all the grass without getting fouled too much.  I took Jay E. and his crew, Randy and Mark from LA out last Friday, and we got into a school of about 50 redfish.  It went from a relatively quiet drift to complete mayhem in 2.2 seconds as my topwater looked like hand grenades were being thrown at it by competing redfish, and as I hooked up, the others threw out and got into the same school.  We had a triple hook-up of bruiser redfish, and actually managed to land all three despite the odds.  I love that kind of action, and as time goes on, the reds will school up more and more.  This fall is going to be off the chain.  Larry Jones also got into the action the other day, landing a solid trout in the Backyard.

 

Well folks, that’s a wrap for this week.  There is plenty to do out there, and if your kids come to you and tell you that they’re bored, tell them to enjoy every precious second of boredom it while it lasts.  Then tell them to go clean their room: I’m sure it’s a mess.  Drop me a line at tarponchaser@mail.com and I’ll see you On the Rocks.

 

 

 

The next day, we hit the streets again and did the obligatory rounds at The Menger Hotel, The Briscoe Art Museum, and of course The Alamo.  There is a “new” exhibit dedicated to Jim Bowie that reads like a Disney movie script.  Completely rated “G”.  I’m sure we made lots of friends as we moved around the exhibits, “clarifying” the history of Jim Bowie for everyone within earshot. Sanitized terms like “land speculator” and “profiteer” are covers for what Jim really was; a swindler, slave trader, document forger, friend and partner of pirate Jean Lafitte, ex-patriate, and a boozer.  No doubt he was a hero, but he was also quite a character.  People need to know those parts too.

 

The goal of the trip was to celebrate Roadkill Willies 5th Annual 45th birthday, so it was kind of a big one.  We caught an Uber ride over to the AT&T Center, and checked out the Spurs section and trophies before the Roger Waters show.  You could feel the absence of David Gilmore like only eating half a sandwich, but it was a good show none-the-less.

After another interesting evening, we headed back to town and immediately dumped the boat and headed out to the ski canals to cool off and say happy birthday to Rheanne (for the second time this year).  There were a lot of locals out there that it was good to see, and we headed on back down the line.  Y’all make sure to be careful out there, I witnessed a lot of buffoonery, as well as reckless boat and Jet Ski operations.

 

Monday found us doing a little trailer maintenance, as Zep had ordered some new tires, and we got them put on and headed back down the road.  Hopefully we won’t have to air up tires every time we want to dump the boat now.  That was a real pain. Rachel brought the kiddo and we headed back out into the Laguna for some real fishing.  There were 8.6 million people on the water, all bombing around in seemingly random patterns.  You can tell the people are new to the area, as they have “lake mentality”, and will just try to bomb straight over shoals and shallow edges of channels with no thought.  I think more damage is done to seagrass in the big three holidaze than the locals do cumulatively the rest of the 362 days of the year. Maybe another topic for another day.

 

Tuesday got us back out on the water (thanks Bud!) chasing after those pesky redfish.  Since the water has dropped out of the Laguna, we’re having to move into deeper flats to find them.  Many of the redfish are pushing the upper end of the slot, and the one I got yesterday was oversized and released.  About halfway through our drift, we had about a 100 black drum go right under the boat in four feet of water.  That was pretty exciting, and I popped one on a spoon.  Other than that, it was more people bombing around us, but a nice visit with new friends.

 

Anyhoo, we’re hitting the middle of the summer, and y’all make sure to stay hydrated out there, it’s pretty hot.  Drop me a line at tarponchaser@mail.com and I’ll see you On the Rocks next week.

Tarpon in Island Canals!

Someone sent me a picture of a tarpon the other day that was caught in the canals, and asked if that was a common occurrence.  The answer is, unfortunately, not these days, but tarpon used to be extremely common around these parts.  I mean, Port Aransas used to be called Tarpon, Texas.  They had just about disappeared, but are making a comeback for sure.  Tarpon range all throughout the Gulf of Mexico, over to Africa, and actually around the world (circumtropical).  Tarpon is also one of my favorite fish to chase, and catching one off your dock would be really cool.

Tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) in an older fish, evolutionarily speaking, that has the ability to both get oxygen from breathing water across their gills, and also from literally gulping air into their air bladder (physostomous).  That’s what they’re doing when you see them roll at the surface.  This gives them several advantages, the main one being that it allows them to exist and even thrive in oxygen poor environments.  These include deep water, back water sloughs, and even canal systems, which typically have circulation issues.

Tarpon are also very keen to estuarine areas with brackish water.  Unfortunately, since the damming of the Nueces River back in the 1950’s, there hasn’t been a steady flow of freshwater into the bays, which affect young tarpon.  What does freshwater have to do with tarpon?  Well, come to find out, A LOT.  If they don’t have a viable nursery, then the tarpon move on.  Unfortunately, due to dams being built all across the south for water supply and flood control, that has been one of the factors that has resulted in tarpon populations sagging over the past fifty or so years.

Low oxygen attraction

So, tarpon occurring in the Padre Isles canals isn’t a shocker.  Low dissolved oxygen and freshwater running into salt water (from leaky pools, sprinklers, flushing the water lines, storm drains, the waste water treatment effluent, etc.) attracts them.  They are common in the residential canals in Key West, I got one last October when I was there.  People have been catching tarpon in Nighthawk, along the King Ranch shoreline by Pita Island, and down in Baffin Bay for as long as I can remember.  They’re around, but people don’t typically target them, or other fish like snook.  Speaking of snook, there are tons of snook in the canals as well, but people don’t target them (fish under the dock with live bait, small hooks, etc).  Last cold snap we had, there were schools of stunned snook circling the lights behind Bizzy and Curmit’s houses.

Those of us that are in know also know places that small tarpon use as nurseries.  The Nueces River is the best and biggest one around, of course.  It would probably surprise you how many tarpon are in the river.  Also, waste water outfalls are very popular.  When the Allison WWTP effluent was being piped out in the Nueces Delta, you could find tarpon in there most days.  I have also seen tarpon up the Oso Creek, from about the Barney Davis outfall all the way up to the landfill (I cruised that stretch in a johnboat for a project a few years back).  The ditches next to Ransom Road in Aransas Pass, and especially the effluent outfall at the end of it, is well known to contain small tarpon almost year around.  You loyal readers will also remember a few years back when I discovered a tarpon nursery up around the Guadalupe Delta in Swan Lake.  Texas Parks and Wildlife went and caught a few and raised them to about 4 feet in one of their exhibit tanks before letting them go.  Islanders Perry Detore and Bob Bennet land several a season off our jetties, and I luck out most seasons as well.  So, there’s tarpon and snook in the canal systems, and they might be right under your dock, hanging out in the shade. It will be REALLY interesting if they ever build Park Road 22 Bridge, as that will provide them another direct route in and out of the bays.  Who knows, we might even see a manatee around these parts again soon.  Drop me a line at tarponchaser@mail.com and I’ll see you in the canals, err, On the Rocks chasing tarpon.

 

I hope some of you loyal readers were able to get out last weekend and take advantage of the newly extended red snapper season, although from the looks of the reports, I’m not sure how many people made it out in the 5 foot seas to go catch two fish.  And with Tropical Storm Cindy in the Gulf as of this writing, I’m not sure anyone is going to make it out this next weekend anyway.  Speaking of the storm, I’m sure my readership will be down this week as anyone that’s everyone that has a surfboard is out at the beach enjoying the waves today and for the next few days.  As I’m stuck here in the office as usual, I’m hoping that Augs is out there riding my board “Blue” right now as I type this.  That’s probably where Joey Farah is right now as well, ditching a deadline.  Lucky dog…

The red snapper mystery deepened a little a couple of days ago when someone posted the link to the notice in the Federal Register regarding the season extension.  The funny thing is, the notice of extending the season was published on June 9th, which was a full three days before the public meetings were even held in the Gulf States.  It’s as if the deal had already been struck, and the public meetings were a dog and pony show, thrown in at the last minute.  I wonder if that’s why some of the folks were nervous, as the Feds had already moved forward, and someone in the back of the room in D.C. spoke up and said, “hey wait, aren’t we supposed to have some meetings or ask the public or something?”  The back room deal had already been cut.

There are a few interesting tidbits in there as well (you can sing along with me by pointing your interwebs browser to https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2017-06-19/pdf/2017-12735.pdf The notice admits, in the same paragraph, that “red snapper are overfished” AND that they “are expanding their range to areas of Florida where they have not been prevalent for some time.”  Huh? How can it be overfished when snapper are expanding like no one has seen before?  And then this statement really gets me - Recreation fishermen generate 1.5 times the amount of economic activity than commercial fishermen, but “the commercial fishermen are enjoying an increased economic activity.”  Well no kidding!  That’s brilliant!  As you take quota from recreational fishermen and give to commercial fishermen, and they make even more money, of course they’re going to enjoy “increased economic activity”.  These people, I swear.  It’s time to dump the tea in the harbor and move on down the road.  I apologize loyal readers for ranting on about this stuff so much, but you all know it’s a passion.

Speaking of passion, unless something absolutely crazy comes up, I might actually be able to slip down the beach this weekend.  I keep looking over my right shoulder at my calendar on the wall by my computer, and so far so good.  Nothing there for Saturday.  With the water to the dunes right now, it is leveling the beach out very nicely (unfortunately, it is also seriously hampering the efforts of the turtle patrol.  Shout out to Donna, Cynthia, and crew for the record nesting year though).  It’s always fun to cruise south after a storm to check out the beach.  You just never know what has washed up.  Unfortunately, there’s also the washing-away portion of it; there is dune erosion occurring right now.  I’m watching it occur on the beaches of South Padre and North Padre on the webcams as I’m typing this.  South Padre is just not getting a break this past season with the erosion.

Well folks, hope you all had a great Father’s Day, and your summer is going well.  Drop me a line at tarponchaser@mail.com and hopefully I’ll see you On the Rocks as soon as this swell from the storm goes down to manageable levels.

 

The new regulations have a lot to do with the oyster/fish houses that buy from the oyster fishermen and then sell them to us.  The big one is that 30% of the oyster shells from the industry is required to be put back in the water (or pay an equivalent fee).  Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) will manage the program.  While this will likely be passed on to the consumer and not incurred by the industry, it will go a long way to making oysters more sustainable.

The penalties for illegal activity are going up.  If either an oysterman collects and sells oysters that are more than 30% smaller than the required 3 inches, OR, the fish house buys them and is in possession of small oysters, then it becomes a Class B offense.  We’re talking a fine of up to $2,000 and or 180 days in jail.  Jail time for illegal oyster fishing or selling.  That’s up from about a $200 ticket.  Talk about stepping up the game!  I like it!

In addition, there is also a license buy-back provision.  There is a “sack-tax” where a small portion of the sale of a sack of oysters gets collected into a fund, and that fund will be used to buy excessive oyster licenses back and decommission them.  There are way too many oyster fishermen out there on the water.  While I know that fleet consolidation can be a slippery slope, in this case it’s a good thing.  There’s a provision for reversing it.

Another great provision that just got added literally this morning is a 300 foot buffer from any shoreline.  In the past, the oyster boats would wait for a high tide and push their boats up as shallow as they could get, and hit the shallowest of reefs.  The reefs right off the shore are very important, as these reefs provide protection from winds eroding the shoreline.  Plus these reefs protect the seagrasses behind them, and allow a nice nursery area to form along our shores.  This ecosystem is very important to the life in our bays, and the oystermen were knocking it down just to cash in.  No more…

Remember, partners like Dr. Jenni at HRI with her Sink Your Shucks oyster recycling program and the HTFT Committee I chair for CCA-Texas has spent literally millions of dollars partnering with TPWD restoring oyster reefs from Copano to the Sabine.  While we have been restoring reefs because it’s the right thing to do, the oyster industry has been largely un-regulated, and were basically running amuck through our Texas bays.  These steps in the right direction will help tighten things drastically, as well as provide a self-sustaining component to the industry.  Of course it should have happened long ago, but it’s moving.

Another interesting bill in the Legislature right now is HCR 105.  This is a resolution “encouraging Congress to pass legislation allowing the State of Texas to manage the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery out to 200 nautical miles.”  While I’m pretty sure Congress is going to ignore this resolution from Texas, I’m seeing the City of Orange Beach (AL) and other coastal communities make similar resolutions.  People are tired of oppressive, unnecessary Federal regulations that impacts tourist dollars, and are making their voices heard.  About time!

Topdog and I actually made it out to Packery the other day after work, and I got a linesider on the very first cast.  Thanks to Tasha and Chris Shaded for being at the right place at the right time and getting a pic.  Next time maybe I’ll try smiling.  Drop me a line at tarponchaser@mail.com and I’ll see you On the Rocks!

 

 

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