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Texas Gulf Coast

9/1/2009

Editor's note: Doug Pike spent 23 years as the outdoors columnist at the Houston Chronicle, nine years and counting on radio (he's the host of the Doug Pike Show on 790 the Sports Animal), two years and counting as back-page humor columnist for Saltwater Sportsman, 10 years and counting on the masthead for Field & Stream, two years and counting on the masthead and as columnist for Texas Fish & Game, 10 years editor of Tide magazine for CCA. He has won more than 100 state and national awards for writing, photography, broadcast and editing.

Coastal anglers in Texas had a good week and a better weekend overall. The only empty stringers, except among a few guys who guessed wrong, were those that hung dry in garages.

Beachfront waders took advantage all week of excellent conditions along nearly the state's entire coastline. Calm, clean water filled with baitfish, and their presence drew big, hungry trout.

I got a piece of the action unexpectedly, after a morning golf tournament at Galveston Country Club. Under midday sun, in the hour available after golf and before I needed to head home, six solid trout were caught and released and two more somehow missed the hooks on a trout-colored topwater.

All those fish were in the first gut off the beach, riding a strong incoming tide and gorging themselves on small mullet. A few wade fishermen nearby had charged through that first depression and stood atop the next sand bar, backs to the action and casting into dead water. Too bad for them.

A lesson most waders in this state never learn is to start fishing as soon as the cast will hit water. The presumption that more and bigger fish always are "out there" often leads anglers to walk right through hungry trout. My bites that day all came on short casts made from dry ground.

Weekend action slowed in the surf, unfortunately, because of an unfavorable tide schedule that limited the ebb and flow. Here as anywhere, still water stifles the feeding instinct in gamefish.

The Galveston Bay system, on the other hand, coughed up a boatload of trout over the weekend despite heavy boat traffic in the most popular areas. The upper reaches of Trinity and Galveston Bays have produced good numbers of trout under diving gulls for several weeks now, but until this past week, those fish have tended to be small.

Trout under birds more recently have been three or four inches longer than their predecessors, and that's a significant difference. Soft plastics rigged on quarter-ounce jigs are plenty effective, and color isn't especially important off the noses of trout that have pushed a herd of shrimp to the surface. It's easier to work these schools during the week, alongside lighter and generally more experienced competition, than on weekends. When less skilled anglers enter the fray, they have a tendency to "push" the fish down with poor boat handling.

Pro angler Tim Young said he and his crews lately have done well in the upper reaches of the same bay system on topwaters worked in shallower water. Fishermen who know how to work dog-walking plugs scored reds to and beyond the 28-inch maximum legal length along with the occasional speckled trout beyond 25 inches.

Along the middle coast, around Seadrift and Port O'Connor, pro Kris Kelly reported improved redfish action along shorelines where bait was present over grass flats. That bite will only improve as the season begins to change.
Offshore fishing has been good the past few weeks, but the biggest news from deep water was of three anglers whose boat capsized far offshore and left them clinging to its upturned hull for several days.

That story had a favorable outcome but underscores the importance of EPIRBs and other emergency equipment aboard any boat that's pointed toward the other side of the horizon. Had that craft been fitted with an emergency beacon, its occupants — who survived on crackers, peanut butter and warm beer — almost surely would have been located more quickly.

Near the end of human endurance without fresh water, they were spotted in the water and rescued by a Corpus Christi car dealer aboard his 72-foot sportfisherman.

Inshore this week, a friend was hit between the ankle and calf by a stingray as he hopped from the boat to begin a wade near Port O'Connor. His mistake was not testing the bottom with his rod tip or a paddle before rolling out of the boat. Those of us who wade often all tend to do the same thing and can count ourselves lucky for not suffering the same painful fate.

That guy spent two agonizing hours getting back to the dock and then to the nearest medical facility. I suppose that beats nearly a week in the middle of the Gulf with nothing but crackers and beer.