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.
Tens of thousands of Texans celebrated the opening of dove season across northern and central portions of the state this past week, and coastal fishermen couldn't have been happier for those diehard wingshooters. The onset of hunting season also marks the end of overcrowded hotspots just as fishing begins to improve behind summer.
Traditionally, early September usually also has been ushered onto the coast by waves of severe thunderstorms, but they atmosphere remained quite calm — and crazy hot — this past week. That let fishermen do as they pleased, for the most part, and most did quite well.
Bay fishermen along the upper and middle coast continue to enjoy one of the best summers in memory. Excellent speckled trout and redfish numbers prior to hurricane Ike, which hit Crystal Beach right in the mouth a year ago, got a free pass then. Instead of fishing, most passed all of fall and much of winter sweeping and mopping and hauling and cleaning and generally trying to recover from Texas' worst storm in a century.
While we toiled, those fish got bigger, and they didn't get caught. A year later, we're catching plenty.
Under this past week's good weather and tide conditions — never mind the bright moon; you can't have everything - trout and reds were cooperative from the far reaches of upper coast bays down the channel edges, along the jetties and right into the surf.
A good friend at the radio station from which my shows are broadcast (790thesportsanimal.com) owns a vacation home that is several miles upriver from open bay. Over the Labor Day weekend, she said, trout were thick beneath the lights along the dock leading to their boathouse. Most of the specks they caught were smallish and fell to lead-head jigs bombed into brightly lit water. I recommended something lighter and slower, such as DOA shrimp or a small, unweighted twitch bait pitched just to the edge of the illumination.
In the surf, MirrOlure's Mirrodine suspending plug accounted for trout to 26-plus inches along a stretch of beach near Matagorda. Numbers weren't impressive, my source said, but the bites he got all were from exceptional fish.
The following day, he waded into the surf off Galveston Island. With the same lure fished the same way, he caught nothing but undersized trout and more ladyfish than he cared to count.
Slowly, as water begins to cool, surf fishing for trout will slow. The change will be noticed first along the upper coast, and it will follow the temperature change right down to Port Isabel and into Mexico.
In place of the trout will come schools of bull reds to 30 and 40 pounds, all intent on completing their annual spawn and bent on eating anything that gets between them and wherever they're headed. Beachfront conditions this month and next that are poorest for trout fishing will be best for big reds, which leaves few bad options between now and Thanksgiving.
The surf is just one of many choices available to inshore anglers now, however, and the rest are firing on all their spotted cylinders.
Throw live bait if you must through the coming weeks, but do so knowing that we are at the doorstep of the year's best eight consecutive weeks for fishing with artificial lures. Live bait fans who are at all interested in slinging plastic may not see a better setting or semester in which to take that class.