Wintertime Offshore

Wintertime Offshore
Wintertime offshore fishing off the Texas coast can be challenging to say the least. Considering the major shift in most fish patterns coupled with the typical swings in our winter weather, lots of offshore anglers end up with a raging case of cabin fever, longing for warmer days and calmer seas.

This brings us to the month of February and a time that we start looking to spring while still dealing with cold weather and questionable sea conditions. 2011 is well on its way and this winter's fishing has been plagued with windy, rough weather and few windows with nice fishable days. The tuna fishing has been somewhat hit and miss and this has driven the larger headboats greater distances than in recent years to put their customers on the fish. Some of the Texas fleet have temporary relocated to Louisiana ports to meet the demand. Personally I wish them much success and hope they return safely to continue the valuable service they provide to us here at home.

Those of us relegated to the smaller boats have had limited opportunities to make good on our long-range yellowfin fishery. When the weather has cooperated the reports have been all over the map so to speak, with success being seen by many while others return wondering if the tuna no longer live in the Gulf.

The reef fish on the other hand are just as they should be, offering a consistent opportunity to guarantee an angler doesn't come home empty-handed. Vermillion snapper fishing has been fairly easy when the current allows you to get your baits to them and, as usual, anywhere you find them in decent numbers the amberjack are hovering just above looking for an easy meal. While the amberjack have been consistent and fairly easy to locate , the size has been nothing more than average. The one real issue has been catching live bait in great enough number for a day's outing. Good, consistent blue runners can be a challenge at any time but it is typical for this time of year to see a larger portion of the morning spent just trying to fill a livewell before the real fishing ever begins.

For anyone looking for fast steady action this time of year don't forget about the ever-present kingfish. They are long gone from the near shore rigs and live bottom, but they are definitely not out of reach. Especially for anyone making a run for the deep water species mentioned above. The kingfish are thick on live bottom in excess of 150 feet and will readily bite just about anything that resembles a baitfish, making for one of our more consistent year round targets.

With the winter fishing offering its usual ups and downs , most of us look forward to warmer and calmer days ahead and the return to those familiar haunts that have produced for us year after year. All the while wondering what the Gulf Council will allow us to retain in our daily bag. A couple things to keep an eye on as we move into the next few months will be the possible closure of the amberjack season and the much-awaited red snapper opener. The Gulf Council is looking at a June and July closure of the amberjack season, if a closure is deemed necessary. The necessity of this closure is yet to be determined and is something that we may not know until the last minute. The thought behind the June and July closure is to spread out the fishing opportunity and have them closed while the red snapper season is open, then reopening amberjack to fishing in and about the time we end our snapper season . This decision, if enacted would help to avoid anther emergency closure like we suffered in the latter part of 2009.

For the much sought after red snapper we are looking at another season similar to the last with one more twist. As if the whole issue isn't confusing enough, we now have the FWC (Florida Wildlife Commission) looking at reopening their state waters to year round fishing for red snapper. If this takes place the projected Florida state water catch will be entered into the fishery model prior to setting the season. If this occurs and considering that Florida has the lion's share of the fishing effort, basically the majority of the fishermen in the Gulf, we may see a drastic cut in the number of days we receive to fish for red snapper in 2011.

As we move into spring we will all expect to face the typical challenges posed by the fishery and Mother Nature. What we seem to find as of late is that the politics and uncertainty of our fisheries managers can pose the largest challenge. Rest assured that it will warm up, those southeast winds will return and that cabin fever will break. It just takes a good warm dose of salt air and tight lines.