Golf, Anyone?

Everett Johnson

Lately I am averaging an email each day and several telephone calls per week from anglers expressing growing concern over what they perceive to be relative scarcity of spotted seatrout between West Matagorda and Corpus Christi Bays. We suffered one of the hottest and driest summers on record, and so naturally, everybody was anxious for the coming of fall weather and much needed rainfall. Through September and October diehard anglers waded historic honeyholes like dice players chasing their money, betting everything that their luck was about to change.

Here it is early November and while we've been seeing a few sparks; catching still isn't what seasoned fishermen would describe as hot or consistent. Success has been hit and miss with redfish still providing the most excitement.

In my September column I referenced the fact that our mid-coast seatrout fishery has been declining steadily over the past eight or nine years while fishing pressure has increased dramatically. TPWD Coastal Fisheries Division does a great job of measuring recruitment and population density, so it is no surprise that their data reflect the same scenario that anglers are reporting. Sadly, the Spring 2009 net sampling result pegs the trout population in mid-coast bays very near the level recorded after the freeze of 1989.

Concern has reached the level where many have begun blaming live croaker as too effective, again, others hope for limited entry to be enacted on fishing guide licenses. While I agree with the effectiveness of croaker, I do not believe that banning a specific bait or method of fishing that is currently legal is a good idea. Neither do I see limited entry on fishing guide licenses as a practical means through which to fix the decline of the mid-coast seatrout fishery.

To embrace either of these makes as much sense as continuing to take aspirin hoping the pain will go away when in fact surgery to treat the problem at its source is the only way to save the patient.

If I could put the problem in a nutshell, I would say we have been removing fish from the bays faster than Mother Nature can replace them. As concerned anglers and stewards of the resource, the maintenance of sustainable fisheries should be our primary goal. Rather than taking ten every chance, we need to practice more catch and release. Catching is the greatest thrill in fishing yet we willing reduce the chances of catching every time we take more than enough for fresh fish dinner.

The entire concept of sportfishing hinges on the kingpin of sustainable fisheries. Without sustainable fish populations we may as well take up golf or gardening for our outdoor recreation.

So while I truly enjoy corresponding with the growing number of anglers tired of not catching, and I'm not for one second saying I wish for the emails and calls to stop, I'm going to ask everybody to give it an even greater effort. Send the same email you send me to TPWD, send it to CCA Texas, and send it to the Chamber of Commerce in the coastal community you fish most often.

I believe that more conservative regulations are needed to restore the mid-coast seatrout fishery to the level we enjoyed in the late 90s. The wheels of the machine that will bring these changes turn slowly. Your voice is the energy that can fuel the machine. Practice catch and release, keep the emails, letters and calls coming, and remember to send copies.

Merry Christmas, come see me on the water!