Let’s Declare August “Ban Month”

Everett Johnson

It happens every year. Coastal bay fishing falls into dog day patterns and solid trout become as scarce as diamonds. Hardwaremen get cranky and turn to redfish for the pulls they crave so desperately. Live baiters bring in record numbers of specks and a fresh batch of No-Croakin' stickers appear on truck bumpers and center console windshields. Next thing you know somebody strikes up that old anti-croaker anthem.

Well, the drums are beating and tempers are flaring. The loudest strains of this year's chorus can be heard in the tiny coastal hamlet of Matagorda. Until a few weeks ago, live croakers just weren't popular there. Local bait camps didn't sell them and importing this popular bait fish from other ports never caught on. But that's all in the past now; reports from Matagorda indicate that yellow bait buckets are in style this season and Kahle hooks are flying off the shelves.

East Matagorda Bay, landlocked and muddy little jewel that she is, is coughing up the heaviest summertime stringers many have ever seen. The miracle bait is the chirping darling of Galveston, Port O'Connor, Rockport, and all ports south. Internet photos of full limits are common and top hands are getting "one over 25" almost daily. Trout that tape 28, 29 and 30-inches are under the knife on Matagorda's cleaning tables.

So naturally, being the Just Keep Five guy, I get a ton of email and phone calls from another army of well-meaners bent on driving the proverbial wooden stake through the heart of croaker fishing. Answering them requires patience and tact and I do my best to deliver lots of both. But to me, banning croaker makes as much sense as banning guns. I find no reason to be mad at them. It isn't the croaker's fault that some people choose to harvest our spotted seatrout resource as aggressively as they do. Fact is they'd probably use wieners or Cheetos if they worked.

I say we should train our energy on other things. Maybe we should seek a ban on recreational anglers and guides glorifying and celebrating their abuse of the resource. Personally, I find the parading of hero stringers and plastering images of huge catches distasteful, no matter how they were caught. Whacking limits solely for bragging rights and advertising needs to become a thing of the past. What I'd rather see banned is harvest-based mentality.

The best analogy regarding bait banning I've heard was Hal Osburn's "slippery slope." During Spotted Seatrout Work Group sessions in 2002, Hal was fishing for public support to reduce bag limits. He told us that banning baits was not a fundamentally sound approach to fisheries management and I agree. Creel surveys indicate that live shrimp catch more trout than anything and soft plastics rank second. If we get led onto that slope, how far will we slide? Should we go after all the inventions and innovations that increase angling efficiency, or just the croaker? What about scented lures, braided lines, high modulus composite rods, shallow-running boats, and GPS?

Conservation is a lot like religion. It begins with respect for resources and should be an all-the-time thing no matter how or when we fish. Imposing religion on non-believers is not the way to win converts. Leading by example and educating users of coastal resources will bear more fruit in the long run. Making a trip to Austin and participating in public comment sessions before the TPW Commissioners hits hardest of all.

I feel safe in saying that nobody needs to fish for food these days; we are too rich a society for that. And even if you do still measure value in pounds of fillets; you're missing the greatest reward this sport can offer. So let's do something different. Let's forget about peering snobbishly and waving our Corkies at the croaker guys this August; let's get our own house in order first. Next time you wade into a limit-out situation, no matter what you're using, don't string ten. Just keep a couple for dinner and turn the rest loose. Then instead of strutting around with a big stringer you can do it with your digital camera and show everybody the ones that got away!