Everybody knows the feeling. You spend all week looking forward to the big weekend fishing trip. Before the teenagers are home from Friday's date, you're already launching your boat for Saturday morning. Just as the eastern sky is beginning to lighten, you ease the boat into your super-secret sure-bet honey-hole and... there's already somebody there! How could this be? You've been fishing there since Grandpa first brought you in nineteen hundred and (insert appropriate year) and there's never been anyone else fishing there! Where did all these folks come from?
As you disgustedly put your boat back on the trailer after a lackluster day of fishing, a guy wearing a khaki shirt and carrying a clipboard comes up and asks you a bunch of pesky questions--the same questions that he asked you last weekend and last month and last decade and for the last thirty years. What business is it of his what county you live in? Well, you want to know where all those folks invading your fishing spot came from and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is getting the answer for you.
TPWD Coastal Fisheries' Harvest Monitoring Program is designed to answer lots of questions. One of our objectives is determining fishing pressure. Who applies more fishing pressure; one fisherman who fishes for 6 hours or 5 fishermen who fish for 2 hours? To account for these type differences, we count the people on a boat who were fishing and multiply this by how many hours they were fishing. This gives us a unit called man hours. This tells us the five fishermen who only fished for 2 hours (10 man hours) apply more fishing pressure then the one fisherman who fished 6 hours (6 man hours). Combine man hours with the fisherman's county of residence and we are able to answer questions about where the fishing pressure is coming from. With TPWD's three decades of data collection, we can also track how fishing pressure has changed with time. Some of the answers are of interest to biologists, others to economists, and others to legislators. But you may find some of the answers are interesting to you as a fisherman.
So where did all these folks come from? Creel survey data from the last five years (2003-2007) was analyzed to address this question. Chances are, if you are fishing on the coast, they are from one of 10 counties which account for over 50% of the fishing pressure. These counties correspond to heavily populated areas that are easy driving distances from the Texas coast. They are Houston (Harris, Fort Bend, and Brazoria counties), San Antonio (Bexar County), Corpus Christi (Nueces and Aransas counties), the Rio Grande Valley (Cameron and Hidalgo counties), Austin (Travis County), and Victoria (Victoria County).
From the freshwater dependent bay systems of the upper Texas coast to the saltier lagunas of the lower coast, there is a geographical shift in where the fishing pressure originates. Sabine Lake's fishing pressure is more localized than many of the other bays with the most man hours coming from residents of Jefferson County. Working south, Galveston and Matagorda bays receive local fishing pressure as well, but are also heavily used by fishermen from the nearby metropolis of Houston. San Antonio Bay is also heavily fished by Houstonians with additional heavy pressure from nearby Victoria. Aransas Bay gets most of its pressure from local Aransas County and visiting fishermen from the San Antonio area (Bexar County). San Antonio, along with Corpus Christi (Nueces County), also contributes the greatest fishing pressure on Corpus Christi Bay and the upper Laguna Madre. The lower Laguna Madre receives most of its fishing pressure from the Lower Rio Grande Valley counties of Cameron, Hidalgo, and Willacy Counties.
Now that you know where the people at your fishing hole came from, where are the fellow residents of your county doing their saltwater fishing? Counties in close proximity to the coast will generally frequent the closest major bay system. Fishermen from those counties further inland often follow a major highway that serves as a conduit to a particular bay system. Fewer West Texas and Panhandle fishermen visit the coast which makes county preferences rather haphazard.
As the Texas population and the popularity of saltwater fishing both continue to grow, the days of "secret fishing holes" are dying. No longer will you be able to spend a summer weekend wade fishing the south shoreline of Matagorda Bay without seeing another soul. TPWD will continue to manage fisheries to ensure there are fish enough for everyone. However, it will be up to you as fishermen to behave courteously and ethically if fishing is to remain an enjoyable recreational activity.