Hooked Up: May 2021

Hooked Up: May 2021
Roland Dugas III of Baton Rouge with a post-freeze 6-pounder on Bass Assassin. Released to spawn!

Well, it has certainly been an interesting couple of months since the freeze.  I hope this finds everybody getting on the water and checking the pulse of the bays as often as you can. Unbelievably, I have received zero cancellations due to the fish kill; which in my mind solidifies that people love being on the water and enjoying the sport more than the kill. Speaking personally along with a handful of lure-only guides, we’ve received no pushback whatsoever regarding the release of all trout. This really makes me feel good about the future of the bays and also that the majority of sports are realizing the future of the fishery rests on our shoulders…and we can make a difference. Hats off to everybody releasing trout!

I have to admit being frustrated with TPWD on many levels over the past twenty-five years, albeit they have done many great things in that timeframe. My biggest issue has always been that TPWD is reactive versus proactive in doing what is best for the fishery. I'm glad to eat my words and tip my hat for emergency regulations enacted in the wake of the fish kill.

In case you are not aware, TPWD commissioners (March 25, 2021) enacted emergency regulations to create a trout bag limit of three fish per angler, with slot size 17- to 23-inches, for 120 days, in all Texas waters south of the JFK Causeway. This becomes effective April 1, 2021. The emergency regulations can be extended 60 days if deemed necessary. This will allow TPWD to conduct their annual gill net surveys to provide a more accurate assessment of the effect of the freeze on the seatrout fishery.

Guides and sportsmen alike in bay systems north of the JFK are of mixed opinion, with most believing that TPWD should have applied the emergency regulations beginning at East Matagorda Bay, to include all waters south to the Rio Grande. From photos and videos I saw, I can understand and appreciate their frustration. I would tell my northern bay fishermen to not give up hope, as a change can still come based on the gill net surveys. TPWD will have a much better view when that is completed. I have a gut feeling that TPWD is starting to realize that the public users who fund them through license sales, boat and trailer license sales, etc., are onboard for tighter regulations on trout that would provide not only numbers but also greater quality. As devastating as this freeze was, the upside is that we can bring the bay back to a condition it has not been in fifteen years – with proper management, slot limits, etc. 

Here are a few observations since the freeze, via the tip of my own rod and the deck of my boat. There are still trout in the bay; they did not all die. The largest trout my groups have caught since the freeze is 5.5 pounds and we are jumping for joy with anything over 3 pounds. Many, many small trout survived and these will be the backbone of our spawning biomass going forward. It is therefore paramount that we release every one we catch. It's pretty crazy, one day we might catch only 5-10 trout and the next will produce 50-60. Trout fishing is all over the board down here right now. 

Redfish and drum seem to have done very well through the freeze as I am seeing the drum, and catching good numbers of reds daily. Baitfish seem to be in short supply, which could pose its own problems for all gamefish.  That being said, hopefully our big springtime tides that continue into May will fill the bay with new baitfish from the gulf and replenish what perished. I will also add that we have popped some very large flounder already in late-March and that fishery does not appear to have been affected in the least.  It might be hoping for a lot but maybe the cold weather boosted the southern flounder spawn.

In closing, please let me ask all guides and sports reading this to push Catch and Release to the max. Our fishery is going to need our help to make a speedier recovery. Considering the number of people now utilizing the resource, conservation from all of us is the future if we want to have healthy and quality inshore fisheries. Be a hero…let's all do what needs to be done. 

Proverbs 27:23 – Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds.

Remember the Buffalo, Capt David Rowsey

Finding and releasing Upper Laguna trout since the freeze.