Mansfield Report: February 2023

Mansfield Report: February 2023

Erin Fuge scored big on her first-ever wade fishing trip. CPR!

First and foremost, as you all know we had a very close call December 23-26 with regards to our fishery here in Port Mansfield as we faced unseasonably frigid temperatures for several days. We did lose some baitfish and a few gamefish, but overall the fishery fared well. To me, this was an acute reminder how fragile our ecosystem is. And what a perfect segway into my original article; let’s get started…

 Boy, what a difference a couple years can make. Just two years ago I was convinced I’d be hard pressed to ever catch another trophy trout. Since I wasn’t living in Port Mansfield in the 1980s, I cannot relate what happened in February 2021 to the devastating freezes of that decade. And without social media back then, how might one have immediately known the extent of the devastation? Not to mention that I was barely a teenager at the time; hence, my lack of recollection and knowledge. However, as I surveyed the carnage two years ago I couldn’t fathom how the fishery could ever be good again. I also wondered why I wasn’t catching more six to eight-pound trout, given the number I saw lying dead along the sandy banks of the Lower Laguna.  

Thanks to good folks at the Coastal Resource Advisory Committee, Harte Research Institute, and TPWD the fishery made a phenomenal recovery through the emergency management strategies that were enacted.

Still pondering how we could ever see good trout fishing again I had no choice but to listen to the experts. I recall Dr. Greg Stunz telling me, “Mother Nature is resilient, and we have a robust fishery, these emergency regulations will help a lot.”

Well, two short years later here we are, catching solid trout with occasional heavyweights showing up. While we do have somewhat a void of upper-class (27-30 inch) fish, the critical brood stock class seems healthy. A strong showing of two- to four-pounders with a decent spattering of fives is very promising. I wonder every day on the water, where did the fish we are catching come from? Let’s dig in…   

In my opinion, based on observations and brainstorming with friends at Harte, a great number of fish that were holding south of Port Mansfield made their way to deeper waters near South Padre. We also know that a great number of trout found refuge in the Brownsville Ship Channel. Now, I can prove fish were traveling south because you may recall I found a dead trout that I had tagged before the freeze. She had traveled a number of miles south from where I tagged her, but not far enough to reach a deepwater refuge. By far the greatest number of dead trout were found north of Port Mansfield, and another big group around the Arroyo. However, the further south we surveyed the fewer we found.  

It would therefore be reasonable to theorize that the surviving class made it south, whether to the deeper waters of SPI or the Ship Channel. It is also likely that some survived in various deepwater locales elsewhere in the northern parts of the Lower Laguna. When the storm passed and temperatures returned to normal, surviving baitfish and trout began to make their way back north. What other explanation could possibly explain the recovery? Two years is a long time to be able to reflect, take notes, and more importantly, observe what’s happening in our waters down here in the LLM.   

Let’s take it a step further and work some simple math together. It’s been exactly 24 months since the freeze. Trout can grow one inch per month up to about 14 inches. From that point onward trout growth slows, and we only have about 10 months to work with to get us to current times. So, is it possible that a trout can grow from 14 inches to 21-25 inches in just 10 months? Not likely.

The upper-class fish we are currently enjoying survived the freeze but the chunky 15- to17-inchers were most likely recruited post-freeze. So, Dr. Stunz nailed it. Mother Nature is resilient and our ecosystem is very healthy. We as anglers need to keep our eye on the ball. Just because we have a flurry of good trout fishing doesn’t mean we can or should go back to pre-freeze mentality as a fishing society. As I teach anglers and openly discuss mindsets on the water and in seminars, I always close my conversation or presentation with this statement. “It’s a lot easier to keep up than to play catch up.”  Think about it…

Remember, fresh is better than frozen.