Nighttime Flounder Fishing in Texas
Nighttime anglers searching for Southern Flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma) have at least one thing in common – they don’t mind staying up late. While some anglers find success in the early morning, fishing for flounder at night is a popular way for other anglers, especially those using a gig, to catch their daily bag limit. Whether you are out with a guide on a boat or wading the flats, nighttime fishing is especially popular for flounder when compared to other popular sport fish like Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) and Spotted Seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus). However, flounder fishing at night is not an area that Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) has been able to effectively study since the 1990s.
Flounder regulations have seen many changes in the past decade. To help address population decline, TPWD implemented a revision in minimum size limit from 14 inches to 15 inches in license year 2020 as well as a 6-week closure in the fall of 2021. But after listening to the public and looking at datasets from previous decades, it became clear that TPWD did not have enough data about flounder harvested at night. Based on earlier nighttime creel surveys conducted by TPWD, the majority of encounters where flounder were the primary target involved gigging as the means of harvest. TPWD’s routine creel surveys were not encountering this angler group because creel surveys track anglers’ daytime catches by conducting interviews with fishermen at boat ramps from 10am to 6pm in all Texas bay systems. By asking anglers and flounder gigging participants a series of questions regarding their landings, TPWD biologists can use that information, coupled with other sampling data, to identify population and harvest trends over time. Daytime creel surveys are an important part of TPWD’s data collection process, but more research is needed to address nighttime flounder gigging activity.
To address this issue, the Science and Policy Team in the Coastal Fisheries Division received a State Wildlife Grant in 2022 to study the nighttime flounder fishery for the next several years. The project will focus on nighttime flounder fishing on the middle coast, specifically in Matagorda, Aransas, and San Antonio Bays. A variety of methods will be used to capture information from flounder giggers and anglers, including nighttime creel surveys, nighttime roves, and the opportunity for flounder enthusiasts to self-report their landings through the TPWD My Hunt Harvest App. Nighttime creel surveys will be conducted by TPWD Coastal Fisheries staff to capture harvest information on flounder being caught between sunset and sunrise. Additionally, rove surveys, which use staff and traffic counters to count the number of boat trailers using a ramp, will be conducted overnight.
The My Hunt Harvest App will include a new flounder section where anglers in any bay system in Texas can report their flounder catch - day or night. There is no need to divulge your secret fishing spot, just add the number of flounder caught, which major bay system you fished, and the date to help add valuable data to this project.
By utilizing citizen science data through the self-reporting of flounder catches, TPWD will be able to more accurately estimate population size which can influence and improve management decisions. The more information anglers share with TPWD, the more accurate the data used in making management decisions. This new method of data collection for flounder gives anglers the opportunity to ensure this fishery is sustainable for future generations.
For additional project information or resources on how to use the My Hunt Harvest App, contact the Coastal Fisheries Science and Policy Team at [email protected].