Odd Man Out – Or So It Seems

Odd Man Out – Or So It Seems
Concessions between Louisiana and Texas on other fish species, such as largemouth bass, have been made on specific bodies of water in the past.

Unpopular opinions are always difficult to articulate but I’m going to do my best to ruffle as few feathers as possible during the process. Last month the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) decided to make a change regarding the spotted seatrout regulations and reduced the statewide bag limit to 3 fish from the previous limit of 5 fish. Length restrictions were also amended from the prior 15 to 25-inch slot with 1 over 25-inches daily; to 3 fish of 15 to 20-inches, also allowing 1 fish per day of 30-inches or greater as part of the daily bag.

Now, to put this in perspective, we need to back up to 2007 when TPWD instituted the first modern-era reduction in trout limits from 10 fish to 5 in the Lower Laguna Madre. This was done in response to increased fishing pressure and declining numbers during population surveys over a number of years. Middle Coast limits were revised similarly from 10 fish to 5 fish in 2014, and eventually the 5 fish limit became law for the Upper Coast in 2019.

Then came Winter Storm Uri in February 2021 and emergency 3 fish limits were enacted in the Upper and Lower Laguna Madre in response to the fish kill. Rolling forward to the present, the trout limit on the Lower Coast has pretty much remained at 3 fish except for a few months when a series of emergency measures expired and regulations reverted to the prior bag limit of 5 fish. Now, in March 2024, TPWD rolled out the new coastwide management plan, and this is where my problem and the unpopular opinion begins.

My home water of Sabine Lake is far from the glamorous big trout destinations far to the south, but for some reason TPWD has decided to manage it as if they are next door neighbors. “If it’s good for the Lower Coast then it must be good for everyone,” seems to be the prevailing sentiment, regardless of any other factors. For better or worse, that’s the way we see it up here on Sabine Lake and I will do my best to explain.

I mean absolutely no disrespect to my friends on the Lower Coast, and I want nothing but the absolute best for them and their respective fisheries. However, just because it works down there doesn’t mean it necessarily works up here. In fact, if you consider all the relevant factors, it has potential to make things exponentially worse.

I have spoken with TPWD Coastal Fisheries and they are aware of the concerns, but in the grand scheme of things Sabine is truly the odd man out, due to the fact that we sit on the border between Texas and Louisiana. My greatest fear, and one shared by many others, is that this new 3 fish limit will do nothing but encourage more anglers than ever to simply purchase a Louisiana license, drive across and launch on the Louisiana side of Sabine Lake, and avail themselves to the more liberal 15 fish Louisiana limit.

TPWD has a long history of setting water body rules and regulations, meaning separate limits for specifically defined areas. For example; there were several years where the speckled trout limits were different between Lower, Middle, and Upper Coast regions, so it can certainly be done. The twist on the situation with Sabine obviously is very different, having another state involved, but there are examples of solving that problem as well.

Toledo Bend reservoir straddles the border between Texas and Louisiana, the same as Sabine Lake, but unlike Sabine there is a specific set of regulations for that body of water which makes it easier for everyone from anglers to law enforcement to fully understand the laws and protect the fishery.

The general largemouth bass limit in Texas is 5 fish with a minimum length of 14-inches, unless otherwise noted. In Louisiana the general largemouth bass limit is 10 fish with no minimum size, unless otherwise noted. However, to solve the problem, Toledo Bend has its own specific water body limit of 8 bass with a 14-inch minimum length. A sensible compromise between Texas and Louisiana regulations.

If this compromise limit had not been reached, you can easily see how the more liberal limit would be exploited, and this is exactly what is happening on Sabine Lake. And, I predict it will only get worse under the new regulations. The last thing a small body of water like Sabine needs while recovering from past weather events like hurricanes, freezes and floods is increased pressure and more fish being removed.

Until TPWD and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) are able to reach some sort of compromise on Sabine Lake, many conservation-minded guides and anglers worry that our concerns will continue to be swept aside and dismissed as an isolated problem for someone else to fix.

Right now there is increased attention being paid to both speckled trout and redfish regulations in Louisiana. However, the outcome in terms of more conservative bag limits is less than many had hoped to see enacted recently.

This past December the LDWF commission, with encouragement from their fisheries biologists, published Notice of Intent (NOI) to revise redfish regulations to reflect a 3 fish creel, with 18-27 inch slot limit, no provision for retaining oversized fish, and no retention of guide limits on charters. This proposal was a vast departure from the historic regulation of a 5 fish limit with 16-27 inch slot that allowed 1 oversized fish daily, and also allowed guides to keep their limit while on charter. The NOI proposal was hailed as a big win for the fishery from groups such as the American Saltwater Guides Association and countless charter captains in Louisiana.

For some reason though, only a couple days before the NOI was to be enacted into law, the commission decided to backtrack and go with a 4 fish limit instead of the NOI’s 3 fish. The 4 fish version was quickly pushed through to a vote and passed, leaving many wondering exactly what had happened. Certainly the 4-fish limit is a step in the right direction, but the 3-fish limit would have provided a much quicker path for boosting spawning biomass – not to mention the benefit of Louisiana’s regulations becoming an almost mirror image of Texas.

Going forward there will hopefully be some sort of effort made to address these problems and protect Sabine as much as the other Texas bay systems. The problems specific to this particular body of water are complicated but are also fixable as long as someone is willing to take the lead and pursue a reasonable fix. In the meantime, all we can hope is that most anglers will lean towards conservation and keep the best interest of the fishery in mind when they head out on the water. Every angler can do their part for the fishery by being a good steward of the resource as well as being a good example to others.

We all share a common love for the sport and if it really means anything to you as an angler, you owe it to yourself to do your part. This spring, please remember to only keep what you plan to eat fresh…and take a kid fishing!