Folks who make a living in the fishing industry gratefully enjoy many adventurous journeys. As someone who's proud to work as a fishing guide, I'm often engulfed in new and interesting experiences. I do glean joy from the release of newly developed gear and technologies, but mostly, the excitement over the angling outings themselves earns my forward-facing focus.
It's important to pause and reflect back on things as well, with the hopes of fully appreciating some of life's finer moments. Aside from harvesting healthy food for the family, we head out into the wet and wild outdoors mostly for sport. While we often take photos to preserve magical moments, in some instances, the memories can be even more intense without photos. I've held massive trout in the water for an extra five seconds to admire and appreciate them for this very reason. Some of these mesmerizing moments burn permanent images into the metaphorical gallery of our memory.
As we end one year and start another, I'd like to reflect back on some of 2022's special moments. The weather over the past twelve months has been both highly variable and wildly unpredictable along the South Texas coast. The creatures which inhabit the surf endured some unusual hardships over the past year. January started off warm, and many of us thought the lingering Indian Summer would bring us some welcome treats.
Several precise variables lined up perfectly right off the bat in the first month of the year, introducing the potential for one of the expected treats. The windows we get for pursuing mako sharks are generally short-lived, because the speedy open-ocean predators rarely venture close to the Texas shoreline. Soon after the turn of the new year, we hooked two makos, before a harsh cold spell pushed the pelagic hunters offshore in February. By March, the weather warmed again, and I helped my buddy Ron Richmond release just the seventh land-based mako shark brought to hand on a Texas beach. Obviously, this ultra-rare encounter with a creature that seems like a unicorn in the surf ranks high on the list of special moments for Ron and me.
By the time spring picked up full steam, the action on the beaches became lackluster. Though our weather did not cooperate much, and a significant giant bull shark run just did not materialize, I did manage to put a handful of bulls measuring more than eight feet on the beach. Encounters with these brutes always provides plenty of excitement and fond memories.
While they did not appear in huge numbers, the scalloped hammers showed up in greater numbers this year than they have over the past three or four. Historically, their run begins at the end of March, in some years lasting through April and well into May. Mysteriously, their run along the Texas coast has been quite unimpressive over recent years, so we felt grateful for what we experienced this year.
As we entered the middle of the year and the warm summer months arrived, the big sharks began to show up. The Seigmund boys caught our longest shark, a thirteen-foot great hammerhead, which earned a special place on my list of cherished memories as both a guide and an angler in general. To my knowledge, this beast was the first and only hammer of such impressive length to be successfully caught and released in the Texas surf.
Several factors contributed to the successful release, but teamwork executed in a timely manner was the most important. Hammerheads are more fragile than most other sharks. They live in a high-paced world. When hooked , they often race off like rockets, and don't stop until they have no more fuel to burn. Any hammerhead measuring ten feet or more is extremely hard to handle and release. Each foot above ten seems to generate exponentially greater difficulty for anglers hoping to handle these monsters successfully. Significantly, we released all the big hammers we managed to wrestle into the shallows this past year, including another twelve-footer.
The year's hottest season brought more environmental anomalies. The mysterious cold-water upwellings on Padre Island generated water temps more than ten degrees below normal for several weeks. While people may think cooler water temperatures would be advantageous to anglers in the summer months, they aren't. The only advantage presented by cool water in the summer surf is the small window it creates for catching an elusive dusky shark. The dusky ranks second only to the mako as the rarest shark landed from the beach. While I did not land any of these rare sharks on my trips, I know some lucky people who did.
As we rolled through the summer, the tiger sharks began snapping their jaws earnestly. The warm, stagnant waters in the second half of summer create the perfect scenario for "tiger-time." More tiger sharks are caught from the Texas surf in August than in any other month, so I target them every time I make a trip to the coast during those weeks. In essence, the tiger shark is my spirit animal. In 2022, I ended up putting double-digit tigers on the beach, which has long been a personal goal for every year.
Three of this year's tigers were massive twelve-footers, the largest a 12'8" monster caught by client James Fazio, which pushed the thousand pound mark. This is personally the largest tiger shark in length and girth I have seen caught off our beaches, and is likely the biggest tiger caught in at least the last decade in the Texas surf. This incredible creature, like all the other tigers and hammers we caught all year, was successfully released.
A stubborn summer delayed the onset of autumn this year. The hot weather lingered through Halloween and into November. In the span of a week, in the middle of the Thanksgiving month, water temps in the bays and surf zones dropped as much as twenty degrees. The rapid change from one season to the next seems to have become the norm in the Lone Star State. This year's event pushed out the warm-water sharks and brought in our flagship winter shark—the sandbar shark. Sandbar sharks are like blacktips on steroids, with a slightly stockier build. On the first trip after the major cool-down in November, I put the Sisk family kids on some welcoming sandbar sharks. The rest of the winter of '22-'23 should consist of solid sandbar/pompano/and bull red action.
Looking forward to the surf fishing expectations for 2023, I can predict more stellar shark action. Will we get another rare mako window? Will we get a run of energetic scalloped hammerheads in the spring? These questions remain unanswered, but I do expect the behemoth bulls to return late in the spring, and we know the tigers and hammers will become active when the weather warms up to summer heights.No matter what nature throws at us, we'll be ready. Texas anglers rank among the best in the world, partly because we have to adapt to supremely inconsistent, often harsh conditions. The intensity and uncertainty help make our fishery special. This is why I love sharing experiences and adventures with people of all ages and abilities. Though I'm booked solid for all the weekends during the summer of 2023, I do still have some availability on the weekdays and plenty more days during the expected frenzies of spring.