The Modern Angler—Understanding the demographics, behaviors, and motivations of the men and women who fish the Texas coast

Zachary Olsen | Aransas Bay Ecosystem
The Modern Angler—Understanding the demographics, behaviors, and motivations of the men and women who fish the Texas coast
Figure 1

Fisheries management takes more than understanding the biology and ecology of the fish and invertebrates that live in our waters. A large part depends on understanding the behaviors, trends, and needs of the anglers that paddle, pole, drift, wade, and motor along the coast! This is primarily accomplished through TPWD’s routine creel surveys in which staff members wait at boat ramps and marinas to ask a series of standardized questions to anglers as they end their fishing trip (in addition to counting and measuring fish, of course). In 2022, TPWD staff members conducted 18,697 creel survey interviews with anglers from Sabine Lake to the Lower Laguna Madre. So, what have we learned about the Modern Angler that haunts the flats and deeps of the Texas coast? Below are just a couple interesting facts about some of these anglers.

Where Did You Come from and Where Did You Go?

Anglers fishing on the Texas coast come from all over the state, the nation, and even the world. As you might expect, Texan anglers make up the bulk of the surveyed anglers (93.1% in 2022, to be exact). So where do the remaining anglers come from? Most out-of-state anglers come from Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Colorado with other elevated percentages coming from the mid-western US and even California (Figure 1). We also see international anglers from time to time—a recent creel survey interview on the mid-Texas coast intercepted two kayak anglers from France! This is a testament to the world-class sport fishery that Texas enjoys.

The Rise of the Fly Angler

While still making up a small percentage of coastal anglers (2% of anglers interviewed coastwide in 2022), fly fishing has seen more than a nine-fold increase in our creel surveys over the past 30 years. A little over 50% of all fly rod only interviewees (i.e., anglers using only fly rod gear) are residents of four Texas counties: Aransas, Nueces, Harris, and Travis. Interestingly, anglers participating in only fly fishing tend to report slightly higher trip satisfaction, on average, compared to more traditional rod and reel anglers (7.8 vs. 6.5 on a scale from 0 to 10—more about the trip satisfaction portion of the survey below).

Guided or Non-Guided

Anglers fishing on the Texas coast have the option to either strike out on their own or hire a professional to put them on the fish. While a lot goes into this decision, we have seen a very consistent increase in the percentage of guided anglers on the Texas coast, with a large spike in the percentage of guided angling in 2021 and 2022. Conversely, the percentage of tournament angler interviews at creel surveys has remained relatively constant since the early 2000s (about 2.5% of interviews), with a major drop-off in tournament interviews during 2020, most likely due to safety concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Well, I Hope You’re Happy!

TPWD ends each of its angler creel survey interviews with a question about trip satisfaction. On a scale from 0 to 10, anglers on the Texas coast have consistently become more satisfied with their fishing trips over the past 30 years! While this doesn’t always correlate with catch, it’s clear that what makes a trip satisfying to anglers can be as diverse as the anglers themselves.

As you can see, TPWD is interested in more than just the fish that anglers catch. But this isn’t the only way that we learn about the Modern Angler. TPWD staff routinely conduct mail-out surveys, host public scoping meetings and hearings, and give presentations to local groups on everything from proposed regulations to observed trends in fisheries data. So, the next time you encounter a TPWD staff member at a creel survey, receive a survey in the mail, or hear about an upcoming public meeting, be sure to participate and make your voice heard! That way, we have the best data available to manage Texas’ fisheries resources for both the Modern Angler and the many anglers yet to come.