By Capt. Joe Kent
Anglers all around the Galveston Bay Complex are scratching their heads in disbelief of the fact that we did not appear to have a genuine flounder run during November. Almost all of the experienced flounder fishermen are asking why the flat fish never made a concentrated run like they are supposed to during late autumn.
Was it a sign that the flounder stocks are dwindling or was it something else that interfered with the 2018 fall flounder run?
To begin with, let’s take a look at what traditionally takes place with flounder and their annual run to the Gulf of Mexico to spawn, especially in years past.
At some point after mid-September, flounder sense winter is not far away and start thinking about their move to the Gulf. Two key factors contribute to this insight, those being shorter periods of sunlight or shorter days and the water temperatures cooling from the summertime readings.
When this first occurs Galveston Bay flounder begin to move, first out of the shallower back bays and lakes and then to the larger bays, especially East and West Bays. From there they will head to the pathways to the Gulf, which include the Galveston Ship Channel, Bolivar Roads, Cold Pass, Rollover Pass and San Luis Pass.
In most years, November is when the migration reaches its peak, with flounder lining the shorelines of Pelican Island, all along upper Bolivar Peninsula and around all of the passes into the Gulf.
At that time it was “easy pickins” on flounder, as they were so concentrated that anglers could load large ice chests with the flat fish.
Several years ago, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department set a special bag limit of two flounder per person per day for November and later extended it to mid-December. Also flounder gigging was prohibited during November.
For at least three years now the annual run has fallen short of its expectations and this year it was hardly noticed, as few flounder were caught from the traditional hot spots.
The first thought is that the stocks have declined to the point that they are in trouble. All indications are that this is not the problem. All during the year, flounder were being taken in typical numbers and experienced flounder anglers reported the back bays and marshes being full of the flatfish.
What about our warmer than usual winters? That has to be a big factor and from here I would like to pass on some comments from a few of the flounder pros.
One angler sent a note to the Reel Report in the Galveston County Daily News saying:
“Here is my reason for the poor flounder run. Try to forget what you think you know about flounder running in the fall. The flounder are not leaving the bays, they are entering the bays. They have to wait till the water temperature in the bay drops down enough to run off the scavenger fish that would eat all the eggs they are leaving in their spawn.”
Another reader sent in this note:
“Has anyone wondered if the lack of flounder can be tied to the dredging of the Galveston Ship Channel! The hopper dredge has been working 24/7 for several weeks now and rumors are they are scooping up barrels of flounder. Something seems off when dredging to deepen the channel is planned when a bottom fish has its migration.”
This note came from a biologist at a popular aquarium:
“Most everyone is complaining about the poor flounder run this year. All sorts of reasons are cited; however, one thing that seems to be missed is that all flounder do not leave the bays during winter. One of the driving factors is food supply. If the small fish and crustaceans are around, flounder are slow to leave and will tend to hang around as long as food is plentiful.”
Another reader said: “We may be missing the flounder run, as the warmer weather could be causing a delay in the migration to sometime in mid to late December. If so, this would be at a time when not much fishing is taking place and possibly a major run would go unnoticed.”
Whatever your theory, the warmer winters over the past few years have to be a major factor. Hopefully the stocks of flounder will continue to be in good shape during 2019 and beyond.