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What Happened to the 2018 Flounder Run?

January 1st, 2019

flounder nov What Happened to the 2018 Flounder Run?

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.

Changing Galveston Flounder Patterns

September 1st, 2018

texas galveston flounder Changing Galveston Flounder Patterns

By Capt. Joe Kent

Autumn, or Fall Fishing, as we more frequently call it, is one of the best times of the year to fish the Galveston Bay Complex, especially for flounder.

In recent years, we have discussed the changing scene of fall fishing, noting how the timing has been altered.  We likely all agree that we have seen a delay before the action gets underway; however, we have not discussed how flounder fishing has changed as a result.

Hopefully some pointers will help increase your harvests of this popular fall flatfish.

Fifty years ago, the first cold front of the season usually arrived in mid-September.  Following it, fish would start changing their patterns, as an awareness took place that winter was not far behind.

By October, the water temperature in the bays had dropped and that, combined with the shorter periods of sunlight, gave way to the action.  Flounder were noticeably more active and were beginning to make their way toward the passes and outlets into the Gulf of Mexico.

freeport flounder Changing Galveston Flounder Patterns

Colder weather brings out the big girls.

At some point between Thanksgiving and mid-December the sows are on their way and that is time for trophy flounder catches.

Today, much has changed due to the delay in the arrival of cooler temperatures. During the era we have been discussing, the water temperatures were below 70 degrees by mid-October and the first freeze of the year, albeit a light one, usually took place by late October.

The fall flounder run was well underway in October and old-timers looked at the peak of the annual run as taking place between the Full Moons of October and November.  Now that same group looks to the same lunar phase between November and December.

A good example of how this delay has been recognized was when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department imposed special flounder regulations during November, as that was the month when the annual migration reached its peak and started winding down.

Not long ago the TPWD extended the November bag limit of  two fish per person to mid-December.  When the regulation was enacted all signs pointed to November as the time for the peak and the winding down.  Now, it is well into December before the migration shows signs of running its course.

Today, the flounder run has its peaks and valleys; however, one thing that anglers are noticing is that many of the flatfish do not make the migration and remain in the bays.

The reason for this is that due to the warmer than normal conditions, bait still hangs around and with it a certain number of flounder.

During the run, there will be a few major cold fronts that empty the marshes and back bays.  When this occurs, flounder will head to deeper waters and many take the signal to move on to the Gulf.

In recent years, the after effects of the fronts do not last long and many of the fish, including bait, will head back to the marshes and back bays.  Savvy anglers have observed this and take advantage of the situation.

Flounder catches will increase as we get closer to the end of the year.

By mid-December, the majority of flounder is on its way to the Gulf or has arrived there.  Still a few stragglers will remain.

Prior to 2010 I had never caught a flounder during January or February.  In January that year a friend and I were drifting for trout in West Bay tossing soft plastics when I landed a 16-inch flounder.  What a surprise it was.

Today, successful anglers plan their trips and hit the water just before a “Blue Norther” hits or several days afterwards. Toward the end of the run, the big sows finally start their journey and that is usually after a series of major cold fronts empties the marshes and drops the water temperatures into the upper 40s.

It usually takes several of these “Blue Northers” to encourage the majority of the flounder to head to the Gulf.

At some point between Thanksgiving and mid-December the sows are on their way and that is time for trophy flounder catches.

While live shrimp, mud minnows and fingerling mullet are three of the top natural baits for flounder when the big girls are moving, live mullet up to six inches in length is the resounding preference.

Berkley Gulps, Flounder Pounders, Chicken Boys and a variety of other soft plastics also work well and give the natural baits serious competition.

Down South Lure Weedless Rigging

July 1st, 2018

DSL flounder Down South Lure Weedless Rigging

By Brandon Rowan

This is a great way to rig a Down South Lure when fishing for flounder that are super tight to rocks, pilings or heavy shell. Fish as close as you want to structure with confidence and lose less tackle. Just be sure to tuck the barb of the hook back into the plastic and set the hook like you mean it.

bobberstoptung Down South Lure Weedless Rigging

STEP 1

Pull your rubber sinker stop onto your line. Add your tungsten bullet weight (1/8 oz., 1/4 oz. or 3/8 oz.) and slide both up your line, giving yourself plenty of room to tie on your hook.

STEP 2

Tie on a Gamakatsu 2/0 EWG worm hook with your preferred knot.

STEP 3

Push the hook into the head of your Down South Lure, about the length of the hook’s offset shank, then push the hook through the underside of the lure and thread up onto the shank.

STEP 4

Lay the hook against the plastic and visually mark where to push the hook back up through the lure. Push the hook through the belly and up through the top of the lure. Bury the tip of the hook back into the plastic. The lure should lay naturally when rigged correctly. Slide down your rubber stop and peg the weight to the lure. This keeps the entire rig compact and less likely to catch rocks or other snags.

Changes Ahead for the Galveston Bay Complex

March 3rd, 2014

galvestonbaycomplex Changes Ahead for the Galveston Bay Complex

By Capt. Joe Kent

Earlier this year, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department conducted scoping hearings around the state to present their ideas on long-term management of our fish stocks and to receive input from sportsmen on their views about changes in size and bag limits for certain fish.

While the stocks of our big three, flounder, reds and trout, currently are in good shape, biologists feel that long range planning needs to start in order to assure adequate stocks of that resource for future generations.

Of particular concern to the biologists is the forecasted future of the Galveston Bay Complex and the potential changes that lie ahead for that body of water.

The cause of the immediate concern is the reduction in quantity and quality of fresh water forecasted for Galveston Bay.  With rising populations along the feeder rivers, water consumption will continue to increase thus reducing the amount flowing into the wetlands and bay itself.  Of equal concern are the multiple treatments the water goes through before it reaches the coast.  Each treatment process adds chemicals to the water and filters out nutrients.

One of the detriments to the reduced flow of water will be an increase in salinity levels through-out the complex.  This will have an adverse effect on the wetlands.

marshshrimp Changes Ahead for the Galveston Bay ComplexApproximately 98% of all finfish and shellfish are dependent upon the wetlands either as part of their life cycle or as part of their food chain.  This does not take into account the role of wetlands as part of the life cycles of waterfowl and other forms of life.

The marshes, swamps and other forms of wetlands offer a filtering effect for water and, through the filtering process, collect microscopic marine life that feeds the next layer in the food chain.  The wetlands also are a buffer when hurricanes hit the coast and absorb part of the brunt of the storm before it reaches higher land.

Last, but not least, the wetlands offer recreational aspects for fishermen, hunters and nature lovers, including bird watchers.

An increase in salinity along with less water will further reduce the ever shrinking acreage along the upper Texas Coast.

So, what do biologists foresee will happen?  During a visit with Lance Robinson and other personnel connected with the TPWD’s Dickinson Marine Lab we touched upon this topic.

First, Galveston Bay, unlike fresh water reservoirs, will retain its water levels due to tidal ebb and flow from the Gulf.  The difference is going to be in higher salinity levels and less wetlands.  So, how will this affect our fish?

It is foreseen that different species will begin appearing, much like the presence of mangrove snapper in the bays over the last three years.  Mangroves are warm water fish and one of the first to be affected by cold weather.

During the 2012 light freeze along the coast mangroves or gray snapper as they also are called were the primary fish, besides bait fish, that were found floating after the cold spell.  No significant kills of game fish occurred although speckled trout are close behind mangroves in their lack of cold water tolerance.

Beside mangroves, the higher than normal water temperatures attracted offshore fish such as gag grouper that were rarely seen in the bays in earlier years.

Another factor with potential fish changing effects is the proposed deepening of the Houston Ship Channel up to Pelican Island.  The deeper channel from the Gulf of Mexico likely will bring in more species that are typically found offshore and add to the flow of Gulf waters into the bay.

So, what can we expect in the future?  Change is about all that can be counted upon at this stage.  Some fish will adapt while other will not and the survivors migrate to other areas.

All of this leads up to support of conservation efforts to protect our current stocks.  Catch and release along with limited retention of fish is a practice all anglers are going to have to employ if we are interested in our future generations enjoying this sport.