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The Importance of Galveston Sea Grass

August 8th, 2016

27troutgrass The Importance of Galveston Sea Grass

This 27-inch trout came from a mix of widgeon and shoal grass.

By Capt. Steve Soule

www.theshallowist.com

Galveston Bay doesn’t have a large amount of sea grass. Prior to 2008 we had very little at all, with the exception of Christmas Bay and three areas where grass had been planted by the Galveston Bay Foundation during the late 1990s.

Galveston’s West Bay did historically have sea grasses, like much of the Texas coastline, but they had long since been wiped out. During the 1990s, when I moved to the Galveston area and started fishing, Christmas Bay was the only area where I could consistently find sea grass beds to fish. Though, there were years when certain coves in West Galveston would grow sea grass, it was primarily widgeon grass. It might grow well one year and then not be seen in the area for several years. Back then, I didn’t really realize why this grass was here some years and not others. I did however always know the benefit of the sea grasses and the incredible habitat that it provides for sea life.

Enter the Galveston Bay Foundation and their efforts to restore the bay in the mid to late 90s. They had already been involved in some shoreline restoration projects where they would replant shoreline grasses (Spartina). They also planted sea grass in three areas along the south shoreline of West Bay at Dana Cove, behind Galveston Island State Park, Snake Island Cove and at San Luis Pass behind the old water treatment plant. All of these areas still grow grass well, with Dana and Snake Island probably being the most prolific, and these grasses still thrive today. The type of sea grass that was planted at these areas is shoal grass

These patches of planted grass were a fantastic improvement for the bay. Prior to these plantings, there was only sporadic grass growth along the north shore spoils, primarily widgeon grass. Due to these grass projects and an interesting set of recurring circumstances, the shorelines of West Bay have been transformed.

All of us who fish are well aware of how breezy Galveston can be during spring with wind directions predominantly from the south or southeast. There are many days when 15-25 mile per hour winds are the norm. Stepping back and taking a look at the big picture, and remembering the three areas where grass was planted and thriving, add some powerful south winds and a seeding period in late spring, and the result is spotty grass growth along north shore spoils. The first area that I remember seeing it was west of Karankawa cut. This long flat filled in with grass rather quickly while other areas took slightly longer to grow. Next was the stretch from Greens Cut to Karankawa Cut. Over the years since, this grass has spread and now covers nearly every inch of the West Bay spoils.

Types of Galveston Sea Grass

We don’t experience the same level of grass growth every year, nor do we have the same grasses appearing. We have high and low salinity years, and as it turns out, some grasses are more adept at growing during each of these types of years.

spartina The Importance of Galveston Sea Grass

Spartina grass

Spartina grass (Spartina alterniflora) along our shorelines grow in both high and low salinity and don’t seem to be effected much by annual changes.

Shoal grass

Shoal grass.© Hans Hillewaert

Shoal grass (Halodule wrightii) grows well during higher salinity years and has some interesting characteristics. This species, native along nearly all of the Texas Coast, is a straight bladed grass with small fibers along its blades. These fibers do an amazing job of filtering small particulate matter from the water column. This is the grass that gives us very clear water by trapping suspended silt in the water column so common in the Galveston area.

Widgeon grass

Widgeon grass

Widgeon grass (Ruppia maritima), grows prolifically in lower salinities and it is very different when compared to shoal grass. Widgeon grass has multiple offshoots along the length of the plant stem, grows rapidly during low salinity periods and grows much taller than shoal grass. This grass will continue to grow rapidly during spring and will often grow to the water’s surface. Interestingly, as we often experience high tides in spring in conjunction with higher south winds, widgeon grass will grow to the level of the water during these high tides. This sounds great, and as it benefits the environment, it is. Due to the multiple offshoots, greater height and the density of its growth, this grass makes for an exceptional cover structure for all of the small prey animals that inhabit these areas, and the predators that follow them.

Not that it makes much difference, nor can we change what mother nature sends our way in terms of weather, but it will help you to understand when and where these grasses grow and how they will impact the water where they are present. Shoal grass is an incredible water filter and provides very good cover and habitat for small fish, crabs and shrimp that redfish and trout frequently feed upon.

Widgeon grass on the other hand, does not tend to filter the water column nearly to the degree that shoal grass will. Widgeon grass will definitely grow much thicker and provide a great habitat for both prey and predator, but will not give us the clarity of water that shoal grass provides.

For those who have been fishing the grassy areas over the past few years, you are quite aware that 2015 and now 2016 have not been great water quality years. The underlying case has been low salinity. Though we do have some areas with shoal grass, for the most part the bay floor has been taken over by widgeon grass and will stay that way until late summer when salinities are higher. Unfortunately, this is in my experience typically too late for the shoal grass to recover and grow as the early season growth of the widgeon will choke out and prevent photosynthesis.

One last note about sea grasses and Galveston Bay, and well the entire Texas Coast for that matter. Don’t quote me on the exact timing, but two-to-three years ago, Texas Parks and Wildlife department passed a law prohibiting the intentional destruction of sea grasses. These grasses are a valuable and limited part of the overall habitat, providing cover structure for numerous animals both predatory and prey. This resource can be damaged and frequently is by boaters either unaware or not concerned. Given the rate of growth and expansion of the areas with sea grasses over the past ten years, we can only hope to see a continuation of this trend. With some cautious stewardship from all who operate boats in these areas, this may be a trend that continues and provides excellent habitat and fishing for many years to come.

Under Pressure – Fishing Pressure Changes

May 1st, 2015

souleredfishmay Under Pressure   Fishing Pressure Changes

Capt. Steve Soule and a bruiser redfish caught during falling pressure.

By Capt. Steve Soule

Every day in the life of saltwater angling, we feel pressure. Whether we are recreational or professional, fishing for fun or fishing for money; lets face it, trying to catch fish consistently is no easy task when fishing with rod and reel, and even more so when you only fish with artificials. The pressure that we feel as anglers, however, is nothing compared to the pressure that the fish feel. At this point you may conclude or assume that I am referring to the pressure on a particular fish or fishery. As important and impactful as that aspect may be, that is not the pressure that I’m talking about.

The pressure, or more precisely, the barometric pressure, plays a huge role in fish feeding and general activity levels day in and day out. I can’t personally recall meeting anyone that could truly “feel” barometric pressure changes or direction of movement. Animals, on the other hand have no problem at all noticing even small changes in barometric pressure, and these changes and trends in pressure have an impact on fishing. I’m not going to tell you that there is a perfect science to this, but over the years, I have certainly watched some distinct trends become evident and often reliable.

Planning for barometric changes isn’t something that we can always do, but some situations are easy to understand and plan around. There are some obvious and noticeable times when even though we probably can’t feel the change in barometric pressure, we can feel or see the changes that coincide with it. Clouds are a great indicator, along with rapid changes in temperature. It’s well known that as winter storms approach the Texas Gulf Coast, pressure trends will be downward, and as the front passes the coast that a rapid rise in pressure will follow. We can plan around these fronts and we can often fish around summertime passing thunderstorms to take advantage of rapid pressure changes.

Over my 15-plus-year career of both guiding and tournament fishing, I have often tried to track and make notes about conditions, and how they impact, or at least appear to impact fishing. I will say without hesitation, pressure seems to have a greater impact on the feeding, or lack of feeding, of speckled trout more so than redfish. Keeping in mind that there are no hard and fast rules that apply in every situation, there are some noticeable trends and patterns that I have found and recorded over the years. The bites and other sources of information have helped lead me to these conclusions.

troutfly Under Pressure   Fishing Pressure Changes

Randy Cameron with a 28.5” trout taken on the fly.

In the middle of a very difficult day of tournament trout fishing in 2010, sometime around 1 p.m., the fish turned on in a very nasty way. I think that up to that point, my teammate and I had only had two bites and had yet to land a fish. It was a cold day in February, and a strong cold front had passed that morning before sunrise. We were battling a stout Northwest wind and a screaming upward trend in pressure. There were a couple of conditional changes that all occurred in a short period of time that seemed to put some short term urgency in the trout. A tide change and a slight decrease in wind speed, in the middle of a rapidly climbing pressure trend, caused a short period where the pressure dropped before continuing on its upward movement. What made this memorable, or even noteworthy was that in the 35-45 minutes that the trout fed, I landed all three of our weigh fish for the day, including our big fish at 7.58 pounds. The sad part was that of seven bites, I was only able to land three and at least two of the four I lost were considerably larger than the biggest that made the trip to weigh scales.

We have all heard that high pressure days are bad for trout fishing. This example, along with many others that showed a similar pattern, have led me to believe that it’s not so much whether pressure is high or low, but more how stable the trend is. Fish seem to bite on changing pressure. It seems that as I have monitored pressure and other conditions in my fishing, stable trends in pressure don’t seem to generate aggressive feeding behavior. So, if pressure is stable, or moving at a steady rate up or down, this creates a similar situation where fish seem to be less aggressive. When the steady or stable trend is broken by sudden movement of pressure in either direction, fish seem to feel a sense of urgency to feed aggressively.

Another of the shining examples that fish have shown me over the years about how barometric pressure can trigger aggressive feeding has to do with a large marsh lake in Galveston Bay that I have fished for many years. In the Summer, the lake is loaded with redfish and trout but they don’t often gang up and feed very well during daylight. One of the most interesting trends in the lake in summer is that if a summer thunderstorm passes over the lake, especially early in the day, the redfish and trout in the lake would gather and feed very aggressively for a brief period. These are not just average fish, but exceptional fish that aren’t often caught during the summer months in this location. Numberous 20-to-25-inch trout and 26-to-29-inch reds would gang up and chase shrimp and mullet. The first boat in the lake after the storm would reap the benefits, but by the time a second or third boat got there, the action would come to a halt. The rapid drop and returning climb of pressure put the fish in a frenzy, but it was always short lived.

It may not be easy to plan fishing around pressure changes all the time, but tracking changes during your fishing days can lead you to some interesting finds and improved catches. Though you could probably buy a small portable barometer, its much easier to just use the internet. NOAA, on their “Tidesonline” website, has buoy stations all around the Gulf of Mexico. Not all of the buoys have full data tracking but there are enough that you can get the general picture of what has gone, or is going on in your area. Use this tool to makes notes about things that have occurred during the course of your fishing day when you get home. While on the water, you need only to make mental notes of the times and location of better feeding activity, then compare those times to the changes in conditions when you get home to locate the correlations. In time, you will inevitably uncover some interesting trends that will hopefully improve your future fishing.