What will the effects of our icy winter have on fishing?
By Capt. Joe Kent
Beginning in mid-December, the Galveston Bay Complex experienced one of its coldest winters in years. Many of the anglers have not been through a severe winter from an historical perspective. You have to go back into the 1990s to find when we had subfreezing temperatures along the Texas Coast that lasted more than a short time.
Severe cold is not anything new to the Galveston Bay Complex; however, the number of days of subfreezing conditions has progressively dropped over the last decade.
A frequently asked question by readers of the Galveston County Daily News is how will all of the bitter cold weather affect fishing during 2018?
The answer is that it is hard to pinpoint; however, there are several indicators that tell us that when the weather warms, normal fishing patterns should return.
In the good news department, it appears that there were no major fish kills during the multiple freeze events that took place. While fish kills were reported, most of the finfish were forage fish, mainly mullet, menhaden and small fish of all species that were not large enough to tolerate water in the 40 degree range very long.
One of the reasons the stocks of gamefish survived well is that they had time to get acclimated to the cold and had moved into areas offering deep, protected waters.
Last January, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department exercised its right to close certain bodies of water when freeze events took place. This is the first time the TPWD has exercised that option and the areas around the Galveston Bay Complex that were affected were Moses Lake in the vicinity of the flood gates and most of Offatts Bayou.
Both areas are known to hold large concentrations of trout and other fish when the water temperatures fall into the low 40s or lower. In those pockets of deep water, fish are sluggish and easy prey for anglers.
Shortly after one of the freeze events in the early 1960s, I fished with a friend at the Blue Hole in Offatts Bayou and recall catching close to 50 trout (there were no size nor bag limits back then) with many of the fish being snagged by the treble hooks on my Bingo Lure.
In the bad news department, the freeze took its toll on aquatic vegetation. There is little doubt that the plants will rebound; however, it could take a while after this long winter. Like with all other vegetation, warm weather is the key to rebounding and growth.
The effect of the loss of aquatic plants is in the loss of cover for fish, mainly young fin fish, crustaceans and shell fish.
Over the past 10 to 20 years when mild winters were the norm, we started the spring season with a good crop of bait in the marshes and wetlands. It remains to be seen just how badly the freezes affected that part of the marine life cycle.
Overall, I expect 2018 to be a good year for fishing, barring any catastrophic events such as major floods or droughts.
While not on the topic of fishing directly, one of the big effects of a long cold winter is on boats, especially engines and mechanical equipment. A large number of boats have not been run for many weeks and problems likely are going to be widespread, with contaminated fuel, frozen water lines and other parts that are vulnerable to freezing weather or sitting up very long.
Before using your boat for the first time this year, check it out. For the first trip away from the dock, make it an abbreviated one and do not venture too far.