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Texas Sportsman
Texas' Saltwater Big 5

Winter has little to offer flounder fishermen, since most of their quarry are in the Gulf of Mexico. During spring, shorelines of bay systems are good for getting after flounder, but few anglers fish them, as bayous, sloughs and other drainages are much easier to target, and probably hold more flounder. But on occasion, a likely piece of shoreline that's lined with roseau cane will start to pick up.

I say "likely," because not all shorelines are the same. When the tides are super-low, I look for shorelines that drop off steadily for a few yards and then make a sudden drop of a couple of feet. I've found that flounder will usually stack up in the deeper holes right off the edge of the dropoff. Also, some flounder will stay in the ultra-shallow water on the shoreline.

When the tides are high, I like to find a shoreline, after which I start hitting the roseau cane.

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Sharks are easy pickings in the nearshore Gulf of Mexico during summer months, and can provide anglers with some excellent sporting opportunities. These pelagic creatures start arriving in March and usually don't leave until October; if you pull up to any oil platform or drift through a big school of mullet or menhaden, you're likely to run into some sharks.

To draw sharks in, chumming is a necessity. Sharks are opportunists, so putting out chum is like ringing the dinner bell for them. They're strong, intense predators, and by stimulating them through chumming, you're likely to elicit exciting, aggressive action.

There are many ways to chum; there's probably no wrong way to do it. The most economical would be to take a five-gallon bucket, punch it full of holes and put weights in the bottom. Fill it with fish guts, old shrimp, cut menhaden or any kind of smelly stuff. Tie the loaded bucket to the boat with enough rope to sink it at least 10 feet down. This will create a chum slick that will draw sharks from all around. I like to use this in conjunction with cups of beef blood poured over the side.

SPECKLED TROUT Trout range from bay systems and marshes into the surf and around jetties. Some areas have strong populations around the oil rigs. During winter, they tend to school in the deep water of ship channels. Fall is the best time for good numbers of fish, although they tend to run a bit small. Summer fishing is good around ship channels, with some bird action. Late winter and early spring are the best times for trophies. Fishing with live shrimp around jetties and fishing soft plastics under schooling birds are highly effective. Fishing topwaters around shorelines is also a great way to catch them during winter and spring. The speckled trout, a species once ravaged by commercial harvest, is at an all-time record high as far as population numbers go. Contrary to popular opinion, these fish spawn almost year 'round.
REDFISH Redfish can be found from the backwaters of marshes into the Gulf of Mexico and anywhere in between. The largest fish dwell in the nearshore Gulf waters, while the "slot-sized" fish are creatures of the bay. The best fishing for the large bull reds is during late summer and early fall when they gather around the surf and jetties. Spring fishing can be a little tough, but the action picks back up in summer. Casting topwaters and spoons at tailing redfish is a popular method of fishing. Flyfishermen also score well. For the larger bulls, live and cut bait fished around the jetties is best. The redfish has a similar story to the speckled trout. The reds are at record high numbers as well, owing to a ban on commercial harvest and a highly successful stocking program.
FLOUNDER Inland bays, marshes and ship channels are the main haunts of Gulf flounder. However, these fish can tolerate fresh water and are sometimes caught in the mouths of freshwater rivers. There are two distinct flounder runs: spring and fall. The larger fish are caught in spring, but great numbers move in fall, and thus anglers have more success overall then. Fishing along stands of cane on the shorelines of marsh with jigs tipped with shrimp is becoming one of the most popular methods of catching flounder. Commercial harvest with its shrimping-related bycatch has taken a toll on flounder. Recent efforts by groups like Project Flounder Future and the Saltwater Conservation Association are beginning to pay off.
SHARK The Gulf of Mexico and shallow bays are the principal shark waters. Most anglers find sharks in the surf and around oil rigs. Large bull sharks in particular have their babies in Texas bays. Summer is the peak time to catch sharks in great numbers in Gulf waters, although some of the larger specimens start coming near shore in March, making them easier to catch. Chumming an area with fish oil and fishing with cut bait is the best method for taking sharks. For the surf, fishing out past the second sandbar with a large, oily chunk of fish at night is typically the best method. Sharks have become a popular sportfish. Recent conservation measures seem to be aiding the ones that are often caught in Texas, such as the blacktip and spinner. The largest of sharks are still in peril.
RED SNAPPER Ever popular with Texas anglers, red snapper inhabit the Gulf of Mexico, primarily around common structures like oil rigs, ship wrecks and reefs. Winter is the best time to catch them, but federal law prohibits fishing except between 12:01 a.m. April 21 and Oct. 31. The first couple of weeks after the season opens is the best time to catch the large sows. Fishing cut bait around oil rigs is the best method for catching snapper. Another great way to bag snapper is by throwing small chunks of cut fish overboard as chum and catching them with hard-plastic jigs. This fish is involved in much controversy because of season closures in federal waters of the Gulf. Anglers can fish for only half the year. Red snapper is the most sought-after species in the northern Gulf.

If, like many anglers, you're shark fishing from a pier, this bucket method can prove valuable, especially with bonnethead sharks, which travel in small schools and are very common around piers. You can lure them in very easily by dropping a chum bucket over the side of the pier; other species will respond as well.

Another easy and cheap method of chumming involves purchasing several cans of jack mackerel at the grocery store before your trip. This stuff is very oily, and so will easily draw in sharks. Last year we tagged 26 sharks in a day that were chummed in by two 79-cent cans of jack mackerel. All we did was punch holes in a can and hang it over the side of the boat in a lingerie-washing bag. Every once in a while I would shake the can to let out more oil and fish.

If you want to get sharks to come to the surface to hit a saltwater fly or a surface lure, try taking out a pail of wet sand or mud and live glass minnows or finger mullet. Take several of the baitfish, clump them up in the sand, and throw it overboard. The fish will escape at different depths, which will drive sharks crazy. Once they start surfacing, you can skip the sand and just throw over the live bait to keep them surfaced. Some anglers call this "power chumming."

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