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Texas' 2009 Saltwater Outlook
"We might just catch some redfish," Granddad told me.
Of course, we didn't. We landed some keeper trout (though a keeper back then would not be a keeper these days), but no spotted-tail fish.
The reason was that this classic, tasty game fish had been so heavily fished -- and caught -- over the years that it had become almost a rarity to catch one by the 1960s.
Redfish started on a comeback in the 1980s, thanks principally to state-imposed conservation measures, and to private and state-funded stocking of hatchery-raised fish into Texas' bay systems.
Now, the red drum is not only back, but the fishery is as healthy as it's ever been, at least since before overfishing sent them into decline.
Anglers usually look for redfish in the flats, often spotting them when their tail is projecting above the waterline like a miniature version of Captain Nemo's Nautilus in Twenty Thousands Leagues Beneath the Sea.
Part of the skill involved in catching them in shallow water is getting near enough for a cast without spooking them -- perhaps as close to still-hunting as fishing gets.
In the fall, big bull reds range the surf and hang out around the jetties.
The daily limit is three fish that must be at least 20 inches long but no longer than 28. With a redfish tag, or bonus tag, you can keep one fish a year that is longer than the regular maximum.
Their population is believed to have doubled over the last two decades. To put it another way, the catch rate seen in TPWD gill net surveys grew from a statistical half a trout per hour in 1985 to a whole trout per hour in 2005.
The only downside to the trout picture has been a decline in large trout in waters around Port Isabel and South Padre Island, but Riechers says the reduction of the bag limit from 10 to five fish in that area two years ago seems to be working. Fortunately, research by the state indicates the problem was probably nothing more sinister than fishing pressure, and not a dire environmental issue that would threaten the long-term status of the species in the lower Laguna Madre.
"We looked at it extremely hard," Riechers says of the drop in big trout numbers. "We looked at certain habitat reasons, but the real thing that came to us as we looked at all data was that these trout are a real targeted fishery. People have been pulling out of that system quicker than the fish can grow. We think by going to five fish it will allow us to get back to bigger sizes."
Since the life cycle of a trout is seven to nine years, he says, the agency expects to see the numbers for the bigger trout back up within another three or four years.
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