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   December 17, 2004
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Texas Sportsman Magazine
Texas' Big 5 Saltwater Game Fish

The king mackerel fishing off the Texas Coast is unbelievable from summer into early fall. Anglers seeking big kings can expect to fish for them several different ways, as they'll hit anything from dead shad to live shrimp to topwater plugs.

The general practice is to troll around oil rigs, starting with the areas holding the largest concentration of baitfish. When you start trolling, it won't take long to find the kings, because when they're around, they'll usually oblige by hitting.

The entire Texas coastline is loaded with big kings, but the prime spots for catching huge specimens are at the two ends of our coast: Port Isabel and Sabine Pass. Freeport's another spot known for its numerous fish in the 40-pound class.

Kings migrate out to deep water during the winter months, typically running to 60 miles or more offshore. Some of the winter spots favored by bluewater enthusiasts include the Flower Gardens off Freeport and the famous Stetson Rocks out of Galveston.

Capt. Artie Longron of Angler's Choice Guide Service says that anglers seeking big kings can expect to fish for them several different ways, as these fish will hit anything from dead shad to live shrimp to topwater plugs. "We're starting to use more lures," he noted, "because it's difficult to keep the sharks off of your line using bait."

The usual procedure involves trolling around oil rigs, starting with the areas holding the largest concentrations of baitfish. "When you start trolling it won't take long to find the kings," Longron said. "When they're around, they'll usually oblige by hitting."

Once he finds the fish, he'll often throw chunks of menhaden into the water to whip the fish into a frenzy-like state; then he grabs the casting rods. "Put on a topwater plug or a hard-plastic subsurface lure and you can have more fun catching kings than you would imagine. You will lose more fish, but it is too much fun not to do. A lot of my clients prefer this over any other kind of fishing."

Black drum are hard to beat either in the fight department or, despite their ugly looks, in the frying pan. And perhaps the best thing about these big brutes is that they're easy to find and to pattern in Texas' coastal waters.

Jetties, offering a virtual buffet of the blue crabs and other crustaceans that drum love to eat, are the best places to find them during the winter, which I consider the peak time of year to catch them. The largest concentrations of drum are at the deep holes at the southern tip of jetties, but if for some reason the deeper holes are inaccessible, back off and look for dips in the rocks. These dips are indicative of the presence of deep holes, and that's where the drum will be. Another sign to be on the lookout for is vegetation growing on the bottom of the rocks. These areas are home to small crabs, which drum gorge on.

I prefer to fish for drum at the jetties with line in the 15- to 17-pound class. My favorite bait is blue crab, broken in half and hooked through the carapace. It has a long hook-life, and is irresistible to drum: good stuff.

The surf is also a promising place in which to target drum during winter, especially if you want to catch a big one. Yes, I know - most anglers say the "drum run" doesn't start until spring. But there are lots of bull drum in the surf from December through March.

Texas' coastal fisheries are in excellent shape because of wise use: Anglers care about the conservation of our natural resources. Speckled trout have nearly doubled in population and, on average, have doubled in weight during the last 20 years - and this in the face of highly increased fishing pressure.

True, some species aren't doing that well. Flounder, for instance, have been subject to a high rate of by-catch from the shrimping industry and are currently being regulated on the basis of some problematic science. But as long as there are anglers to pursue fish along the Texas Coast, the resources should stay in great shape. Recreational anglers have shown they'll do whatever it takes to maintain the well-being of the fish whose pursuit they so passionately enjoy.

Believe it or not, Texas also offers some great fishing for billfish, especially for blue marlin and sailfish.

These beautiful fish roam the blue water, which is closest to Port Isabel and most of the Lower Texas Coast, but depending on the amount of rainfall and storm activity, they may move in considerably on the Coastal Bend and Upper Coast as the summer progresses.

Billfish hang around the 40-fathom curve, where typical fishing tactics involve trolling along weedlines, rips, color changes and otherwise disturbed water.

Veterans like Capt. John Cochran look for any of those combinations, all the while keeping a close eye on the fathometer and the chart. If it's possible to find one or more of these conditions, it can pay to troll a grid pattern thoroughly before moving on.

"You've got to pay attention to the little things out there," Capt. Cochran said, "and sometimes those little things are a lot less pronounced than a novice might notice. In the deep Gulf, where there is little hard structure, even slight color changes in the water could lead to tremendous catches."

In particular, some of the most exciting fishing on the Upper Coast will be found around select deepwater oil platforms. Rigs like Auger, Cerveza and Tequila are magnets to billfish and thus legendary among Texas bluewater enthusiasts.

"The technology that allows more deep-water oil exploration has helped angling prospects for billfish in the Gulf," noted Capt. Cochran. "You certainly do not have to fish rigs to find them, but the rigs sometimes serve as the only real structure around for miles. That draws in the baitfish, which in turn draws in the billfish."

Too, logs, wooden pallets, chunks of plastic and floating oil drums often hold baitfish, and usually dolphin or wahoo, and hold out the possibility of billfish lingering nearby.

"You can also find fish under the birds sometimes," said Capt. Cochran. "It is not like trout fishing, of course, but frigates and other seabirds are good natural indicators. They will hover high above bait schools and indicate when the bait is around. And in the blue water, bait can mean big billfish."

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