Give the girls a break
I had no idea what the caller was initially talking about as I pressed the cell phone a little tighter to my ear in the howling wind. “I saw where the Parks and Wildlife people were holding some more of those public meetings about flounder,” said the caller. “ so I figure they have already decided to change things again!”
The frustration in the caller’s voice was merited. The need to do something to help the declining flounder population is not without merit as well, but I have my doubts as to the value of any public input at these gatherings. I have attended only three such meetings over the years that covered everything from changing flounder limits to having someone sign a piece of paper to say where you fished that day and all were a done deal before we ever found a seat.
I feel certain that they are going to at least lower the limit in the very near future and while the decline in numbers is real by any standard of measurement, I cannot believe that the recreational fishermen play a very significant role in the flounder’s decline. I do agree with the TPWD’s contention that the flounder ranks among the top three species for the more than 900,000 coastal anglers in Texas, but a very small percentage of those fishermen actually target flounder.
Aside from the well-documented “flounder run” in the late fall and early spring, most of the flounder taken are caught sparingly throughout the year on live bait or dead shrimp by anglers that are fishing for anything that will bite. I cannot speak to the impact of gigging for flounder as that practice is far more prevalent on the mid to lower coast. I have never done it, but I would assume there is not a whole lot of catch and release taking place.
Throughout most of the ‘80s, I booked only flounder trips on Sabine Lake. We could not fathom the impact gill netting was having on our big trout population and while we had scads of 12- to 14-inch specks, no one wanted to pay money to catch them. I would apologize for the small trout, but quickly add, “If you like to catch flounder there cannot be any place better than Sabine.”
Nine months out of the year we would easily limit in the first few hours of a trip and then chase redfish the remainder of the day. We never beat a single area to death. We would take a few fish from several different spots and fish other areas before hitting that spot a week later. My clientele’s desire to chase trophy trout following the ban on nets eventually dictated a change in my daily program and I quit the flounder before they quit me.
I still hit many of the same old haunts today when pursuing redfish with a small jig and light tackle and it amazes me that anyone contends that you could wreck the flounder population with a rod and reel. When specifically targeting flounder the lure presentation is slow and meticulous and the very best bite is seasonal. This is not like running up under a flock of birds with five other boats and hammering trout until the shrimp scatter!
The greater question for me is, “Do we really have fewer flounder now or just fewer fish over the 14-inch mark?” We still catch a world of flounder here on Sabine, but the majority of them are 12- to 13-inch fish and there is a reason for that phenomenon.
In my opinion, the last time the TPWD hosted a round of public meetings soliciting angler input concerning flounder regulations, the resulting change hurt the flounder more than it helped them. The creel limit remained the same, but they raised the minimum length limit from 12 to 14 inches.
The wisdom of that decision had to be questioned when even the biologists on hand stated that the average male flounder seldom makes the 14-inch mark in its lifetime. It is a little scary to think that ever since that change was implemented, we have harvested only the female flounder. I am undoubtedly missing something, but I do not like our chances of growing the population if we continue to release all the male fish and keep all of the females!
I have always felt that the flounder deserved game fish status as they are every bit as challenging to consistently locate and catch as redfish or trout. I agree, strictly from a numbers standpoint, that lowering the creel limit by a fish or two could help over the long run, but I also believe a return to the 12-inch minimum would escalate that recovery.
As Don Hubbard so eloquently stated, “If the flounder population is going to ever fully recover, we have got to start culling a few bulls and give more cows the opportunity to experience motherhood!”