By Capt. Joe Kent
June is the beginning of active surf fishing along the upper Texas Coast.
The beachfront from High Island to Surfside is filled on days when conditions are right with anglers with lines in the water. Many wade-fish the first through third sand bars while others use their kayaks and most recently bait launchers to go after that big fish.
Anglers, especially newcomers to the Galveston Bay complex, often ask for tips on how and when to surf fish and what equipment to use. Hopefully we can shed some light on this and contribute to a successful surf fishing trip for you this summer.
Fish are found in the surf year round and the species vary in size and numbers with each season that passes. June through November and often well into December is the most active time.
During the summer months, speckled trout will roam the surf and experienced anglers know when and where to target this popular game fish. Wind and water clarity are two of the key components to a successful trip, with tidal flow being of equal prominence.
My experience has shown that July and August are the best months for catching specks in the surf. Days where light winds prevail and good tidal movement and water clarity all come together are almost a given for catching a nice stringer of specks.
The best time to hit the surf is just before daybreak or at dusk. An incoming tide is the best and when the specks are running, other fish will be as well.
Live shrimp fished under a popping cork likely is the most popular bait; however, small finfish like croaker work equally well if not better at times. Artificial baits tossed by experienced fishermen catch their share of fish too.
Choosing your days is a big part of having success. If there is a strong wind from a southerly direction, the surf is usually choppy and the water off color for fishing. When the wind velocities drop to less than 10 knots, it is time to hit the surf.
So, what else besides specks can be expected during the summer? The answer is lots of other fish. Spanish mackerel and reds like the same terrain and during the peak of summer, just about any of the offshore species might come visiting. Sharks are prevalent in the surf during warm weather. Tarpon often are hooked by trout fishermen who have a live finfish dangling from a popping cork along one of the deep guts.
After Labor Day, specks are usually headed back into the bays for their fall transition. Another transition hits the surf at the same time and that is the arrival of spawning reds, especially bull reds. September through early December is a time when reds are just about a given along the beachfront.
The bull red run, as it is often called, takes place from late September through November and along with the big bulls are good numbers of sizable sharks like bull shark, blacktips and others. Jack crevalle love the same stretch of beach and along with sharks, bull reds, tarpon and others can be found from one to 12 miles out.
Tarpon Alley is a mythical term coined by Capt. Mike Williams of Tarpon Express Guide Service. Williams designated the area from just off of the beachfront to approximately 12 miles out as Tarpon Alley, as that is where he has found countless tarpon, sharks and other pelagic fish roaming for many years.
The alley extends from near High Island to the middle Texas Coast.
With live shrimp and small fin fish being the bait of choice for trout, what about the bigger fish?
Large fresh ribbon fish and shad along with live bait such as mullet are excellent for going after the big ones. Hunks of bonito are one of the best shark baits.
Keep in mind that conditions need to be good to enhance your chances at catching fish. Green, clear water along with light to calm winds are the best. Water clarity is probably the most important of the group.
One thing to keep in mind, if you wade fish the surf be sure to have an extra-long fish stringer as sharks often mutilate stringers of fish and in the past have taken a swat at an unprotected leg. Stingrays also pose a problem during warm weather and that necessitates careful movement or ray guards over your ankles and calves.
While the first part of the year tends to be slow in the surf, during times of calm conditions in January through March, whiting provide a lot of entertainment and good table fare. Whiting are easy to catch and one of the best baits is fresh dead shrimp with the cartilage peeled.