Outdoor Notebook: A southern fishing adventure
After spending an extended period of time in southern Texas we have fallen into a pleasant routine. Each evening we would watch the news to determine what the weather forcast was for the next day. Occasionally when the tide is low early in the morning, we would walk the massive sand beaches searching for ghost shrimp. It seems that ghost shrimp are the preferred bait for many species of fish.
The first week of fishing the waters in the Gulf of Mexico was very frustrating. Neither Tom Twesme nor this scribbler have had much experience fishing for fish that live in salt water. It is very different fishing for these fish compared to the fish that live in the waters of northern Wisconsin. Then, one evening a building contractor showed us how to catch a small, silver fish called a croaker. When they are held to remove the hook they make a croaking sound, perhaps like grinding their teeth together. They were relatively easy to catch and were very easy to clean.
There are two jettys in the immediate Port Aransas area that receive regular fishing pressure. The South Jetty is accessible by walking from the beach. We fished the South Jetty for several days and caught a few sheepshead using ghost shrimp for bait. For those readers who, like us, wonder what a jetty is, think about a very long pile of rocks that act as a breakwater that shelters the harbor.
Perhaps a better name for a jetty is to call them “jig robbers.” We left many jigs in those rocks. Eventually we used a float to keep our bait just above the many rocks.
Although we were catching some fish, we searched for more action. Several local folks mentioned that the action was much better on the North Jetty. The only catch was that the only way to access the North Jetty was to pay for a boat ride on the “Jetty Boat.” That boat runs on a schedule, with an hour between runs. When the boat drops anglers off, they have to transport their fishing gear out onto the jetty. Some anglers have small carts that they pull full of their equipment.
Once we started fishing the North Jetty, we began catching good numbers of sheepshead. They have to be at least 15-inches long to keep, so we returned a lot of them to the water. The sheepshead that live in salt water are very different from those that swim in the lakes of Wisconsin. A fair comparison is to imagine a large crappie on steroids. They are extremely powerful, and fight the angler every inch of the way. A 20-inch sheepshead puts up a very aggressive battle. The great thing about sheepshead is that they are excellent eating.
Last Monday we tried something different. The four of us took a party boat out 32 miles offshore. We had watched the weather forecast and determined that the best weather of the week would be Monday. We were right! The boat was a 80-foot catamaran that provides an extremely stable fishing platform. There were 15 anglers on board, which was very convenient since 80 anglers is the maximum number it can carry. With that many anglers on board, you can just imagine the tangled lines when a big fish was hooked.
The deck hands baited 15 rods with ribbon fish. A ribbon fish is a very slender shiner type of minnow, about 12 inches long. The targeted fish were King mackerel, with a limit of two per angler. I had always heard that fish in salt water fight much harder than those in fresh water. They do!
We had only fished for about 10 minutes when we heard Rosemary Twesme squeal and her rod bent double. While she was fighting the King mackerel, her husband, Tom, hooked a different King fish. When these King fish hit the bait, it seemed as though the fish was going 20 miles an hour. When an angler hollered, “fish on” one of the deck hands was right there to give advice or assistance. With 15 rods being used on one side of the boat, it can be a real circus landing the fish.
After Rosemary landed her fish, she said, “Hey, you guys! That is work!” Her fish was the first of the day that was caught. It took about an hour and a half, and we had two King fish per angler.
The Captain then took us over deep water (about 175 to 200 feet) and we set up for bottom fishing. For the next two hours we caught vermillion, lane snapper and red snapper. The ride back in took 21/2 hours, and was much calmer than on the way out.
For the past month we fished almost every day, and caught fish most of those days. We have made plans to return to Port Aransas again next year.
Longtime Northwoods outdoors personality Roger Sabota writes a bi-monthly column appearing in the Star Journal.