Friday, August 8, 2008

Saltwater Safety: My Big Three

Here are the three things that I see newcomers at the beach so often don't know about: teeth, catfish fins and jellyfish.
Everyone is probably aware of the power of sharks. Their jaws can crush a metal tackle box. But you do need to keep the fingers away from the teeth of many other saltwater fish. Bluefish have razors in their jaws, and mackerel (top photo) can suddenly lunge after they are landed, with their sharp rows of teeth.
Little sharks have very strong jaws and have to be handled with care, and even the benign speckled trout have teeth that will scratch up your fingers, possibly without you knowing until later on. They have one great big tooth you need to watch for. Just after this photo was taken, the trout clamped down hard on my thumb. Fortunately the glove was just thick enough!
I believe the biggest unknown danger on the saltwater fishing pier is the "hardhead" catfish. Its teeth are not much of a problem, but it has three fins that are sharp spikes. The BIG mistake is to put your shoe on top of a catfish to hold it down. I have seen the terrible result: that top fin is so strong and sharp that it goes right through shoes. To avoid having to handle these fish, ALWAYS have pliers handy.
Of course, stingrays can deliver a similar spike-like stinger with their tails, and most people are aware of that danger. Wearing shoes in the water is always a good idea.
Jellyfish: don't touch 'em. Whether they're in the water or washed up on the beach, some types have tentacles that will sting just like a hot matchhead if you touch them. Portuguese Man-O-Wars, by far the most lethal (they can actually kill people but that's very rare) are well known, but fortunately they have the bright rainbow-colored air sac that floats above to mark their presence. With most jellyfish stings, it's usually a matter of time, enduring a pain that can be severe. The treatment is meat tenderizer from the grocery store, but it's not always effective, and if you get stung, it's probably 30 to 60 minutes of waiting for the pain to go away. Afterward there may be little red spots where the tentacles made contact.
I almost always wear pants or waders in saltwater. They protect very well.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

There was a Tropical Storm?

They said there was a tropical storm named Edouard hitting the Texas coast this morning. At Padre Island National Seashore the surf was calm in the sunshine, but the water is still cloudy, less than two weeks after Hurricane Dolly. The beaches are back in shape after some spot repairs.
But on the other side of the island, the water in the Laguna Madre was clear at the Bird Island Boat Basin, and at the windsurfing park the trout were biting in three feet of water where I went wade fishing at sunrise. I used the white shrimp "Gulp" lure.
There are many who believe fish bite more when the barometer is falling. Today the barometer was in free fall, and the fish were biting.
At one of the piers ("Marker 37") along the Kennedy Causeway that leads to the island from Corpus Christi, the fish are supposed to bite mostly at night.
But at mid-day the trout were hitting on every cast. There was one slight problem — the speckled trout in Texas have to be 15 inches, and these were SO close. I measured one at 14 and 7/8 inch.
Also hitting were skipjacks, also called ladyfish. Related to tarpon, these are not fish to eat but are really fun tailwalkers and summersaulters. They usually get away by shaking the hook in mid-air.
I checked at the marina fish cleaning station, where they ask that all fish remains go into plastic tubs and not into the water. Also, people are requested not to feed the pelicans, one reason being pelicans cannot swallow fish that have been cut up.
There was proof that elsewhere, plenty of big — and VERY big — trout and redfish were biting today.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Fishing After Hurricane Dolly

An outing this morning shows me that apparently there are no worries in the aftermath of Dolly, at least at the northern tip of Padre Island after the hurricane stirred everything up a week ago.
At the Packery Channel jetty (the divider of Padre and Mustang Islands), no visible damage —but yes, if you look closely, that is a tree — not fishing rods — impaled into the rocks at the end of the jetty. The water in the surf never has cleared up as of Friday, but will anytime.

In the Laguna Madre the water is clear and the fish are there and biting.
These trout were caught on mid-day lures close to the Kennedy Causeway when I went wade fishing in three feet of water. I cast to the trout in slightly deeper water, maybe four or five feet deep. Most of the Laguna is 3 to 5 feet deep.

I use gloves whenever I reach into the mouths of speckled trout — good to have in your back pocket. (Wade fishing is fun but it takes practice. Use steel-toed boots and cover your legs in salt water to avoid jellyfish. Hip or chest waders are a very strong recommendation. And wade in sand — not mud!)
Also a hardy lizardfish hit the same lure, a "Gulp" on a lead-headed jig. Yes, lizardfish, and it does look like a lizard! (It went back into the water.)