Understanding fish and fishing is key to understanding Texas’ aquatic ecosystems, and helps millions of Texans enjoy, appreciate, and conserve our precious aquatic resources.
Questions to Consider
- What does it mean to think like a fish?
- How can knowing about aquatic communities and food webs be used to improve fishing success?
- How can knowledge of fish adaptations be used to improve fishing success?
- What is “cover” for fish and why is it important in fishing? What weather factors improve fishing success?
- List at least five observations that would help an angler be successful.
- Why are rules about how many fish you are allowed to catch important?
- What is an ethical angler? What are some important things an ethical angler does?
- How do anglers contribute to fish conservation?
Chose a water quote and explain what it means to you:
Chapter 13: Fishing for Conservation
Now that you’ve learned about Texas’ aquatic ecosystems, one of the most fun ways to use your knowledge is to go fishing. It’s a great way to spend time with friends and family outdoors. With over 191,000 miles of rivers, 212 major lakes, 367 miles of coastline, and 3,300 miles of bays and estuaries, Texas has many places to go fishing. Hike or take a canoe or boat to a fishing spot. Try camping near a lake. Cook what you catch and have a picnic. Fishing is a great way to learn about nature. When you go fishing for fun, you are called an angler. To be a good angler, you need patience, fishing skills, and knowledge about aquatic ecosystems.
Think like a fish to catch a fish
You can use what you have learned about fish, habitats, food webs, niches, trophic levels, and aquatic ecosystems to help improve your fishing success. Fish may scour the bottom, hunt near the surface, or swim anywhere between. Spawning brings fish together in one place. Their need for “cover” which fish use to hide in attracts them to structures in the water, such as rocks, logs, and aquatic plant beds. (Fig. 13.1) They seek comfortable temperatures because they do not use energy to maintain a constant body temperature as do warm-blooded animals. They also may move about to avoid low oxygen levels. Individual and species needs and preferences present a constantly changing, yet somewhat predictable pattern of fish activity.
To catch a fish, it helps to think like a fish. What habitat does the fish like within the aquatic ecosystem? A catfish stays near the bottom and may hide inside or under objects. A largemouth bass prefers mid-water and to be near the surface, but may hide in cover so it can ambush its prey.
What kind of food does the fish you are trying to catch like to eat? Use the fish’s natural food as bait, or use an artificial bait that looks or smells like something the fish would normally eat. (Fig. 13.2)
Fish tend to gather where there is plenty of the kind of food they like. Look for this food. Schools of minnows or other prey fish in a lake will attract larger open-water fish to feed on them. (Fig 13.3) Sunfish watch for hatching insects. Largemouth bass search for frogs jumping in a pond. You should watch for this too. Watch for small fish dashing about the surface of the water in bays and estuaries. Even the sound of a frog jumping or a small fish splashing on the surface can attract predator fish. Birds eating small fish on the surface are another clue. All these sights and sounds can lead you to fishing hotspots. Small fish darting above the surface are often trying to escape from larger fish, such as red drum. Look for the signs of feeding fish, or even fish eating birds. Rings spreading across the surface of a pond could mean that bluegill are feeding on insects. A splash in the shallows could be a largemouth bass
chasing a frog. Cast your bait where you think fish are feeding.
Fish use cover to escape predators and to help them ambush prey. Ask yourself, “If I were a fish, where could I hide from enemies and find food?” Cover can be anything that will hide or protect the fish. Some fish spend most of their lives near cover, moving out only to feed or spawn. Aquatic plants, docks, rocks, undercut banks, coral reefs, and logs all provide cover. Something like the shade, or shadow, from a tree can be cover, too. It makes the fish less visible to other fish, predatory birds, wildlife, and even people. Look under overhanging trees, docks, or fishing piers.
Once you start looking, you’ll see all kinds of cover, and maybe see some fish. Weeds grow near the bank, fallen trees lean over the water, fishing piers reach out into the bays and Gulf, boat docks rim lakes, and big rocks often rest in the middle of streams. In the Gulf, oil rigs and sunken objects, such as boats provide fish habitat deep underwater and are great spots for fishing. (Fig 13.4). Like in the Gulf, a lot of cover for fish cannot be seen from the surface. Underwater rocks and sunken logs rest on many lake and river bottoms. These make great fishing spots. Cast close to cover because that’s where the fish hide out.
Drop-offs, points, ridges, islands, and sandbars shape the beds of lakes, rivers, bays, and the Gulf. These features often attract more fish than do flat or gently sloping bottoms. You can find good places to fish from clues on land or in the water. Land points often extend into a lake. (Fig 13.5) The open area between flooded trees might be an old river channel. Texas bays and estuaries have oyster reefs providing fish cover. A change in the wave pattern in the bay may signal the edge of a seagrass bed.
Hungry fish seem to like places where one kind of habitat changes to another—in other words, at the border or “edge” between habitats. The edge of a lake’s shoreline area or littoral zone, for example, usually attracts many fish. (Fig 13.6) In rivers, fish often feed where the flow changes direction or slows down. You can often see signs of these changes from shore or if you are in a boat. Look for the break between muddy and clear water in rivers and estuaries.
In flowing water, there is less current near the bottom or immediately downstream from an object like a rock. Because of this, most stream fish rest with their bellies almost touching the bottom or stay in the slower water downstream of objects. They like to take advantage of spots that have less current than the nearby water. They do this to save their energy and to avoid being pushed downstream. The faster water brings food past waiting fish looking for a quick bite to eat. Most fish in a river face upstream into the flow of water and patiently wait for food to come to them. Cast your bait in front of fish in a stream and let the current take it to the hungry fish.
Fishing can be good at any time. However, fish seem to prefer eating during the low light conditions of morning and evening rather than in the bright sun of midday. Fish stay in shallower water in low light, and then move to deeper water when the sun is bright. Cloud cover or shadows on the water mimic low-light periods and may help get fish to bite. Catfish, bass, crappie, and many other species of fish will bite day or night. In some clear lakes, fishing is sometimes better at night than during the day. Big fish seem to be less picky about food and easier to catch when it is dark. Fishing at night is hard, even for experienced anglers. If you are just starting out, try fishing during the evening and see if you can continue after dark.
Weather affects fish, but not always in predictable ways. Hotter weather sends fish deeper to find cooler temperatures such as in the open-water zone of a lake. Most fish stay out of the deep-water zone of the lake because there is little oxygen there. Warm fronts in winter may improve fishing, and the longer the front stays the better. Cold fronts may reduce fish movements, causing the fishing to not be as good. Many people agree fishing is affected by weather changes, for better or worse. A light to moderate wind is better than no wind. A little wind gives fish in shallow water cover from fish eating birds, because the fish are harder to see from above when the water is rippled by wind. Fish will move into shallower water to feed in slightly windy conditions. Fishing can be good before and during a gentle rain but may be poor during and after a big thunderstorm. If this all seems like a lot to learn, just remember that any time you can safely fish is a good time to go fishing, and you will have fun even if you don’t know everything right away.
Fishing rules make fishing better
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) makes and enforces rules to conserve fish and wildlife. These rules help Texans share and keep our aquatic resources healthy. Fishing rules protect species by limiting the number or size of fish that may be taken. Length limits give fish a chance to grow and spawn before people are allowed to catch and keep them. (Fig 13.7) “Slot” limits are restrictions on keeping fish of varying lengths. These kind of rules allow biologists to achieve very specific purposes. For example, a slot limit may be used to allow larger very productive fish to stay in the habitat and produce more offspring for anglers to catch. For example, red drum have a 20 – 28 inch slot limit. You are allowed to keep fish within this size range, but you must return all fish that are smaller or larger. These regulations make fishing better, but they also require anglers to know the rules and carefully measure the fish they want to keep to make sure they are legal size.
Texas’ fishing rules are based on scientific data and research provided by fisheries biologists. Taxes on fishing equipment and the sale of fishing licenses pay for this work. When you turn 17 years old, you get to buy a fishing license and help support fish and fish habitats in Texas. If you are too young to buy a license or if you go fishing where a fishing license is not required, you must still obey fishing regulations. This way everyone plays a role in fish conservation. When you purchase a fishing license or fishing equipment, you are supporting fishery management, hatcheries, conservation, and education. (Fig 13.8) By learning to identify fish and respecting fishing regulations, anglers help keep fish populations in balance. Catch and release is a good conservation practice, but harvesting some fish can give others room to grow.
So before you go fishing you need to learn the rules and follow them. The rules can be found in the Outdoor Annual which is published by TPWD every year and free anywhere licenses are sold. The rules can also be found on the TPWD website. Following fishing rules and being an ethical angler are ways you can help conserve Texas’ aquatic ecosystems. Conservation helps make sure our aquatic ecosystems stay healthy far into the future.
Fishing is good in Texas
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recognizes fishing excellence through its Angler Recognition Program. The program maintains records of biggest fish caught in public and private waters, and records of biggest fish from all public lakes, rivers, and bays. Junior Anglers (under 17 years of age) compete in a separate division. For more information check the TPWD Website (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/).
Texas has many Community Fishing Lakes where even if you live in a city you can go fishing. These are public lakes 75 acres or smaller located in city, community, and state parks. These lakes are stocked annually with fish such as channel catfish and rainbow trout for fishing. Information about fishing and stocking in community fishing lakes and over 100 major lakes in Texas can be found on the TPWD website.
You can also go to the website to learn more about conserving Texas’ aquatic resources. Better yet, go outside and visit your favorite local aquatic resource. Begin thinking of it as YOUR lake, pond, river, stream, or bay. To help keep our lakes beautiful, consider bringing trash bag when you visit, and take a moment to leave the spot in better shape than you found it.
There are many ways you can help keep fishing great in Texas. The simplest way is to just start fishing! Learn to recognize and report invasive aquatic species that can take over and ruin native habitats and area fisheries. Be safe and responsible on the water. Be a mentor and take someone fishing! Visit a fish hatchery. Join Texas Stream Team to learn more about water and become active in conserving water quality. Join a local fishing club. There are even fish conservation organizations that hold fishing contests where winners get college scholarships. (Fig 13.9) .And if you’re up to the challenge, choose a career in conservation and make aquatic resources your life’s work. Above all, enjoy your aquatic resources and use them wisely!
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Texas Aquatic Science is a cooperative education project sponsored by Texas Parks and Wildlife, The Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, and The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University.
Texas Aquatic Science Fishing for Conservation was written and edited by author Rudolph Rosen. Project support came from the Ewing Halsell Foundation and the Sport Fish Restoration Program.
Fig. 13.1 — Many fish species that are fun to catch, such as crappies, use cover habitat and structure. Which cover and structure is used most may vary based on season, the type and amount of cover, and depth or location of structure such as a large tree in the water. Credit: The In-Fisherman
Fig. 13.2 — Popular fishing baits. Credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Rudolph Rosen
Fig. 13.3 — Some species of fish may move off structure and into open water to feed where they suspend themselves in the water. This is often in response to following or searching for prey. Food often determines where you find fish. Credit: The In-Fisherman.
Fig. 13.4 — You need a big boat and knowledge of the location of oil rigs in the Gulf to find some of the best saltwater fishing in Texas. If you don’t have a boat, you can go on a charter fishing boat for a fun day of fishing in the Gulf. Credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Fig. 13.5 — Many large bodies of water offer multiple opportunities for different groups of fish of the same species to inhabit different lake zones simultaneously. Individual groups of fish may or may not interact and mix. Fish inhabiting different zones tend to become active at different times. They may be active in shallow zones in the morning, evening, and at night. In deep zones they may be most active during periods of brightest sunlight. Each individual group may tend to stay more or less within a defined depth range rather than making daily movements up and down structure. The better you learn the structure available to the fish and zero in on it, the more fish you will catch. Credit: The In-Fisherman
Fig. 13.6 — Fish are usually caught near cover along the edges of habitats in lakes, rivers, and bays. You can often see these places from shore or a boat. The edge of underwater plant or seagrass beds, for example, usually attracts many fish. Credit: The In-Fisherman
Fig. 13.7 — Anglers measure fish to make sure they keep only the ones that are of legal size. Credit: Corpus Christi Caller Times
Fig. 13.8 – Anglers make it possible for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists to better manage all the state’s fish and fishing opportunities. Money from the sale of fishing licenses and a special tax on fishing equipment and gas for boats helps pay for kids fishing programs, fish hatcheries, surveys of fish in lakes and the ocean, and many more things that make fishing in Texas better. Credit: Rudolph Rosen
Fig. 13.9 — If you quickly remove the hook, it is safe to have a friend take a quick photo of you and your fish before releasing the fish back into the water. Corpus Christi Caller Times