Texas is blessed with a sweeping coastline that stretches from a state border to an international one, and when you factor in the expansive Gulf of Mexico, there is no shortage of a variety of saltwater fishing terrain.
However, there are few places where anglers are able to simply go out and keep a mess of fish without knowing the regulations, and Texas certainly isn’t one of them. There are numerous nuances to laws, and if you’re not up to snuff on knowing them, you’re setting yourself up for a less than cordial meeting with someone in a blue badge.
Game wardens don’t cotton to the ignorance excuse, so it’s up to you to know what you’re doing should you be blessed with a successful day on the water.
For example, did you know that when it comes to speckled trout, one of the most sought game fish in our waters, the bag limits vary? Or that there’s a slot limit and you can only keep one oversize fish per day? But unlike oversize redfish, there’s no tag needed?
According to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department saltwater fishing regulations, the daily trout bag and possession limit is five fish in the Lower Laguna Madre. However, unless you know exactly where you are, you could find yourself in hot water should you have a limit of 10 trout, which is the daily bag along the rest of the coast. The regulations consider all “inside waters” south of marker 21 located inside the area known as the Land Cut to fall within the five-fish framework. Those waters include any portion connected to a shoreline on the inside of the area contiguous to the Gulf.
However, in the Gulf the limit is the same as the rest of the middle and upper coast, with a 15- to 25-inch slot, and anglers may keep one fish over 25 inches as part of the daily bag.
When it comes to redfish, there is a slot of 20 to 28 inches and anglers may keep one tagged oversize fish. That fish may be retained in addition to the daily bag. However, did you also know you can get a bonus redfish tag? Yes, for a $3 charge at any license sales location, you can harvest another oversize fish, but only one bonus tag is allowed per person per year. There also is such a thing as a duplicate redfish tag, though an angler may not have in their possession more than one of each.
Did you know that for flounder, arguably one of the better eating fish in our coastal waters, the bag limit and means and methods completely change for a month? Yes, this past year from Nov. 1-30 during the peak of the annual migration of flatfish into the Gulf, the daily bag was dropped from five to two with the possession limit being the same. The only legal way to harvest those fish during that period is by pole and line, which means the typically legal and effective practice of gigging is off limits.
There are a number of regulations that attempt to protect fish that may be similar and share many of the same characteristics, but truly are different. For example, some anglers may catch mature Spanish mackerel in and around the same spots as juvenile king mackerel, which can cause confusion and could put you on the wrong side of regulations. The daily bag limit for king mackerel is two fish measuring at least 27 inches while the daily bag for Spanish mackerel is 15 fish measuring at least 14 inches.
It’s easy to misidentify the fish, especially if you haven’t caught them before. Main things to look for are the lateral lines and dorsal fins. A juvenile king mackerel’s lateral line dips compared to the Spanish variety. The dorsal fin of a young kingfish also tends to be lighter than that of a “smack.”
While there are state laws on the books, there also are federal regulations when anglers are more than nine nautical miles off the coast, and those frameworks differ in some regards. Did you know that it’s a federal requirement to use non-stainless circle hooks when fishing for reef fish or that it is unlawful to catch red snapper on anything other than a circle hook?
Anglers also must have a Texas fishing license and saltwater endorsement to bring any fish taken in federal waters ashore.
Saltwater fishing on federal waters also differs in that some seasons can be closed earlier or extended. The 2011 red snapper season was only 48 days, the shortest in history due to quotas being met. However, during 2010 there also was a fall snapper framework that spanned three-day weekends opened to fishing in October and November, the result of waters being closed after a massive oil leak in the Gulf.
Keeping fish often is the mark of a successful trip, but did you know that should you hire a guide, they can’t keep fish?
It was common practice for years among many guides to allow paying customers to take the guide’s limit of fish in addition to what they caught. That meant if a guide took three people out and they had a successful day, four limits of fish hit the cleaning table, even if the guide never picked up a rod.
Was it illegal? No, theoretically. If four guys with licenses came back to the dock, were checked by a game warden and he saw four limits of redfish, there’s no way to know that the three paying anglers each caught and kept an extra fish.
Was it unethical? No doubt. This precisely is why state fishing regulations were amended to prohibit that kind of activity.
“The bag limit for a guided fishing party is equal to the total number of persons in the boat licensed to fish or otherwise exempt from holding a license minus each fishing guide and fishing guide deckhand multiplied by the bag limit for each species harvested,” according to state fishing regulations.
The move also was put in place to somewhat help curb overharvest, especially when you consider there are hundreds of guides along the coast who typically find lots of fish consistently since they spend so much time on the water.
Online Saltwater Fishing Resources
To ensure that you are in compliance with federal regulations, visit the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s website.
For information on saltwater fishing in Texas, including bag limits and licensing requirements, visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s website.