March 22, 2014

This time of year, leave the boat behind when fishing the Gulf Coast

Avoid unfriendly whitecaps by fishing from the piers or wading the shores.

There are limited reports of redfish along the Gulf Coast, but black drum, sheepshead and speckled trout are beginning to show up in the bays and backwaters.

Gulf Coast fishermen have been suffering the same conditions as their inland, freshwater cousins: the water is cold and the wind even colder. The occasionally warming trends have only dangled the carrot, and then yanked it back with another unseasonable freeze.

Now, hopefully, that erratic cycle is over. With spring beginning to show its balmy promise all over the state, fishermen are packing their tackle and heading for saltwater. It is still a gamble with March winds — even warm ones — threatening to put an uncomfortable chop on even the shallowest of waters. But the safest way to deal with the off chance of unfriendly whitecaps is to simply leave the boat behind.

There are plenty of good fishing spots on the coast that don’t use loading ramps, fuel pumps or create dangerous wakes. Among the best I’ve found are in the Fulton-Rockport area, north, away from more heavily traveled Port Aransas routes.

One of the top spots is the Copano Fishing Pier, an expansive two-lane highway that has been chopped off in the middle and made into two long fishing piers.

A new, higher roadway that is actually Texas 35 parallels the old road. The Copano pier was built as a highway back in the 1930s and had a drawbridge in the middle. Thirty years later, the new causeway was constructed.

The old drawbridge was removed and now there is 2,500-foot pier on the south side of the bay and 6,190 feet on the north. There are bait and tackle shops on both sides of the pier, and for those who have all the necessary niceties for pier fishing, you can even rent carts to haul it all with.

The Copano pier is administered by the Aransas County Navigational District.

Just a little to the north and east of Copano Bay is another great spot to fish without a boat. It is the state’s Goose Island State Park, run by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Goose Island is a stunningly beautiful park that isn’t exactly a hidden gem among state parks, but it is woefully underused given its offerings.

This park isn’t for swimming. It just isn’t a good place for it. The water is littered with oyster reefs, mud flats and marsh grasses; in other words, great places for fishing. You can park your RV, or stake out your tent right along the concrete bulkhead at the water’s edge or you can wade in the tall grasses and slews behind the open bay.

The park has a well-lighted pier that reaches far out into the water.

If you have to get on the water, Goose Island is a perfect place to paddle a kayak.

One of the advantages of fishing the piers or wading the nearby shores is that you can do so with the same tackle you might use for sandies, blacks or crappie.

The bait might differ a little, but the same rod and reel can be used.

I checked last week with both Copano and the state park and they told me black drum and specs were doing fairly well. Copano was also doing well with sheepshead and gafftop.

For those who haven’t cast their lines in saltwater, the gafftop is a catfish. But so too is the hardhead. Both look just like a catfish, though the gafftop has a tall dorsal fin that looks like a sail. Actually, the fish is officially called a gafftopsail, but most people drop the sail part.

There is a lifelong argument about eating the gafftop. Some say it tastes just like a freshwater catfish; some say take the hook out and throw the fish back.

There is no argument that I know of about the hardheads; everyone agrees they are inedible. Both fish are slimy to the touch, and if you prick yourself on their spiny fins, it will hurt.

As far as bait is concerned, you can always go with artificial, but when in doubt use shrimp. Just about everything you might want to catch out of the ocean eats shrimp.

And be aware, especially on the piers, you can hook up with a shark. Some people believe that sharks don’t populate the bays, that they stay in the open gulf. That’s not true; ask any of your fishing neighbors along the pier. I’m betting more than one will have a shark story for you.

Fishing without a boat on the coast can also include jetties and the gulf surf, but in my estimation, those styles take a little more preparation.

Jetties can be great fun, but if you have the kids along, they can also be troublesome. The water is deep and the rocks slippery and the tackle is different.

The surf presents another set of problems, especially with tackle. It takes a lot of weight and a long, long pole to cast far enough out to do any good. And, you truly never know what you’re about to hook into.

College spring breaks are staggered throughout the remainder of the month and they make it a tough time to try to fish on the beaches and in the surf.

You don’t need a boat, but you’ll need a good four-wheel-drive vehicle to get you far enough down the beach to avoid the crowds.

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