Galveston-area anglers have diverse opportunities to fish the regions’ salt waters by foot, kayak, or boat. In addition to the quintessential shallow water fishing in the bays, there are 32 miles of public beach surf fishing; numerous public piers, jetties, and docks; and a state park that provides access to both the bay and gulf side of the island.
The greater Galveston Bay complex encompasses four major sub-bays (Galveston, Trinity, East and West Bays) all covering approximately 600 square miles with 232 miles of shoreline and is the largest of the seven major estuaries on the Texas Gulf Coast.
Of greatest importance to fly fishers and shallow water anglers living in or visiting the Galveston area is West Bay and its surrounding sub-bays and lakes (Greens Lake, Carancahua Lake, Chocolate Bay, Bastrop Bay, Christmas Bay) and the North and South shorelines of the main bay, all of which offer a variety of sand and grass flats, and dynamic saltgrass shorelines in the marshes, creeks, and back lakes. West Bay is very rich in its biomass, offering gamefish an abundance and diversity of food: primarily shrimp, baitfish, and crabs.
This richness is attributed to the water exchange from both freshwater inflows and from the Gulf of Mexico through the Bolivar Roads Pass on the northeast end of Galveston Island and San Luis Pass on the southwest end (two of only a few natural passes through the “barrier islands” that run most of the length of the Texas Coast). Other water bodies in the greater area that are fished by fly- and light-tackle anglers are Sabine Lake at the Texas-Louisiana border and the Matagorda area bays and lakes to the southwest down the coastline.
What We Fish For
Red Drum: (Sciaenops ocellatus)
aka: Redfish, Channel Bass, Spottail Bass
Texas Redfish are a dynamic species and our primary target when fishing the shallows in the Galveston area. Prone to feeding in very shallow water – even with their backs exposed – they are a “friendly” fish: mostly tolerant; mostly agreeable to flies even when not presented perfectly; and very fun to catch. Often the angler will witness the fish, or pod of fish, actively feeding, pushing bait down a shoreline, or grubbing on the bottom in skinny water such that their tails stick out of the water (“tailing Redfish”), and can watch the fish follow the fly lure and open its mouth for the eat. Once hooked, Redfish offer an initial blitzing run – sometimes into the backing – and then the fight to hand is more like tug-of-war with a bulldog.
Redfish are a handsome fish: coppery-gold scales, broad shoulders, tail often tipped with teal blue, and that tail spot. They grow rapidly in the bays which offer protection and supplements until they reach maturity at around 3 years of age and around 28 inches in length. At maturity Redfish leave the shallow waters and move into the Gulf to live and spawn, which happens in the fall. Males attract females by “drumming” their air bladder. Their spawning interaction happens en masse creating “spawning balls” of coppery red bodies that can be seen from great distances. Larvae are brought into the shallow, protective bays by tidal flow – and the cycle starts all over. In the fall even immature fish in the bays will “pod up”, moving and feed together as a group.
Adult Reds primarily live out their adult lives in the Gulf, occasionally moving nearshore or in-shore if the coastline allows for it. Redfish continue to grow – upwards of 50 inches – and live for several decades.
Redfish inhabit the waters of more states and are the most prolific in-shore species in the USA targeted by fly anglers – more so than Bonefish, Tarpon, and Permit. But in each state - and even within different regions in a state – they are fished for slightly differently – so don’t expect our Texas Redfish to be exactly like the Redfish in the Carolinas, or Florida, or the other Gulf states. Redfish: so fun, so dynamic! Let’s go catch some!
Black Drum: (Pogonias cromis)
aka: Sea Drum, Saltwater Drum, Gray Drum, Drumfish, Striped Drum, Tambor
A cousin species to the Redfish, they are often found in the same water or sharing the same area. Adult Drum can vary from light gray to dark, almost black, and even take on a coppery hue. They do not have a tail spot but they do have barbels (or whiskers) on their chin that aid in finding food in the often silty water they prefer. Immature Drum have silver and dark charcoal vertical strips that fade to gray as they age. Big Drum, with their large, humped shoulder profile, fat lips, whiskers and scarred appearance are often called “Big Uglies”. Despite this appearance their popularity as a sight-casting target species continues to grow. Black Drum have some similarities to Redfish but are spring spawners and can often be more difficult to catch because they feed more by feel and smell.
Spotted Seatrout: (Cynoscion nebulosus)
aka: Speckled Trout, Spec, Trout, Spotted Weakfish
The spotted seatrout is a member of the Croaker family (Sciaenidae) and is a first cousin to the Atlantic Croaker, Red Drum, Black Drum, and Sand Seatrout. They prefer the habitat of shallower bays, beaches, estuaries that have oyster beds, seagrass, and/or sandy bottoms that attrached and hold prey. They are more sensitive to fluctuations in water temperatures and salinity so they will move in and out of an area or water deplth to find more agreeable conditions. They feed primarily on baitfish and shrimp, choosing meals proportional to their size.
Seatrout, especially large ones, are smart and wary, and do not often provide anglers a fair encounter. Considered a “target of opportunity” rather than a target species, anglers should be on the lookout for birds working over a school of Seatrout that are attacking and feeding on bait. Getting a fly into the marauding group of fish almost guarantees a hook up every time.
Seatrout make for a very challenging opponent in the sight-casting game. Mostly, they will bolt at the first indication of encroachment. But often when sighted they will “slink” off, acting as if they knew you were there and did not care because they had already decided they were not going to eat what you offered anyway! But on the rare occasions an angler discovers a Seatrout facing away, or distracted, and gets a cast off to the fish they will readily take a well-presented and well-fished fly of enticing size. Most fly anglers consider these successes to be very special – even more so if the fish is upwards of 20 inches.
Sheepshead: (Archosargus probatocephalus)
aka: Prison Permit, Convict fish
With a deep, flat body marked with vivid black and white bars, the Sheepshead is a stand-out in shallow water. They primarily feed on small oysters, clams, barnacles and crabs. They have jutting front teeth (resembling the mouth of a sheep) that are used to crush and consume their prey. They have large, sharp spines and a razor-edge gill plate that make handling difficult.
Found in both clear and off-colored water, Sheepshead can be found around “structure”: oyster beds; shorelines; depressions; dock pilings; jetties; and bottom debris. They can also be sight-cast to on open, sand flats. They will often “tail” as they move along investigating the bottom for food. When they are in this mode anglers can get quite close to them. Other times though, a Sheepshead’s presence is known because it can be seen jetting off as if launched from a rocket.
Sheepshead have earned the name Prison Permit by exhibiting mostly skittish, sometimes curious, always stubborn behavior. They are known to dart over to investigate a well-presented fly, study it with intensity, follow it for 2, then 5, then 10 feet only to lose interest and turn off. They make great target practice, just be aware that a Redfish will probably appear while you are making your futile attempt get the Sheepy to eat. A challenging adversary for a determined angler … just remember those spines when you go to get your grip-and-grin photo!
Crevalle Jack: (Caranx hippos)
Pugnacious in appearance and attitude and considered a “trash-fish” by some, Crevalle Jacks are a thrill ride for fly anglers who find themselves in their midst and hooked up to one.
Jacks are a fish-on-the-go: moving through areas adjacent to ship channels in the bays, around jetties, and in the surf, and almost always at a fast clip. They give their location away by busting bait at the surface usually while seagulls and pelicans dive into the foray to pick up the spoils. This usually sets up the run-and-gun approach by anglers on boats trying to get into casting range and angle of the herd. Larger tackle, big flies (and often sinking lines) are in order, as is stamina. Hooking onto one of these freight trains usually leads to 30 minutes or more of hand-to-hand combat where the angler regains then loses 100 yards or more of backing multiple times.
The best time to hunting for Jacks while crossing the bay is April to August. Scan the horizon for birds working, especially pelicans, and then look for the splashes and flashes of feeding fish. And only when you have a big rod rigged and ready!
Flounder: (Paralichthys lethostigma)
A Flounder is compressed laterally and spends most of its life lying and swimming along the bottom on its side. In the case of Southern Flounder, the left side is always the "up" side; in other species, the opposite is true. Flounder are wonderfully adapted for their way of life. Both eyes in adults are on the "up" side of the head and their coloring is camoflage to their surrounding environment, usually a sandy bottom. A small body cavity and the absence of an air bladder aid the flounder in maintaining its position laying in wait in the silty surface of the water bottom ready to ambush prey swimming by.
Small flounder grow rapidly and may reach 12 inches in length by the end of their first year. Males seldom exceed 12 inches, but females grow larger than males and often reach a length of 25 inches.
Adult southern flounder leave the bays during the fall for spawning in the Gulf. They spawn for the first time when two years old at depths of 50 to 100 feet. The eggs are buoyant and after hatching, the larval fish swim in an upright position and their eyes are located on opposite sides of the head. As the young fish grows, the right eye begins to "migrate" to the left side of the head and when they reach a body length of about ½ inch the eye migration is complete and the fish assumes its left-side-up position for life. Juveniles enter the protection of the bays during late winter to feed and grow until maturity.Because of the Flounder’s appearance and behavior sight casting for them is virtually impossible. They can be targeted when seen to “flutter” off leaving a trail of mud puffs behind. Usually they are a by-catch to blind casting a weighted baitfish pattern in sandy channels, creeks, shorelines and drop-offs.