Texas Gulf Coast

Editor's note: Doug Pike spent 23 years as the outdoors columnist at the Houston Chronicle, nine years and counting on radio (he's the host of the Doug Pike Show on 790 the Sports Animal), two years and counting as back-page humor columnist for Saltwater Sportsman, 10 years and counting on the masthead for Field & Stream, two years and counting on the masthead and as columnist for Texas Fish & Game, 10 years editor of Tide magazine for CCA. He has won more than 100 state and national awards for writing, photography, broadcast and editing.

When they're not looking over their shoulders for tropical weather in the Gulf of Mexico this time of year, Texas' coastal fishermen have a considerable number of quality options. Two decades of warm winters and sound management have turned a good fishery into a great one.

In recent weeks, the state's plentiful populations of redfish and speckled trout have been predictable and reliable. The season's heat pushed most — but not all — of the trout into relatively deep water and discouraged the aggression they show to lures in spring or fall.

Until water temperatures turn downward, which won't happen in earnest for another honest month, trout hopefuls have two primary choices: throw live bait or accept the occasional slow day.

I couldn't tell you who was first along this coast to leave the dock with a livewell full of live croakers, but I am willing to bet that he (or she, on that outside shot) couldn't wait to tell close friends how incredibly those baits worked on summertime trout.

We're near the end of "croaker season," which I accept as effective but in which I elect not to practice. For those who enjoy soaking bait, the transition will be a smooth one back to shrimp.

Pluggers, in the meantime, provided they know their stuff, still can catch their trout either on heavy-headed jigs dredged over deep shell or, with patience, on topwaters along bait-rich bay shores.

Redfish, which sometimes seem impervious to heat, have been rummaging shallow grass flats along the entire coast for whatever little animals can be coaxed from hiding. This past week, I heard several reports of redfish so shallow that their entire backs were exposed. That's not an altogether unusual sight for veteran fishermen here, but it's impressive every time you see it.

Provided you don't spook them, those fish will eat a spinnerbait, jig, spoon or topwater. If you don't have any of those lures, the right fish will eat whatever you bounce off its nose.

Beachfront trout fishing has been hit or miss lately. A friend in the water four days ago didn't have much to show for all the casts he made, but three guys who worked nearly the same area just 48 hours later nearly caught their 10-fish limits each. Mornings are best and will be, especially on a good incoming tide, until water cools.

That being said, don't discount any time of day if water is clean and baitfish are present. On Monday, I couldn't resist green surf lapping against Galveston Island and, under midday sun, caught half a dozen trout in an hour on a Skitterwalk. Topwaters aren't supposed to work in the middle of a sweltering, bright day, but they did on that day. Conditions were ideal, fish were eating, and there wasn't another angler in sight.

Any time the surf "greens" in late summer, action also can be good off Texas' jetties. Trout are the most popular targets, but deeper water near the ends of the rocks anywhere in Texas also might hold Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, oversized redfish and an assortment of other predators.

The farther south you travel in Texas now, the more likely that one of the fish you catch may be a snook. This state's snook population has grown steadily through the past 20 warm winters, enough so that South Texas anglers can target snook exclusively and successfully.

This time of year, except at the day's beginning and end, the fish are likely to hold in the relatively cool shade of bridge pilings and boat docks or at the deep bases of jetties. Your best shot at an August snook is during the gray light before sunrise and the first hour afterward. Check local tide schedules and do your best to fish moving water.

By now, most anglers have had their fills of summer. It's hot and humid and downright miserable on the water most August days. For anglers who can deal with the heat, however, fishing has been generally good and only will get better once the season begins to turn.