Harvey improves fishery in Matagorda Bay

Kathryn Cargo By Kathryn Cargo

Sept. 10, 2017 at 9:55 p.m.
Updated Sept. 11, 2017 at 6 a.m.

An Atlantic sharpnose shark is pulled from the water. Will Granberry, owner of Bay Fishing in Port O'Connor,  and friend Jeff Elder went fishing about three miles from Port O'Connor. The two caught a bull red fish, 11 sharpnose and blacktip sharks and other fish.

An Atlantic sharpnose shark is pulled from the water. Will Granberry, owner of Bay Fishing in Port O'Connor, and friend Jeff Elder went fishing about three miles from Port O'Connor. The two caught a bull red fish, 11 sharpnose and blacktip sharks and other fish.   Ana Ramirez for The Victoria Advocate

Despite the path of destruction Hurricane Harvey left in Crossroads coastal cities collapsing homes and businesses, the storm left one of the best fisheries Matagorda Bay has seen in decades.

The bay already most likely saw the best fishing summer in two decades, and now the population of fish is even stronger with the influx of freshwater, said Bink Grimes, Matagorda County fishing guide.

"People think that all this water coming from all the rivers is going to knock the bay out for two or three months," Grimes said. "All it did was mix together . It's like giving a shot of B-12 to the bay."

A week after the hurricane, Grimes got back out on the water and met the trout bag limit of five fish all four days.

"It was some of the best fishing of the year," he said.

The hurricane will most likely have a positive effect on the bay's fishery for three to four years, Grimes said. The bay is still also seeing the effect of 2015 floods.

The last two or three years, the wet springs and winters dropped an influx of freshwater in the bay, which caused the shrimp, crabs and shads to thrive.

"When that happens, the bottom of the food chain thrives; the top of the food chain thrives," Grimes said. "It's the power of freshwater. That's what it is."

Before, the area went through a five-and-a-half-year drought and the salt content of the bay went up, said Bill Moore, Coastal Conservation Association Texas Port O'Connor chapter president. When this happens, fish will move up the mouths of rivers or creeks for freshwater or go out into the Gulf of Mexico.

Hurricane Harvey brought tides higher than normal, which usually pushes fish eggs into protective places away form predators, Grimes said. When the bay is too salty, fish eggs float, making them easy for predators to steal.

Hurricanes also usually create deep holes in the bay where fish hang around making a new terrain.

This summer, Grimes and his clients were able to catch fish in tough conditions with strong winds, which tells the story of a good fishery.

Arguably, East Matagorda Bay was the best speckled trout bay in all of Texas this summer, Grimes said. The Port O'Connor area has also had one of its best years for speckled trout.

Fishing guide Will Granberry, Bay Fishing Port O'Connor owner, agrees with Grimes that the hurricane will positively impact the bay's fishery.

The hurricane moved through the bay quickly, so it didn't bring too much freshwater to the bay, Granberry said.

"It doesn't hurt the fish unless we have prolonged periods of fresh water in the bays," he said. "Our bay systems, Mother Nature intended them to have fresh water inflows."

Granberry specializes in inshore big game fishing instead of fishing for trout, red fish and flounder. The fish he catches are usually released and include tarpon, big bull red fish, jack crevalle and sharks.

During a mid-August fishing trip, Granberry, of Edna, and his friend, hunting guide Jeff Elder, of Sargent, left the Port O'Connor shore about 7 a.m. They fished about 3Oki miles from the shore where the bay meets the gulf. They caught a 35-pound big bull red fish, 11 2-to-3-foot sharp nose and black tip sharks and came close to catching a 7-foot shark.

Granberry has gone on at least 80 fishing trips this summer on his 20-foot flat boat. His trips are an all-day venture, and he can take up to a group of four.

Granberry bought bait for the fish and small sharks, but had to catch bait for large sharks with a casting net or fishing rod. He prefers to use skipjack tuna for large sharks. The caught fish are usually released and only kept for taxidermy purposes if they meet legal measurements.

Elder's favorite catch has always been tarpon, and he's been fishing since he was a boy.

"Once you catch your first tarpon, you're hooked on it. It's the most addictive thing I've ever done," he said. "Growing up down in Port A, the old legends and stories were all about the tarpon fishing . When I was kid, to catch a tarpon was a big deal."

Granberry's clients often catch the biggest fish they ever have on his fishing trips.

"We're chasing fishing of a lifetime," he said. "Knowing you're holding a fish that you've never caught that big before, it gives you an adrenaline rush. It gives you that big feeling of sheer exhilaration that is not easily replicated."

Following the hurricane, Granberry suspended his fishing business for about two and a half weeks. He estimates he'll lose 40 percent of his business because many of his clients are from the Houston area that is still experiencing catastrophic flooding from Harvey. Until Houston returns to a point of normalcy, Granberry said his business traffic will be down.

However, when Houston starts to rebuild and has an influx of construction workers, Granberry is sure his business will rebound to even better than before the hurricane.

"We will be fine," he said. "It is an unexpected downturn. All in all, I'm expecting our business to fully recover and actually improve."

Grimes runs 180 to 190 trips a year, and this year he's been about 8 percent busier than last because of the slight pick up in the oil field. The past two years were slower than the oil boom times by possibly 20 percent, Grimes said.

Many fishing guides suspended their trips for 10 to 12 days, Grimes said, and he suspended his fishing business for about a week after the storm.

"It's had a big impact because if they don't work there's no income," he said. "It's not like you get paid for sick days when you are your own boss."

He estimates he'll lose 10 percent of revenues this year for his fishing guide business and lodge, Matagorda Sunrise Lodge, because of the hurricane.

Like Granberry, many of his clients are from the Houston area.

"You can't expect these people to come fish," he said.

The marine industry propels the coastal economy of cities along the bay, Grimes said.

"When people are in town to fish, they're buying gas. People are buying groceries," he said. "Fishing drives everything on the coast."



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